CBS Tribute to Pioneering gay Pakistani-American Muslim poet Ifti Nasim

Editor’s Note:  We are reproducing the glowing tribute by CBS for Ifti Nasim.  His death reminds us of the intolerant society we have become.  Our LGBT friends and supportors have informed us that there are different interpretations of the religious texts on this issue and not all of them take the harsh and intolerant view that has become the State-sponsored mainstream.  Needless to say, we  do not believe in selective campaigning for rights and feel saddened at the persecution and marginalization of those who are  LGBT.

Partition resulted in an imported bigotry that was previously not welcome in the land of Ranjeet Singh, Bulleh Shah, Bhittai, Khushal Khan Khattak and Lord Gautam Buddha.  The soil that still fondly remembers Sachal Sarmast will always have a liberal ethos in the honesty of its masses (not elites).  We hope that one day, more Ifti Nasims do not leave our land but enrich our culture and society with their poetry and universal human rights activism. Discrimination and persecution on the basis of one’s sexual orientation is something we oppose and feel that one’s personal life should be just that – personal.  Religion should not be the business of the State, Islamofascist Judiciary notwithstanding. (Maula Baksh Thadani)

(AP)  CHICAGO — Men and women in conservative dress sat quietly before the start of a what promised to be a typical Pakistani Muslim community gathering, until Ifti Nasim — the gay Pakistani Muslim poet, activist and Chicago radio show host — strode in wearing leather pants, a leather overcoat and pimp hat with feather.

The display elicited smiles, and some eye rolls, from audience members. But most at the gathering for dignitaries and business leaders were captivated when he read poems dealing with being Muslim in a post 9-11 world, with some yelling the Urdu word for “repeat” throughout the performance.

It was a not an uncommon reaction to Nasim, who for most of his life managed to occupy an unusual — and often difficult — space. He lived as an openly gay Muslim man in Chicago’s South Asian enclave, while garnering respect from more conservative Muslims with his volumes of poetry, provocative humor, flamboyant fashion and advocacy for several Chicago organizations.

Nasim died at a Chicago hospital late Friday following a heart attack, his sister Ajaz Nasreen told The Associated Press. He was 64.

“It is a big loss for the community,” said longtime friend and business partner Rana Javed, who ran a local South Asian program, “Sargam Radio,” and newspaper with Nasim for years.

The respect Nasim earned in the community was evident at his funeral services and burial Saturday, when hundreds packed into a Chicago mosque to pay their respects and read Quran. A religious memorial service was scheduled Sunday and community leaders said public memorials with poetry readings would follow in the coming weeks.

Nasim said he always knew he was gay, but living openly in his native Pakistan wasn’t an option. He remembered first reading magazine articles about being gay in America and developing his love of fashion by flipping through Vogue.

“In Islamic society, gays have no place,” he told WBEZ-FM in Chicago. “America sold the gay culture to me back home. They’re living happily ever after in America. That’s my place, I’ve got to go to America. I was sold. Completely sold.”

Islam forbids homosexuality. While attitudes toward gays have changed among some in Muslim countries, being gay is still considered widely unacceptable and homosexual acts in some Muslim countries are punishable by whipping or death.

Nasim, who later became a U.S. citizen, grappled with those issues in his activism and poetry, which also dealt with global politics and advocacy for Muslims after the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Nasim wrote numerous books of poetry, including one titled “Narman” — a word for hermaphrodite — which was believed to be the first book of gay themed poetry to be published in the Urdu language. He also founded SANGAT/Chicago, a South Asian lesbian, gay and transgender organization.

In 1996, Nasim was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for “his courage as an international ambassador of tolerance” and his leadership in the city.

Friends and family say he often disarmed people — particularly conservative Muslims — was his sense of humor, magnetic personality and work in the community. If he wasn’t spotted at tea shops and kabob restaurants along Devon Avenue, a stretch of South Asian businesses on Chicago’s North Side, fliers for his events and advocacy were. Most recently, he worked on earthquake and flood relief.

“People would find him just to joke around,” Javed said.

But it wasn’t always easy: Some family members stopped speaking to him because of his sexual orientation and he had his share of critics, or people who dismissed him as nothing more than a clown.

Nasim said he waited to come out to his family until he immigrated to the U.S. and was financially stable.

“They thought ‘gay’ is something, a passing state,” he told WBEZ. They said, “‘Go get married. You’ll be fine. A good woman will do a lot of good to you. Excuse me, like it’s some kind of disease? Take two aspirin, you get up in the morning and you’ll be O.K. Honey, it doesn’t work that way.”

