Australia’s “first openly gay” Imam says he fears for homosexual men and women in the Muslim community who are forced to live “double lives”.
Imam Nur Warsame started his outreach group Marhaba (an Arabic greeting meaning “welcome”) in 2013 for LGBTQI+ Muslims. The group quickly expanded from a small online network, into a regular meeting for members that took place in his living room.
Its founder says Marhaba allows members to explore the intricacies of their identity with others who have shared similar experiences and express their sexuality without rejecting their religious ideals.
“Religion, historically has been used to condemn LGBTQI people,” said Warsame. “So I understand why gay people can shun their religious background. Instead they choose to block it out.”
Warsame knows first-hand the difficulty of reconciling homosexuality with his Muslim faith and started Marhaba despite knowing backlash that LGBTQI people can face from their Muslim families and community.
“It was a risk but I was not willing to see people reject their faith due to pressure from families, and I was not willing to see men and women leading a double life,” he said.
“I didn’t know when I started the group that it would help reunite families or restore people’s religion. I just took a leap of faith.”
Warsame dismissed reports by the ABC that he wishes to start an inclusive mosque but said he hopes to expand Marhaba into a drop in centre for LGBTQI+ Muslims and their families to receive mediation, guidance and support from community members.
Nour, 24, works in conservation in regional Victoria. A lesbian from a Muslim background, she said there was a need for services like this in Melbourne that offer support to Muslim families with LGBTQI children.
“Every Muslim family has a gay kid they don’t talk about, and spaces like this would allow everyone who’s dealing with that to support each other,” Nour said.
Nour also attributes the support and information she gathered while realising her sexuality to the internet.
“I repressed my feelings for so long, and I tried really hard to make myself like men, and everything I learned I learned at 16 from the internet,” Nour said.
Unable to find a way to reconcile her upbringing with her sexuality, Nour spoke of a divide that can leave her feeling unable to participate in her culture.
“I feel like I’m too gay to be a Muslim, and I’m too Muslim to be gay,” Nour said. “I feel like I can’t identify with certain parts of my life. I’m not allowed to be involved with certain aspects of my culture because I’m not welcome.”