Written by Athanasia Safitri
As much as it is sensitive to discuss queer issues in our society, there is an academic need to address the new social reality and conduct related research. Getting an invite to talk about queer activism in relation to interfaith dialogue on the Wednesday Forum, Amar Alfikar is an Indonesian trans man activist whose work challenges religious-based queerphobia, as well as pushing queer-inclusive narratives in theology. He is the founder and director of IQAMAH (Indonesian Queer Muslim and Allies) and has been working for seven years to advocate queer-of-faith activism in Muslim contexts.
Wednesday Forum on March 29, 2023 provided an opportunity for Alfikar to present his theory on hybridising interfaith dialogue with queer theology. Alfikar’s intent is to promote peaceful interaction between followers of different faiths with the queer community and to discuss the intersection between interfaith dialogue and queer activism. It is an invitation to listen to prophetic voices of many queer individuals and collective groups to obtain a safe space in religion and faith.
Queer theology, as explained by Alfikar, is not popular in the Indonesian academic context. The topic was introduced by Christian theologians at Jakarta Theological Seminary (JTS). Alfikar opened his presentation by introducing the term which offers a new paradigm in theology that disrupts domination of cis-heteronormativity power which has justified the culture of patriarchy through religious interpretations. Interfaith dialogue is mostly dominated by male perspectives therefore this view can be beneficial to voice the minority, especially those navigated by queer activists. His research subjects are Jakarta Theological Seminary Centre for Gender, Sexuality and Trauma Studies, Al-Fatah Islamic School for Transwomen Yogyakarta, Rainbow Sangha Bali, and Youth Interfaith Forum and Sexuality as the pivotal model of examination, all of which he has observed closely.
Practices on queering interfaith dialogue
Youth Interfaith Forum on Sexuality (YIFoS) has been inviting people to join a program called ‘Queer camp’ for 10 years. The activity provides queer people with the possibility to introduce their values and enable others to address the queer difficulties as they realise their reality. This forum contributes a narrative about the sacred body and deconstructs religious authority that gives room to queer people. YIFoS produces books about queer interpretation by many different faiths. Meanwhile, the Al-Fatah Islamic School does not preach only about Islamic teachings, but also encourages its attendees to voice the thoughts in their own environment, whether they work as street musicians or in a hair salon. Religious leaders visit the school and learn the inclusive method practised there by the transwomen. Al-Fatah establishes a spiritual growth for trans women as well as creating relationships with people of different faiths through this sort of dialogue.
Alfikar shared that Jakarta Theological Seminary is one of the pioneers in Indonesia which conducts a course on queer theology and underlines the need of intersectionality using queer-inclusive interfaith dialogue. It actively hosts an annual international conference on gender and sexuality where religious people, activists, and academics exchange perceptions and ideas on queer theology. On the other hand, Rainbow Sangha is unique in organising an event called ‘night of mindfulness’ where the queer community sits together to heal their trauma from religious discrimination and negative stereotypes, facades which are not commonly given attention to.
These communities complement each other since they touch on different needs of queer individuals and groups to be recognised and accepted by the society. While JTS builds up societal understanding from an academic approach, Al-Fatah contributes to overcoming economic and social issues faced by the queer community. For the time being, YIFoS shapes the youth and adults’ perspectives on queers, and Rainbow Sangha focuses on psychological and spiritual healing of queers. We are aware that discrimination takes place in various forms due to their gender and sexual identity. These differences put them face to face with difficulties in accessing health service because they change their ID data or physical appearance. Many have been bullied and marginalised, up to undergoing conversion therapy forced by particular religious groups, society, and even their families.
Queer as one of us
Alfikar underlined that before God, what counts is our piety regardless of our identity. Moreover, we learn the importance of respecting one’s personal decision without judging them using our own religious interpretation. As we live side by side in society, we come to understand that our religious maturity can be defined by our private connection with God vertically and by our relationship with other human beings horizontally on Earth. Our virtue may be enriched when we emphasise the goodness we can do toward other people instead of what they should do.
On seeing the hardship queer individuals and groups encounter, each one of us should create the best environment in all levels to educate our society in welcoming these people, especially in religious communities to avoid discrimination and persecution. In this way, dialogue can be carried out beyond differences. As mentioned by Alfikar, difficulty also includes sustaining queer activism in interfaith relations as important figures of the institution or community have passed away. It will be a challenge for the successors to carry out what Shinta Ratri, the leader of Al-Fatah who died in February 2023, had accomplished in diversity and human rights activism. The same spirit must be also continued by the people related with JTS to go ahead with future annual conferences after the passing of Rev. Stephen Suleeman, lecturer of queer theology and LGBTQIA activist, in 2021. Establishing relationships and dialogue among queer communities of different faiths will strengthen bonds and a sense of belonging to society in order to heal and walk together.
 a person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or otherwise not heterosexual, or a person whose gender identity is nonbinary or differs from the sex they had or were identified as having at birth : a genderqueer or transgender person : a person who is not cisgender