Islamic fundamentalism is a growing religious and political force in Britain, particularly since the controversy over Salman Rushdie's allegedly blasphemous book, "The Satanic Verses". The death sentence served on Rushdie by Iranian Islamic leaders emboldened the extremists and swelled their ranks. They turned support for the murder of Rushdie into a litmus test of Muslim faith. Many hitherto tolerant Muslims felt obliged to endorse the call for the author's death. This opened the floodgates for a deluge of Islamic extremism, including a rabid homophobia that mirrors the bigotry of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists.
Not all Muslims are antigay. However, the Islamic holy book, the Koran --deemed to be the word of God-- unequivocally condemns male and female homosexuality as "transgressing beyond bounds". Moreover, the Hadith, the collection of sayings attributed to the prophet Mohammed, calls for the punishment of homosexual acts. The form of punishment is specified in Islamic law, the Shari'ah. This is the clerical interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith. It demands the death penalty for gay sex. Few British Muslims urge the execution of queers. But even moderate Islamic leaders denounce the "evil" of homosexuality. Members of the Muslim Parliament want to see gay sex outlawed and homosexuals imprisoned.
A supposedly middle-of-the-road Islamicist, Yusuf Islam, (the former pop star Cat Stevens), has condemned positive portrayals of homosexuality in school lessons, accusing those who advocate such policies of wanting to "feast off the innocence of our children for their own abominable sexual appetites".
Islamic homophobia is not limited to the Asian and Arab communities. Louis Farrakkhan's black militant Nation of Islam is establishing a foothold among Afro-Caribbean peoples. It, too, preaches a violent hatred of lesbians and gay men. The voices of tolerant Muslims, of which there are still many, are increasingly being sidelined and silenced.
The political consequences for the gay community could be serious. As the fundamentalists gain followers, homophobic Muslim voters may be able to influence the outcome of elections in 20 or more marginal constituencies. Their voting strength could potentially be used to block pro-gay candidates or to pressure electorally vulnerable MPs to vote against gay rights legislation.
The most dangerous of the Islamic fundamentalist groups is Hizb ut Tahrir. Rejecting democracy and human rights as alien western values, it advocates the violent overthrow of all existing political regimes and the establishment of a worldwide Islamic state -- a dictatorial global regime based on Koranic principles.
Hizb ut Tahrir denies the Holocaust and stirs up hatred against Jews and Hindus. It also incites violence against women who dress immodestly and against wives who disobey their husbands.
In its magazine "Khilafa", Hizb ut Tahrir justifies the murder of lesbians and gay men under the heading: "The Islamic Verdict on Homosexuality ... If you find anyone doing as Lot's people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done".
When the Church of England Bishops in 1991 proposed relaxing their outright opposition to homosexual relationships between lay people, Hizb ut Tahrir condemned the recommendation as an "obscenity" and accused the Anglican leaders of "priestly perversion".
Hizb ut Tahrir is especially active on college campuses in London and Manchester. Lesbian and gay students have suffered harassment and threats. Posters advertising gay meetings have been torn down and defaced. At a student meeting in Manchester, speakers from Hizb ut Tahrir denounced the gay community: "Twenty years ago if you were queer ... you weren't allowed anywhere. They'd kick your door down ... Now they adopt kids, they can have a family. This is moral decline".
Some gay students --and even lecturers-- are so worried about possible assaults by Hizb ut Tahrir supporters that they have ceased to be open about their homosexuality.
Such fears are well founded. A black student at Newham College in London, Ayotunde Obonobi, was stabbed to death in 1995, allegedly by Islamic fundamentalists. A Nigerian friend of Obonobi's said he was concerned about his safety every time he went to college: "There is a hardcore of fundamentalists who are fanatics". Prior to the murder, Muslim militants had been marching around the campus shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is most great). A Ugandan woman studying at the college said the fundamentalists held meetings where "the superiority of Islam is drummed into students. Many of the Asian boys honestly believe that Muslims will go to Heaven if they kill for Allah".
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