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29 March 2014. The first same-gender weddings in the UK. Attitude Magazine celebrate with a commemorative issue looking at all things nuptial. Was happy to be asked to contribute an article on celebrating LGBT Muslim (& non-Muslim) love, so here it is.

Congratulations to all the happy couples!

God bless.

Xxx

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My latest blog is inspired by a practice, it’s simplicity and good-naturedness I may have taken for granted that non-Muslims also understand, in a seemingly ever-increasingly ‘phobic’ world.

Halal meat.

Now, half my friends eat pork, don’t eat halal food, get intoxicated etc, and like other Muslims, I really have no issue with that because it’s none of my (God-damn! 😉 ) business. People observing my way of life can either join me or not. It’s not my business to preach and indeed I’m not blogging to convert anyone, just to be clear.

But over the years, likely to be exacerbated post-9/11, I have heard rumblings of discontent over this practice, culminating in a piece on The One Show in September this year where a particularly disgruntled member of the public was speaking about why many British people are against halal meat. Initially surprised years ago when I first heard that people could possibly have an issue, this very soon changed to not-being-surprised-at-all considering people can be just plain prejudiced, particularly post-9/11.

Negative Islamic stories in the media being the norm these days, I was nevertheless surprised to first hear in 2009 a mini-uproar at KFC’s plans for some of it’s chains to serve halal chicken. Mainly because, Muslims who before couldn’t get themselves a fix of some of the ‘Colonel’s’ fried-chicken now could, it wouldn’t stop non-Muslims from eating it and it would surely be better for KFC’s profit, so everyone’s happy….no?

It appeared not. People were up in arms over their ‘freedom’ being compromised and objected to this ‘barbaric’ practice. And the guy on The One Show, before being informed of the practice on site by halal butchers, said he had the right to know if meat he ate was halal or not, as non-Muslims have the right to not take part in this practice.

Hmmm.

So, doing my bit to help people make an informed decision for themselves, here is an attempt to cut through the offal to get to the meaty truth. (Sorry 😉 ).

POSSIBLE MISCONCEPTIONS…

Cruelty

First things first – unless you’re a vegetarian, you could say that sacrificing any animal for consumption is cruel, full stop.

The One Show mentioned that in the West, animals are stunned before sacrifice, and as most halal butchers don’t, this is therefore cruel.

First of all, if no halal methods are available, then Muslims can of course eat what animals they like to survive.

So what is halal sacrifice exactly? It is where animals are slaughtered by a human making a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides together with the trachea and oesophagus but leaving the spinal cord intact in this initial cut. Within seconds, the blood pressure in the brain falls to zero and the animal becomes unconscious, and so feels no pain as the knife is sharp. And this is done while a prayer is said, which is for the animal and also to bless the meat.

This is fundamental – if the animal feels pain, it cannot be considered halal.

But halal doesn’t stop there.

Animal Welfare

Like ‘kosher’ for Judaism, halal for Muslims means anything that is fit for consumption / inclusion in life that is good and respectful for all.

Most people have probably heard of halal food, where like with kosher, livestock that are permitted to be consumed are sacrificed in a certain way in God’s name to allow them to be fit for consumption. It also bans the consumption of pork, blood, carrion or animals killed by strangulation, being beaten, by predators or other non-halal means.

But the concept of halal is not just for food. It extends through life, complimenting Islamic principles to help guide individuals in living a decent life and in considering each other’s welfare.

In exactly the same way, halal food means the welfare of the animal throughout it’s life is of utmost importance. The privilege of eating animal protein implies a duty to animals from their rearing right through to their slaughter. So battery-hens or stunning cooped up animals on a conveyor belt are equally non-halal. Organic principles anybody? Yup, Islam had them from the beginning.

People’s rights to choose what they eat

I’ve come across some internet forums where people have expressed not only their disapproval of eating halal food, but that it represents an ‘Islamification’ of the West – Muslims forcing their way on non-Muslims.

Not to go off on a tangent, but the vast majority of Muslims don’t want to force people to do anything, because to do so is against Islamic principles.

But coming back to the point, I agree that any place where meat is served should state not only whether it is halal or kosher, but also whether it is organic or not, and other such factors. Totally agree that people should have the right to know what is on offer so they can choose to eat it or not.

