Lecture explores GLBT issues for Muslims

Elena Rozwadowski

For some people who identify as Muslim and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, life can be “a silent struggle,” said Faisal Alam.

Alam, founder of Al-Fatiha, a nonprofit organization helping students who identify as both, will speak at the University today.

His lecture, “Hidden Voices: The Lives of Queer Muslims,” explores the challenges faced by Muslims in the GLBT community, he said.

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Services Assistant Director Owen Marciano said the lecture helps students explore different cultures and ideas within the GLBT community.

“One of the things we try to do is examine the intersections of oppression and identity,” Marciano said. “There haven’t been many conversations on campus, at least not recently, about the intersecting identities of LGBT and Muslim.”

Within the current political climate in the United States, Marciano said, there is a lot of discrimination against both the Muslim and GLBT communities.

“It seems like we both have something in common to talk about,” he said.

Alam’s organization, Al-Fatiha, provides “a safe space for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning) Muslims and their friends” to explore common concerns and explore resources, according to the organization’s mission statement.

Even though the organization is eight years old, people within the GLBT-Muslim community are surprised there are Muslims who talk openly about their sexuality, Alam said.

He said many people leave their mosques or the Muslim community altogether over sexual orientation issues.

The lecture will “dispel myths about Islam” and explore the complex diversity within the Muslim world by illustrating the challenges facing queer Muslims,” he said.

“We’re caught in a paradox between the Muslim and LGBT issues,” Alam said.

He said people in both communities don’t understand everything about each other, which is why it’s important to talk openly about these issues.

“There’s a cross-education thing happening here,” he said.

Alam, who travels and lectures across the country, said he likes to speak on college campuses because they are one of few places where he can access both the “mainstream Muslim” and GLBT communities.

“It’s a place where two groups who you would think would not come together actually do,” he said.

GLBT Services Director Anne Phibbs said Alam’s lecture will open new avenues of discussion at the University.

“There’s not much space to talk about religion in the GLBT community, especially the Muslim religion,” Phibbs said. “You don’t really hear anything from the community outside of the (GLBT) stereotypes you see every day.”

Phibbs and Marciano both said they are not aware of any GLBT Muslim students on campus, but this is still an important issue to talk about.

“We don’t have a lot of opportunities to hear from someone who’s openly gay and Muslim,” Phibbs said. “You don’t have to agree with everything he says, but you’ll learn more if you just listen.”

Muslim Student Association President Sami Khwaja said GLBT issues are very sensitive in the Muslim community.

“Major scholars in Islam think relationships within the same sex are not allowed,” Khwaja said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t respect people’s differences or that we shun them.”

Khwaja has been at the University for two years and said he does not know of any GLBT students in the Muslim community in campus.

“It’s really important to educate students about different issues and a lecture is always a very good idea,” he said.

Phibbs said one of the strengths of the University is that it teaches students about different religions and cultures, which will prepare them for a diverse working environment.

“The University gives students time to realize that GLBT people are just like everyone else,” Phibbs said.