Taha is a special kind of Muslim cleric known as a mullah, someone who is particularly well educated in Islamic theology and law. But he’s now had to flee his homeland of Iran because he’s violated one major aspect of that law he knows so well: He’s gay.
Not only was Taha found to be gay, but it was discovered that he had been performing gay weddings in secret. Once the news was out, Taha had to leave or else face certain death (Iran is, after all, one of the seven countries around the world where gay sex is punishable by death).
Now living in Istanbul — one of the few major cities in the Muslim world known for its relative tolerance of homosexuality — Taha spoke with BBC News about his harrowing past and uncertain future.
The son of a well-known cleric, Taha grew up in an especially religious family and was groomed since childhood to be a member of the clergy. But from the time he was a young child, Taha knew he was different, and that he had to keep that thing that made him different a secret.
By the time he was in training to become a mullah, the pressure became unbearable. “At that time I was in the Islamic school,” Taha told BBC News. “I was scared. I was crying for days.”
But still, Taha kept his secret. Although, by the time he was an ordained clergyman, his secret was slipping out and its consequences were coming into focus. “The other mullahs were suspicious about my sexual orientation,” he said, “and threatened me with death.”
Today, living in Istanbul, Taha still receives threatening texts and social media messages from back home and elsewhere, but he’s not letting such things stop him from living his life. He goes out to clubs and has made friends in Istanbul’s gay community, one of whom hopes Taha will conduct his wedding ceremony.
“It is very big. I am very happy about this,” the man said. “Before this we knew mullahs as people who wanted to punish us. They prayed at our execution ceremonies. But now we know someone who prays at our wedding ceremonies.”
Next, see what Iran looked like in the 1970s, before the Islamic revolution, when homosexuality was still tolerated. Then, read up on the Pakistani Islamic council’s recent decree that husbands may “lightly beat” their wives.