Belief

Confessions of a Gay Ex-Radical Muslim Once on the Verge of a Terrorist Attack

Sohail Ahmed said Islamic verdicts on how to handle homosexual feelings led him to become more radical.

Photo Credit: shining.darkness/Flickr

After the Orlando attacks, U.K. citizen Sohail Ahmed admitted something remarkable. Similar to the man who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, Ahmed was a Muslim extremist whose repressed homosexuality led him to the “precipice of committing a terror attack in my home country—in the U.K., in London,” Ahmed told the BBC. 

“I was brought up as a Salafi Wahhabi, which is a Saudi form of Islam, and I’m also gay,” Ahmed said. "I would ... research all of these Islamic verdicts on what you should do if you have homosexual feelings ... And one thing would keep coming up again and again: Be more religious, worship more. And basically because I was a Salafi, I became more religious and that led me to becoming more radical.’”

At the peak of his radicalization, Ahmed planned to strike.

"I did have a specific target in mind," Ahmed said on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" on June 17. "I was thinking about carrying out an attack in Canary Wharf, which is a developed area, a redeveloped area in East London, basically simply because of its symbolic nature. It symbolizes the development of London and how rich London is."

After once believing that, as a Muslim, he was at war with the U.K., it took Ahmed many years to abandon extremism and accept himself. 

"When 7/7 happened [the July 7, 2005 London bombings], initially I was supportive of it, I'm ashamed to say, because I was an Islamist then," Ahmed admitted.

"However, slowly as time went on, I started to think that this really just doesn’t seem right. The people that died were Londoners, just like me. This was my city that was attacked. And then I started having doubts about my views and I then started looking at the work from the Quilliam Foundation, which is a U.K. think tank, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank. ... And basically I was convinced by them that the Islamist way of thinking isn’t the way to go ahead and that it is an evil ideology and an insidious ideology and that it must be stopped in its roots," Ahmed explained.

Scientific studies later helped him come out as well. 

"I became deradicalized way before I even came out to myself. I didn’t accept the fact that I was gay. I didn’t know the fact that I was gay. All I knew is that I had same-sex attractions, but I assumed that they were there temporarily or that I was possessed," Ahmed recalled. 

"After I became deradicalized, the final thing that I changed my mind on—and that I managed to gather the courage to change my mind on—was my sexuality, and the way I did that was through researching, looking at scientific studies on the topic of sexuality ... and when I looked at that, I realized being gay is natural; it’s not a choice; you can’t change it, and then I came out to myself," Ahmed told Maddow.

“[Afterward] I studied progressive, liberal interpretations of Islam ... and I was convinced by them—the LGBT-positive interpretations—and then I was for the first time ever happy to be Muslim and happy to be gay," said Ahmed. 

But Sohail Ahmed won’t be allowed in the U.S. just yet: He was sent back Monday from NYC’s JFK Airport after being scheduled to appear on MSNBC this past Wednesday. “They basically said if I had had a visa, I would have been allowed in," he said.

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Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.