Faisal Alam’s 1997 nervous breakdown was a watershed moment in the history of gay rights. The Connecticut-raised, Pakistani-born practicing Muslim had been dumped by his suspicious fiancée and humiliated at his mosque for using a gay chatline. Many other gay … Read More
Faisal Alam’s 1997 nervous breakdown was a watershed moment in the history of gay rights. The Connecticut-raised, Pakistani-born practicing Muslim had been dumped by his suspicious fiancée and humiliated at his mosque for using a gay chatline. Many other gay teenagers would have taken these events as a sign to abandon the faith. Instead, the nineteen-year-old Alam decided he’d just have to change 1,400 years of dogma. Alam founded Al-Fatiha—“the opening” or “the beginning” in Arabic—as one of the world’s first organizations to support gay Muslims. Most Muslim societies treat homosexual acts as crimes. European and American Muslim communities aren’t much more welcoming. But, as in Christianity and Judaism, Islam’s approach to homosexuality is open to interpretation, and Alam saw no reason why a good Muslim had to be straight.
Al-Fatiha quickly formed chapters in Toronto and seven U.S. cities. After Alam took out an ad in a British newspaper challenging gay Muslims to come out of hiding, Al-Fatiha U.K. (known today as Imaan) was born, quickly followed by a chapter in South Africa. Around the world, each chapter is animated by Alam’s radical vision of a future in which gay Muslims are full and accepted members, practicing members, of their communities.
In 2001, the international Islamist organization Al-Muhajiroun issued a fatwa declaring that Alam and all other members of Al Fatiha were murtadd, or apostates—and in Islam, the penalty for apostasy is death. Soon thereafter a group of men approached Alam at his apartment and suggested it was time for him to shut his mouth. Alam, instead, found a new apartment.
It’s not easy to reconcile contemporary ideas about gay rights with the intolerance historically promoted by most religions. It is, however, the only way to make any faith relevant in the 21st century. As Jews, we struggle with the claim in Leviticus that it is an “abomination” for a man to “lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” Given the prevalence of gay synagogues and rabbis who support gay marriage, we’ve come a long way in the past 50 years. Faisal Alam is fighting for that same kind of acceptance. But he’s also fighting for a broader cause—to make his religion compatible with the world in which we live today.
Next page: Radical writer William Upski Wimsatt