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Michael Sinan, Mr. Gay Denmark 2012, On Being Out And Proud As A Muslim

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[Editor's note: This interview originally appeared in Spanish and has been translated.]

Mr. Gay Denmark, who is also Muslim, says “it’s not easy, but it’s certainly easier” for him than it is for fellow immigrants who must live with a sexual orientation that fits with neither their religious principles nor their families’ values.

Michael Sinan is a 34-year-old philologist, specializing in Pashto, Urdu, and Persian. But he believes that the moment has arrived to come forward and assert the compatibility of homosexuality and Islam. According to Sinan, Muslims have to adapt to the 21st century and, like Christians, abandon prejudices that are based on interpretations of ancient sacred texts.

HuffPost Spain: Why did you compete in a gay beauty pageant?
Michael Sinan: Obviously it wasn’t so I could parade down a runway. My objective was to show the gay community, and also Muslims, that there are modern Muslims in Denmark. The media fixates on extremist, aggressive Muslims who live according to customs more appropriate in the Middle Ages. That’s not fair. There’s a lot of us, and we’re mostly modern. I wanted to demonstrate that to be gay and Muslim is both possible and okay.

You chose to make that clear in a way that’s curious, to say the least.
Yes. In fact, I did have to prepare for [the pageant], because I was told that I wouldn’t win on my message alone. I went on a diet, I hit the gym several times a week, and I lost some weight. My objective was to win, but I didn’t feel great parading around in just those tight little shorts. I said to Allah, “Forgive me!” From a religious point of view, I definitely felt uncomfortable at some points.

Is it easy for you to be openly gay and Muslim?

It’s not a problem in Denmark. And, broadly speaking, it’s not in Turkey either, a place I visit frequently. Turkey isn’t an Islamic country--it’s secular--so homosexuality isn’t persecuted. As a matter of fact, it’s easier there. Eastern European countries are another story. Your life is more threatened...and the predominant religion there is Christianity. For example, in Serbia, they are Christian, and the don’t like Muslims or gays. In Ukraine, your life is in danger. In Russia, they don’t accept Gay Pride displays. There are Christian countries in Europe that are closer to Saudi Arabia, which just confirms that fanatics exist everywhere.

In other countries, people claim that the Koran is the source of criminalization of homosexuality.
I don’t care if other countries live according to Sharia, but obviously I can’t agree with criminalization or the death penalty [for homosexuality]. I can’t do much about that, though. I can’t make it go away, but with whatever visibility I achieve, I would like to show gays in other countries that it’s possible to be gay and Muslim.

Nonetheless, in the Koran there are passages that have been interpreted as a proscription against homosexuality, such as the warnings to the inhabitants of Lot, similar to the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible.

It all depends on the interpretation of those words, but I am very clear on the fact that I don’t have to choose between my religion and my sexuality. We Muslims are numerous today, and it’s impossible to keep living in the past. Christians can’t live according to Biblical norms, and neither can we. There are things that even extremists can’t abide by.

Does Sharia (or Islamic Law, which condemns homosexuality) manipulate the Koran?
I believe so. The Koran is my sacred book, but it’s written for people in another era. The complicated part is that you are the one that has to interpret it. You can’t set yourself up as God and judge other people. Those who do so should be careful how they use the name of Allah. I am gay, and that’s something between Allah and me.

You don't feel like a sinner?
I feel loved by Allah. I fear him, but I love him more. I simply do what my heart tells me. In the name of Allah, people have judged, marginalized, and even killed...being homosexual can’t be worse than that.

Do the Muslims that come to Denmark looking for a better future integrate?
There are many Muslims that are well integrated, and they become Danish Muslims. But afterwards they experience a lot of fear, because Muslims are highly aware of what other Muslims might be saying about them. And then there are some Muslims who want to live as if they were in Saudi Arabia, for example. And I don’t agree with that.

