LGBT Muslim Experience – Towards Better Defence of the Community
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LGBT Muslim Experience – Towards Better Defence of the Community
15th March 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Last November, Khakan Qureshi was conducting a workshop for inclusivity week at a school in Birmingham when he was met with vociferous opposition from the students, asserting that he could not be both gay and Muslim, and that he should not teach them about his sin. He later received death threats. The incident provided an insight into what appears to be an organised and pernicious opposition to schools fulfilling their legal duty to teach on equality and diversity, and also showed how young people could be co-opted in the growing debate over how to teach sex education and equality in certain schools. False allegations of Prevent referrals, unsuitable organisations being recommended as support services and the central role played by Islamist news sources in this particular crisis all point towards young people being potentially used as part of a wider Islamist agenda to spread hateful views.
The challenge facing schools when it comes to their ability to teach values of equality and tolerance in schools is of grave concern. It is something Charlotte Littlewood, HJS Research Fellow and panellist, has investigated, leading to commentary in the Telegraph, Mail and Pink News and a Charity Commission investigation. However, seeing that a recent petition has gained over 100,000 signatures to oppose LGBT-related teaching in schools, it is now pertinent to bring this issue to wider prominence so that we may see better support provided to schools.
By kind invitation of Elliot Colburn MP, The Henry Jackson Society welcomes you to an expert panel discussion where we will explore the experiences of LGBT Muslims in the UK. This is an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the intersection of being Muslim and LGBT in the UK, and to engage in a critical discussion about the challenges that many LGBT Muslims face and ways that government can support. The panel includes LGBT identifying Muslim Sohail Ahmed who will share his personal experiences of growing up and living in the UK as an LGBT Muslim. We will also be joined by Muslim activist and journalist Khadija Khan for her perspective on the ideological threat facing the LGBT Muslim community and by our lead researcher in this area, research fellow Charlotte Littlewood.
Sohail Ahmed is a reformed former radical Islamist who was at one point on the cusp of engaging in violence in his home city, London. Raised in an extreme and austere form of Islam, he was taught to hate non-Muslims and even other Muslims who happened to follow a different form of Islam. Additionally, having discovered that he was gay at an early age, he turned this hatred inwards towards himself – a fact that ended up fuelling his radicalisation journey.
Eventually he began to question the beliefs and worldview he had been raised with and self-deradicalised. He now works to raise awareness of the threat of extremism to society, and advocates for LGBT rights in Islam. He is a member of the Counter Terrorism Youth Advisory Group.
Khadija Khan is a journalist and commentator based in the UK. She writes for different publications, focusing on human rights, mainly women’s rights, as well as minorities and extremism.
Charlotte Littlewood is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. She is a PhD candidate in Arab and Islamic studies with the University of Exeter University. Her research focuses on minority within Muslim minority conflict in the UK, in particular the persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the extent to which the UK is able to support this community.
Charlotte started her career as a Prevent practitioner on behalf of the UK government, going on to be a Counter-Extremism Coordinator for an East London Borough. From this Charlotte went on to found her own community interest company with the aim of countering extremism and promoting equality. She developed and took projects that focused on women’s rights and tackling domestic violence to the West Bank, Palestine. Alongside this she consulted for Muslims Against Antisemitism, working towards greater tolerance and cohesion between communities in the UK.
Charlotte has a LLB in Law and MA in Security and Strategy.
Elliot Colburn was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Carshalton and Wallington, the area in which he was born and grew up in, in 2019. Before his election, he was a local councillor and worked in the NHS.
Following his election, Elliot sits on the Women and Equalities Committee and is the Co-Chair of the APPG for Global LGBT+ Rights. In this time, he has met with organisations and individuals from around the globe to learn more about LGBT+ experiences elsewhere in the world, as well sharing a UK perspective with them.
The Henry Jackson Society was pleased to host Elizabeth Arif-Fear on behalf of Sohail Ahmed, Khadija Khan, and Charlotte Littlewood at Portcullis House. Elliot Colburn MP, who chaired the event, began by introducing the speakers and reading a passage sent by Sohail Ahmed, who sadly could not be with us in person. A chilling piece about Sohail’s first-hand struggles with how his family transitioned from non-orthodox to extreme Islam during his childhood, described horrifying backlash when his family found that he was gay. Elizabeth spoke about her experiences as a gay Muslim and described traditional Islam as ‘mainstream homophobia’ where being Muslim can never be compatible with being gay. She also highlighted the entanglement of misogyny here too; with ‘prejudice being more fervent against “queer” men’. Charlotte, a HJS research fellow, gave us the devastating facts regarding homophobia in schools particularly in Birmingham. Her research found that Muslim parents complain about LGBTQ+ being taught in school and propaganda being shared on social media by students, culminating in widespread negative externalities. Abu Bakr Trust, which governs some key schools in this regard, is now under investigation as a result of the HJS research. Khadija explained the situation at Wakefield and Berkely School and pointed out that blasphemy is not appropriate here, it is discrimination and persecution definitively.
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