I have just returned to Nairobi from Mombasa. Internet connections in Mombasa have been slow and fragile, preventing me from posting reports on Thursday and Friday’s events until today.
On Thursday afternoon Michael Kimindu and I met with three members of the Kenya Moslem National Advisory Council (KEMNAC). You need some background information to understand the relevance of our meeting with this group. There are three Moslem organisations in Kenya. The Supreme Council is exclusive to Arabs, those with ‘white skins’, and doesn’t include black Kenyans.
The Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya includes those known as Swahili, those who are the product of inter-marriage between indigenous coastal people and Arabs. The third organisation, KEMNAC, the most recently founded, includes Kenyan nationals, those who are African by birthright. None of the organisations is therefore fully inclusive of all Kenyan Moslems.
We met in a hotel on Mombasa Island with Shamim Farukh, the national treasurer of KEMNAC, Ibrahim Hussein, (chairman of the Coastal region group) and Hamza Maskuni (the secretary). For Michael, this was his third meeting with the group which had come together in 2011 to organise a seminar on human sexuality. Sheik Ngao, who was unable to be with yesterday, was counselling Moselm youth in Mombasa in1995 alongside Michael who counselled Christian young people at a youth centre.
Shamim Faruck arrived first and we talked for 40 minutes before Hamza Maskuni joined us. Shamim has 7 children and is divorced. Her origin is in part from Indian roots when ancestors arrived 3 generations ago. She is very articulate, confident and has an independence of thought. Shamim said the Koran talks about sexual abuse (of both sexes) rather than about anything equivalent to homosexuality as an identity let alone adult same-sex relationships.
Eventually Ibrahim arrived full of apologies because he had been attending a family funeral that was delayed because the grave hadn’t been previously dug and the ground was very hard.
I was the first gay person to meet the group, and our conversation covered the usual ‘how do you know you are gay?’ and ‘what does it mean to be gay?’ questions, ranging widely over my early awareness, my family background and my vocation, first to be ordained as an Anglican priest and 17 years later to found Changing Attitude in1995. (I have had to tell the story of how CA was founded and how it subsequently evolved way beyond the limited founding-vision many times in Kenya. I’m learning more about the back-story with each telling – I really must write the long-awaited book).
Our conversation flowed easily for three hours. They are a group who wants to learn and understand. They know we are born with a variety of sexual and gender identities, Moslems as well as Christians. The challenge, as with the majority of groups I have met, is how to extend education and awareness beyond the safety of a small group meeting to both the wider grass-roots community and to those who form attitudes and opinions, the religious leaders, Imams and Sheiks.
Shamim had strong, clear views about patriarchy and the male dominance and control of power. She found it difficult to imagine a time when such power could be prized away from male control.
We ate together before going our separate ways and prayed together at the beginning and end of the meeting. I felt privileged to meet a group of Moslems in Kenya who are openly exploring the place of LGBTI people in religion and society and want to know who change can be achieved. When Moslem homophobia is so strong, it’s hard to imagine how such change is going to happen.
My journey around Kenya with Michael and our meetings with bishops, priests, lay people, LGBTI groups, sexual health groups and others has shown me that quietly, across Kenya, under the radar, people are becoming aware, and with the help of many LGBTI-focussed groups, are being sensitised. The ground is fertile for change. I’m encouraging people to look towards the positive and to be open to the opportunities that will present themselves. The networks for change are already in place and my visit has been a further catalyst to encourage those who are already working openly in Kenya for change for LGBTI people.