But really…let’s be honest about what this exact ‘disapproval’ is of. Is ‘Joe Bloggs’ really that concerned about the welfare of the cow used for his beef-burger or the pig used for his hotdog? Mmmmm? Of course not. OK, of course more and more people these days genuinely are concerned, and so they should be. But I think for a lot of people, it’s more the fact that they just don’t want to feel that, at best, they are ‘encouraging’ or supporting Muslims, and at worst, they just don’t want anything to do with them. Am I right? Am I wrong?

I uphold anyone’s right to have the freedom to live how they please. But not if it’s through ignorance or lying about what the real reasons are.

So there you have it. 🙂

It turns out that some of the KFC branches had to revert to non-halal food as they also had to stop serving bacon on the premises, which led to a big reduction in sales (I know, I know, the Daily ‘Hate’ Mail). And quite right too! It’s simple business and the unwritten ‘law’ of the majority. If more people are going to be disadvantaged / inconvenienced from eating somewhere than those who would benefit, then it’s completely wrong to change things.

But in KFC branches located in parts of town where the vast majority aren’t going to touch bacon products, then why not have it halal? And non-Muslims who may be in the minority in that small town just won’t be able to have bacon – OK, I can see that as seeming unfair, but they can still have chicken if it’s halal, if they want to, and eat bacon elsewhere, it doesn’t make a difference. After all, large numbers of Nando’s are halal and have been for years and most non-Muslims eat there happily side by side with Muslims…when you’re hungry, you’re hungry!

Interestingly, there was a study done on comparing halal slaughter with non-halal slaughter. By no means is this post an attempt to criticise non-halal slaughter, but it makes for interesting reading where it states that ‘stunning’ and the subsequent procedures actually cause pain and not the opposite. See what you make of it, Deutsche Tieraerztliche Wochenschrift (German Veterinary Weekly), 1978; Volume 85: Pages 62-66.

So be a vegetarian, be a meat-eater, but use your (meat)loaf.

Light-Hearted Comedy Bit!

I tried to find the Pam Ann sketch on her dealings with offering halal food…but found this Malaysian skit. It’s a bit weird! :-/ But it’s not afraid to use humour and is actually quite informative, so I like it, hope you do too!

So the spiritiual month of Ramadan has ended and once again Eid al-Fitr is here!

Like Christmas, for Muslims this means rejoicing with those at the mosque, having a huge feast, exchanging gifts and being with loved ones.

I must admit I found Ramadan a bit of a struggle this year…studying and personal battles are always trying and Ramadan can give a lot of inner strength, but when such a month brings family together and one experiences a huge loss and/or change in these foundations, all things combined can leave one feeling a little isolated.

Luckily, Ramadan is also a time for extra charity. And nothing helped more than fundraising again with a group of strangers and friends. Knowing you were helping the needy and starving helped make Ramadan more tangible for me…try as I might I couldn’t phrase that without it sounding so crappily cheesy and cliche! But honestly, making a positive change feels good, even if at the very least it’s a welcome temporary distraction from one’s turmoils.

Ramadan – like many religious periods – invites a hotbed of debate, and this year’s was no different.

And I’m pleased to say I drew strength from these. Actually a few discussions in particular will never go away. I can hold my hands up and say I’m sometimes wrong and sometimes stubborn ( 🙂 ), but it never ceases to amaze me how certain views about equality and human rights I find universal are met with disagreement by some.

So this Eid al-Fitr, I wanted to wish all my loved ones Eid Mubarak and hope God blesses you all.

For those who follow a faith and say you can’t be gay if you are supossed to be Muslim, Christian, Jewish / any of the non-Abrahamic religions, I say God created all people equal. And despite loving another person clearly being poles apart from being a sin, only two people can judge you – yourself and God. May God bless you too.

For those who are atheist and say you can’t be Muslim, Christian, Jewish / any of the non-Abrahamic religions if you are supossed to be gay, I say it is no more wrong to say that than when religious leaders have told the LGBT community that their feelings are unnatural. If someone can happily follow a faith and happily embrace theirs and others’ sexuality, then as you would tell those same religious leaders, live and let live. May the Cosmos bless you.

And to all my friends and loved ones who aren’t Muslim or who are indeed agnostic / atheist, I love you as you. I wish you positivity and happiness over the coming year…and if I’ll be seeing you, then get ready to feast and party! 😀

Love To All, X

Prejudice in LGBT Community



And onto the 2nd incident! A tale of bears, burkhas and bigotry. Just before London Pride this year, the owner of XXL (the London gay club for fat / big and often hairy men), Mark Ames, announced via facebook that he would be “boycotting any shops, petrol stations restaurants or businesses I know are owned by Muslims this also includes holidays to muslim [sic] countries today see [sic] our death toll up to 300, so why the hell are we not just flying this scum back out to there beloved states and pull out and let them fight out there [sic] own issues!”

