Becoming an Ally

January 30, 2023

The CWS Safe Space program works to ensure that LGBTQ+ community members are respected, valued and included. Much of this work is done by engaging with leaders from faith communities in Kenya and South Africa. This story comes from a Muslim sheik in Kenya and has been edited for clarity.

(Disclaimer: this is a stock photo. The person in this photo is not a CWS program participant.)

I am a Muslim sheik who resides in Mombasa. I first joined the movement as an ally after meeting with a friend who was once a chaplain in the Kenyan Navy and who was leading a campaign for inclusion for sexual and gender minorities that was supported by CWS.

I have since engaged about 200 Muslim clerics including imams, sheiks, and madrasa teachers in the Coast region. Our engagement usually starts by sharing information with the Muslim clerics on sexual and gender non-conformity to create and expand safe spaces for them. Since this is a widely unacceptable subject, especially in the Muslim space, we approach it from various topics including HIV and gender-based violence before progressing to discuss LGBTQI+ rights. At times it is very challenging since most of the participants leave the meeting room because they do not agree with the subject. Some accuse us of trying to introduce homosexuality into our religion.

We have been persistent, though, and we have collaborated with LGBTQI+ persons of faith to engage with religious leaders. Some LGBTQI+ people came out and shared their lived experiences, which has been the turning point for some religious leaders. I have participated in various faith advocacy activities organized by CWS. Some of these activities center around understanding the intersection of faith with sexual and gender diversity in the African context; the role of religion in advancing inclusion for sexual and gender minorities; being queer and dealing with African culture, social norms, and human rights; and others.

I have been really empowered as a religious leader. This journey is not easy, but a thousand miles start with one step. I pray that CWS does not despair but continues engaging religious leaders so that more safe spaces shall be achieved.

Read another testimony from a Safe Space program participant here!

We would like to thank the Arcus Foundation for their support of this important work.