Malaysian university’s Back to Fitrah contest aimed to convert LGBTQ students

In the context of the hadith, according to Abû Haytham, fitrah means to be born either prosperous or unprosperous [in relation to the soul]

Students of the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang attended a “Back to Fitrah” forum (and video- and poster-making contest), March 24, 2018, aimed to help their LGBTQ peers who have “disorders in sexual orientation return to their natural instincts, [and to Islam.]”

Abdul Hadi Radzi, a second-year English major at USM and one of the Back to Fitrah organizers, explained his goal for the event to NBC News as “… We are trying to educate people. [It] is our view to correct LGBT. Not to persecute. Not to condemn them.”

However, because there are some pro-LGBTQ events and movements, along with growing efforts to counter anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Malaysia, Radzi also added, “The LGBT community is brave enough to do their programs openly,” he said. “We don’t want more people to get involved with them.”

USM is not a religiously affiliated institution but colored by Islamic custom. This means LGBTQ and other students who oppose the Back to Fitrah message, speaking out could be construed as sacrilege. Because of this perception, USM student Ernest Mah, 21, chose not to attend the Back to Fitrah forum, like most of his peers who opposed its message. He said he did not want to endure the bigoted, anti-LGBTQ comments that he expected to be pervasive at the event, and that daily life for him was to make sure not to “come across as too flamboyant or too gay”.

Homosexuality and transgenderism are illegal in Malaysia, where the community faces a lot of violence and persecution.

In February a stereotype-laden checklist for spotting gay men and lesbian women published by a popular Malaysian newspaper sparked outrage. The Malay-language tabloid Sinar Harian claimed gay men love to go to the gym — just to check out other men — wear tight clothes to show off their physiques and tend to sport beards, while lesbians “hate men” and enjoy hugging.

“God accepts repentance from his servants and surely forgives what they’ve done wrong.” Fatimah Jamaludin

Fatimah Jamaludin, a biology student and one of the Back to Fitrah poster-making contest winners, said she only wants to understand her peers better to help them feel peace, reported NBC News.

“One thing that you can do to make your heart feel calm is to say ‘thanks to Allah, Allahu akbar, Allah is great, and that will make you feel peace,” Jamaludin said.

But for Mah and his peers, the absolutism of the Back to Fitrah message is the crux of the issue. They say it creates a one-sided stalemate that subjugates LGBTQ voices and forcefully removes them from the discussion.

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