How Can Young People Make Religion A Force For Good?

“So what he’s gay? Can’t gay people believe in God? A God who’s supposed to stand for peace and love!”

A One Young World Speech

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 5.25.00 PM
(Picture: Amir during the One Young World Summit, 2014 — Dublin. 
Photographs courtesy of One Young World OYW)

By Amir M. Ashour

Good morning One Young World.

Earlier this year, around the time of Friday prayers, I was with my friends. The Muslims of us decided that they wanted to go and pray in a mosque, one of them was gay. And when he stood up, the majority of my friends were surprised, saying, “He’s gay! Why is he going to the Friday prayers?”

There are so many things that we can say about that situation, but my question for now is: “So what he’s gay? Can’t gay people believe in God? A God who’s supposed to stand for peace and love; a God who is thought to be the creator of everyone including that gay person and could change him if he wanted to.”

For the past few years, I have volunteered and worked for different local and international NGOs promoting human rights for everyone regardless of their backgrounds. And despite the fear, the social stigma and the danger both the activists and the victims face, we managed to help more than 150 gay persons since 2013, in the areas of health, awareness, human rights, and security.

But the saddest part of my job is when I meet people who have been rejected by their own families and friends, by the society and the government. They grow up thinking that even their creator considers them as sinners.

Imagine if you were in their shoes. How would you feel?

The situation for sex workers and gay people in my society is even worse. Religious armed militias organize killing campaigns against gay people almost every year since 2006 based on Fatwas released by their religious leaders.

They start by publishing a list of their new victims’ names; warning them that they should either change or be killed, and they use the most horrific and inhuman ways to kill them like smashing their heads with bricks, or burning them alive. Some are even sexually abused before being killed.

The official reports from international NGOs, and the researches we have conducted at our organization calculate the number of killings at just a few hundreds since 2011. 200 of them were killed in 2012 alone, but these are inaccurate numbers, as they don’t take into account the unreported and actively hidden cases.

And now, these militias are gaining more power with the rise of the so-called “The Islamic State”, making it easier to organize more campaigns; like the one in July this year on which they killed 35 sex workers and gay people in one day only.

You may think that these are small numbers comparing to the other kinds of killings that take place in Iraq, but the organized, secretive and violent forms these attacks are taking put the Iraqi gays and sex workers in great danger.

Until now, not even one person has been held accountable for killing a gay person, and there has been little reaction from the local and international communities about what has been happening to those people for almost a decade, despite the fact that Iraq has signed all the human rights treaties that ensure equal rights for everyone regardless of their gender and sexual orientation.

Whenever I speak to people about how religion is affecting human rights in my society, believers say, “This is not the real religion. Our religion is peaceful”

Well, dear believers and religious leaders, dear One Young World community and everyone else who’s watching.

Help me show the world the peaceful religion you are talking about and believe in.

Help me prove that ISIS and other extremists don’t represent all Muslims, and that many Muslims actively promote peace and equality.

Let’s stand against those who act like a substitute to God, and punish and kill people as they please under the name of God.

Let’s all go back to our societies, and speak up against the discrimination and violence that the gay community is going through under the name of religion.

Thank you,

Watch: Every year, gays and sex workers are murdered in the name of religion. Amir argues that ISIS and other extremists do not represent muslims and calls for people to stand against those who act like a substitute for God.

About Amir

“I’m an optimistic, human rights defender, and a believer in humanity and being a worldwide citizen. I’m passionate about volunteering, and I enjoy life. I work as the Iraq Human Rights Consultant for Madre, and involved in a number of other projects, including Awat newspaper, which I’m the president at, teaching IDP (Internally Displaced Person) kids and a number of other capacity building projects. I love music, sports, and being healthy. I have big dreams, and work very hard to achieve them.”

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