Are Muslims considered homophobic by definition

Immigration, Displacement and Asylum: Current Issues

Zülfukar Çetin

Prof. Dr. Zülfukar Çetin holds the professorship for migration and diversity at the Evangelical University of Berlin. His main research interests include racism, migration, intersectionality, queer theory, anti-discrimination work and politics. He did his doctorate on intersectional discrimination against binational gay couples in Berlin.

Gay men marked as Muslim experience discrimination not only in their own communities, but also in German society as a whole. An overview of forms of discrimination and how they can overlap.

Two men holding hands in a Christopher Street Day parade. Some forms of discrimination can overlap - for example, homophobia, racism and sexism. (& copy picture-alliance)

Intersectional or multi-dimensional discrimination takes place when people are (differently) excluded, excluded, disadvantaged and / or degraded on the basis of several attributed or self-defined personality traits - e.g. gender, sexual orientation, origin. The concept of intersectionality was coined in 1989 by the American black feminist lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw. With her work she shows intersections, i.e. overlaps and overlaps of racism and sexism. [1]

The social construction of "others" favors discrimination. People are exposed to them in everyday life, in science, business, politics, the media and in other areas of life (within the existing balance of power). Based on the dissertation "Homophobia and Islamophobia: Intersectional Discrimination Using the Example of Binational Gay Couples in Berlin (2012)"[2] In this article multidimensional (intersectional) experiences of discrimination of gay men marked as Muslim are to be highlighted. What experiences have they had with discrimination in their life story? How do they perceive it, how do they process it and how do they deal with it ?

To answer these questions, gay men were interviewed who define themselves as Muslim or who are considered to be of Muslim affiliation. It was found out that sexual orientation and the ascribed origin or religious affiliation mostly act as reasons for everyday and institutional discrimination. The interviewees experience both racist and homophobic discrimination in a society that sees itself as white and heterosexual. At the same time, they can be confronted with homophobic discrimination from their own group of origin. There is no general definition of the term discrimination in the social sciences. Based on a definition by the psychologist and pedagogue Birgit Rommelspacher, it can be said that racist, homophobic and socio-economic discrimination occurs when people are representatives of negatively rated population groups - such as Muslims, LGBTI * or those affected by poverty People - viewed and excluded from access to (different) resources. [3] Of course, the forms and groups affected by discrimination can vary depending on the context, but as a rule discrimination goes hand in hand with power relations, i.e. it (re) produces social inequality through the unequal distribution of symbolic, cultural and economic resources in a society.

Homophobia and Migrants in German society

Homophobia is a practice of the heteronormative gender order system: This means that it is natural and self-evident in society that there are only two genders and that heterosexuality is postulated as a social norm. A different gender identity or sexual orientation is understood as a (negative) deviation. Heteronormatively discriminatory social conditions, such as misogyny, homophobia, lesbianism or transphobia, are not class or culture-specific, but a global problem that can be identified everywhere. It occurs in all regions of the world and in all social classes. In the dominant discourse, however, it is denied that Homophobia is also widespread in German society. Instead, the focus in recent years has often been on Muslims who are (across the board) suspected of being homophobic due to their (supposed) religious and cultural affiliation. Young male Muslims in particular are accused of threatening the (supposedly) safe living spaces of gay, lesbian and transgender people. From the perspective of Western observers, Islam is constructed as a religion that calls for the oppression of women, the marginalization of homosexuals, and the exercise of violence in the name of God. [4]

Even if the interviewed gay men and men marked as Muslim also experience homophobic discrimination from members of their group of origin, it is problematic to link Islam with homophobia across the board, because Islam is not a uniform religious system, but is in different countries and depending on the social and historical background lived differently. Islamic scholars such as Andreas Ismail Mohr assume, for example, that passages in the Koran and hadiths have been translated and interpreted to the disadvantage of homosexuals. The sociologist Georg Klauda, ​​on the other hand, shows how heteronormativity (and thus homophobia) only found its way into countries with a Muslim majority in the course of colonization by Christian-influenced European powers. [5]

These few pointers should suffice to underline once again that homophobia is not a culture-specific but a global problem. In the following, the focus is on the experiences of discrimination that gay men marked as Muslim in describing themselves as tolerant and enlightened white make German company. This reveals experiences that are hardly discussed in the dominant discourse.

Intersectional Discrimination

In the framework of the above-mentioned study, the following forms of discrimination could be worked out on the basis of the biographical-narrative interviews, which are treated here separately for analytical reasons, but (can) overlap in practice: [6]
  1. Biologistic racial discrimination
    Not only those interviewed with their own migration experience encounter racism. Even those who were born and socialized in Germany, but are still regarded as "not German enough" due to their skin color or attributed genetic (in) abilities, experience being referred to as "foreigners" or "migrants" and with racist behavior to be confronted.

    Racism usually has social consequences for those affected: They are often excluded from social, cultural and economic resources, for example from social relationships or from the labor market and the exercise of an activity corresponding to their qualifications. The interviewees' experiences thus mainly refer to the economic side of racism. In addition, however, the case analyzes show that racist acts are part of a network of power structures. Racism is also interwoven with classism (i.e. social origin and position in society), cultural hegemony and heteronormativity. Anyone who is "foreign" and gay and lives in socially disadvantaged circumstances and possibly has a Muslim background, is at increased risk of experiencing multidimensional discrimination.

