The year-long festival - which opens on 24 January in Sheffield - is one of the world’s largest ever Muslim cultural events.
Despite claiming in its promotional publicity that the festival will feature the “diversity and plurality” of Muslim cultures, the Festival has rejected a request to stage a photo exhibition, conference and film screening featuring the lives and experiences of lesbian and gay Muslims.
The ban on gay Muslim participation has been confirmed by Festival Director, Isabel Carlisle, in a letter to Aaron Saeed, the Muslim Affairs spokesperson of the gay human rights group OutRage!
Mr Saeed had written to Ms Carlisle proposing a lesbian and gay Muslim contribution to the festival programme (see his letter below).
The ban clearly contradicts the inclusive commitment of the Festival Guidelines (copy below).
In her letter, Ms Carlisle justifies the exclusion of gay Muslims on the grounds “we are not prepared to present works that will give offence to significant numbers.”
Ms Carlisle has since claimed that the request for gay Muslim participation was rejected because the festival does not want to feature “political” themes.
“This is not what her rejection letter states,” said Aaron Saeed, Muslim Affairs spokesperson of OutRage!
“It says we have been turned down because gay Muslims would ‘give offence’. Our proposal was not political. It was for a series of cultural events about the lives and experiences of lesbian and gay Muslims. We planned to organise these events in conjunction with gay Muslim individuals and organisations beyond OutRage!. These were never envisaged as OutRage! events. We made that clear.
“This ban is straightforward homophobia.
“It is deeply offensive to suggest that gay Muslim people are not a valid part of the Muslim community. We are shocked that a gay Muslim event is deemed unfit for inclusion in the festival.
“The organisers say they want to reflect the diversity and plurality of Muslim culture, yet gay Muslim culture is being excluded.
“Sponsors of the Festival of Muslim Cultures include the Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, British Council, Arts Council of England, BT, Christies, the Corporation of London and Westminster City Council.
“The ban on a gay Muslim event is clearly contrary to the equal opportunity and diversity policies of these institutions. It is quite shameful that they are sponsoring a festival that discriminates.
“We wrote to the organisers, offering to stage a photo exhibition, conference, seminar or film screening. Our aim was to celebrate the lives and experiences of gay Muslims, within the UK and globally, as part of the official festival programme.
“We were told that gay Muslims don’t belong in the Festival of Muslim Cultures.
“It is appalling that a registered charity is allowed to discriminate against gay Muslims.
“Lesbians and gay men are part of Muslim faith and society. We are not going to be silenced or victimised any more. We are out and proud, as both gays and Muslims. It is time the conservative leadership of the Muslim community got used to the fact that gay Muslims are here to stay and here to fight. We demand our rightful place in mosques and in Muslim organisations and events,” said Mr Saeed.
Copy of a letter to the Festival of Muslim Cultures from Aaron Saeed, Muslim Affairs spokesperson of the gay and lesbian human rights group OutRage!
Festival of Muslim Cultures
31 October 2005
Dear Isabel Carlisle,
LGBT Muslim input into the Festival of Muslim Cultures 2006
We are delighted by the prospect of this Festival and very encouraged by your commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.
As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Muslims, we look forward to making a positive contribution.
Could you please advise us whether you already have a component of the Festival of Muslim Cultures featuring the lives and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Muslims?
If so, it would be helpful to know, so that our input and proposals do not duplicate the efforts of others.
LGBT Muslims are part of the Muslim communities in the UK and world-wide. We have some unique insights with regard to what it means to be a Muslim in the twenty-first century.
We very much want to part of the Festival’s commitment to feature the “diversity and plurality” of Muslim cultures.
In cooperation with LGBT Muslims in the wider LGBT community, and sympathetic Muslim scholars and Imams, we would like to organise an event celebrating the lives and experiences of LGBT Muslims, within the UK and globally, as part of the official Festival programme.
We are well placed to facilitate this. We are an organisation with LGBT Muslim members and a long record of supporting the human rights of LGBT Muslims.
We have good connections with Muslim men and women in the wider LGBT community, and contacts with non-LGBT, but LGBT-sympathetic, individuals in the broader Muslim communities.
In accordance with the Festival Guidelines our contribution would aim to “advance understanding, promote respect and facilitate interconnectedness.”
We would also seek to fulfil your stated objectives, which are to “foster a better understanding between Muslims and non Muslims” and “portray diversity and plurality.”
As a Festival partner, our contribution will conform to your requirement to offer:
• “A celebration of diversity and pluralism”
• “Inclusiveness (both within Muslim societies and outside)”
• “Meeting a genuine community need”
At this stage, we are considering a number of ways of contributing to the Festival: a photo exhibition, a conference, a series of seminars and a film showing. A final decision will be made following further and wider consultation.
In the meantime, could you please advise us whether our contribution is acceptable in principle, send us the relevant application forms and explain how we take our plans forward.
Muslim Affairs spokesperson
OutRage! – The LGBT Human Rights Campaign
Copy of the guidelines for participation in the Festival of Muslim Cultures
These Guidelines assist Festival partners in developing events
The Festival of Muslim Cultures is a celebration of the rich cultural and artistic expressions of Muslim peoples. It aims to advance understanding, promote respect and facilitate interconnectedness Muslim Cultures
“Muslim Cultures” is a term that was specially chosen for its inclusiveness and for reflecting the Festival’s main emphasis on the rich diversity that cultures of Muslim peoples embody within a fundamental unity. It is this richness, with all its pluralistic expressions, that the Festival aims to celebrate in order to portray the multifaceted dimensions of Islam as a civilisation, an ethic, a metaphor, a philosophy and a way of life.
The Mission Statement also emphasises the need to foster a better understanding between Muslims and non Muslims (as a two-way process), to promote respect for Muslim cultures and to facilitate a greater connectedness between them and the other world cultures with which they are interrelated.
The events that are being programmed into the Festival year are chosen specifically for their ability to portray diversity and plurality, giving Muslims living in Britain greater pride in their cultures and a true sense of belonging to Britain. These events range from exhibitions, film, literature and the performing arts to seminars on contemporary issues and trade fairs that promote fashion, design and food. This is an exploration of “culture” in the widest sense.
What does the Festival organisation do?
The central Festival organisation, based in London, acts as the catalyst, coordinator and support system for the partners, be they the regional coordinators, UK Muslim groups, UK arts organisations or colleagues in the wider Muslim world. The coordination role extends to public relations, fundraising, education, youth, cultural and arts programming.
The Festival is aiming to bring the cultural, arts and education organisations of the UK into a closer relationship with Muslim themes and Muslim audiences.
The Festival is not a grant-giving body but if it believes an event, created by an outside organisation, is of key importance it will assist in seeking funding or sponsorship for that event.
The Festival is not pursuing the agenda of, nor is it beholden to, any government or pressure group and integrity, diversity and independence are central to its aims. As a registered charity the Festival is required by law to abide by best practices of transparency, accountability and good governance.
Three tiers within the overall programme
1. Events that the Festival pays for and creates itself or with the collaboration
of paid outside teams, such as the opening launch.
2. Events that are partnered and essentially created by the partners but, as key elements of the Festival, are part of the Festival’s fundraising remit (such as the Film Festival partnered by the BFI). Funding for these events will be
sought jointly by the Festival and the partner body. The Festival will coordinate approaches to sponsors in such a way that approaches are targeted and confusion is minimised. The Festival does not finance these partners
but assists in funding.
3. Fringe events that will need to go though an application process and assessment by the Festival in order to ensure their suitability for Festival branding.
Since the Festival is intended to create the space within which existing and new efforts to promote the understanding of Muslim cultures come together in order to create a mutually supportive environment, it will work closely with
The Festival’s programme will be delivered through a series of partnerships with selected arts, cultural, educational, youth, women’s, educational and business organisations.
While the Festival expects to be kept informed about the content of artistic events and programmes, it leaves the selection and shaping of those events to the bodies that own them. Branding is dependent on their meeting the Principles of Partnership stated below.
All the events and programmes are stand-alone, but branded together under the umbrella of “The Festival of Muslim Cultures”. As part of the branded partnerships, the Festival also provides the public relations and marketing (handbook and web site) that pulls all the branded regional events together into one national programme. The Festival also offers valuable links between partners, community outreach, central co-ordination and advice.
The networks emerging from the Festival will serve as a legacy that will strengthen relationships between the UK’s cultural and educational institutions and the Muslim communities and between young Muslim practitioners and
educators of various disciplines and the support that they need in their creative endeavours.
What we look for in partners will include:
• Added value for the Festival of Muslim Cultures
• Ability to contribute to a theme which is part of our aims and ethos
• Sensitivity to the issues within Muslim society and between Muslims and non-Muslims
• Community engagement
• Viability and sustainability, with long-term outcomes
• Realistically deliverable proposals and programmes
What we look for in events will include:
• A celebration of diversity and pluralism
• Inclusiveness (both within Muslim societies and outside)
• Meeting a genuine community need
• Not stridently defining or defending or propagating Islam or any of its interpretations but celebrating its ethical principles, its philosophical underpinnings, its broad spiritual dimensions and its diversity of cultural expressions
• Operating with clarity and transparency
• Being non-factional in intent
• Appropriateness within the context in which it is proposed to stage them If any project or created work has the potential to give offence, or where appropriateness could legitimately be challenged, common sense will be followed and advice will be sought from the Festival’s Honorary Board and Advisors who will have the right to recommend to the Trustees of the Festival not to endorse any events which it considers to be in breach of its Guidelines (i.e. philosophy, ethos, values, objectives and aims).
The legal framework governing partnerships
The partnership will be based on a Memorandum of Understanding which will provide a legal base so that should there be any disagreement or misunderstanding, the parties can go back to first principles. In the event of a dispute, the matter would be referred to mediation.
All potential partners need to submit a pro-forma proposal to the Festival for the consideration of the Trustees (who may take advice from the Festival’s Advisory Committee).
The Festival retains the right to terminate any partnership and withdraw branding if a partner deviates from the principles set out below:
• Partners must adhere to the ethos of the Festival of Muslim Cultures as outlined above
• Events have an appropriateness and are of sufficient quality to be branded
• Logistical or funding support must be sustainable
• All formal contractual, logistical or funding agreements between the Festival’s Board of Trustees and partners will be in writing.
• Appropriate risk analysis and exit strategies will be an integral part of any agreement or project.
Festival of Muslim Cultures
Postal address: 17A Eccleston Street, London SW1W 9LX
Web site: www.muslimcultures.org Email: info@ muslimcultures.org
The Festival of Muslim Cultures is a Company Limited by Guarantee
registered in England (Number 4981869) and a Registered Charity (Number
(registered office: 35 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9JD).
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