New Book Sheds Light on Gay Life in the Muslim World

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Salaam Press publishes Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives in the Muslim World by Afdhere Jama. The book follows 33 people in 22 countries.

I'm not expecting someone in Saudi Arabia to be carrying gay flags. There are many ways we can support the community. I know of people who give runaway queers a place to stay. That is enormous! But there are also those who are directly involved in political activism.

Following thirty-three people in twenty-two countries, Afdhere Jama paints a complicated picture in "Illegal Citizens", subtitled "Queer Lives in the Muslim World."

"I set out to tell the stories of people suffering everywhere," says Jama, who is the editor of Huriyah, a queer Muslim magazine. "Instead, I was confronted with diverse lives including happy ones--sometimes in places I never imagined."

Some of the stories are touching, others completely surprise. Like the story about a young man in Iran who clubs all night although he is the son of a high-level Ayatollah or politician and has a completely different life during the day.

"Here were gay and lesbian Iranians doing everything that happens in the Castro (of San Francisco) and more," Jama says. "That blew me away because I went to the country chasing stories about gays being harassed, arrested and executed."

But Jama also has disturbing stories to tell like the one about a Saudi gay man executed by his immediate family.

"Horrible, horrible things happen," says Jama. "In many of these countries, people disappear without a trace. And that happens only because gay and lesbian Muslims have no voice. They can't object to abuse because, as far as anyone is concerned, they don't exist."

Jama, who grew up in Somalia, says he was deeply affected by the execution of a lesbian couple in northern Somalia in 2001, which gave him the idea for the book.

"I realized we had to tell these stories," he says. "I had no idea how because I was an immigrant surviving thousands of miles away from the Muslim countries and, worse, I had no money. Whatever little money I was earning, it was going directly to Huriyah, which we had just started. How was I going to dash all over the globe? It was discouraging."

By looking into the history of Gay Rights in the West, Jama realized it was often the united community not just individuals who changed the ways people saw gays and lesbians.

"With the internet, things changed fast," says Jama. "There was such a big community online. I could pay for my ticket, and find people to stay with all over the world. Suddenly I could afford to travel. It took a long time to finish but it was with the help of countless people."

People he thanks one by one in the book's acknowledgment. But he also encourages them to be more active.

"I tell everyone to do what you can," says Jama. "I'm not expecting someone in Saudi Arabia to be carrying gay flags. There are many ways we can support the community. I know of people who give runaway queers a place to stay. That is enormous! But there are also those who are directly involved in political activism."

In many instances, Jama chooses to tell untold stories. He says it is because he feels certain communities are underrepresented.

"I'm particularly passionate about transgendered people and gay women," says Jama. "We all know what it is to be a gay man in Pakisan or Morocco, but how many people have read stories of transsexuals or lesbians in these countries? Not many."

Jama covers a lot of ground. Countries covered include Nigeria, Lebanon, Indonesia, Bosnia, and many others who haven't had as much exposure as some countries. Queer Muslims in Muslim-minority countries like China, India, Israel, and Ukraine are also included.

Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives in the Muslim World
Afdhere Jama
ISBN-13: 9780980013887
ISBN-10: 0980013887
Publication Date: July 25, 2008.
Publisher: Salaam Press.

Wholesale available from Ingram Book Group, with standard discounts / returnable.

Retail available from online book retailers, bookstores, available to order and from salaampress.com

Media Contact, including interview requests and review copies:
Leila Hosseini
Salaam Press
1 925 281 1917
lhosseini(at)salaampress.com

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