October 20, 2020
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Being Gay, Indian And Muslim

The Delhi high court ruling against the IPC 377 sent a wave of jubilation in India 's homosexual community. Suddenly the criminal stigma o

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Being Gay, Indian And Muslim
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On June 2 this year, an American website Edge (Boston , MA) published a news story. Its headline was "Life Only Gets Worse for LGBT Iraqis"

The story was about two young gay men who were found dead in Baghdad ’s Sadr City slum. They were found wearing diapers and women’s lingerie. The bodies of four other men, beaten to death, were discovered by Iraqi police, each bearing signs reading "pervert" in Arabic on their chests, the report noted.

It was an email from a stranger, a fellow Indian, that drew my attention to this news item.

It was a just few days before the much celebrated Delhi High Court judgment in favour of gays and lesbians in India. 

"I am writing to you from India ," Zahid, a young Indian doctor, wrote to me in his email. "I am born with Muslim parents, Al-Hamdu-lillah (praise be to Allah). And I have accepted myself for being the person I am -- gay in orientation."

Zahid was born and raised in Saudi Arabia as his dad had moved there for work. He finally moved back to India in 2003.

Being a fellow Muslim and artist (his words!), Zahid wanted me to condemn the killing of gays in Iraq . "Please just speak of the evil behind any kind of discrimination and human torture," he wrote. "It is not very happy to feel threatened. You see how all this affects life of gay people and again it shows how mob reaction rules over rational thinking and respect for others in Iraq ."

I assured him that I would condemn the act of murdering the Iraqi homosexuals (that’s what I’m doing by writing this article). Sexual orientation is a personal matter and no one has any right to kill a fellow human being on account of his or her sexual orientation. What happened in Iraq was clearly wrong, extra-judicial and illegitimate.

I kept talking with Zahid after receiving his first email. "Today Ammi Papa have passed away and I am with my brother and his family," he wrote, rather poignantly.

"I have tried to fulfil my role in life no matter what I am. It is sad to see people killing us for our diversity."

I asked him if he faced any discrimination in India as a gay. "No, I have not seen any discrimination," he said. "But there is a law against gays in this country and that is a perpetual threat to all Queer Community. It is IPC 377 and we have filed a case to abolish it with high court."

Islam does not permit anal sex even among married couples, so homosexuality is completely outlawed. In fact, the rapid global rise in gay and lesbian relationships has alarmed the Muslim community. Majority of Muslims view the rise of "sexual deviations" as a sign for the end of times (Qayamat). "Males will commit adultery with males, females with females," says a hadith, about the evils of the world before Qayamat.

In this light, if being a gay in India was tough, being a Muslim gay would be doubly tough for Zahid. How does he reconcile his sexual orientation with his faith, I asked him.

"Muslims here do have other issues and labels and it is no different than what is going in the West," he confessed.

"I certainly have faith and that is my strength but I may not fit in any formula specific Islamic faith groups or systems," he said. "I believe in Allah. I do not believe in killing or suppression of anyone. That is all."

A Miracle?

The Delhi high court ruling against the IPC 377 sent a wave of jubilation in India ’s homosexual community. Suddenly the criminal stigma of being a gay in India is gone.

"It is really a great moment for the whole LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community," Zahid wrote to me. "For me it was a hope and that becoming a truth… is a miracle."

But the fear is that this miracle could be short-lived. The high court judgment has now been challenged in the Supreme Court of India. Religious organization and scholars representing Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are condemning the high court’s judgment. Their argument is that legalizing homosexual sex is not just a judicial issue, it is also a socio-religious issue.

Islam does not sanction the practice of homosexuality, said an Islamic scholar in a TV debate. The representative of a church had a similar opinion. "Today, the court has legalized homosexuality," argued a Hindu scholar. "Tomorrow, will it allow zoophilia and bestiality?"

The debate over the legalization of homosexuality in India represents the age old tussle between faith and reason. If homosexuality is against nature, argued a gay panellist in the TV debate, show me the certificate from God declaring what is natural.

This reminded me of the 1920s America when states were introducing bills to ban the teaching of evolution. Legal battles were fought over the evolutionary theory, pitching the Bible against science. Since then, the West has largely come to terms with homosexuality, championing rational thought over ‘hopeless anachronisms’ but not the Islamic world.

Even though there are examples of homosexual practice from the Mughal times and in the Sufi traditions in India , homosexuality in the Muslim society is not accepted as normal.

That’s why there are many Muslims who are closet gays because of the fear of social ostracisation. Zahid knows this.

Zahid is not only a homosexual who believes in his Islamic faith, he has a partner who is a Hindu. In a communally sensitive country like India , where Hindus and Muslims keep tight community boundaries, there cannot be anything more "unacceptable" than this combination—being a gay and a Muslim with a Hindu partner.

Still, Zahid has chosen to stick his neck out by coming out of the closet.

"I have no problem for my identity but yes I feel concerned for my family," he says. "My folks are not strong in political/educational/economical terms, and that is why I don't want to have any problem for them."

Everyone knows about his identity at the hospital where Zahid works but they don’t mention it. It’s still a taboo subject. Perhaps Zahid will have to wait some more before he feels welcome and safe.


Zafar Anjum is a Singapore-based Indian journalist, writer and blogger. These are his personal views.


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