Western's move to take down anti-homophobia post could do harm, says gay Muslim
Instagram post showing two women in hijabs about to kiss stirred fierce backlash
Shawn Ahmed is a gay Muslim who wishes Western University had been able to withstand a thunderstorm of criticism about a post on their Instagram account that featured an illustration of two women, both wearing hijabs, about to kiss.
"I can see why they took it down, but honestly I wished they hadn't," said Ahmed. "I don't envy the position they were in. It was a tough call."
The post went up last Tuesday on Western's official Instagram account and was intended as a message of inclusion.
Under the heading "celebrate the power of love" it showed four couples, including two women in the traditional Muslim headscarf, about to share a kiss.
The image drew fierce criticism from some Muslims, which Western acknowledged in a message issued Thursday announcing why they'd removed the post.
"Our intent with the post was to demonstrate Western's unwavering support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia," the post said. "We also understand the image was upsetting for some members of the Muslim community."
Western's explanation went on to say that the post was intended to trigger discussions about how to support queer Muslims.
"In order to promote that discussion, we have removed the image from the post to not distract from these important conversations," the university's statement said.
Western was responding in part to a Charge.org petition which was released in response to the post and demanded that it be removed. By Friday more than 32,500 people had signed it. It continued to gather signatories even after the post had been taken down.
Ahmed said by taking the post down, Western was emboldening those who he says have a "monolithic" view that being Muslim and gay can't co-exist.
"When they are criticizing that image, they are criticizing our existence and whether they like it or not, we exist. There are people who identify as Muslims, who believe in Allah and who believe in Islam but who also identify as queer or trans and that very existence is offensive to them," he said, referring to those who called for the post to be removed.
"When Western took the post down, they're saying that we have no space to be accepted," said Ahmed.
The Change.org post includes a 1,000-word explanation which describes the image of two women wearing the hijab and about to kiss as "offensive."
You can read the full text here. Attempts by CBC News to contact the creator of the petition were unsuccessful.
"It should be made clear that this is not an attack on the LGBT+ community, and the existence of queer Muslims is acknowledged," reads the text.
It goes on to say that the post uses the image of two Muslim women in a way that is insensitive and overtly sexual.
"The depiction of the hijab in such a context is disrespectful, tokenizing, and attempting to redefine elements of the hijab by sexualizing and fetishizing an element of Islamic religion that is supposed to desexualize and encapsulate modesty," the preamble says.
A statement issued by the London Council of Imams also supported the decision to have the post taken down.
"While we understand that the intent of the poster published on by May17.org is to promote inclusion, we can see that the goal was not met and the means used were contrary to inclusion," the statement says. "Many were left with the impression that Muslims were singled out in having a symbol of their religion included in the poster."
The statement went on to say that posting the image led to "hateful comments" being directed at Muslims.
"We unequivocally reject any hateful statement directed toward any religion or group based on their religion, culture, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation."
Fear of speaking publicly
Ahmed said Western's decision to take down the post has the potential to cause harm. As a young man, he was torn between his faith and sexuality.
"I contemplated suicide," he said. "I thought if Allah doesn't want me to be gay, maybe I should be dead. There are people thinking that right now, people who are where I was years ago."
CBC News reached out to many Muslims for comment on this story. Many were unwilling to talk about the issue in an on-the-record interview.
"I'm not surprised," said Ahmed. "As a queer Muslim, you're dealing with homophobia in the community and Islamophobia from outside the community."
Homophobic Muslims in London, Ontario successfully petitioned <a href="https://twitter.com/WesternU?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WesternU</a> to take down this poster depicting queer Muslims. <br><br>May Allah bless those who help me share this image 🙏🏾 <a href="https://t.co/skxQtI0bKw">https://t.co/skxQtI0bKw</a>—@uncultured