His sister, owner of a popular bookstore in the city’s South Asian neighborhood, said her brother drew people to him with his generosity. She said it was a shock when her brother first came out, but he was better known for his advocacy. Even in their own family, he was instrumental in bringing siblings and family members to the U.S.

“He was our Columbus,” she said in Urdu. “He brought us all to this country.”


9 responses to “CBS Tribute to Pioneering gay Pakistani-American Muslim poet Ifti Nasim”

  1. wah bhai wah…LUBP to bara modern hay!!If he was a good poet then you could highlight that aspect…I am amazed that his sexual orientation is being praised as if it’s something everyone should choose without any shame!!!!Be modern, not beghairat!!

  2. Anyone against word of God???
    Surah Al-Araf

    And (remember) Lut, when he said to his people: “Do you commit the worst sin such as none preceding you has committed in the ‘Alamin (mankind and jinn)? (80) “Verily, you practise your lusts on men instead of women. Nay, but you are a people transgressing beyond bounds (by committing great sins).” (81)

    You could have remained silent on his homosexuality practices rather than praising it. PITY!!!

  3. @Truth,
    the sexual orientation, the choice to be a thief, the choice to be a bigot etc are all choices of a person. Just like sexual orientation is not permitted to be changed by a person by our religion, our religion also teaches us not to lie, cheat and defraud people. If 0.01% of the muslims change their orientation, then at least a large majority lie, cheat and defraud their own faith followers and non followers.
    I had never heard of Iftikhar Naseem and I have no interest in his poetry. He is being accoladed for a stance he had. Right or wrong, leave it to the Almighty.

  4. @ Ahmed
    I do agree that there are many evils which are part of our daily practices but tell me would you admire or praise someone for such practices. For example, MR xyz was a poet but at the same time great thief???? That’s my point, why to highlight and then praise something which is not acceptable in religion or culture??

  5. hmmm… what’s that first principle mentioned in ppp’s

    original party manifesto ???

    “islam is our faith”

    yes that islam which LUDP loves to hate…

    the above mentioned ayat quoted by “Truth!” is clear

    about this homosexuality issue but ppp & ludp do not

    want to be represented as “backwards” so they are ready

    to criticize islam

  6. very valid point by “Truth!” …. kal ko agar koi chor,

    dako, qatil achi poetry karay ga to LUDP us ki

    tareef mein likhain gey!!

    waisay ppp aur LUDP ko is say farq kia parta hai … in ki

    apni party mein choor, lutairay kam hain kia…

  7. @Ahmed, Truth, & RimJhim: I knew Iftikhar Nasim Sahib well. In Pakistani activities, he was an ardent supporter and always forthcoming. I did not know about his homosexuality in the beginning. All I was concerned about was his graciousness, kindness, and patriotism. Later I found out about his sexual tendencies from others. My opinion did not change about him. I continued to respect him as a human being. Ahmed has quoted the Quran above and that is the first and last things for us as Muslims. We cannot condone or approve homosexuality from a religious point of view. Period. But we cannot hate or persecute or harm in any way a person for his orientation. Ifti Sahib was not asking us to approve or practice homosexuality, his struggle was against persecution of homosexuals because of their sexual orientation. I hope you can understand the difference. LUBP also, I believe, is saying the same thing. They are saying that they wish that a person does not have to leave Pakistan because of his belief or orientation, otherwise they are not condoning or approving homosexuality. Having said that, I do have to agree with RimJhim, that the party is seem to be overtaken by the corrupt and the thieves. The diehard PPP members need to get up against their corrupt in their own party before they will gain the confidence of the general public.

  8. @Rimjhim
    I am not talking about PPP or LUBP…my point is based on truth…just wanted to mention that homosexuality (in any kind) should not be praised!

    There no argument about Mr Nasim personality or the good deeds he did in his life. May Allah forgive his sins and may he RIP. The only problem is how the post is being mentioned. Just look at the title : CBS Tribute to Pioneering gay Pakistani-American Muslim poet Ifti Nasim- Gay is first and last is Muslim…what are they trying to say??? I think mistakes should be accepted rather argued. I think the parts of post which is praising mr Nasim homosexuality or his STRUGGLE for the rights of homosexuals should be taken off. I would be very happy to know about other things he did and will pray for his soul.