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The BBC's David Willis
"For Muslims, the decision to 'come out' can be difficult, even dangerous"
 real 56k

Sunday, 24 June, 2001, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Muslims step out at Gay Pride
Al-Fatiha members marching through San Francisco
There are about 300 al-Fatiha members in 20 countries
By David Willis in San Francisco

Despite death threats, a Muslim gay and lesbian group called al-Fatiha has chosen San Francisco's Gay Pride weekend to go public and call on fellow Muslims to demonstrate greater tolerance.

Most Muslim gays either feel they have to give up the family or their sexuality

Naveed Merchant
The group has been set up to help gay followers of Islam to reconcile their sexuality with their religion.

Homosexuality is forbidden in Muslim cultures; in certain Islamic countries it is regarded as a criminal activity punishable by death.

Naveed Merchant
Merchant "really believes" Allah made him gay
Group members held a candle-lit vigil in San Francisco's gay district and plan to join the Gay Pride march through the city.

Some spoke of the problems they had experienced in 'coming out', of the opposition they had encountered amongst family and friends who considered homosexuality an affront to Islam.

'Either Muslim or gay'

Naveed Merchant told me he had attempted suicide before eventually making contact with al-Fatiha Foundation through the Internet.

At first his family recommended electric shock treatment, before reluctantly coming to terms with his lifestyle.

Gay Pride marchers
It's the 31st Gay Pride march in the city
But he says most gay Muslims feel they either have to give up the family or they give up their sexuality.

"I decided that I wasn't going to give up either. I really believe that Allah made me this way," he said.

The group hopes to start a global gay Muslim movement to help silent brothers and sisters find their own voice in the Muslim world and ease the suffering of those tormented by their sexuality.

Going to hell

The opposition they will face from orthodox Muslims was in evidence at a city centre mosque where Muslim leader Ajaf Shaikh insisted such conduct was sinful.

Gay Muslim congregation
Gay Muslims have their own congregation in the city
"Anybody acting in these kind of activity will go to the hell. And the Muslim culture and religion is totally against this kind of activity. And Muslim religion don't allow these kind of activities," he told me.

Reconciling sexual orientation with religion is something that gay men and women of other faiths have already had to grapple with.

Islam, traditionally a religion of tolerance, is now facing the same considerable challenge.

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See also:

25 Jan 99 | Archive
Images of Islam
31 Oct 98 | Asia-Pacific
Anti-gay campaign raises fears
30 Jun 00 | UK
Gay rights in the pulpit
23 Jun 01 | Scotland
March call for gay law reforms
09 Jul 00 | Europe
Pope condemns gay rights march
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