This interview as published in the May/June 2016 edition of My Kali. Khalaf Yousef is a former refugee residing in Canada.
Even to bear the title “a former sheikh” is a serious and unforgivable crime in the eyes of our society. As a human rights activist, I think it’s difficult not to hear the story of Khalaf Yousef: not because he’s a former sheikh or because he’s openly gay , but because with his story, he summarized what we want to say and what we do not want to admit in order to avoid sugar-coated poison.
Life has lead Khalaf to become one of the most enthusiastic human right activists. I interviewed him in the past, but this is different; maybe because it is the first after his migration from the Arab world, maybe because we rebel differently as time passes by. His discussion with MyKali is recorded here.
Could you tell us about your childhood? How you were raised and the environment you grew up in?
I grew up in a religious, Bedouin, middle class family. I was the spoiled kid among my siblings; especially by my father. Generally, I had a quiet childhood, but I was bullied sometimes by my older brother, because I liked to hang out with girls. For that I used to – and still do – get upset if someone calls me a girl. Not because I belittle women, absolutely not, but because I accept my gender as a male and fully accept my physical body.
A religious family, you say. Do you think that growing up in a religious environment affects the child’s sexual orientation, as people believe? Do you think that growing up in a non-Islamic environment is a cause for homosexuality?
I say the following to those who claim that homosexuality is caused by raising your kids in a non-Islamic or non-religious environment: your attraction to women is not a choice you have made. It’s not about being good at attracting women either. Sexual attraction has nothing to do with religion, for homosexual attraction is found among other species too. Can you say that homosexual male giraffes are as they are because they are nonreligious or not abiding to the laws of religion? We must compare all factors of sexual orientation to other species.
I would also like to add important words said by Ibn Kathir in his book The Beginning and The End, part nine in the biography of Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik , as he was declared innocent from homosexuality. Ibn Kathir said: “He claimed himself innocent from this ugly attribute; this reprehensible obscenity, for which Allah has tortured committers with various punishments never used before. This obscenity is sodomy; many kings, princes, merchants, teachers, jurists, judges and many of the public have been afflicted with this sin.” This is what Ibn Katheer said about nine centuries ago. Yet, I am very reserved when I say “sodomy” in his texts. This is Ibn Kathir speaking about homosexuality that was found among most kings and princes – and jurists and judges – at the time. Does this mean that jurists and judges did not know what was allowed and forbidden, and where homosexuality stands in religion? Are those jurists and judges homosexual because they are nonreligious? And the other judges and jurists; are they not homosexual because they are religious? Absolutely not.
How did you discover your sexual orientation and how did you deal with it?
It was a feeling I always had since as far as I can remember. When I was about three or four years old, I used to get attached to handsome men. I would keep thinking of any well-dressed man I saw. This feeling lingered and grew with me, and I did not know what it meant. I thought I was the only one in the world who felt this way. Then, I started watching foreign movies and series that were never on broadcast on Arabic channels that had homosexuals, transgender people and bisexuals. I used to search the words they used and translate them into Arabic. I discovered that all explanations of the word “homosexual” applied to me. This is where I figured out my sexual orientation and what it was called.