How did the monumental Supreme Court marriage decision affect gay Muslims? For some, not so much.
In a story for the Huffington Post, Pakistani journalist and documentarian Arooj Zahra explores the struggles of one gay Muslim couple and their fight for acceptance within their religious community.
Zahra was the recipient of a Daniel Pearl Fellowship in 2015. Established by the Daniel Pearl Foundation and the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships, this program aims to promote press freedom and East-West understanding by inviting journalists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia to work in American newsrooms.
As part of her fellowship, Zahra worked with the The Washington Post and the Pulitzer Center. During her time in the nation’s capital, Zahra noticed that although many journalists reported stories about the June 26, 2015 Supreme Court decision and its effect on the gay community, they neglected to include the Muslim community in their pieces.
“I thought I should do a story on this issue,” she explains. “[The] LGBT community in my country [Pakistan]—we are a majority Islamic country—is not as open as it is in the West. [The] Muslim voice, in my opinion, was missing.”
Zahra learned that, like many others involved in U.S. religious institutions, a majority of Muslim religious leaders remain firmly against allowing same-sex marriage in the faith despite the decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states.
Because of the community’s negative attitude toward homosexuality, Zahra had a difficult time finding gay Muslim couples willing to talk.
“Gay Muslims do not feel comfortable opening up for the fear of their families and social pressure,” she said.
Originally, Zahra interviewed a gay couple in D.C., but they later had second thoughts about publishing their story. Eventually, Zahra met with DC’s first openly gay imam, Daiee Abdullah, who helped her find the Floridian couple she featured.
Not all Muslims oppose gay marriage, Zahra learned. When it comes to same-sex marriage, Muslims are surprisingly tolerant, she reports. According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey, 42 percent of Muslims in the U.S. support same-sex marriages compared to the 29 percent of Evangelical Christians who support the act.
However, the reception of gays in the global Muslim community is not as welcoming. As such, Zahra said her article has not been well received in her home country of Pakistan.
“I am being abused on the social media as it’s a sensitive topic here, but that’s fine. I was expecting it,” she said. “But I hope over there in the U.S., people will receive it well and it will have a positive impact.”