Charlotte Bibby | Ferhan Khan
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Ferhan Khan

March 2017

 

Ferhan Khan is a civil engineer from Glasgow who has been living in London for the last fourteen years and believes that the UK is the best place worldwide to be Muslim. He’s openly gay and came out on BBCs “Muslims Like Us” and despite feeling at odds with his religion when he was younger, he now’s now come to terms with Islam, whilst still believing faith is a personal matter that doesn’t necessarily inform identity.

 

Instagram: @feztagram | Twitter: @fezbop

 

Click below to scroll through extracts from our interview.

 

So the established narrative is a very, very negative one, obviously, you know you don’t have to be a genius to work that one out or you have to be hidden under a rock to kind of notice that Muslims are very vilified these days. I still take comfort from the fact that there is a lot of, there are a lot of really good people out there that are unwilling to accept that established narrative like yourself, actually, and it is encouraging and I think that people like you should be supported. I think these allies and Muslims that are horrified by this portrayal of them almost need to unite in one voice, I think they really need to unite in one voice, because at the end of the day it’s all about humanity, really, it’s about humans, it’s about human beings getting along. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with human beings getting along? I don’t understand the big problem with that. Do we need to have wars? Do we need to have horrible things going on? We’re not living in an over-populated world, in my opinion, because actually you could fit the whole world’s population into Texas and they’d live with the same population density as Paris. What I think needs to change is the wealth, the distribution of wealth, the distribution of resources, things like that because it’s so concentrated in such a small proportion of the world’s population, that’s where the problem stems from. That’s where the hatred comes from. That’s where all the crime and horrible, horrible things that go on in the world come from. I think that there should be a bit more education. I want people to know the diversity of Muslims, I don’t want them to consider Muslims as a monolithic block. I think what’s great is challenging people’s perception of what a Muslim is. And black Muslims play a part in that, white Muslims play a part in that, because I think that the image most people have of Muslims is, is of Arabs or possibly of Asians like me, they don’t realise that actually Muslims occupying almost two billion of the world’s population are actually a very diverse bunch. Racially as well as other factors like sexuality, gender, which matters to me more so. Wealth; we’ve got a lot of poor Muslims, we’ve got a lot of rich Muslims, and even in our interpretation of our faith itself. You know, some Muslim countries are happy to drink alcohol like, where the people are, where alcohol is freely available, others where it’s completely dry like Saudi Arabia. But if you go to Turkey, or if you go to Morocco you can buy a beer, it’s not a problem, you can have beer.

Probably the challenge actually presents itself from what people perceive to be gay, not the Quran itself, because I can deal with every story, every piece of the text, that supposedly refers to gay sex or what I’m experiencing, what I find harder to deal with is other people’s opinions, other people’s prejudices. It’s just Muslims, actually. It’s not Islam, it’s Muslims. That’s where the conflict arises from, for me, because I think that the majority of people actually are straight across the world, if you’re gay you probably just belong to one out of ten people that are inclined that way. So for me it’s because it’s such a taboo to be gay or admit you’re gay, it’s lead me to my own enquiries for a long, long time. Why am I gay? Why am I attracted to men? Am I attracted to women? All these things have kind of flooded my mind. I don’t think the average straight person really confronts that kind of that kind of line of enquiry. I think I’ve met someone that I think is gay, and he’s very religious, he’s very into his religion. But I almost feel like he uses the religion in order to suppress his urges and his desires, and he’s married to his cousin who lives in another country. It just seems sad! To me it seems sad. To me it seems like if we were free-thinking to just admit our urges, to just admit our humanities, to admit the fact that we’re human. I would say this is a gay man who is in denial about his own sexuality and is using the power of religion to suppress his urges which I think are going to come out in another way, because he mediates every night. I think that the marriage to the cousin was a kind of cultural pressure and it’s to cover up the unpalatable urges that one has, because they’re unpalatable. But why are they unpalatable? I don’t believe there’s anything written in the Quran that actually specifically condemns homosexuality, I think that in the Quran it condemns homosexual rape perpetrated by straight men, actually, which is the story of Lot, I believe that’s a story about condemning homosexual rape perpetrated by straight men because the men that perpetrated those acts in the story of Lot were straight, they had wives, so how can you call them gay? A gay person would not have a wife or would not choose to have a wife. A gay person would be in love with his partner in my opinion.

What I’ve realised now is that once you start to give infallibility to scientific minds, what you’re really doing in essence is giving all your power to a cult leader. Although science works, its demonstrable, there’s still human beings with their own cognitive biases and they still need to be scrutinised. I think once we lose that creative energy to think outside the box, science won’t even develop itself either. If we stick rigidly to what logic we have, actually it doesn’t leave enough room for religion. Not even just religion, just fairy tales and silly, silly thoughts, if you do away with all that you don’t challenge yourself to think outside the box and get creative. So I think it’s so important to maintain illogical ways of thinking for those reasons, and the main reason I like Islam is because it actually takes away that leadership, that infallibility from human beings. As soon as you allow a human being to be considered to have perfect judgement and will, that’s when we’re in trouble, because that’s a human being having that power. We need to, at all costs, avoid that kind of situation as human beings. I think Islam is great because actually what it does is it says that God is your judge, this God that you’ve never seen, you can’t describe, you can’t draw a picture of, you can’t imagine what God looks like. I don’t even believe God has a gender so I don’t like to use the word He, I like to say God. We can’t imagine what God looks like, we can’t imagine what God thinks, anything like that. You can only ever argue and debate as human beings as to what God might or might not consider morally wrong or might be pleased with or might not be pleased with. So it takes away that leadership, that cult leadership from any human being and puts it in the hands, even though I don’t think God has hands, of God. Yeah, the metaphorical hands of God.

