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Australia's gay Muslims face a double bind

  • 18 January 2018


Nur Warsame is Australia's first openly gay imam, one of just a few worldwide. He has made news in recent weeks, telling his story and advocating for LGBTI Muslims. He hopes to open a gay-friendly mosque, quite a feat, in a country where mosque applications often face fierce resistance from non-Muslim locals.

That is the double bind for gay Muslims, who are mostly rejected by the Muslim community for being gay and stigmatised by the wider community for being Muslim. Many cannot reconcile the two identities and either hide their sexual orientation, or end up leaving the religion.

The difficulty facing Warsame and other observant Muslims like him is in reconciling the universal consensus that has existed among Muslims for over 1400 years that all sexual acts between two members of the same gender are haram (prohibited), and the spirituality they wish to nourish in 21st century Australia; a modern world where homosexuality is increasingly accepted as a natural part of the spectrum of human diversity.

The Muslim community, by and large, tends to have an allergic reaction to any whiff of a gay-rights agenda. Stories of young gay Muslims being beaten or threatened with murder by family and friends are heartbreaking and are, at the very least, unhelpful for a community struggling to combat its negative stereotype as backward and un-Australian. Yet, homosexuality remains for most Muslims as taboo as other Aussies might view incest, bestiality and paedophilia.

The question of whether homosexuality can ever be recognised by Muslims as legitimate boils down to a clash of worldviews. On the one hand there are millennia of religious teachings from Judaism, to Buddhism, to Christianity, to Islam that reject same-sex erotic activity, viewing the course of chaste restraint for those tempted by homosexual desires as the noble path.

On the other, there is the new western individualism that views consent as the only arbiter of moral goodness. In this latter view, the only requirements a person should follow are: 1) being authentic to their own individual identity, and 2) refraining from harming others in the pursuit of their desires.

Holding the latter rather than the former worldview, progressive Muslims believe it is possible to reject traditional interpretations of the religion that proscribe homosexuality. They read Islam through the spectacles of society's modern values, which they see as better than what has gone before. It is not dissimilar to the gay-rights reading of Christian values that has challenged