This post first appeared on The Healing Circle SG, July 18th 2018.
On 6 July, Raya Qonversation, an event co-organised by Gender Equality is Our Culture (GEC), LGBTQ organisations Jejaka and The Healing Circle SG, and a support group for Muslim women, Penawar, was held. The event allowed individuals who identify as queer and queer allies to come together and celebrate Hari Raya in a safe space while discussing topics related to gender, sexuality and faith.
The night opened with a sharing session by some participants on the current scholarship of gender and sexual diversity in Islam. They brought up ideas that were discussed by the scholars, namely, capturing the discussion of sexual diversity through karamah (the concept of dignity in Islam). They discussed how classical and contemporary scholars have shown that there is space in Islam for an understanding of religious texts that are more inclusive (of gender and sexuality) and does not limit interpretations through the perspective of gender binary.
With the tone set for the night, audience members chimed in with their individual perspectives and personal experiences. Many voiced their hopes for greater inclusivity in mosques, here in Singapore. Such establishments are beginning to crop up in cities around the world. For example, a participant shared her experience of worshipping at The Open Mosque in Cape Town – where there was no gender segregation and prayers were led by an openly gay Imam. While alternative displays of religious practice could raise some eyebrows in the Singaporean Muslim community, it was obvious that many in the room that night shared similar sentiments and aspirations.
In between bites of rainbow kek lapis and rainbow cookies, the discussion took a more serious turn as participants reflected on the question – is being gay a trial from God? This notion of sexuality as a trial is often used against individuals who identify as queer within the Muslim community. It demands them to reflect, repent and to ‘get back onto the right path’ because many in the community sees homosexuality, or any other sexual orientation that deviates from heteronormativity, as being unacceptable. The audience noted that for some, this notion is more than just self-doubt and self-hatred; it is a form of internalised homophobia, and that working to correct the thinking can be liberating for the individual.
The event concluded with a hopeful speech by the organisers that there should be more enlightening conversations as the ones had in this session.
Even though the night was filled with heavy conversations, there was still much joy and cheer as everyone mingled and bonded while snacking on Raya food. Not to mention, everyone came dressed for the event in their best kebaya and baju melayu, it felt like we were having a Hari Raya open house of our own!
Penawar is a support group for women raised in Muslim households.