On Thursday, September 24, Faisal Alam, a self-identified queer Muslim, gave a lecture titled “Hidden Voices: the Lives of LGBT Muslims” to a group of about 40 students and faculty gathered in Love Auditorium. Alam, the founder of Al-Fatiha, an organization that connects LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning) Muslims with each other, spoke about his life experiences and his mission to support and empower queer Muslims. The lecture was sponsored by The Office of LGBTQ Initiatives.
Although Alam joked with the crowd before beginning his lecture and kept a casual tone throughout, he made sure to address the very serious issue of prejudice against both his religion and his sexual orientation.
“The reason we wanted Faisal to come and speak was to have access to a voice in the LGBTQ community that isn’t represented on our campus, and one which hasn’t been addressed on our campus in the past,” LGBTQ Initiatives member junior Eugene Riordan said.
LGBTQ Muslims are not only under-represented on the Colgate campus, but also in the media and popular culture. When he first started to network with other LGBTQ Muslims, Alam set up an online discussion board focused specifically on being an LGBTQ Muslim in America.
“Although 50 people had joined the discussion group,” Alam said, “not one person wrote a message because that is how much fear there is in our community.”
According to Alam, LGBTQ Muslims face a very serious and unique problem.
“How do you tell your grandmother who doesn’t speak any English that you are queer when every word [for homosexuality] in your native language is a derogatory term?” Alam said.
Alam calls his solution “progressive theology.” Alam discussed his hopes to create a new language and new terms to describe his sexuality, while keeping a strong network of LGBTQ Muslims connected with “safe mosques” and tolerant imam by way of Al-Fatiha, an organization which Alam created.
Al-Fatiha literally means “The Beginning” or “The Opening” and is also the title of the first chapter of the Qur’an. Alam got the idea for his organization in 1998 after having a nervous breakdown during college, which left him hospitalized for months. During his recovery Alam vowed that he would never let anyone else go through the pain that he had to endure.
Al-Fatiha is now an international organization that is not only a network for LGBTQ Muslims, but also a vehicle by which a discussion of issues related to religion and sexual orientation can be initiated.
Riordan hopes to continue the discussion at Colgate beyond Alam’s lecture.
“[The Office of LGBTQ Initiatives] would like to eventually work with all of the religious communities to do some kind of event to bring all of the issues to light and work on them and celebrate as a unified Colgate community,” Riordan said.
Although support from non-Muslims and allies is important, Alam stressed that Colgate students approach their support of LGBTQ Muslims carefully due to cultural differences.
“Sometimes I feel like who am I to do something about this unfamiliar issue?” first-year Emily Blease said.
“It’s okay to speak up,” Alam said in response, “but do it from a place of understanding, not like, ‘I’m from the majority race, let me show you how it’s done.’ “
The first step in starting a discussion, Alam stressed, is to understand the facts. Accordingly, Alam began his presentation by describing Islam as a diverse and dynamic faith comprised of over 1.5 billion followers, only 15% of whom live in the Middle East.
Alam also demonstrably eroded the stigma that Muslim countries are not as progressive as those in the West with regard to LGBTQ issues. For example, in the 1970s, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa in support of gender change. Most recently, the Indian Supreme Court has ruled in favor of getting rid of abolishing all sodomy laws.
“Ten years ago I didn’t think LGBTQ Muslims would have a place in the Muslim world, but we are really not that far behind anymore,” Alam said.