Pride Month: ExMuslims Navigating Faith and LGBTQ+ Identity

Pride Month holds a special place in the hearts of everyone at Faithless Hijabi. It marks the birth of our Mental Health Program, an initiative that began in response to the tragic news of Sarah Hegazy’s passing. Sarah, an Egyptian LGBTQ+ activist, sought asylum in Canada after being imprisoned and tortured in Egypt for raising a rainbow flag at a concert. Her bravery and subsequent struggles highlighted the immense challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals from conservative backgrounds. In her final letter, Sarah wrote:

“To my siblings: I tried to survive and I failed, forgive me;
To my friends: the ordeal was too painful and I wasn’t strong enough to fight, forgive me;
To the world: you were extremely cruel, but I forgive you.”

– Sarah

This heart-wrenching message underscored the profound pain she endured, resonating deeply with many in our community. Sarah’s story shattered my heart and reminded me that safety isn’t just about physical location but also about the acceptance and understanding we find around us.

Soon after seeing the news, I posted about it on Facebook. A friend from university, whom I hadn’t spoken to in a while, messaged me. He wanted to help but didn’t know how, so he entrusted me with a donation of AUD $500, saying, “I know you’d put it to good use, but I need to do something because this is really heart-breaking for me.” That generous donation provided therapy for three people with eight sessions each, giving us the kickstart we needed.

From those humble beginnings, supporting just a few individuals, our Mental Health Program has now grown to serve over 125 people. We’ve achieved this with minimal support, continually working to break down barriers and provide much-needed assistance.

For many ExMuslims and LGBTQ+ individuals from communities where our existence is condemned, the journey to self-acceptance is fraught with immense challenges. We come from places where our lives are shunned, where we’ve been forced to hide our identities, pray the gay away, and sometimes even try to believe again because it seemed like life would be easier that way. The intersection of being an ExMuslim and an LGBTQ+ person in Muslim communities and countries brings a unique set of confusions and traumas, making the path to understanding oneself even more complicated.

Yet, in our shared struggles, there is a strong connection. The parallels between the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals and ExMuslims are striking. Both groups face ostracism, rejection, and the constant pressure to conform to societal norms that deny their true selves. And for those who belong to both communities, the journey is even more arduous, as they navigate the complexities of both their faith and their sexuality.

In many Muslim communities, homosexuality is intrinsically linked to anxiety, intimidation, violence, and sometimes even death. Many individuals live a closeted existence for fear of being ostracised or disowned. Islamic teachings, disseminated by religious institutions and leaders, range from advocating for execution to advising a life of celibacy. However, voices on the left, historically strong supporters of LGBTQ+ rights, often do not sufficiently condemn the harsh treatment of gay and bi people of Muslim heritage, nor do they adequately mobilise against this specific form of homophobia.

All eight states or territories that mandate the death penalty for homosexuality are Muslim-majority. Many others imprison people for being LGBTQ+. These punishments stem from interpretations of Sharia Law, which consider homosexuality a major sin. This environment fosters mob violence and hostility towards LGBTQ+ people.

Criminal provisions against homosexuality are widespread, with severe penalties including imprisonment, flogging, and even death. Countries like Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, and Tunisia have specific laws that criminalise same-sex relations and gender expression. These laws are often justified by strict interpretations of religion, while media and social networks amplify hostile attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community with impunity.

Campaigns to “hunt” LGBTQ+ individuals, arbitrary imprisonments, police and judicial surveillance, and intimidation are common in these regions. Yemen, Libya, and Egypt are notable examples. The oppression is often hidden by authorities, with a lack of verified data and official statistics on prosecutions against LGBTQ+ individuals. Underreporting of arrests and prosecutions is a common issue highlighted by LGBTQ+ rights organisations.

Inhumane and degrading treatments, such as anal testing, are inflicted on LGBTQ+ individuals in countries like Tunisia. Despite calls from human rights organisations, these practices persist, reinforcing social stigma and discrimination. In the wider context of an acute human rights crisis in the MENA region, governments adopt a hostile attitude and maintain total opacity towards LGBTQ+ issues. In Saudi Arabia, no official LGBTQ+ organisation is tolerated, and any form of activism for these rights is severely repressed.

