“Oh my god, I’m a sinner,” Ubaid said he once thought of himself.
“I kept praying and wishing I weren’t gay, hoping it was a phase, and that if I kept praying I’d be saved,” he said.
Ubaid, who asked that his last name not be used, was born in London to a close-knit and devoutly Muslim Pakistani family.
“I have always been passionate about Islam,” the 30-year-old said, explaining how he struggled to resolve his religion with his sexuality.
Several years after deciding not to enter into a marriage arranged by his parents, he is now secretary of Imaan, the United Kingdom’s only gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender Muslim group.
Imaan’s members feel like they are targets of both a wider society that discriminates against Muslims, and a Muslim community that sees homosexuality as a Western disease.
“Now we’re dealing with Islamaphobia within the gay community, and Muslims who say gays can’t be Muslims,” Ubaid said.
Despite discrimination, Ubaid has found away to forge his own path and has reconciled his attraction to men with his love of Islam.
Imaan, which means faith in Arabic, has around 300 members, most of whom have not told their families that they are gay.
While members vary in how rigidly they keep to Islamic practices like praying five times a day and eating halal food, Ubaid said Imaan is for people who believe that they can be gay and Muslim. If they were raised in a Muslim family but have renounced the religion, Imaan probably would not appeal to them.
The group was started in 1998 as a branch of the U.S. gay Muslim group, Al-Fatiha, after its American members visited London. It serves as a support network, and is a meeting place for people to pray together and celebrate Islamic holidays.
Imaan hosts conferences that deal with such topics as culture, Islamaphobia, non-Muslim partners, HIV and Islam, relatives of gay Muslims, and trans-sexual Muslims. And some members take part in gay pride events.