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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 12:51 GMT
Black, Muslim and Gay
Jaheda: Still considers herself Muslim
Jaheda: Still considers herself Muslim
With MPs this week pushing legislation through the Commons to create civil partnerships - gay marriages in all but name - homosexuality has never been more accepted by British society.

But what happens if you are gay and come from a cultural background where that acceptance is not available?

In a documentary for BBC Radio Four, Black, Muslim and Gay, three people describe their struggle with identity, faith and family. Islamic scholars say their faith forbids homosexuality, although approaches widely differ in how to address it.

Some regard it as a sin deserving punishment. Others regard gay men and lesbians as needing pity and spiritual guidance.

Jaheda is a 28-year-old British Asian whose family came from Bangladesh. Raised in Sheffield, she lives now in Manchester and struggled for years with how to explain to her mother that she was gay.

"When I finally told my mum that I'm the kind of woman who didn't like men - there's no word for gay in our language - she stood up, stared at the fish-tank, put on her burqa and went out of the house for about five hours," says Jaheda.

Islam allows direct communication with God and after a long personal search I decided that a heterosexual man doesn't question his identity, so why should my sexuality be an issue with God?
"She's still convinced I'll burn in hell, but gradually she's coming round."

Jaheda rejected her strict Muslim upbringing and ran away from home when she was 17.

Making the break led her to gain the confidence to discover her identity.

But despite rejecting the culture of her family, she found British culture just as unwilling to accept.

Her first attempt to visit a lesbian bar in Manchester was at turns comical and disastrous. The bouncers could not believe that an Asian woman, dressed in a shalwar kamiz and heels, could really be gay.

Dealing with faith

G, a 40-year-old policeman struggled for years with his identity. Raised by a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother in north London, G's experience was that of a strict west African ethos mixed combined with a strong sense of faith.

It's like there's a pile of elephant poo in the living room - everyone knows it's there but they pretend it doesn't exist
However, G says his father beat him to try and toughen him up and eventually sent him to rural Nigeria to try and make him more African.

Eight years later he returned to the UK, no less gay than the day he left - but even more lacking in confidence.

When he did come out, the reaction was hostile. His younger sister, a devout Muslim, told him he had made the wrong "choice" and then told the rest of the family.

His mother will neither discuss it or accept her son is gay and his father does not know.

"It's like there's a pile of elephant poo in the living room," says G. "Everyone knows it's there but they pretend it doesn't exist."

G has learned to deal with the rejection he has faced from his family and faith, saying they no longer hold power over him.

"The more people I tell, the more confident I become. Now it's like this unstoppable power. I am at last claiming me."

That view is shared by Jaheda who still considers herself a Muslim and sometimes turns to prayer.

"I no longer care what other people think," she says. "I love my culture and I love Islam. I'm proud of being a lesbian, or a woman who sleeps with women, or whatever else you want to call me."

A mother's acceptance

But rejection is not universal. Rumi, born into an Asian family in east Africa, remains a practicing Muslim even though he is gay.

Both he and his mother have been on a long journey of searching deep in their faith - and have come out the better for it.

"I struggled with being a Muslim as well as being a gay person," he says.

"But Islam allows direct communication with God and after a long personal search I decided that a heterosexual man doesn't question his identity, so why should my sexuality be an issue with God?

"I began to realise that what mattered to my God and my faith was the way I lived my life and interacted with the community."

That belief in actions towards others counts most is one that chimes with Rumi's mother. When she first met his partner - a practicing Catholic - she urged her son to cherish him and be faithful.

Rumi says: "My mum is remarkable she's proved that prejudice can be overcome through love. What's emerged from all my family is that love is what matters above all else."

Black, Muslim and Gay was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 GMT on Thursday 11 November. If you missed it, you can still listen to it via the BBC Radio 4 website



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