News / Edmonton

'We won't be silent': First conference on LGBTQ Muslims looks to promote a different version of Islam

Junaid Jahangir wants to start a dialogue about Islam and LGBTQ Muslims despite silence from muslim communities.

Junaid Jahangir is organizing a conference for LGBTQ Muslims this weekend that will hear from community stakeholders, teachers and Muslim community leaders.

Kevin Tuong/for metro / Edmonton Freelance

Junaid Jahangir is organizing a conference for LGBTQ Muslims this weekend that will hear from community stakeholders, teachers and Muslim community leaders.

When Junaid Jahangir was a young graduate student, he wrote an article for an Islamic religious magazine that a former professor considered radical.

Jahangir wrote that members of the LGBTQ community should be treated with kindness and compassion.

In response, his professor wrote him, telling him that “such people should be locked up, you know, like we lock up psycho cases,” Jahangir recalls.

That attitude is why this weekend Jahangir is hosting MacEwan’s first conference about Islam and LGBTQ Muslims.

He said the Muslim community is often represented by very conservative voices, and he wants people to know that there are interpretations of the faith that are friendly to the LGBTQ community.

“The voices of the Muslim community is being represented by a very narrow group of people,” he said.

These days, Jahangir is a scholar of Islamic law, a professor of economics, and a proud Muslim.

But he’s also gay, which, despite everything else he does, still makes him feel isolated from his religious community, he said.

“I want to create that space,” he said. “This is 2017, enough is enough, and we will not be silent, we want to promote our Islam in this way.”

However, getting the conversation started hasn’t been easy.

Candy Khan, a PhD graduate student at the University of Alberta who is helping to promote the event said many of her invites to local Muslim associations have been met with silence.

“It’s been very difficult to mobilize people because of the fact that the LGBTQ topic itself is not necessarily welcome in the [Muslim] community,” Khan said.

“People are not wanting to come because they are fearful that if other members find out that I have attended this conference, they will be ostracized,” she said.

Although Jahangir does not expect the majority of the Muslims in Edmonton to attend, he’s hoping to reach more progressive allies.

“The people I’m trying to reach out to are the Muslims who navigate secular spaces. These are people who have gay co-workers, who work in social organisations,” he said.

He said the conference is especially important now, with Islamaphobia on the rise. Critics of the faith often use its most conservative ideas to criticize all followers, he added.

“I basically took a stand and said that these voices do not represent my Islam,” he said. “In the Muslim community cultural taboos exist, and we have to accept that but that doesn't mean that we do not have support.”

The conference will hear from several experts in Quran and LGBTQ issues as well community stakeholders, teachers and Muslim community leaders.

The conference will also feature a woman leading the Friday prayer, which in Islam is traditionally done by a man.

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