On 6 July 2019, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) marched in Pride London for the 3rd time as an organisation.
This year, we marked the 40th anniversary of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a rebellion against the church’s religious morality, by marching as the Imams of Perpetual Indulgence.
Instead of being the Council for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice that terrorise people by enforcing Islamic morality codes with brute force in the countries some of us have fled from, we were the Council for the Promotion of Vice and the Prevention of Virtue.
Our imams were not the usual imams promoting death for thinking and loving freely but instead included dissenting topless women who subverted Islamic morality language by being Imams of Vice, Lust, Kofr, Zina…
Instead of our fingers pointing upwards towards Allah, our fingers pointed downwards negating his existence…
Our imams also wore pink triangles on our bodies to signify the continuation of the persecution of LGBT, particularly in countries under Islamic rules.
And like every year before, CEMB stood in solidarity with ex-Muslim, Muslim and other LGBT murdered in Islamic states and defended LGBT from minority communities here in Britain and elsewhere whilst highlighting Islamic homophobia – whether at the East London Mosque, against equality in schools in Birmingham or in Brunei, Chechnya, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey…
For us, our presence at Pride has been hugely important because we have members who are LGBT and/or refugees who have fled countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. Many of the very same Islamic states that kill LGBT, also kill apostates and blasphemers. Our presence is, therefore, crucial because it aims not only to defend LGBT rights of ex-Muslims and Muslims but also to push open the shrinking spaces for doubt and dissent. Pride is one of the very few public spaces where we can come out, loud and proud – as LGBT and/or ex-Muslims – without fear.
Unsurprisingly, as in previous years, social media has erupted with threats and intimidation because as always apostasy and blasphemy are considered worse than the murder of LGBT, apostates and blasphemers. Some “Sheikh” has even called for a joint statement of imams against CEMB because apparently, he fears “the punishment of Allah will descend.” And as usual, we have been accused of “Islamophobia.”
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we must reiterate that apostasy and blasphemy are not bigotry against people. Criticism of religion AND the religious-Right have always been an important part of the struggle for basic human rights and equality. Pride is still the scene of criticism against not just the Christian-Right but also Christianity. So why not Islamism AND Islam? Why should God or Jesus be Queer or Gay but not Allah? Why shouldn’t we be able to poke fun at Islam without fear?
CEMB will write further about these issues but there are somethings that must be said to “progressive” Muslim LGBT groups right away:
You use the language of the oppressor and reiterate accusations of “Islamophobia” because you say we “tar the whole faith.” But Islam is your faith not ours. And until the day we can blaspheme and leave Islam without fear, we will continue to celebrate and normalise blasphemy and apostasy, which is also a basic human right like the right to expression, opinion, religion or belief.
Also, inclusion, equality, rights, love and respect are for people not beliefs. To respect people and their rights, beliefs (even those that are sacred to some) must be open to ridicule, condemnation, criticism and even disrespect.
It would do some LGBT Muslim groups well to learn from CEMB and defend people’s rights even whilst disagreeing with their beliefs or views. CEMB has always unequivocally defended the rights of Muslim LGBT or migrants without accepting Islam. That is the whole point of the fight for equality and rights and stems from our common humanity. Unfortunately, because of narrow-minded identity politics, some LGBT Muslim groups cannot seem to comprehend that our rights and lives are intrinsically linked. LGBT Muslims cannot just defend their own rights whilst throwing ex-Muslim LGBT under a bus. Also, believers cannot just defend the right to religion without also defending the right to leave or criticise religion. To defend your rights, you must also defend ours. To liberate one, you must liberate all.
On 4 July, CEMB organised an evening on LGBT Rights, Apostasy and Blasphemy as part of Pride in London Festival with a film screening of ‘Ferdous’ by Shakila Taranum Maan followed by a panel discussion with Jimmy Bangash (CEMB Spokesperson), Khakan Qureshi (Birmingham South Asians LGBT Founder), Nadia El Fani (Tunisian Filmmaker), Sadia Hameed (CEMB Spokesperson), Shakila Taranum Maan (British Director) and Syed Isteak Hossain Shawon (Bangladeshi LGBT activist and Editor of Boys Love World). Facilitated by Maryam Namazie (CEMB and One Law for All Spokesperson). (Drew Dalton, Hidayah Chair, was unable to attend due to an emergency). Video footage of the evening will be made available soon but until then, watch the premier of a heart-wrenching poem by Kenyan Somali Poet Halima Salat, which ended the evening. Her poem is called A Boy, A Village, A Death. Nadia Mahmoud MCed the evening. Video footage is by @Reason4Freedom.
See some photos from Pride 2019: