Nur Warsame is a prominent and well-respected man in Australia’s Islamic community. He was married and has a young daughter.
For decades he has lived for his religion, all the while holding on to a deadly secret, a secret he reveals intimately for the first time, a secret that could cost him his life: Nur is now Australia’s first openly gay Imam.
“Reconciling spirituality with sexuality is a very difficult journey,” he says.
“There’s the name of the family you have to protect, the name of the community you come from…
“The reason it’s difficult for people to come out in the Muslim world or Islamic communities is because the losses are too high, the risks are too great, I mean there is even a risk to your life because the conservative school of thought in Islam to counter homosexuality is to be killed, that’s your repentance…
“When I decided to do this, I really analysed and thought carefully of the consequences.
“The idea is to make avenues and paths for other young queer Muslims to live their lives to the fullest and to hold on to their spirituality. My intentions are to try to make a difference in Muslim homes.”
In Somalia where Nur comes from and in much of the Islamic world, being gay is illegal and punishable by imprisonment at the very least.
In at least seven Muslim countries homosexuality still carries the death penalty. Many Australian Muslims are also against homosexuality.
“I can’t see the future or what’s going to happen however there is that element of extremism in our community so I am very cautious and I’m not one who’s easily intimidated,” says Nur.
“And I have resources in place for safety and protection so I don’t walk into a storm unless I know which direction the wind is travelling.”
“Reconciling spirituality with sexuality is a very difficult journey”
Out Muslim and Labor candidate for Melbourne Sophie Ismail attends regular underground meet ups that Nur has been organising for young, closeted LGBTQI Muslims.
“I’ve got a very supportive family,” Sophie says of her own coming out experience.
“I’m very lucky. My dad was a bit of a rebel in that he rebelled against the restrictions of culture and religion.
“I’m proud to be able to be both gay and Muslim and be out and talk to people about it.
“I can’t impart anywhere near as much as Nur, his voice is so authentic. He knows the Koran.
“The reality is there are only a handful of openly gay imams in the world and there’s only one openly gay imam in Australia now so it’s an incredible thing to have his experience and his wisdom in this country.
“And so that’s why his voice is so powerful and so unique in guiding these young people to a better place.”
For two regular attendees at the group – which The Feed was allowed exclusive access to – it has been seminal for them coming to terms with both their sexuality and spirituality.
“Being part of Nur’s group helped me to get, me being, how can I say it? More accepting and having common ground with other gay Muslims and talk about our religion, our sexuality openly and not to be afraid to embrace who we are and what we are,” says one member of the group who wished to stay anonymous.
For another member he too he says the group has helped him “feel more comfortable” and “build bridges”.