Last Friday, November 23, Fever FM, a radio station catering to the South Asian community in Leeds, was fined £4,000 by British media regulator Ofcom for defamatory statements they aired in August 2011. Rubina Nasir — also known as Sister Ruby — was brought in last year for a special Ramadan program, done in Urdu, during which she read select passages from the Qur’an.
Digital Spy reports some of her statements: What should be done if they do [practise homosexuality]? If there are two such persons among you, that do this evil, the shameful act, what do you have to do? Torture them; punish them; beat them and give them mental torture.” She continues, explaining that by mental torture she means, “rebuke them, beat them, humiliate them, admonish and curse them, and beat them up. This command was sent in the beginning because capital punishment had not yet been sent down.”
Ofcom, a government organization that monitors the airwaves for indecency, both fined and criticized the station, saying that the result of Nasir’s comments could be disastrous in their ability to, “[likely encourage] others to copy unacceptable behaviour toward homosexuals.” Since the November ruling, Fever FM has posted an official apology and explanation to their site.
“We at Fever FM would like to sincerely apologise to the gay community,” they begin, “and to everyone else who have found this news disturbing. This was a one-off incident which will never be repeated. One person does not represent our Community station.” The letter continues, cataloging the good accomplished by the station since its creation five years ago, and explaining their shock that such statements were aired.
“Sister Ruby joined Fever FM only on the religious dates and we never had any concerns about her lectures prior to this. We have always been concise about the programmes that we broadcast and especially those themed around religion.” Over the last couple of years, the station explains that it became increasingly lax about procuring written agreement from presenters to avoid the use of defamatory language, instead relying on undocumented verbal confirmation. “For the reason of not seeking permission or advise on the lectures about the gay community and mixed marriages, the management committee decided (2011) that Sister Ruby would not be asked to present any shows on Fever FM and that we will re-introduce agreement forms for everyone to read, agree, sign and to retain a copy.”
Stories have surfaced in the last months about the lives of LGBT people living in predominantly Muslim countries. Shabura Wawan, the Muslim Indonesian gay man who recently shared his attempt to make sense of his Muslim upbringing and family, which proved hostile to the LGBT community, and his gay identity, and Ali, the gay Pakistani man who told the New York Times of the “hush-hush gay scene” in the largely Islamic nation where same-sex sexual acts remain criminal. Both are witness to the unique challenge that Muslim LGBT women and men face.
Discouraged as a child, Wawan tells the story of discovering an index in the back of his family’s Koran and turning to the pages that talk about homosexuality, and “[seeing] that it’s bad.” With no one in his family or religious community to help him make sense of these passages, Wawan has jettisoned his religious heritage, though he still professes belief in some sort of higher power. “When I pray,” he says, “I am always asking for love. And if it is a guy, then so be it.” Ali, who refused to release his last name to the reporter for fear of discovery, is a member of an invitation-only group of LGBT people who meet in secret in Pakistan for support. “I wish it were a bit more open,” he confesses, “but you make do with what you have.” The stories of these men, and the countless others that they represent, testify to the importance of keeping stations like Fever FM accountable for what they broadcast, especially when faith communities are involved.
In addition to the £4,000 fine, Fever FM must issue a statement of Ofcom’s research on a date determined by Ofcom. Digital Spy reports that, “despite the severity of the breach, the regulator said that it “would not be appropriate to shorten, suspend or revoke Radio Asian Fever’s licence.”
Islam has a reputation of being an anti-LGBT religion, but that notion is being challenged by several Muslim LGBT advocates. Imam Daayiee Abdullah of Masjid An-Nural Isslaah does LGBT work for Muslims for Progressive Values. Dr. Junaid Jahangir has also written extensively about the Muslim case for LGBT equality. Mohammed Ludovic Lütfi Zahed is trying to open the first gay mosque in France.
We are seeing movement toward LGBT support within Islam. Responding to and preventing defamatory statements like those of Sister Ruby will help to foster a more LGBT-inclusive environment.