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A Clash of Cultures: Exploring the Challenges of LGBT Muslims

July 21, 2016

Dr. Momin Rahman, Sociology professor at Trent University standing in the a lecture hall, discussing matters with student while wearing his black glasses

This story is featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Showcase: The Champions of Change Issue. View the complete Showcase publication

Muslim LGBT politics and identity aren’t common topics of conversation. In fact, they are topics that can easily be overlooked or even deemed taboo in some places of the world. But Dr. Momin Rahman, a Sociology professor at Trent University, is tackling the topic head on, ready to push for change for a group that might not always have the chance to do so themselves.

“Partly in the context of heightened Islamophobia since 9/11, and the increasing international emphasis on LGBT rights, we have seen an increasing focus on the clashes between Muslim communities and LGBT rights,” Professor Rahman explains about his draw and interest in the topic. “I wanted to intervene in this debate by highlighting that the two groups are not mutually exclusive.”

Caught in the middle

“LGBT Muslims are caught between belonging to two apparently oppositional cultures,” added Prof. Rahman. “Understanding their experiences is important from a social justice perspective because it allows us to suggest improvements to support policies and practices that acknowledge their difficult position.”

More broadly, Prof. Rahman’s research challenges the political use of LGBT rights as a credential of western societies' progress and superiority.  “It is quite strange to see LGBT rights becoming so widely used by western politicians who have, until very recently, been overwhelmingly against the progress of LGBT citizenship,” said Prof. Rahman. “We in the LGBT community in particular must be aware of this new development, and challenge the use of LGBT rights in racist and Islamophobic politics.”  

Prof. Rahman knows that this isn’t an easy problem to address, but he believes that it’s one of the strengths of his academic research. “We’re able to study issues in depth, over time and then contribute to public and political debates with this knowledge, rather than just react without thoroughly understanding the context of issues.” 

It’s learnings from this research that fosters discussions with Prof. Momin’s students in class about the stigma attached to Muslim cultures around gender and sexuality. It’s also led to thesis projects with students centered on the current internationalization of LGBT rights, and the resistance to these from some governments.

From research to action

In keeping with Trent’s emphasis on social justice research, Prof. Rahman shares that one of his aims is to develop practical resources for helping LGBT Muslims and those that provide services for them, or to even engage in advocacy on their behalf.

For example, Prof. Rahman was recently invited to Ottawa to meet diplomats at Global Affairs Canada, where he shared his research on the experiences of LGBT Muslims and discussed the political problems of advancing LGBT rights in countries around the world that are homophobic. 

Prof. Rahman and his research team have also been talking to NGOs and community groups that work with LGBT Muslims and will be developing publicly-accessible guides, information and resources that help LGBT Muslims discuss their lives with more support and success