Islamic Fundamentalism In Britain

Muslim fundamentalists are a growing threat to gay human rights in Britain.

For Muslim extremists in Britain, the growing social acceptance of homosexuality symbolises everything that is wrong with democratic, secular western culture. They seem to hate queers more than the racism and poverty that blights their communities. Despite having experienced much prejudice and discrimination themselves, they show no empathy for those who are victimised because of their sexual orientation.

There is no room for complacency. Islamic fundamentalism is a small but growing religious and political force, particularly since the controversy over Salman Rushdie's allegedly blasphemous book, "The Satanic Verses". The death sentence served on Rushdie by Iranian Islamic leaders emboldened the extremists in this country and swelled their ranks. They turned support for the murder of Rushdie into a litmus test of Muslim faith. Many hitherto tolerant Muslims felt obliged to endorse the call for the author's death. This opened the floodgates for a deluge of Islamic extremism, including a rabid homophobia that mirrors the bigotry of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists.

Although not all Muslims are anti-gay, significant numbers are violently homophobic - often due to the intolerant, inflammatory teachings of Mullahs and Imams.

The Islamic holy book, the Koran - deemed to be the word of God - unequivocally condemns male and female homosexuality as "transgressing beyond bounds". Moreover, the Hadith, the collection of sayings attributed to the prophet Mohammed, calls for the punishment of homosexual acts, but does not state what the penalties should be.

The form of punishment is specified in Islamic law, the Shari'ah. This is the clerical interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith. It demands the death penalty for both lesbian and gay sex.

Few British Muslims urge the execution of queers. But even moderate Islamic leaders denounce the "evil" of homosexuality. Members of the Muslim Parliament want to see gay sex outlawed and homosexuals imprisoned. They have opposed legislation to equalise the age of consent and repeal Section 28.

The supposedly middle-of-the-road Islamicist, Yusuf Islam (the former pop star Cat Stevens), has condemned positive portrayals of homosexuality in school sex education lessons, accusing those who advocate such policies of wanting to "feast off the innocence of our children for their own abominable sexual appetites".

Islamic homophobia in Britain is not limited to the Asian and Arab communities. Louis Farrakkhan's black militant Nation of Islam is establishing a foothold among Afro-Caribbean peoples. It, too, preaches a violent hatred of lesbians and gay men. The voices of tolerant Muslims, of which there are still many, are being increasingly sidelined and silenced.

The political consequences for the lesbian and gay community could be serious. As the fundamentalists gain followers, homophobic Muslim voters may be able to influence the outcome of elections in 20 or more marginal constituencies. Their voting strength could potentially be used to block pro-gay candidates or to pressure electorally vulnerable MPs to vote against gay rights legislation (and other liberal measures).

The most dangerous of the Islamic fundamentalist groups are Hizb ut Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun. Rejecting democracy and human rights as alien western values, they advocate the violent overthrow of all existing political regimes and the establishment of a world wide Islamic state - a dictatorial global regime based on Koranic principles.

Supporters of both groups deny the Holocaust and stir up hatred against Jews and Hindus. They also incite violence against women who refuse to enter into arranged marriages, disobey their husbands, or who dress in ways that they deem to be immodest.

A 1996 Al-Muhajiroun leaflet entitled, "Homosexuality, Beastiality, Lesbianism, Adultery and Fornication", condemns gay relationships as "perverted acts", comparable to "rape and murder". It says that homosexual relations are "crimes against humanity", which merit "severe punishment". It goes on to boast with approval the Islamic injunction that homosexuals should be put to death.

In its magazine "Khilafa", Hizb ut Tahrir likewise justifies the murder of lesbians and gay men: "The Islamic Verdict on Homosexuality ... If you find anyone doing as Lot's people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done".

When the Church of England Bishops in 1991 proposed relaxing their outright opposition to homosexual relationships between lay people, Hizb ut Tahrir condemned the recommendation as an "obscenity" and accused the Anglican leaders of "priestly perversion".

Hizb ut Tahrir is especially active on college campuses in London and Manchester. Jewish and gay students have suffered harassment and threats. Posters advertising gay society events have been torn down and defaced. At a student meeting in Manchester, speakers from Hizb ut Tahrir denounced the gay community: "Twenty years ago if you were queer ... you weren't allowed anywhere. They'd kick your door down ... Now they adopt kids, they can have a family. This is moral decline".

Some gay students - and lecturers - are so worried about possible assaults by Hizb ut Tahrir supporters that they have ceased to be open about their homosexuality.

Such fears are well founded. A black student at Newham College in London, Ayotunde Obonobi, was stabbed to death in 1995, allegedly by Islamic fundamentalists. A Nigerian friend of Obonobi's said he was concerned about his safety every time he went to college: "There is a hardcore of fundamentalists who are fanatics". Prior to the murder, Muslim militants had been marching around the campus shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is most great). A Ugandan woman studying at the college said the fundamentalists held meetings where "the superiority of Islam is drummed into students. Many of the Asian boys honestly believe that Muslims will go to Heaven if they kill for Allah".

An edited version of this article was published in Gay Times, October 1995.

PeterTatchell 1995. All rights reserved.
Published: 05/07/1995