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Statement: Ashura 1439 AH

The new Islamic year has begun. It is 1439 years since the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, emigrated with the beleaguered Muslims from Makkah, which was then a city of oppressors, to Medina, which was a safe haven. When we remember the Hijra, we must remember that Muslims fled from oppression.

The new year is not a happy occasion among Muslims. It is a time for remembrance, for mourning, for rejuvenating our commitment against oppression and oppressors (zalimun), and our devotion to Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, Hassan and Hussain (alayhimu salam). It is the moment to remember the durood and what it stands for: we pray for blessings upon the Prophet and his aal, his family.

So, in Muharram 1439, we at the O Collective renew our commitment against oppression. We remind each other that what happened to Aal-e-Muhammad is happening still to their devotees, the Shi’a. There is still a genocide of Shi’a Muslims going on in Pakistan. The Hazaras of Balochistan are still being disappeared and murdered; Shi’i professionals are still being shot dead as they drive their children home from schools; discrimination against non-Sunnis is rife. Shi’i Muslims suffer and Shi’i Muslims persist—in the name of Hussain, Hassan, Ali, Fatima and Muhammad, upon whom be peace.

Muharram is for remembrance, for mourning and for renewal. It is not happy. We do not wish each other Happy New Year, and we find the rise in this habit problematic and disrespectful. We hope that fellow Muslims of all paths will be more attentive to the reality that we begin our year in thoughtfulness, solemnity, grief, mourning and renewal. Joy will come later, inshallah, when we see the fruits of our labour against injustice.

As O, we recognize that we fall back on a default Sunni Islam because that is the dominant path in Pakistan and because most of us are from Sunni families. So we ask you now, with humility: fellow Muslims from other paths, tell us what you need. Tell us how we may serve your needs better. Join us and lead us. Join us so we can all come to each other’s aid and help each other along the many paths to Allah.

Labayk Ya Hussain.

Bangladesh: Statement of Apology and Solidarity

Forty-four years ago, atrocities of gigantic proportions and irreversible pain were committed against the people of now-Bangladesh by the Pakistani establishment. West Pakistan committed systematic genocide of the Bengali people, espousing colonial extermination policies. This is unpardonable. We are the O Collective, a group of queer Pakistanis, and we acknowledge the atrocities committed in our name against the people of Bangladesh. We acknowledge that December 16, 1971, marks the end of a dark time, where Bangladesh was freed from the oppressive and murdering forces of a would-be colonizing state apparatus. We, in our struggle against homophobia and transphobia, recognize that we must also struggle with our past, our culpability and the ringing silence of our history books on the brutalization, rape and murder of Bengali people, people we claimed were our fellow country-people. We stand in shame for what was done to the people of Bangladesh and, for what it’s worth, here, now, we unreservedly apologize for these atrocities. The O Collective calls on all defenders of human dignity in Pakistan to confront this history and hold the state of Pakistan accountable for the Bengali genocide of 1971. We call on all Pakistanis to take a hard look at ourselves on this day. December 16 has acquired a new and horrible significance since the massacre of the students of the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014. Today, as we remember and memorialize, all across Pakistani television and print media, and in banners along Pakistani city roads, the children brutally and callously murdered a year ago today, we must remember that violence begets violence, war begets war, and that participation in the cynical global politics of control and devastation will only lead us to further death – more children will die, more graves will be dug, more lives will be destroyed. Today, we, the O Collective, mourn the dead of APS, and all the children murdered by the War on Terror. Today, we remember the dead that are not memorialized by the state, but have died nonetheless as a result of the same geopolitics. And today we remember what we have been taught to forget: the raped, the brutalized, the dead of Bangladesh, killed in our name. We must give voice to the truth. The brutalities of nationalism can only be overcome by a rainbow of solidarity which transcends the otherwise impassable borders. We stand in solidarity with our queer friends in Bangladesh and offer this small act of rectification. It is insufficient, we know. But if you will have us, we stand with you, fellow queers in a brutal and violent world.

Report: Violence Through the Lens of LBT people

In June of 2014, O concluded a 3-year research project on violence experienced by lesbian and bisexual cisgender women and transgender people in Pakistan. This was conducted in partnership with OutRight Action International (then known as IGLHRC) and four other country partners in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Japan. Our findings are here in the Pakistan chapter, in English and Urdu, along with the full report.

You can see the full website for the project here – Violence: Through the Lens of Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Transgender People in Asia.

پاکستان چیپٹر

 Pakistan Chapter English

 Full LBT Report

Advocacy: Mental Health Professionals

All through 2009 and well into 2010, members of O met with medical and mental health professionals in Lahore to discuss the treatment of queer people in need of their assistance. We asked them their current protocol for treating queer people who come to them and learned a number of things.

Firstly, we learned that, most often, the protocol among mental health professionals is to take refuge in common Islamic prohibitions against fornication and homosexuality. Psychiatrists and psychologists advise abstinence and prayer because, despite what the DSM says, they believe that homosexuality is an aberration and a sin. This has left their clients feeling further insecurity, self-blame and hopeless. Often queer people never return for a second appointment because, rather than getting care, they receive blame, guilt and a confirmation of all their insecurities.

We also learned that part of the problem with the psychological care provided is that mental health professionals worry about backlash from their clients’ families. Many times, queer people are brought in by their parents, who believe their children’s attraction to the same sex is a psychological problem. Psychologists and psychiatrists follow the family’s lead in suggesting religious and behavioural “cures” for  queerness. Thus, mental health service providers often worry as much or more about their own continuing practice and safety as they do about the health of their clients.

Some of the practitioners had, however, attempted to go beyond Islamic provisions and family pressures to understand their clients’ dilemmas and be supportive of their own actualisation. They reported that their clients’ families and religious convictions were the biggest challenges queer people faced. While family pressure was something that psychologists felt able to counsel their clients on, the problem with religious prohibitions and convictions was a barrier they were unable to surmount.

After several exploratory meetings, O members put together a presentation that explained the meanings of the various terms in LGBTQ, the most recent understandings in psychiatry on how to treat queer people, particularly emphasising the cruelty and inefficacy of reparative therapy.  We also led a discussion about how we had coped with our own family and religious pressures, brainstorming ways in which they could change their approaches.

What is Homosexuality?

This is perhaps the first question an individual questioning or perturbed by their sexual orientation might ask. The question or frustration may begin as a noticeable lack of interest in the opposite gender along with either a subtle or an overt interest in member(s) of the same gender.

Being homosexual is simply persistent or recurring sexual, affectional and/or romantic attraction on a long-term basis for member(s) of the same gender as oneself. Physical, sexual acts may or may not accompany that attraction. You can be celibate and still know your sexual orientation-–be it lesbian, gay or bisexual.

But physical/sexual acts between members of the same gender do not make the involved individuals necessarily homosexual, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc.