Editor’s Note: The author marched in London’s Gay Pride parade as part of the ex-Muslim contingent. Predictably, their participation in the march received a strong backlash from conservative Muslim figures. This is her account of what happened.
At the time of my writing, it’s been little over a week since the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), of which I am a member, marched at the Pride in London Parade. I still couldn’t be prouder of what we achieved that day.
Our protest was deliberately provocative, involving topless women and a bare bottomed man and three of our signs said “Allah is gay.”
The purpose of the protest was two-fold. Firstly, we were protesting homophobia within Islam at a scriptural, state and institutional level. Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam. The hadiths include multiple passages which promote the killing of homosexuals. Homosexuality carries the death penalty under sharia law.
In a world where homosexuality is a capital offence in 14 states, which are all under the Islamic rule (if you include ISIS-held territory), where Chechnya’s Islamist leader continues his repulsive purge of gay men and the first British Muslim to publicly announce that he has entered into a same sex marriage has received acid attack threats, our aim was to highlight and denounce these doctrines and the practices that stem from them as directly as possible and demand real change.
The second aim of our protest was to draw attention to the fact that the “Muslim community” is not a homogeneous community but contains immense dissent. This includes ex-Muslims (see Deeyah Khan’s latest film, Islam’s Non Believers). Apostasy, whether becoming an atheist or converting to another religion, is also forbidden in Islam. It carries a death penalty under sharia law, which is enforced in 13 Islamic states. In many communities, even in the UK, apostates are demonized, shunned and ostracized.
Sadly, our group contains vulnerable people who are asylum seekers who have fled from their home countries because of apostasy laws, and British ex-Muslims who have lost contact with family members and loved ones because they couldn’t accept they no longer wanted to follow Islam. To “come out” and publicly declare ourselves as ex-Muslims then, is at once a gesture of defiance, a demand to end apostasy and blasphemy laws, assert our right to free speech and an attempt to normalize apostasy in Muslim communities by being publicly visible.
We also wanted to highlight the parallels between the struggle for LGBT rights and the struggle for ex-Muslim rights and call on the gay community to show solidarity and support.
The protest couldn’t have gone better. Although we did encounter some anger and the police tried to take away some of our more provocative signs (they couldn’t actually tell us which law we had broken), we were cheered, high-fived, hugged and thanked by the crowd – many of them minorities. I’m still elated by the experience.
There seemed to be a general attitude of relief among many that we had pointed out the elephant in the room. It was also incredible to march publicly as a group of ex-Muslims, LGBT ex-Muslims, LGBT Muslims and refugees who could face the death penalty elsewhere in the world and be welcomed with open arms by the crowd. It felt like British society was showing itself at its most tolerant and very best.
Get an idea of the elation of the march with this montage:
Of course, since the protest has taken place, we’ve experienced a very predictable backlash. And to that I say, “Good.” If we hadn’t ruffled a few feathers, then our protest wouldn’t have worked.
Our pictures being published online have triggered some very public meltdowns from hardline Islamists and religious zealots. Their tantrums at the sight of public blasphemy have completely proven our point. In a turn of events that would be surprising if we lived in a world where the Islamist narrative was seen with the contempt it deserves, East London Mosque has complained to Pride that the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain was “inciting hatred” by holding up a sign that says “East London Mosque incites murder of LGBTs,” which is quite ironic as their homophobic hate preaching has actually been widely reported.
Unfortunately some groups like Imaan (a Muslim LGBT group), some in the gay press and the Pride Committee themselves have taken it upon themselves to denounce us, choosing willful blindness to the mosque’s long history of inciting murder. Without having contacted CEMB for information or a meeting, the Pride Committee is now reviewing whether or not Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain can return to London Pride next year.
As unashamed secularists, we often bear the brunt of the well-intentioned but toxic meme of Islamophobia, and are repeatedly blocked, de-platformed or shut down for it. The term Islamophobia intentionally conflates criticism of the religion of Islam, religious practices or law with hatred and bigotry towards Muslims as people, insisting that any dislike or scrutiny of any Islamic ideas promotes anti-Muslim bigotry.
It’s a narrative that does the Islamists job for them, playing on the very real concerns and fears of a sometimes persecuted minority as a way of silencing dissent. It essentially slanders critics of harmful Islamic ideas or practices as knuckle-dragging bigots. Although I can understand why some of our more provocative signs may have been taken the wrong way, our intention was to highlight and challenge the hatred of and violence towards LGBT people that exists within Islam and to ask for real change and accountability.
This backlash is somewhat disappointing but unsurprising. However, I am glad that our protest has bought these issues to light and I hope it triggers a more open debate.
To our Muslim friends, I would stress that we must together continue to resist bigotry, but including Islamic bigotry and Islamism’s hate for gays in that resistance.
Criticism of religion is a human right and essential for moving society forward from negative ideas or actions that have their route in certain scriptures. To the Pride Committee and voices among the regressive left who have denounced us, I will remind them of two things:
Firstly, that hatred of the kuffar (apostate) is a very real thing. Ex-Muslims and LGBT ex-Muslims (a vulnerable minority within a minority) deserve to be made to feel welcome at Pride. As a public civil rights organisation, Pride needs to be aware of the dangers and persecution faced by ex-Muslims in the UK and elsewhere. What’s more, when they receive a well-worded official complaint from an Islamist body about an ex-Muslim protest, they should remember that a pillar of Islamist rule is the death penalty for apostates and blasphemers. The Pride committee clearly has a lot of research left to do to become aware of the issues surrounding apostasy and Islam.
Our guide for frontline agencies who are helping Ex-Muslims would be our first point of call for recommended reading.
Secondly, I would also like to remind them that LGBT rights and other essential human and civil rights weren’t won by tip toeing obediently around the Church. From declaring that “Jesus had two Dads” to confronting the Church and the Christian-Right, blasphemy has been a wonderful way for Western LGBT activists to challenge Christianity’s homophobia.
Now that much of your battle has been won, don’t become complacent and deny ex-Muslims, Muslims, and LGBTs from Muslim backgrounds the right to have their struggle, too.