Dr Mehreen Faruqi is set to become to first Muslim woman to become a member of an Australian parliament after being preselected by the NSW Greens to fill the state upper house seat due to be vacated by Cate Faehrmann. Faruqi is an environmental engineer and academic who migrated to Australia with her husband in 1992. She described herself to SBS as a “very typical of Pakistani Muslims” who abstain from alcohol and fast during Ramadan — but “that's only one aspect of who I am”.
As The Australian reports, this isn't good enough for Keysar Trad, founder and spokesman for the Islamic Friendship Association, who qualified his praise for Faruqi's groundbreaking political achievement by saying that as a Muslim, she would have trouble reconciling her religious identity with Green party's acceptance of homosexuality and support for gay marriage. Faruqi refuted Trad's claim, telling SBS that she had been attracted to the Greens because of their support for equality, including equal marriage.
Trad's beliefs about Islam and homosexuality are closer to the worldview of the American anti-Muslim campaigner Pamela Geller than they are to those of a growing number of Muslims. Geller's campaign “Stop the Islamisation of America” recently purchased advertising space on the sides of the San Francisco buses, warning Americans that Islam poses a threat to American values like tolerance of homosexuality. The banners feature quotes about homosexuality from the likes of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaiming “Homosexuality is ugly… in Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country.”
“That's his jihad,” the ad explains. “What's yours?”
The format of the ads echo the “my jihad” campaign — itself a response to Geller's “defeat jihad” advertisements. The “my jihad” banners featured American Muslims announcing that their personal jihads include such terrifying plans as “to stay fit despite my busy schedule” and “to build friendships across the aisle”. According to Geller and her Tea Party comrades, such innocuous statements are just a covert means of furthering Islam's homophobic agenda. (American homophobes being of course as invisible to Geller as Iranian gays are to Ahmedinijad.)
I kept my eyes peeled for Geller's advertisements while attending a conference in San Francisco last week, but saw only the standard public service announcements and product-spruiking. I also asked American Muslim students and colleagues about attitudes to homosexuality within their communities and was told that while a high degree of prejudice remains, a growing number of Muslims are reconciling their religious and sexual identities. There are LGBT-friendly religious and community organisations, and in Washington there is a prayer space which is not only gender-equal and queer-friendly, but led by a gay imam.
Such spaces are far less visible in Australia, but even here more and more Muslims like Faruqi are speaking out against homophobia. One of the most high-profile young Muslim women, human rights activist Samah Hadid, caused a minor stir within her community when she told The Australian that she was “a passionate advocate for gay rights”. There is still a lack of friendly space for LGBT Muslims, but up-and-coming leaders like Hadid are willing to put in the hard work to create them. The idea that a Muslim politician must therefore take a homophobic policy stance does not reflect the worldview of many Muslims in Australia.
I do not expect to agree with all aspects of Faruqi's political opinions just because we belong to the same religions — or because we belong to the same gender, come to that. For example, I disagree with Greens policy on euthanasia. But this arises from my personal experience of disability rather than my religious beliefs. Like the disability activists in Massachusetts who successfully campaigned against a 2012 ballot which would have legalised assisted suicide along a model similar to that in Oregon, I oppose euthanasia because I believe that it undermines the equality of sick and disabled citizens. While the Greens support legalised euthanasia on the basis of their broader support for personal choice (including the choice to marry a same-sex partner), I do not think that disabled people enjoy a sufficient degree of equality in contemporary Australia to support the claim that such a choice would be autonomous.
But such differences are ideological rather than religious, and they are far from insurmountable. Contrary to the views of both Geller and Trad, Muslim politicians do not have to base their entire worldview on a particular narrowly defined interpretation of Islam. As Faruqi says, identity as a Muslim is only one element of who she is. And as Samah Hadid illustrates, Islam and homophobia are far from synonymous.
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