With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” earlier this year, 2011 marks a major turning point in the fight for LGBT rights. But the fight is far from over, said Faisal Alam in a lecture about LGBT Muslims. Faisal Alam was born in Pakistan, and moved to the United States when he was 10. He spent the rest of his childhood in Ellington, Conneticut. At his high school, he was the only Muslim, Asian, and immigrant in the school, and as a result felt like an outsider.
He enrolled in Sunday school, where he learned from his teachers that Islam condemned homosexuality and that there is supposedly no such thing as a gay Muslim. At the same time, he found that in high school, homosexuality was far from socially acceptable. This was the first time Faisal had faced any negative feeling toward his lifestyle. It came as a complete shock that homosexuality was considered both sinful and something outside of his control. He lived in a world where it was not possible for him to be good.
As though in compensation, Faisal became very pious and religious, asserting his identity in school with greater vigor. At a very young age, he began giving speeches at his mosque, attending conferences, and serving as a poster boy for the Muslim community. However, throughout this time, never did Faisal mention, to his friends, to his family, to anyone, that he was gay.
All seemed well until Faisal went off to college. There, he was engulfed in the college life, feeling the ability to express himself liberating. He led a double life as a pious Muslim on the one hand and a gay man on the other. This kept up for a few months until 1996 when, as Faisal puts it, he had a nervous breakdown.
Faisal realized he could no longer live with his true identity in hiding. After college, he started a retreat called “Al-Fatiha” (Arabic for “The Opening”). This group was designed to give homosexual Muslims a place where they can express their feelings and meet with others like them. Al-Fatiha was a phenomenal success, bringing the issue of LGBT Islam to light for the first time in the United States and becoming a national program.
Faisal Alam insists that Islam and homosexuality are compatible: “On major misconception people make is to assume that because Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran execute homosexuals, Islam must be a homophobic religion. Nothing could be further from the truth.” There is a false association between Islam and homophobia, Faisal argues, and that in reality Islam is a very progressive religion.
Faisal does think Islam needs to go through a reform, in the same way that Christianity went through a reform in the sixteenth century. However, he states, it would be easier for Islam now because unlike Christianity, which had to challenge the general values of the time, in the present the progressive system of values already exists from which Islam could take influence. “Already do we see the process happening,” Faisal says. “Many mosques have begun ordination of women. That’s the first step. Very soon gay marriage would be accepted as well.”