Students, staff, faculty and community members all laughed as speaker Faisal Alam joked about the packed parking lots he saw on campus as he prepared to speak Tuesday night. Alam said he expected a huge turnout for his presentation in the Leadership Studies Building until he saw a poster with Herman Cain’s face on it and realized his event would compete with the national TV personality and politician’s speech in the Union.
Alam describes himself as a queer Muslim activist shedding light on the issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims face. He was invited and sponsored by K-State’s LGBT Resource Center specifically to address these issues.
"One of the most impactful things I have encountered was having a gay Muslim in the audience who had come out to me after one of my presentations," Alam said. "The student told me he felt like he had been the only one gay Muslim in the entire world until he saw my presentation."
During his speech, Alam touched on many different areas of the changing, parallel shifts of the Islamic world. He opened by identifying misconceptions that many Americans and members of other Western nations have about Islam before tearing down those misconceptions and describing the shifts that are currently happening.
Alam discussed groups of Muslims who have created progressive movements within the religion. These progressive movements create safe spaces for LGBT-identified Muslims. This movement also supports concepts like nonsegregated prayer in mosques and women leading prayers.
"Within the past few weeks, I have attended different events dealing with Islam in society," said Andrew Kohls, adviser for International Student and Scholar Services. "A few weeks ago, I attended a ‘Women in Islam’ event where it was clear how completely against the Islam faith was about homosexuality. [Alam] brought light to the activism that is happening around this issue. This activism helps people of all ages. It’s just really encouraging."
Worldwide, there are 1.5 billion practicing Muslims. According to Alam, the Western mentality is that Muslims only come from the 15 countries that constitute the Middle East region. Realistically, that is only 12 percent of the total worldwide Muslim population. The 2 million to 4 million Muslims in the United States come from more than 80 countries, and 30 percent are African-American.
Alam spoke about the way in which LGBT Muslims tend to feel that they are alone and isolated in their culture.
"It is clear that there are alternative interpretations of religious text," said Caitlin Kelley, international student recruiter. "Students are looking at these LGBT issues. We as staff need to continue to look at how we can help and serve these young people. This was a very interesting presentation, especially with how it bridged the Islam world with the LGBT community. It was very interesting to hear."
Throughout his presentation, Alam illustrated the way in which the Muslim world tends not to be very accepting of its LGBT members. He showed clips from a documentary about a man and woman from the United Kingdom who were LGBT Muslims. He also showed a clip of an instance in which worldwide religious leaders came together to discuss how appalled and upset they were with the repeal of the nationwide sodomy law in India in 2009.
"Overall, this presentation went well," said Brandon Haddock, director of the K-State LGBT Resource Center. "I feel like people are very receptive of learning of not just about LGBT issues but also of issues facing the Muslim world. There are a lot of similarities between the Islam and Christian worlds when it comes to sexuality and gender expression. I feel like those similarities were shown in this presentation."
After an hourlong presentation and a half-hour question and answer session, audience members had the opportunity to speak with Alam one-on-one.
"There are people here at K-State who have similar coming-out stories as [Alam]," Haddock said. "There are people who could relate with what he was saying even though he was Muslim. We are able to see ourselves in other cultures."