An uproar ensued, with the Iraqi LGBT group, the UK Muslim LGBT group Imaan, Peter Tatchell and Jeremy Joseph speaking against him. Mark Ames issued an apology, and said he was angry at extremists and should have chosen his wording more carefully, and that it was because he had friends in the Armed Forces who were particularly affected.

Hmmm. Most Muslims and I are completely against extremists / terrorists / all hate-mongers. That is not Islam. Islam is peace. Good that he tried to apologise…but I don’t really buy his apology. He was writing, not speaking, so it was even easier for him to be more considered, and specify ‘extremists’ and not ‘Muslims’. And for a club that promotes tolerance and an alternative to the more judgemental aspects of the gay scene, it was complete hypocrisy. Where does that leave people like myself and others who are proud to be gay and Muslim; XXL was not only my local, but one of my favourite ‘no-attitude’ clubs. And as for the British Muslims who are also giving their lives against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was a complete insult. But hey, some things are in the past.

And so, again, watching Syed and Christian fight prejudices and hatred to stand up for what they believe in so strongly – love – I wondered if Mark Ames and others like him were watching. Maybe they couldn’t give a monkey’s. But it was encouraging to know that a highly-viewed show like Eastenders was promoting a message of love and understanding.

This Saturday, a group set up as a result of this XXL debacle – Bears Against Bigotry – are having a picnic in Regent’s Park, completely INCLUSIVE and open to everyone to discuss ways of bringing the community together, in a relaxed fun environment:

Bears Against Bigotry Picnic – Sat 31st July 2010

I think it sounds fantastic and encourage people to go, and if I’m not working till late I hope to go. What gets me is that there are some supposedly spiritual people who reject you because you are gay, and some assumed-to-be liberal gay people who reject you because you believe in God. We all have differences, it wouldn’t be human to be identical. But it’s that which we should celebrate, as well as what we have in common. Have pride in ourselves…Human Pride. And maybe 2 people in particular, even if they haven’t watched Eastenders recently, might also enjoy coming to the picnic one day. 😉

Me with other Imaan supporters, at London Pride 2006!


“The thing is, they tell me I can’t be gay and a Muslim…why not? Who do I have to choose? I am the way I am, because that’s how Allah made me. Whatever faults I have, he gave me. Now I am proud of my faith. Now I am proud that Islam is about peace and tolerance and celebrating things that make us different. But I need to be proud of who I am. Only, I’m gonna need a little bit of help.”


“I can do that.”


“I’m gay and I’m Muslim…and I don’t think you can go to hell for having loved.”


“Let’s go home.”


As Syed and Christian set off through Walford Market, orchestral strains soaring instead of the usual ‘da, da, da, da da, da-da-da-da‘, a tube train passing through Walford East station in jubilee (note to anoraks: not Jubilee; I know it’s District!), I wondered how many viewers nationwide learn about issues they would never else consider (at best, through blissful ignorance, at worst, through prejudice) from our daily soaps.

Soap acting can sometimes be twee, so I was curious with how Eastenders would portray the story of coming out in a Muslim family, two issues close to my heart and those of others I know.

If I’m honest, I stopped watching soaps years ago (loved some while at school!), but after I was interviewed last year by Attitude magazine – along with 2 friends – about being British, gay and Muslim as the plot-line was launched, I was fascinated to see this unfold on screens up and down the U.K.

And I must say…I have been very impressed. Eastenders has pulled no punches and has been careful to develop the relationship between Syed & Christian (did they plan that I wonder, a Muslim involved with someone called Christian? 😉 ) tenderly, while making sure it’s kept as realisitic as possible with the drama of denial, religion, family members keeping shtum, marriage, violence and even throwing in a SSA (same-sex attraction) ‘healer ‘ into the mix.

The road for Syed and Christian may still be rocky, they may choose not to be in a relationship, but watching this recent episode with pride, 2 particular occasions sprung to mind. The first dealing with SSA (same-sex attraction) healers, and the second dealing with prejudice in the LGBT community.


‘Healing’ One’s Sexuality


Out and proud: Daayiee Abdullah, a Gay Muslim Imam (Priest).

