The news that over half of British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal elicits a conflicted mix of emotions in me – anger, guilt, shame, denial, humiliation and defensiveness, all topped with a generous measure of heartbreak. Not least of all because I am a homosexual Muslim.
Yes, the ICM poll commissioned by Channel 4 is questionable in its methodology. Polling was conducted using face-to-face surveys. YouGov suggests that online surveys are better than face-to-face ones when it comes to asking complex questions that need time for thought.
More worryingly, ICM limited its polling to areas where Muslims make up more than 20% of the population. This would suggest that the poll is only representative of attitudes of Muslims who are living in very densely populated Muslim communities. In other words, the poll seems to have deliberately excluded Muslims who are more 'integrated'.
The poll seems to have deliberately excluded Muslims who are more 'integrated' from the outset
The views of those who are living and working in more diverse towns and cities, who have moved away from their family home and communities, who have intermarried, are not factored in. It isn't a huge leap to conclude that the results in this instance would obviously be skewed towards the conservative.
Even so, the fact that any Muslims at all, anywhere in the world – not just Britain – should want homosexuality to be illegal, is heartbreaking to a Muslim lesbian.
I'm writing under a pseudonym. While my family – who still live in Pakistan – don't have a problem with the fact that I'm a lesbian or am married to a woman, I don't want to risk them being recipients of abuse from Muslims who take pleasure in being malignant.
My parents don't march in Pride, or wear t-shirts with slogans, but they are quietly supportive, secretly liberal. The same goes for for many, many Muslims.
Last year, my brother was engaged to be married. The engagement quickly dissolved when his future in-laws discovered my sexuality, and my family were inundated with spiteful messages. All because my otherwise very conservative Muslim family insisted that my partner be present at the wedding, that I wouldn't be locked out of my brother's life and that their love for me was unconditional. If my brother's in-laws couldn't handle it, good riddance.
I'm fortunate to have the family I do. My parents don't march in Pride or wear t-shirts with slogans, but they are quietly supportive, secretly liberal. The same goes for for many, many Muslims. My mum's just finished 'coming out' to all her Muslim friends about her gay daughter. She has been met with nothing but love, support and understanding.
You could conclude that homophobia is more rife in football than it is in Islam. Yet, unlike Muslims, footballers are never asked to bang on about their love for Britain and British values.
Of course Muslims are a diverse bunch, and narrow-minded homophobic Muslims – as in the case of my brother's in-laws – do exist. Perhaps even in greater percentages than other sections of society – though I'd be loathe to rely on this particular poll for evidence of that. It's worth noting that although we have several openly gay Muslims, we currently have no openly gay professional footballers in the UK. You could conclude that homophobia is more rife in football than it is in Islam. Yet, unlike Muslims, footballers are never asked to bang on about their love for Britain and British values.
The danger of bullying already marginalised Muslim communities into conforming is that they will recede further into a noxious conservative version of Islam. We can't insist they subscribe to British values if we won't allow them to be free thinking members of British society in the first place. We need more positive integration – social and economic opportunity, community engagement, open discussion, diverse role models. More carrot, less stick.
As a closeted gay teenager growing up in Britain, I never dreamt of LGBT rights coming as far as they have in the last 10 years. Gay marriage only became legal in this country in 2014. This is a very recent cultural shift, and religious communities are always the last ones to arrive at the liberal party. Rather than berating them for their tardiness, we should continue to invite them in. They'll turn up eventually, hopefully bringing most of the reluctant stragglers with them.
The tide has turned on gay rights. Some Muslims are just playing catch up.
Alizeh Ahmed is pseudonym