Moroccan writer challenges taboo

Published: January 2, 2011

Abdellah Taia claims that vocal conservatives are not a true reflection of how all Muslims feel. PHOTO: EPA

TANGIERS: Novelist Abdellah Taia, who is internationally acclaimed in France and amongst readers abroad, has challenged a taboo in his native country, Morocco, and refuses to back down.

Taia is the first writer to come out the closet and profess his sexuality in the country that bans homosexuality.

A slim, soft spoken man with a timid smile, the writer draws his roots in Morocco. Although Taia’s childhood was marred by a deep sense of poverty, the writer struggled to get to Paris where he pursued a doctorate at the Sorbonne and eventually started off with his writing career.

However, his short lived career was hit with notoriety, in 2007, when Taia openly proclaimed his homosexuality in a personal interview with TelQuel, an independent Moroccan weekly known to take a critical line towards the government.

The writer quickly came under fire from part of the press and from Islamic circles in Morocco, where homosexuality — as in most Arab states — is considered a criminal offence.

“For me homosexuality is not a cause, but a personal freedom. It is normal that I defend homosexuals because they are oppressed individuals. These trends, which are in the minority, are the result of the failure of social policy in the Arab world,” he said.

Despite the scandal, Taia continues to spend much time in Morocco, where “obviously the fact that I am a writer published by big French houses protects me.” He also confessed that the country is slowly changing and becoming more tolerant of differences.

For 37-year-old Taia, who has lived in Paris for the last decade, being homosexual and Muslim are not mutually exclusive. “I am the first Moroccan writer who has spoken openly about his homosexuality without turning my back on my country. But despite this, I feel Muslim. There is no incompatibility between Islam and choices of sexual identity,” he said.

Taia, who writes in French and has been translated into Spanish and English, emerged from obscurity to make a splash on the French literary scene with novels such as Le Rouge du Tarbouche (The Red of the Fez), an autobiographical account of his life in Paris, where he moved in 1999.

In November, he was awarded the prestigious 2010 Prix Flore for young authors.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Raqib Ali
    Jan 3, 2011 - 3:36AM

    It shouldn’t be a taboo. There are gays in minority in every society. According to a US research, 7% all species (humans/animals) are gays. Recommend

  • Sabina Pasha
    Jan 3, 2011 - 6:08AM

    homosexuality — as in most Arab states — is considered a criminal offense.
    It may be rampant but its a criminal offense? how ironic ! When for decades homosexuality has existed in most Muslim & Arab countries it is the height of hypocrisy when even Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dared to declare there are NO homosexuals in Iran!
    We can deny…deny but homosexulaity has existed and even though it is dismissed as “innocent play between boys & men” it does exist so the Islamic circles and Islamic scholars should get a reality check and deal with it.Recommend

  • RizwanTKhan
    Jan 3, 2011 - 10:34AM

    I don’t think it is a big deal in Muslim world. In Pk you can find lot of Bi’s which is just a norm in our society. Whereas in West, they do make it a huge deal even countries like US.Recommend

  • Omar
    Jan 3, 2011 - 11:54AM

    Homosexuality and Islam are mutually exclusive !! Recommend

  • Maaz Khattak
    Jan 3, 2011 - 12:12PM

    Just want to say that homosexuality and Islam ARE mutually exclusive. Because the punishment for sodomy is death. which is clearly mentioned in the Quran. now you might say that we cant kill all of them. but we shouldnt let them commit these sins in our country either. Recommend

  • Armughan
    Jan 3, 2011 - 5:48PM

    It was only in 2003 that US courts declared sodomy a choice of individuals and not a crime. So that speaks volumes about it being disapproved even in west. Islam is very clear about it, it is a crime and in my opinion, there are no two opinions about it. Recommend

  • Jan 3, 2011 - 7:38PM

    Homosexuality and Islam are mutually exclusive !!Recommend

  • Zehba Musharraf Ali
    Jan 4, 2011 - 12:13AM

    Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi of the ISNA: No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.”"
    Psychologists and psychiatrists have been going through this kind of stuff for years. Whether someone is gay because of their nature or nurture–or both–is unimportant. You can’t “make” someone gay no more than you can “make” someone straight. Of course environmental factors affect our sexuality. But if you start trying to set this standard of “OK, let’s get rid of the abusive father and see what happens” or “Let’s make sure he has plenty of girls around him” or “Let’s make sure we don’t let him play with dolls” or “Let’s make sure he gets plenty of love from his dad,” then you start trying to come up with a cause for homosexuality, and the fact is, as soon as you meet someone who says, “My father wasn’t affectionate with me, so I think that’s why I’m gay,” then you will meet someone else who will say, “I had a wonderful relationship with my dad growing up, and I’m still gay.” You just can’t generalize these types of things. Ultimately what you end up doing is trying to figure out how to stop it–like it’s a disease or something–instead of trying to help people ACCEPT themselves for who they are and help nurture them into healthy relationships.

    Sexuality is such a complicated issue. You’re not going to come up with a simple “fix-it” solution for this, which seems to be what you’re implying.

    For what it’s worth, I had an abusive father who was always affectionate with me growing up, although he certainly wasn’t the best role model. My mother was more nurturing in that respect. Still, I never felt like I was unloved. One of my closest friends has a very close relationship with his father yet a turbulent one with his mother. And yet another friend of mine–has always had a wonderful relationship with both parents growing up. And we all ended up gay!
    “Ultimately what you end up doing is trying to figure out how to stop it–like it’s a disease or something–instead of trying to help people ACCEPT themselves for who they are and help nurture them into healthy relationships.”Recommend

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