It’s a difficult to be gay anywhere, even in a country where marriage equality was just legalized. But for a lot of gay Muslims who already face xenophobia all over the world, it gets a lot harder.
An imam in Australia is trying to change that by opening the country’s first mosque for LGBTQ Muslims.
The proposed mosque, announced this week, is the brainchild of Nur Warsame, the only openly gay imam (worship leader) in the country. As a mentor to young people in his community, he’s received heartbreaking daily calls for years from young LGBTQ Muslims seeking help — and often protection from their family and community members.
He knew he had to do something. “If you come out you will be excommunicated, you will be ostracized, you risk losing even your life, at times, in different parts of the world,” he said in a 2016 video interview with Australia’s television program “The Project.”
Warsame’s solution is an entirely new kind of mosque, set to be established in Melbourne, that can serve as a safe space for young LGBTQ Muslims — a second home, where they can find support and resources along with a place to worship. The site is also in close proximity to Prahran Market Clinic, an LGBTQ-dedicated medical center, another hospital, and a police station.
“One of the most essential things that our young people need is safe, affordable housing,” Warsame told Australia’s ABC network. “For young people to transition safely they cannot be in the environment that is causing them trauma.”
Warsame ought to know: He’s frequently opened the doors of his modest apartment to LGBTQ Muslims who don’t feel safe staying with their own families.
In more conservative schools of thought, homosexuality is considered a sin against Islam. A lot of Islamic scholars also believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Islam, often citing the story of Lot found in both the Quran and the Old Testament. The story claims that God destroyed Lot’s tribe for allegedly engaging in gay sex.
But that’s only one interpretation. Another reading of Lot’s story claims that God destroyed the tribe because the people of Sodom and Gomorrah failed to help the poor and needy and refused to stop inflicting sexual assault (of all kinds, not just homosexual) upon each other.
Some of these beliefs are incorporated into certain Muslim-majority countries. For example, in Morocco and Egypt, homosexual acts are illegal. In some theocracies like Saudi Arabia, homosexual acts are even punishable by death.
It’s important to note that not all countries that criminalize gay relationships are Muslim-majority. However, in countries like Jordan, Turkey, and Indonesia— which is the most Muslim country in the world — there is no (official) crime in being gay.
Unfortunately, some of these hard-line views on homosexuality seep into the family dynamic. There are horror stories of children disowned by their parents after coming out to their parents or fleeing their homes to escape domestic violence. These experiences often leave young LGBTQ Muslims without a home or a place for shelter.
That’s where Warsame steps in.
“I had seven people housed at my one-bedroom apartment […] because it was life or death for them,” Warsame added. “They had to leave [their family home] that day, then and there.”
Warsame told ABC in Australia that he is collaborating with local police to ensure that his new mosque and the community worshipping there is established in a safe and secure area.
Warsame is all too familiar with what it’s like to be outcast as an LGBTQ Muslim.
The Somali-born imam led one of Melbourne’s largest mosques and has been an imam for about 13 years. He is the one of two Australian Muslim leaders to gain the hard-earned title “hafiz.” (An hafiz, which translates to “guardian” in Arabic, is someone who memorized the entire Quran.)
Things all changed in 2010 when Warsame first publicly came out as gay. The Muslim clergy in the country severed ties with him as a result. The imam also said that he receives death threats from people who believe homosexuality is against or incompatible with Islam.
“It’s disgusting, because you suffer from Islamophobia, from both the mainstream non-Muslim community and even some in the LGBT community, and homophobia from both,” he told The Project.
Warsame believes LGBTQ Muslims have it hard considering that, in addition to homophobia, they also have to endure Islamophobia as Muslims in Australia.
The mosque announcement comes on the heels of a rapidly growing global movement dedicated to creating safe and inclusive mosques for LGBTQ Muslims and women.
In Germany, where burqas are banned, a “progressive” mosque dedicated to welcoming LGBTQ Muslims and offering mixed-gender prayer services opened in June 2017. In November 2012, Europe’s first “gay-friendly” mosque opened in Paris.
In the United States, non-profit organizations like Muslims for Progressive Values are creating LGBTQ-friendly mosques across the country. And in Washington, D.C., Daayiee Abdullah — the U.S.’s first openly gay imam — marries same-sex Muslim couples in the Islamic tradition and also offers funeral services for gay Muslims who died from AIDS.
The fight for LGBTQ rights and inclusivity goes well beyond the mosque.
For example, Islamic scholars like Reza Aslan have written in support of gay rights. Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, legalized marriage licenses for transgender people in 2016 and officially recognized “transgender” as a third gender for passports — something the U.S. has yet to do.
And while homophobia is certainly an issue within some of the more conservative and fundamentalist communities, Muslims aren’t universally anti-gay, either. For instance, according to Imam Dayiee, the Islamic Ottoman Empire decriminalized homosexuality in 1858 — about 100 years before any Western country did.
If the world was ready then, we should find it within ourselves to push for progress now.
Watch Nur Warsame talk about his experiences of being an openly gay imam below: