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Unpacking 5 Muslim Beliefs On Homosexuality

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You brought it upon yourself and upon your poor family ~ Dr. William Waller to Kizzy - Roots (2016)

After Orlando, conservative Muslim leaders have become more conscious of the need to defend themselves against charges of homophobia. However, they blame LGBT Muslims for bringing oppression upon themselves and oblige them to uncritically follow their beliefs on homosexuality.

Five commonly held beliefs include that a plain reading of the Qur'an prohibits homosexuality, which is sustained through 1400 years of consensus. Homosexuality is explained through behavioural indulgence, which cannot constitute identity. Therefore, LGBT Muslims are expected to remain permanently celibate as a test from Allah.

However, instead of being repressed by the whims and prejudice of such leaders, LGBT Muslims can unpack these five beliefs as follows.

1. A plain reading of the Qur'an shows Lot's people as a lunatic fringe of humanity

The Qur'an mentions inhospitality (15:70), highway robbery and evil deeds in public assemblies (29:29) when it mentions Lot's people. It mentions that Lot's people threatened him with eviction (7:82) and demanded access to his guests (11:79). A lot of hermeneutical gymnastics are required to equate LGBT Muslims with this lunatic fringe of humanity.

Even a plain reading of the stand-alone phrase "approaching men with desire instead of women" does not necessarily support the proscription of homosexuality. Approaching men with desire constitutes sexual violation, as men in general are not receptive to the overtures of other men. The verse mentions general categories of men and women, and such categories allow for exceptions such as the mukhannathun (effeminate men), the khuntha mushkil (intersex persons) or the LGBT.

2. Any consensus on the prohibition of homosexuality is broken

There is no consensus on the definition of ijma (consensus). By Shafi's definition of ijma as the consensus of all Muslims, it is nearly impossible to have consensus. While the Mufti of Aleppo, al-Kawakibi, alluded to minority opinions that legitimized a mulk yamin (legal contract) between masters and male slaves, in general past jurists did not issue a legal opinion on same-sex unions. They could not do so in the absence of developments in psychology.

Past ijmas can and have been challenged. Just as major Judaic branches - Conservative and Reform - and many Christian denominations affirm same-sex unions, in Islam, members of Muslims for Progressive Values, Universalist Muslims and Inclusive Mosque Initiative have broken any consensus.

3. Sexual orientation is innate and immutable for gays

There is painstakingly detailed scholarship available to Muslim professionals and religious scholars that confirms that Allah creates whatsoever He wills and that something as beautiful as affection for others could not arise from something as ugly as sexual abuse. Dr. Hashim Kamali from the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies mentioned that, "current research is pushing slowly but steadily towards the conclusion that sexual orientation is largely inherent." On the immutability of sexual orientation, even the co-founders of the reparative therapy group NARTH acknowledged the impossibility of the client giving up the "homosexual need."

While there is a difference of opinion between essentialist and constructionist accounts of sexual orientation, Dr. Qazi Rahman, co-author of the book Born Gay: the Psychobiology of Sex Orientation, does not take social constructionism accounts seriously as "they generate no hypotheses about sexual orientation and are not subject to systematic testing." Indeed, throughout history there have been gay men that Muslim writer Mark Brustman identifies as natural eunuchs.

4. Both spirituality and sexuality constitute identity

An American Psychological Association task force report mentions that apart from spirituality, identity rests on sexuality, which provides self-esteem, belonging and meaning. Identity also rests on innate disposition and behaviour in the Islamic tradition. The mukhannathun (effeminates) of Medina were anatomically males but were defined as a separate group by virtue of their ghayr uli al irba (lack of desire for women). Likewise, in medieval Arabic erotic treatises, terms like zarifat (courtly ladies lovers) and habaib (beloveds) referred to lesbians.

However sexual minorities identify themselves, such categories are accepted. Just like cultural identities as khawaja sara in Pakistan or khanith in Oman are accepted, the "gay" identity is accepted despite being a Western cultural construct. This is because of cultural cross-pollination and the fact that Muslims are very much part of the West.

5. Homosexuality is not a test from Allah

Permanent celibacy as a test from Allah is not an Islamic value because needless suffering is abth (useless), self-imposed hardship is not piety and the law does not cause oppression. Allah's law is both reasonable and known through appeal to reason. Moreover, arguing that homosexuality is an abomination while prescribing permanent celibacy as a test is paradoxical. It is argued that, "trials are harder for those with strong faiths but they are lighter for those with weaker faith." This necessitates the question that when did gays, often viewed contemptuously, become so exalted to be severely tested?

In conclusion, there is no level playing field between influential Muslim leaders and vulnerable LGBT Muslim youth, who are disowned or threatened with death. Such leaders are less keen in listening to the disenfranchised and more interested towards foisting their beliefs. Yet, for all their influence, heterosexism is not an Islamic value but affirming the values of intimacy, affection and companionship is.

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