In Jordan, where consensual same-sex relations have been decriminalised since 1951, the absence of robust legal protections leaves LGBTQ+ people vulnerable to state-sanctioned discrimination. Security forces use ambiguous morality laws and digital targeting tactics to harass them. For instance, security forces in Jordan entrapped a transgender woman in 2019, searched her phone, and detained her based on personal photos. After enduring eight court hearings, she was released on bail.

In Kuwait, the initial progress signalled by overturning a law criminalising gender non-conformity in 2020 was undermined by subsequent mass deportations and threats to freedom of expression. Legal provisions still pose significant risks to LGBTQ+ individuals, exacerbating their vulnerability.

The criminalization of same-sex relations is a significant barrier to ensuring equal access to justice and treatment, particularly for LGBTQ+ ExMuslims. This legal discrimination perpetuates prejudice based on both sexual orientation and religious identity, undermining universal human rights.

While decriminalisation is a crucial step toward affirming LGBTQ+ rights, the absence of punitive laws alone is not enough. Comprehensive legal protections are essential to ensure genuine equality and safety. Affirmative laws explicitly safeguarding against discrimination and violence are imperative to create a society where LGBTQ+ people, and ExMuslims, are treated as equal members and can live without fear of persecution.

True progress lies not only in decriminalisation but in establishing comprehensive legal protections that respect human rights and dignity.

On a lighter note, living in Sweden and my attempt at learning Swedish led me to the TV show Young Royals. While the challenges faced by the gay couple in the show differ from those discussed here, I was deeply moved by the ending. The cast, including Omar Rudberg and Edvin Ryding, shared an aftermath episode where they expressed genuine humility and concern after receiving messages from viewers about the severe repercussions of being gay. They acknowledged how their portrayal inspired many who would never be able to live their lives authentically or openly due to the risk of persecution.

This Pride Month, we honour Sarah Hegazy and all those who have fought and continue to fight for their right to live authentically. At Faithless Hijabi, we remain committed to providing support, understanding, and a safe space for those navigating these challenging paths. Together, we can create a world where everyone is free to be who they truly are, without fear or shame.

Zan, Zendegi, Azadi: Women, life, freedom

Image supplied by: Woman Png vectors by Lovepik.com

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “secular underground railroad” has given a $5,000 stipend to support the work of Faithless Hijabi. The following is an article explaining why the group was formed and what help it offers.

https://www.freethoughttoday.com/free/zan-zendegi-azadi-women-life-freedom/

By Zara Kay and Nick Forbes

“Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (“Women, Life, Freedom”) is the rallying cry that has been heard every day from Iranians following the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini, who was tortured by the morality police in Iran and died on Sept. 16. Her death has sparked national and international protests for the end of 43 years of Islamic dictatorship in Iran.

Iranian women have been taking the streets and leading the protests, supported by men from the younger to the older generations, making it clear that they want a leadership free of religious doctrine. The hijab clamped in their fists — many marchers setting the cloth alight as an act of defiance against a regime that demands they cover their “shameful” bodies — has been monumental as a symbol of freedom. The woman’s revolution happening in Iran right now encompasses the freedom for all people to live in a secular society with the separation of mosque and state, as women revolt against the hijab: the ultimate example of a woman’s bodily autonomy being stolen. Amini’s death has given rise to resilience against religious tyranny, but this revolution also represents the resistance against all forms of fundamentalism. Over the years, the laws have tightened so far as to restrict any form of freedom by the deployment of the morality police.

To continue reading this article, please visit Freedom From Religion Foundation: Freethought Today

#WhereIsSoheilArabi #FreeSoheil 

Soheil Arabi was arrested from his home by the Islamic regime of Iran on Monday, 2 January. Sources from Iran have informed us that he was violently beaten and was unable to take his much-needed medicine with him. He has been taken to an unknown location, and we are extremely concerned about his well-being.