I was at a symposium yesterday for dealing with the history of black Muslims and one of the things that really struck me about that day was something that someone said, an African guy, about how he finds it disappointing when black Muslims go to Mecca, or Saudi Arabia, or Hajj or whatever or they just go to Saudi Arabia and they remove traces of their African heritage and African identity and supplant it with an Arab Identity. So I think for me the idea of Muslim Identity, I think it’s quite a tricky one because what I wouldn’t want to do is adopt Arab identity. I want to have my own identity, I don’t want to have a Pakistani identity, I want to have a Scottish identity, I want to have part of my London identity, a little bit of my Scottish identity, and I don’t want Islam to play a part in my identity being Muslim. It’s my faith. It informs how I think about my values and how I treat other people, it’s things like that. So I don’t feel like being Muslim informs my identity, I think it’s separate.

The new world is very interesting because actually I was looking at proportions of sort of Muslims globally and the new world is less than 0.5% Muslim, so the whole of south and north America are quite ignorant to Muslims because they just don’t live there. It’s a very old world religion, they haven’t left the old world. Whereas Christianity has left the old world, it’s gone to the new world, it’s all over the new world. The new world is Christian; Canada, America, Mexico, Brazil and these are all Christian countries. These are all Christian countries. So, I can understand why these places are ignorant of Muslims, but then you get Europe and actually there’s a lot of Islamophobia in continental Europe, but I think that the UK is actually the best place to be a Muslim in the whole world. If you think about it, the UK is the only place that is relatively friendly to Muslims, compared to other Western Muslims. It’s not the best, but, as a Western country, as a Christian country, it’s relatively friendly to Muslims. It’s not like France, I don’t think the region is doing a burkha ban like they have in France, Switzerland, Netherlands. America is not friendly to Muslims right now. The fact is the UK is better than Muslim countries because you can speak freely in this country, so you can be a Muslim and you don’t have to be worried about what other people are going to say if you admit you drink alcohol or if you admit that you’re gay. If you admit those things you’re not going to get hounded and there’s not a mob mentality. There’s freedom of speech here which is protected. So that’s why I think it’s actually the best place in the world to be a Muslim right now because you can still have your own interpretation of your faith and you can follow it that way, and your life isn’t in danger. And you can’t say that for all the Muslim countries in the world, sadly.

[The subjugating of animals in human history] was closely follower by the subjugation of women by men, because as much as men and women are equal in terms of their cognitive capacity, men are physically more able then women, so they were able to overpower women if they wanted to. Then the darker sides of humanity were able to manifest themselves, if they’re able to manifest themselves, when these men would have subjugated women. Why wouldn’t you if you could? Without a moral system, without a value system to tell you otherwise, you would, you would allow those dark, dark sides of your humanity to do that, to subjugate a weaker class of people, or a weaker group of people. So they probably did overpower women, they subjugated women in order to have sex with them, have children, make them look after the children, make them do all the housework, all these horrible things. Around that same time in societies food surpluses happened and some people were more intelligent than others and they would delegate tasks to other people and tell them what to do and they became the leading class, the bourgeoisie, probably because they had the gumption, maybe they had the intelligence as well, to do that delegation, so they became the kind of upper echelons. With that kind of power, if you’ve got that dark side in you, that dark side of humanity, if you’ve got that power over a large group of people why wouldn’t you use it? If you’ve not got a value system? If you don’t have a code of morality to tell you otherwise, then you would. You would just allow yourself to subjugate a group of people, poor people. I think around that time, personally, I think that religion was a response to that. It was well-meaning codification of values and morals that came about to actually teach people to not behave like that anymore, because I think as humans we might have those dark manifestations of our behaviour, but we also have the capacity to look at those behaviours and think and be horrified by them and shocked by them. I think that’s what lead to the initial need, the initial derivations of religion and the fact that we celebrate the prophets, it was probably just one person that stood up and said “I don’t want to see this anymore, I don’t want to do this anymore, I want a better world”, and then they wrote a book. And that book spread, the message got spread. So the reason I’m not giving up with religion is that, is I feel like there was a good-intention behind it to begin with, but it came of a time that was much more chaotic and evil than nowadays. People talk with rose-tinted spectacles about the past, but actually the past was horrible, even the recent past was really, really horrible, so I don’t know why they think that this world isn’t better, this present day isn’t better. It’s much better. We actually do have less poverty in this world than previous generations as well! But the reason I’m not willing to give up just yet on religion is because yes it had a good intention to begin with, and I think that there is room, there is scope, for doing away with the negatives that you don’t like, that you don’t think are right.

Obviously you’re reading [the Quran] in English, it wasn’t written in English to begin with, so there’s obviously going to be different people that translate the Quran in different ways, but it was written so long ago no-one can really ask the author what they mean anymore, right, so that’s been lost in translation if you like. So really, whoever translates the book is coming at it with their own perspectives, and their own cognitive biases and their own value system and then the reader’s going to have their own set of perspectives as well, reading what the translated version is as well. So it’s really, really, really personal. It’s not something that you can safely say is identical in everyone’s head.