I had a friend I’d known for over 10 years. He was intelligent, warm, quiet unless with people he knew well…and religious. An observant Muslim, like myself, which we had pride in. And both gay…in which he felt shame. Over the years, we had our struggles, but it inevitably became awkward when he informed me of his involvement with a SSA healing group.


Mainly through sheer laziness we would get in contact irregularly, but he was one of those friends where we could suddenly arrange to meet and it would seem like we had only met yesterday. One of those times was a couple of years ago, after my Mum, who had just turned 60, died unexpectedly.


He suddenly became more proactive in wanting to meet, suggesting things to do. A few weeks later, my Mum’s Dad also died. It was a great comfort to pray together, go to the cemetery, just hang-out. Although we had our differences, I thought we could see past that and finally have a full friendship.


It was great to spend time with each other over the next year. But then he stopped getting in contact and did not return my calls. A few months later I received a long email. It said he thought I was a great person, warm, loving, who hadn’t done anything wrong…but that our paths had changed to the point where he could no longer be friends. He regarded SSA as an addiction like gambling or drug abuse, and it was dangerous for him to hang around other addicts like me who were proud of it, and didn’t even see it as an addiction.


He was going to tell me around the time my Mum died, but thought it inappropriate to say anything then, and he only plucked up the courage to say it a year and a half later. But he wished me well at the end of the email anyhow, but that he would not respond to any contact from me ever again.


I was speechless for a while.


So when Syed in Eastenders met the same kind of SSA ‘therapist’, I was excited and nervous to see the conclusion. He talked openly and honestly about his sexuality, and the therapist went through a series of explanations and ways to deal with this, covering all angles from childhood to coping strategies. But ultimately…love won. In tears, Syed realised that, for him at least, this was all b******t. He realised that God made him the way he is, warts and all.


And that, actually, being gay wasn’t really a ‘wart’ at all. Perhaps taken for granted by most gay guys, I was over the moon that this was what Syed decided. Because, whether you are an atheist or believe in God, you are who you are, and loving someone can never be wrong.


It is completely unacceptable for someone to feel pressured in ‘coming out’, or to feel ostracised for choosing to keep one’s sexuality to oneself; unless potential damage is caused by being in a certain situation and choosing to not ‘come out’, it is no-one’s business to disclose such information but the individual’s.


However, ‘SSA healing’ is a different story. ‘SSA-healers’ can ultimately worsen the prejudice against members of the LGBT community. They can also be indirectly responsible for the murders of members of the LGBT community; I say this because as a mindset it can create a culture where being ‘queer’ is seen as wrong. If an individual decides to ‘cure’ him/herself, then it is that person’s choice, fair enough. But the problem with ‘SSA-healing’ is that in creating this environment, there is no acceptance that people can be born LGBT or that they don’t need to change…and therefore those that are homophobic – whether through incorrect religious quoting or otherwise – may use this as an example to justify killing LGBT people, if their reasoning is “You were’t born this way, you’re just refusing to accept that being LGBT is a mistake, just listen to what SSA-healers say”. If any of my friends never wanted anyone to know about their sexuality or indeed anything else, I would always honour that, no question. Likewise, I respect my friend’s choice to ‘treat’ his ‘disease’ by going to a ‘SSA healer’, and while I similarly honour his decision to keep this private, I can’t ever really buy this ‘I can be cured’ perspective if it damages the individual and those around him. Especially if it taught him to turn his back on what could have been a great friendship – did he take this advice from other friends? It hurt me to become more of a friend when I was in need and then end it, rather than stop it sooner, especially when I had always strived to give him 110% of my loyalty, energy and love in our friendship. But I guess then it was best for me too if he couldn’t reciprocate it.


I didn’t respond until a few months later. Namely to say I respected him for his courage, but that if he was being honest I therefore did not understand why he was proactive in wanting to meet up for so long, and that any effort on my part to meet up could not have fuelled this addiction when we never went to gay venues or particularly talked about sex, and I had been in a long-term stable relationship for 7 years, etc. And that especially knowing I came out to my family, and how it affected my Mum in particular, I was hurt that he suggested I would reveal something so deeply-impacting to my family for it to be merely an ‘addiction’. Lastly, I hoped that he was always honest to himself and others, because ultimately, Muslim or not, we should be true to ourselves.


So I sincerely hope my fellow Muslim, my fellow human, and indeed any one involved with ‘SSA-healing’, had watched / been aware of these Eastenders episodes and come to the same conclusion to accept himself, and others, as God made him/them.


Part 2 tomorrow!…

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