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Gay-friendly Muslim leader steps down

Worries Congress might veer right

The communications director of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) has resigned, in large part over threats he received for his support of same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian rights.

Tarek Fatah resigned this month, saying he was concerned for his safety and that of his family. Fatah says most of the threats he received stemmed from the issue of same-sex marriage.

“The issue that has resulted in all the threats and allegations against us is our support for same-sex marriage. It’s the central point on which the Muslim Canadian Congress and I have faced outright hostility, verging on violence,” says Fatah. “There is near unanimity in any religious group that this is the ultimate sin and, for them, this amounts to the ultimate betrayal.”

Fatah has also faced criticism for his opposition to the adoption of sharia law — religious Islamic law that does not take into account secular law — and to some fundamentalist imams. He recently opposed allowing British imam Sheik Riyadh Ul Haq, who has been accused of preaching hate, to speak in Canada. (He was eventually refused a visa and spoke to a Toronto conference by satellite instead.)

The MCC has been seen as an alternative to the older and more conservative Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC). MCC’s mission statement says it’s “a grassroots organization that provides a voice to Muslims who are not represented by existing organizations; organizations that are either sectarian or ethnocentric, largely authoritarian, and influenced by a fear of modernity and an aversion to joy.”

In June, Fatah was labelled anti-Islam by CIC director Mohamed Elmasry. Fatah says the support of gay men and lesbians is a basic human rights issue.

“Our human rights cannot revolve around religion. It’s not about our rights, it’s about human rights.”

Fatah says he thinks that homophobia in Canada’s Muslim community has deepened since the debate over same-sex marriage last year. He says he’s worried that even the MCC might back down once he leaves.

“You might see a change, I think. There’s always a need for social acceptance. They might say, ‘Why do we have to take so much crap?'”

Fatah says even gay and lesbian Muslim groups seem to bowing to community pressure. He says he is horrified to see queer Muslim groups in Toronto and elsewhere marching in the same rallies as groups supporting Hezbollah and countries like Iran that condemn homosexuality.

“There’s the sudden romanticization of Hezbollah. But I cannot walk with, cannot even build a coalition with, a group which thinks gays and lesbians should be killed.”

But Fatah says the wider gay and lesbian community needs to pay more attention to the plight of Middle Eastern queers.

“I haven’t ever heard them condemn what’s happening in Iran and Saudi Arabia. I would like to see a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy by the gay and lesbian community.”

Fatah plans to rest from what he says has been his increasingly heavy workload, and spend time with his family, whom he says jokes about all the time spent on queer issues.

“Half my family thinks I’m gay. They say, ‘I told you. The bastard just doesn’t come out.'”

Then he says he plans to write a book.

“I’m going to write a book about the mirage, the Xanadu, that Muslims have been chasing for 1,000 years, the ultimate worldwide state in which so-called Muslim rule will prevail.”