Addressing an Islamic conference in Johannesburg in 2007, Jordanian national and Canadian resident Suhail AbualSameed said, As a gay Muslim, I feel unsafe, unloved and unrespected in this space.
He later explained, The harshness of the comments [by other Muslims] made me passionate; I had to do something for my own identity and dignity, and of other gay Muslims.
Amman-born Faisal, 25, believes Arabic culture is the main reason why homosexuality is not accepted in his country.
According to Arabic culture, homosexual men are not real men. Jordanian society has built a stereotype of what a man is: you are not supposed to cry, to be soft, sentimental, he said.
This sentiment was demonstrated in November 2008 when authorities targeted gay prostitutes because they were spreading vice and moral decay in society. Amman’s military governor Saad Manasir allegedly said, The campaign will continue until we eradicate any trace of male homosexuals in the society.
Also last year, the police raided Books@Cafe, a gay-friendly establishment, citing alcohol violations during the holy month of Ramadan. The owner, Madian al Jazerah, wrote on the internet, This is about where we stand in hypocrisy and bigotry… We get shocked with the visit from the police with an order to close. There was no reason with the order.
Faisal said, Why would the authorities close it down? It’s a beautiful cafe, with views of the old city. It’s ridiculous. Gay people will always find a way to meet and get together.
Faisal acknowledges that some interpret the Muslim religion to denounce homosexuality.
The religion says no to homosexuality. If you’re a Muslim you cannot live your life disconnected from the religion. Islam is a way of life, it’s how society functions, governs. I believe calling yourself a Muslim country and not following the Sharia law is not right, he said.
The legal system in Jordan is a mixture of religious Sharia and European codes, with Ottoman influences. It is perhaps for this reason that Jordan is relatively more tolerant than other Arabic nations.
Jordan is one the few Middle Eastern countries where homosexual acts are not illegal. The penal code was amended in 1951 to decriminalise private adult and consensual acts of sodomy.
There are mixed reports regarding honour killings in Jordan. Faisal doesn’t recall any gay people suffering such a fate. The law protects perpetrators of honour killings, despite recent lobbying for the Government to repeal the legislation.
Faisal said ultimately the perception of homosexuality in Jordan is very different from Australia’s understanding.
In Jordan the view of homosexuality is that it’s purely an act undertaken by bad people. I never thought beyond the sexual aspect until I left Jordan, he said. The concept of a gay relationship beyond sex is rarely thought of in my country. We don’t think about inheritance rights, for example.
Faisal, who’s been studying in Sydney since 2006, is optimistic for his country’s future.
Let’s take Sydney 50 years ago. You could not live an openly gay life then. I like to think that Jordan is a late bloomer. I hope that in the future everyone will be happy, however there are still some parts of the world which still need to deal with these issues.