Alyena Mohummadally is the latest essayist to have her work developed as part of the Overland Cal Connections project – an effort that focuses on publishing work from authors of underrepresented backgrounds and communities. Alyena is founder of the Yahoo! Group Queer Muslims in Australia and is chair of the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council Inc. We talk to her below about her activism and her essay, ‘I thought I was the only one!’
Please tell us about your experience writing this essay with Overland. You worked with one of Overland’s editors, John Marnell, over several months. How did you find the process?
John Marnell was a delight to work with. I have never had the experience of being encouraged, respected, pushed (in a good way) and made to dig deep and come out better for the process. To be honest, I was sad when the essay was complete and we said our email goodbyes, as he had firmly become my mentor and adviser during the months we worked together. One of the best aspects of working with him on this topic is that, as he had so many questions, he forced me to look at so many different areas, before we narrowed it down to what the essay should shape up to be. He also told me that my responses challenged his assumptions and that was an incredible compliment to me. I have worked with editors before, but have never had the mutual respect experience, and nothing was taboo for him to ask me – although not everything was responded to! The last few questions from Jeff assisted as well, so overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable and positive experience.
Why did you think the topic of homosexuality in Islam needed to be explored?
For me it was important to explore this topic for a number of reasons. Firstly, most people are unaware that Islam is not anti-sexuality; in fact it celebrates married, heterosexual love. Secondly, most Muslims who say that homosexuality is ‘haram’ (forbidden), base this on the story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah but there have been re-interpretations of these stories since. Thirdly, there are many, many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) Muslims not only in Australia, but also all over the world and finally I needed to give them a ‘voice’ as well as share my story of personal reconciliation.
You argue that homosexuality and same-sex marriage is not expressly prohibited in the Qur’an. What has led to the belief that homosexuality and Islam are incompatible?
There are many Muslims (and non-Muslims) who literally accept that the story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah are the undisputable ‘truth’ that homosexuality is prohibited, and rely on a particular verse for this. Notably, you can argue that this refers to men only as there is no reference to women at all, but I don’t do this, instead I challenge the interpretation itself. Also, I have found that if you dig a little deeper and have the conversation with people as to why they think that homosexuality and Islam is incompatible, I have found that there are many people who have made assumptions on the basis of what they have been told, rather than what they have found out for themselves. Similarly in regards to same-sex marriage, it isn’t expressly mentioned as a ‘no’, there is a list of the ‘no-go’ areas, e.g. brother, sisters and so on, but same-sex marriage isn’t expressly mentioned in that verse. Cynics will tell me it is ‘inferred’, but I argue otherwise.
Do you think the same could be said for Christianity and Judaism?
Absolutely. I have had many a discussion with practicing Christians and Jews who are inflexible on the Biblical stories and insist that you cannot be GLBTIQ and have a faith as well. Conversely, I have had discussions with many GLBTIQ people who have told me that they have had to turn away from their faith once they accepted their sexuality/gender identity, as they did not believe they could remain a part of the flock.
What else are you working on at the moment? I see that you are chair of the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council Inc. What does that involve?
The Queer Muslims in Australia Yahoo! Group takes up a fair bit of my time, but the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council Inc. even more so, and I love it all. Currently we are putting a book together roughly titled Multicultural Queer Australia, which has a diverse range of writers in it, from established to new and emerging writers. It will mark the ten-year anniversary of the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council Inc and the work done so far regarding Australians who have a culture/religion/ethnicity that plays an important part within their world of also identifying as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer. I am enjoying the ride.