Perhaps what’s not compatible is being Danish and maintaining the traditions of countries under Sharia law.
I’m proud of being Danish, because we have freedom of expression and freedom of religion. We do have a problem with those who don’t integrate, but when it comes down to it, I believe that they really don’t belong to this society. I respect them, but perhaps they should consider moving to other countries more in line with their principles.

For you it’s all pretty easy, being Danish yourself.
It’s not easy, but it’s certainly easier [he laughs]. For example, I’m not afraid of my parents, which many immigrants are. They’re not going to marry me off to some woman.

When you hear leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, saying that there are no gay people in his country, what do you think?
That’s it’s a big lie. Iran is full of homosexuals, but they are scared and isolated by their culture, because they could be stoned or hanged. Homosexuality has always existed--since before the Bible, before the Greeks. In Afghanistan there’s an ancient tradition by which a man can have another man as a lover, but not as a partner. There’s another tradition that consists of using young boys to erotically entertain older men. But it’s also true that you can be killed if you openly face or recognize who you are.

Why do you feel it’s necessary to advertize your message? Hearing you, it sounds almost like a mission.
Recently a Muslim boy wrote me. He’s a teenager, 15 years old, who was interested in my history and surprised that I can both accept myself as a homosexual and still be a believer. You realize that many people are lost. Helping a child of that age, when he needs it the most, is very comforting.

In the media, we increasingly see coverage of things like suicides of gay adolescents.
Yes, for example in the United States. But in Islamic countries it’s worse, because Islam emphatically prohibits suicide. They have to think about it more because it condemns you to hell forever. It’s the worst thing you can do: take away a life, yours or someone else’s.

What response are you hoping to get in becoming a public figure?
I don’t ask that everyone understand me, just that they respect me. I respect other people that I can’t understand. I don’t understand some women who dress in burqa or niqab, but I respect them. I respect the Iman who wants to live literally according to the Koran, although I don’t understand him. I don’t understand what it is to be heterosexual; I’ve never tried being that way. But obviously I respect it.

I see that your body has many tattooed messages. Do they have to do with your religion?
No, it’s not Arabic, but Urdu, Pashto, or Persian--tongues I am fluent in from my academic training. They are words and concepts like “tolerance,” “infinite love,” “struggle,” “perseverance,” “rebellion,” “friendship,” “understanding,” “sympathy,” “faith,” “friendliness,”...”grandmother,” “mother,” “father.” Yes, I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but these are all words that are important to me.

How did you get interested in Islam?
Ever since I was really little, I’ve been interested in God, and I read lots of books about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It just happened--I felt at one with the religion. It was like a call. I never tried to convert--it just happened, and I thought that it was right for me. I was a weird child [he laughs], but I just knew from the time I was 11 or 12 years old.

Despite that, you are not a model Muslim. You don’t pray in community with others, you don’t go to Mosque.
No, because I don’t feel the spirit here. I go to Mosque every day when I’m in Turkey. We don’t have mosques in Denmark. We have basements, businesses that are used as Mosques. The atmosphere is really aggressive, and I don’t like it, and I don’t feel Allah there. In Denmark, I have to be careful being gay and I refuse to live with fear.

Do you drink alcohol? Eat Pork?
Very occasionally, like many Muslims, because it’s part of my culture. But I always stop when I make the pilgrimage to Mecca. I don’t eat pork, of course. We don’t have pork in the apartment.

My husband is atheist, but he doesn’t bring it home. Only chicken and veal. As long as food hasn’t touched pork, I consider it appropriate.

Do you celebrate Ramadan?
Yes, but in other latitudes. In Denmark, it would mean being without water for a full 20 hours, something that I can’t do because of some medications I take. The Koran permits exceptions for health reasons. But I follow the rules, like other Muslims. Who are you to decide who’s a good Muslim? Are you Allah? Only one being can judge us, and that’s Allah.

The article, which has been translated, originally appeared on HuffPost Spain. Check out the original story here.

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