Hidayah: 'We're trying to show people that we exist to both Muslim and LGBTQ+ communities'
- Katie Goh
- 25 September 2019
SQIFF Shorts: Queer Islam with Hidayah
A spokesperson for Hidayah discusses the programme of films and discussions they're hosting at this year's Scottish Queer International Film Festival, and their work in amplifying the voices of LGBTQ+ Muslims
This year, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival celebrates its fifth edition with its most impressive line-up to date. The five-day festival features a variety of themed sections including strands focusing on gay men and online dating; disability and queerness; a VR and interactive showcase in partnership with the Glasgow Women's Libarary; and a curated short film programme followed by discussions on queerness and Islam. This latter strand is being co-hosted by Hidayah, a volunteer-run organisation that provides support for hundreds of LGBTQ+ Muslims around the UK and abroad.
'What we try to do is give a voice to the voiceless,' explains one of its organisers on the phone, choosing to remain anonymous. 'Many predominantly Muslim countries around the world don't accept LGBTQ+ people and in the UK as well, a lot of LGBTQ+ Muslims struggle with their faith and identity – people like myself; I'm still not out to my family and I'm in my 40s. So the struggle is sometimes invisible within the LGBTQ+ community itself. We're fighting two battles really. We're trying to show people that we exist to both Muslim and LGBTQ+ communities.'
Hidayah are hoping that co-hosting a programme of short films with SQIFF will help raise awareness of an often forgotten intersection of the LGBTQ+ community. 'We're hoping to show films that highlight the plight and experiences of LGBTQ+ Muslims so this will give a voice to people who don't always get a voice within LGBTQ+ community. People think the LGBTQ+ community is all rainbows and unicorns and everybody is accepting but the reality can be different. When I first came out into the gay community, I was rejected by the community and it was a very racist experience for me. It put me back in the closet which led me to deny my sexuality. I don't want to be part of that community that didn't accept me and, as a result, it had a knock-on effect on my mental health.'
The Islam and queerness programme will showcase a mixture of different experiences within the Muslim LGBTQ+ community, such as the trans Muslim community. 'Within Islam, there's a recognition of a third gender so countries like Pakistan or Iran actually provide some of the [highest rates of] gender reassignment surgeries in the world,' explains the Hidayah spokesperson. 'So that's quite a big difference compared to the UK where you have to collect evidence and prove that you're living in the gender you want to transition to, which is hugely damaging to many people's mental health. Countries like Pakistan, that I would consider to be a conservative Muslim country, recognises the trans community. Recently, the government allowed the trans community to sit in parliament and make decisions about its community which is amazing, but if you're gay or a lesbian then you really have no rights at all.'
As well as screening films about being an LGBTQ+ Muslim in other countries, the strand will show UK-based films in the hope of educating the public. 'A lot of the time, people think because we're in the UK we have freedom of speech but the reality is different. Look at the last few months, at what happened in Birmingham with the protests when schools tried to include inclusive education, and even parents going as far as taking students out of school because they weren't happy about same-sex relationships being taught in primary schools. Many of Hidayah's members live in Birmingham in predominantly Muslim communities. We had someone getting in touch and saying they had just come out to their family and were going through a difficult time and then someone posted a leaflet about the protest through her family's door which sparked a row and she was out on the street. So that's how bad the situation is for LGBTQ+ Muslims and there aren't any support mechanisms.'
But despite the difficulties many LGBTQ+ Muslims face, Hidayah is hopeful that things are changing, evident in the strand they're programming with SQIFF. 'People have been surprised that it hasn't been too difficult for us to find LGBTQ+ Muslim filmmakers. A lot of the people who have made these films have escaped their home country or have made these films hidden because they're not allowed to be shown. You have these amazing artists who have made an effort to have their voices heard. Unfortunately, a lot of them end up receiving death threats and have to leave their families and homes behind.
'Our aim with this strand is to inform and educate all people, so not just Muslim people but also the LGBTQ+ people and all people in society regardless of religion. It's a difficult process but it's changing. Hidayah is turning up at Pride and doing events like this one with SQIFF and we're having conversations with people. We're feeling hopeful.'
SQIFF, various venues, Glasgow, Wed 2–Sun 6 Oct.
Scottish Queer International Film Festival
Scotland’s annual celebration of queer cinema heads online in 2020. The film programme is available on Vimeo on Demand throughout the festival, plus virtual events include online watch parties, workshops, Q&A sessions, discussions, parties and a closing night quiz.