Ahmed Marcouch, chairman of the heavily immigrant Amsterdam neighborhood of Slotervaart, is taking it upon himself to fight persistent homophobia in the locality, including presenting a memorandum with measures to make the neighborhood more gay-friendly.
Name-calling, being spit on, and harassment are common experiences for gay persons passing street corners – and a number of Muslim youth are believed to be responsible for the attacks, in an apparent clash between the public acceptability of homosexuality in Amsterdam and rejection of homosexuality in Islamic practice.
Marcouch, a Muslim himself who was born in Morocco, is hoping to heal such clashes and put an end to such attacks. He has made an appearance at “Pink Eid al-Fitr” – a gay celebration of the Muslim holiday marking the end of the Ramadan, and debated religious leaders by arguing that Islam and homosexuality can co-exist. “Taking things one step further, we’re going to take the confrontational approach and it will be painful at times,” says Marcouch, who plans to assist the organization of a gay pride parade to start in Slotervaart this year.
Ahmed Marcouch, mayor of the Slotervaart district of Amsterdam, decided that a local Gay Pride parade will pass by establishments in the town. According to the Union of Moroccan Mosques in Amsterdam, local mosques are not happy about the decision, but are not publicly opposing it either. “We have no opinion about it. It is a wish of a district mayor, we don’t need to talk about everything,” said Khalil Aitblal, a spokesperson for the organization.
Aitblal added that the topic of homosexuality is sometimes an issue in mosques “because it’s an issue which people have difficulty with” but stated that he has no desire to make a public case of such discussions. The El Tawheed mosque is also reserved, but for another reason – spokesperson Fahred Zaari said “If we give our religious arguments, it quickly leads to the conclusion that Islam fosters certain aggressive feelings, against gays or against people who think differently. That is quickly understood as a threat, that is difficult.”
The problem, according to Zaari, is violence against gays: “Practice shows that those who trouble gays, or attack, are almost never practicing Muslims. We have religious objections against the homosexual act, that gives no right to injure, threaten or beat anyone. We preach that too.”
A film by director Parvez Sharma, called A Jihad for Love opened at the IFC Center in New York. The film – a documentary – includes interview subjects as he explores the countless repressed homosexuals in Arab countries, many of whom are considered monsters, and believed to be put to death even by family, friends, and neighbors. Over the course of three years, Sharma amassed approximately 400 hours of footage and interviews. The film mostly presents women and men who are both passionate about their faith, but cannot ignore the fact that their source of love and comfort, of lust and consolation is someone of the same sex. Sharma believes that a minority of extremists, dictating how the Quran is interpreted, and established punishments has hijacked Islam over issues of sexuality.
A controversial play looking addressing topics of sexuality including rape, circumcision, and homosexuality, has opened in Brussels. The play, entitled ‘The Veiled Monologues,’ was written by Dutch writer Adelheid Roosen and inspired by the American play, The Vagina Monologues. The Veiled Monologues draws on subjects of female sexuality and was developed from interviews with over 70 Muslim women in Holland, of various ethnic and cultural origins. The play is being performed in French for the first time in Brussels at the Teatre de Poche until February 9th, 2008.
A fear of misrepresentation and exotification of Muslims has sparked calls for Western filmmakers to halt projects about Islam and Muslims. Filmmakers such as Parvez Sharma and Ruhi Hamid, both cite the heightened interest in Islam post 9/11, and their frustration with stereotyped images, partial representations, and the lack of awareness of the complexities of religion for Muslims. Both Hamid and Sharma have dedicated themselves to representing Muslims and Islam in ways that are not usually known – the socio-cultural contexts of issues, sexuality, and the challenges of being gay and lesbian and practicing Muslims at the same time.