Changing Islam An Interview with Marija Gruijic

Many stories in the media present Islam as the unmovable stone, a religion that cannot be touched or changed. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in September, he remarked that there are no homosexuals in his country. Both shocking and tired, his remarks were met with snickering and groans. We laugh, because it seemingly affirms everything we already know.

Just a little more than a year old, Logos, a young-adult-governed organization based in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, faces the three monoliths of Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Islam. Logos’s most evident focus has been Islam, which it finds open to change, and the group has had great success in effecting it.

I interviewed Logos Board Member Marija Gruijic, who is 27, because of the power I saw in her claiming an expectation for change in Muslim ideology. What follows are her thoughts—as a non-Muslim woman—about working in a controversial sphere of Islam, the life of an activist, and her organization’s achievements.

Why do you focus on changing religious attitudes?

I always knew it was changeable. I had thought about it a lot from a young age, but growing up in Serbia—a very closed society—I did not feel enough freedom inside myself to begin work. I have been with Logos since January of this year, and when I met the men who already worked with the organization, I found them very inspirational. They were Buddhist and artistic and open. It was a meeting of energies. They caught me, you could say. Changing religion began to seem manageable.

What made you think you could change religion?

I always knew it needed to change, and I have always been full of energy. In the East, it’s different. In school, they teach us not to speak. All the lectures, you are quiet, and you sit there and learn. But I read Derrida and Heidegger and Lacan. They wrote about things that at one time seemed unchangeable, too. They try to teach us that we can’t touch, but we can.

Of the three religions you work with in Bosnia-Herzegovina, do you find any one more intimidating?

No. It is the same core to all of them.

What are your thoughts on gender discrimination and LGBT inequality?

The fixed roles for “men” and “women” make anything that steps out of the heteronormative, gender-conforming binary look abnormal. Always the first argument from religion is that God made Man and Woman—that’s it. Even the people here at this LGBT and Faith Conference [in Budapest, sponsored by International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organization] look askance at each other when we step out of the gender binary. It’s so strong, we don’t even see it.  For example, all the names for professions in Bosnia-Herzegovina are male-gendered. People say that the newer, gender-sensitive language sounds wrong, but this is just people becoming aware. The church and the educational systems hold it in place.
What role does the individual LGBT activist have in working with theology?

I think most LGBTQI activists have not discovered the main enemy. The church is the biggest machine for maintaining prejudice. At the end, they will always say, “But it’s not natural.” You have to learn and study the theology.

How does your perceived gender as a woman interact with your activist work?

I identify as a woman only when necessary, and when I get older, it will become more of an issue, because it helps to be able to say, “I am married. I have children.” I am still young in their eyes, so they don’t ask yet. Women in villages don’t often like the feminist activists, [or] those without husbands or children. If I go in a mosque, I wear a veil. It affects my success, even though I am not Muslim.

What are your greatest accomplishments thus far?

We experienced a nonviolent introduction of our Baseline Study that examined the status of LGBT people and relevant texts in the three religions we work with. Logos’s representatives cofounded and participated in all the activities undertaken by the Muslim Advocacy Initiative in Jakarta. We also managed to get funding, which is hard because we are not just human rights, not just LGBTQI, not just faith. We are a first. A lot of foundations don’t like us for one of these reasons.

What are your goals for 2008?

We want to finally open our human rights social club. It would be a safe space for young LGBTQI people, especially believers. It would also be a space for art performances. We also need to work on capacity-building, continue to join in round tables, and promote nondiscrimination laws.

Do you like being at this seemingly contradictory intersection of faith, human rights, and LGBT lives?

Of course! That’s my life. [Pumps fists in the air.] I like ambivalent things. It’s why I have so much energy.

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