At times I feel like I’m living on another planet. For five years I’ve campaigned for marriage equality. Now that the postal survey has been won and Parliament is set to legislate, I find that what ought to be triumphant jubilation is instead a sense of unsettling hopelessness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that I will soon possess the legal right to marry the person I love. I was overwhelmed by the pride and passion of those who gathered in Oxford Street to celebrate the result. I share in the joy of those who have fought longer than I have, and those who will be among the first to marry under the change in law. We fought and we won.
For me, a bleak reality remains: as a Muslim from an ethnic background, most people in my community will not accept me as a homosexual man, nor will they legitimise the right for me to marry. Not that I need their approval. No, I intend to marry no matter the consequence. If you believe, as I do, that love is a gift of the Almighty, then enjoining that love is a sacrosanct duty. One of the signs of God, as the Koran tells us, is the tranquillity we find in our mates, and that rings true for me as I’m sure it does for countless other same-sex couples.
At times my faith is as strong as steel, at others it is as brittle as glass. Islam has been a compass for me, and I take solace in the message of the Koran. Kindness, generosity, compassion. It has been a shelter for me in my dark moments and a source of wisdom for me in my times of strength. But nothing I have experienced, absolutely nothing, engenders doubt more than being expunged by my own community. It is not a pleasant fact to admit.
But we have to be strong. For our own sake, and for the sake of our community. Gay children are born to Muslim parents every day; they deserve to know that they are loved and accepted. They deserve to know that God is not a petty, vindictive deity who would create homosexuals only to forsake them. The God I believe in is a loving, merciful, and just entity. No, God is not the problem. The problem is in our community, and the problem in our community is a product of our leadership.
Until now, the Muslim community in Australia has not had an opportunity nor reason to discuss how we approach sexual diversity. Religious leaders, who are generally quite docile on domestic politics, decided to throw their lot in with the “no” campaign. It is really quite telling that the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) felt it was appropriate to issue a press release on the “Islamic view of marriage” on the very same afternoon that Pauline Hanson pulled her burqa stunt in the Senate. It said nothing on Hanson until days later.
I place my faith in God, and not in leaders like ANIC head Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, who insisted that “terrifying disease” is a product of homosexual sexual activity. What a tremendously insensitive statement. Underlying all the hateful rhetoric is a sense of fear. Fear, insecurity and ignorance. How else to explain Keysar Trad, the former president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, comparing gay love to incest?
The leadership has let our community down. It is a leadership that has imposed itself upon us and extinguished any platform for disagreement. The Muslim community is not a monolith, and while it is true that there is homophobia among us, it is also true that many Muslims, both gay and straight, are increasingly supportive of equality before the law.
Now that marriage equality is close to being won (and is being weaponised, predictably, to attack our community), I wonder if it will serve as a wake-up call. We need to find the courage to discuss this issue, and to come to a reasonable and collective position that echoes with the compassionate message of the Koran.
I’ve never been one to dictate what other people ought to believe, and I will not on this issue either. That is a game for fundamentalists who believe that only their interpretation of faith is correct. But even anti-gay Muslims have a choice with what to do with their beliefs. Do they abuse their gay brothers and sisters, enact violence upon them, and kick them out of home? Or do they call them to the message of God, and allow them to flourish, as human beings and as Muslims, within our community?
I hope, for the sake of my religion, that we will pick the latter.
Fahad Ali is the founder of Muslims for Marriage Equality.