  2. Culturalist (anti-Muslim) racism
    Although some of the interviewees have nothing to do with Islam, parts of society consider them practicing Muslims and attribute negative traits to them. In view of increasing anti-Muslim attitudes in German society, these interviewees find themselves in a situation of social insecurity. Like biological racism [7], anti-Muslim racism also forms a barrier that prevents the interviewees from building social, cultural and economic networks in society. They are often excluded from educational, labor and political resources. Anti-Muslim racism shows how culture and religion take over the function of racism that was once biologically argued: People who are viewed as "non-Germans" are particularly discriminated if they are considered "Turks" or "Arabs" and because of them (alleged) origins are constantly perceived as foreign. For example, the majority society often automatically associates a Turkish origin with Islamic affiliation, which in turn is increasingly marked as foreign.

  3. Institutional racism through (non-) citizenship
    According to Birgit Rommelspacher, one speaks of "structural racism [...] when the social system with its legal ideas and its political and economic structures causes exclusion, while institutional racism refers to the structures of organizations, ingrained habits, established values ​​and proven principles of action". [8th] Institutional discrimination is expressed in this sense in the unequal allocation of socially desirable goods by state and non-state institutions in particular. These can incorporate discriminatory assumptions and have discriminatory consequences. This means that the rules and practices of a governmental and / or non-governmental institution can cause systematic inequality and disadvantage to a person or group of people. Citizenship as an instrument of institutional racist discrimination was dealt with in the study by Çetin (2012) using the example of the formation of civil partnerships by binational couples, since it is precisely on this point that many gay binational couples have to fight against structural and institutional racist discrimination and the associated bureaucratic obstacles.

    The interviews with gay men marked as Muslim show that discrimination not only comes from individuals in everyday life, but also from the legislature and officials who implement the laws. In particular, the interviewees with their own migration experience, who entered into a registered civil partnership with a German man and therefore received a right of residence in Germany, experience institutional racism because of their nationality: As third-country nationals, for example, they are legally worse off than EU citizens with regard to freedom of movement do not need a residence permit for a stay in Germany. This hierarchy is socially effective: EU citizens are often accepted as the preferred ("good") migrants, while third-country nationals are less welcome. The interviewees also feel this in administrative offices, for example in the immigration authorities during the visa process. In addition, the hierarchy favors social inequality within society as a whole. Binational gay couples who wanted to enter into a civil partnership report of the associated bureaucratic hurdles: the immigrant partner who does not come from the EU is often suspected of entering into a sham civil partnership, which is monitored and, in the worst case, forced outing the immigration authorities. Although the authorities have been informed that homosexual civil partnerships are not recognized in all countries, gays with personal migration experience are often forced to present a certificate of marital status from their country of origin. This can lead to them forcibly coming out and / or being outed and having to expose themselves to the risk of homophobic discrimination by the authorities in their country of origin.

  4. Homophobia
    Both German and non-white German interviewees are affected to different degrees by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Since the interviewees define themselves as gays, they are confronted with heteronormativity both in society as a whole and in their groups of origin as well as in all areas of society and in every phase of their biography. While the gays marked as Muslim experience homophobia both in their communities and in the white make German society, they also report white German interviewees of conflicts that they have to resolve in their families and in their environment due to their homosexuality.

  5. Class discrimination
    Gay men labeled as Muslims often have trouble gaining a foothold in the labor market. They lack access to financial and social resources. This leads to the fact that they are often in an economic, social, but also legal dependency on their white-German partners. Within the partnership, this creates inequality and a power imbalance that represents a serious potential for conflict in the relationship. This particularly affects those interviewed who do not have German citizenship, who enter Germany by entering into civil partnerships and whose residence title depends on the continued existence of the registered civil partnership.

Conclusion: multi-dimensional or intersectional discrimination

The analysis of the interviews shows that multidimensional (intersectional) discrimination is a social fact that permeates many of the interviewees' life situations in various forms. Social and ethnic origin, actual or supposed religious affiliation, nationality, "non-German appearance" and sexual orientation are central axes of discrimination. They exclude those affected from access to central social resources. This (including economic) inequality of opportunity in turn determines the social situation of those affected. Not only economic aspects, but also heteronormativity, class relations and cultural hegemony are socio-political structures that are closely interwoven with racism. Cultural racism and biological racism are intertwined.

Even if the class-related, racist, culturalist and heteronormative power relationships are closely intertwined, all of these power relationships do not work together in every situation; they sometimes alternate. The various forms of discrimination produce social exclusions, which in turn lead to the stabilization of existing power or domination relationships and thus to maintain existing unequal distributions of resources within society. The effect of such differentiations and constructions of "others" - and their more difficult access to resources - is that the dominance structures of the majority society are not questioned or remain in place. [9]


Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989): Focusing on the interaction of race and gender. A black feminist critique of anti-discrimination dogma, feminist theory, and anti-racist politics. In: Kelly, Natasha A. (2019): Black Feminism. Basic texts. Berlin (Unrast), 145-186.

Çetin, Zülfukar (2012): Homophobia and Islamophobia. Intersectional discrimination using the example of binational gay couples in Berlin. Bielefeld (transcript).

Çetin, Zülfukar (2014): An economic power aiming at normalization - "Made others" between homophobia and anti-Muslim racism. In: Yılmaz-Günay, Koray (ed.): Career of a constructed contrast: ten years "Muslims against gays". Sexualpolitik since September 11, 2001. Münster (Edition Assemblage), pp. 103-114.

Klauda, ​​Georg (2008): The Expulsion from the Seraglio. Europe and the heteronormalization of the Islamic world. Hamburg 2008. LesMigraS (2012): "... not so tangible, and yet real ...". A quantitative and qualitative study on violence and (multiple) discrimination experiences of lesbian, bisexual women and trans * in Germany. (access: 13-12-2019).

Rommelspacher, Birgit (2009): What actually is racism? In: Melter, Claus & Mecheril, Paul (ed.): Criticism of racism. Volume 1: Racism Theory and Research. Schwalbach / Ts. (Newsreel), pp. 25-38.