A woman who grew up in Pakistan and moved to Manchester has revealed what it is like to live her life as a Muslim lesbian .Zayna, 40, says she was beaten, humiliated and threatened because of her sexuality – but throughout her tormented formative years she refused to deny who she truly was.Growing up as a young Muslim lesbian in Pakistan, the graduate says she came up against both physical and mental abuse from those that she believes had misinterpreted the messages of the Qur’an.
The Manchester Evening News reports that Zayna (not her real name) says that while studying for her PhD she was kicked out of university because fellow academics feared she was a ‘dangerous’ influence.And when colleagues at an Islamic School found out about her sexuality, Zayna says she was told to leave or face action from the police.
Scholars have told Zayna that she cannot be a Muslim if she is gay, but the graduate insists that her sexuality and religion are both equally as important to her.Now living in Longsight in Manchester, Zayna has taken the brave step to speak out about her experiences in the hope that it will help other LGBT Muslims.
She said: “I was born a Muslim and I want to die a Muslim. But if someone wants to kill me then why? Just because I’m lesbian?
“I am a strong brave person but so many people like me don’t have that courage. I realised I need to come out and tell everyone about my story.”
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Zayna grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, as the only child of conservative Muslim parents and described herself as a tomboy.
Taught to be respectful of all races, religions and genders she still remembers celebrating Christmas with Christian friends and Diwali with Hindu friends.Her mother was a kind woman who would give food and money to street beggars.She describes her father as a ‘kind-hearted traditional Asian man’ – but she also claims she was beaten by him believing she had been out with men.
Zayna says that later, her parents simply could not accept that she was a lesbian.
Homosexuality is frowned upon in Pakistan and the country’s law prescribes criminal penalties for same-sex sexual acts – although acts of homosexuality are rarely prosecuted according to a US human rights study published last year.
But, according to the Department of State document: ‘The penalty for same-sex relations is a fine, two years’ to life imprisonment, or both.’
Zayna realised that she was gay as a young teenager.
“On my 13th birthday I realised I was like this,” she says. “Pakistani society is very conservative.
“It’s very hard if you are from the LGBT community and Muslim. Muslim scholars have said to me ‘you are not Muslim if you are lesbian’.Harrowing images reveal living hell faced by Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing.But Zayna is convinced that the Qur’an’s messages about homosexuality have been misinterpreted by some Muslims.
She says: “I have seen so many LGBT people from Pakistan struggle and a lot of them don’t have the courage to come in front of the media. I want to be an activist.
“I have already published my story in Urdu on some Pakistani websites and I got a very bad response.“They are not ready to read the holy book or understand what it is saying to them.”Zayna says that when her father found out she had been spending time with another girl as a teenager, he assumed the pair had been with men and beat her.“My father came upstairs and wanted to kill me and beat me like anything,” she says. “He told me how to behave. That was the first time I felt unsafe in my own home.“I still have that horrible pain in my lower back and can’t walk properly.”
Zayna’s father died when she was in her early 20s and she spent years nursing her mother, who eventually died of lung cancer.
It was during this time that Zayna started a relationship with another teacher while working at an Islamic school in Pakistan.When they were discovered, the two women were told to leave or else they would be reported to the police as prostitutes.At the time Zayna was also a PhD chemistry student. When colleagues at her university found out about her sexuality she says she was told to leave.
“They said to me ‘you are dangerous to other girls’.”
When her mother died Zayna was taken in by family members. Though Zayna did not publicise her sexuality she says everybody knew and she was hated for it.Finding her life in Pakistan too difficult to bear, she decided to move to the UK.She took on three jobs and ate just one meal a day as she struggled to scrape together enough money to move to England.
“At that time I changed my name and I would cover my face because I was scared. I didn’t want to show my face. I wanted to make myself normal.”Eventually Zayna got a work permit and started a management masters degree in the UK.Slowly but surely she started to embrace the UK’s gay culture and nightlife and has since had several relationships with women.
But she has not always found UK attitudes to the LGBT communities to be so liberal.On one occasion a man she knew insisted on questioning her about her sexuality and tried to persuade her into a relationship.The 40-year-old, who works as a senior position in a management company, has now been in the UK for seven years.She also joined LGBT International and the Birmingham-based LGBT group, Finding A Voice.“I now have peace of mind that no one is going to kill me,” she says, “I can’t tell you those feelings in