2016 is upon us.
Straight Muslim activists like Linda Sarsour, Wajahat Ali, Haroon Moghul and Mehdi Hasan have made it clear that while they oppose homophobia, they also do not find any theological justification for Muslim same-sex unions.
While some may support same-sex unions as a matter of civil rights, the support they offer LGBT Muslims does not go beyond the "struggling with sin" framework. In doing so, they are regurgitating the position upheld by mainstream scholars like the late Maher Hathout, Hamza Yusuf, and Sherman Jackson.
Their positions are relatively soft compared to celebrity Muslim preachers and a whole array of angry "copy-paste Muslims" who peddle death in the name of Islam. However, they will not be starting solidarity campaigns for or with LGBT Muslim activists anytime soon.
Straight Muslim activists are themselves caught between tradition and change. It is difficult to change for it requires merciless introspection, asking difficult questions, seeing things differently, and eventually going against the grain of all that is seemingly held sacrosanct. While confronting ancient texts is hard, transcending cultural constructs is even harder.
Change will be resisted as long as celebrity Muslim leaders are glorified and allowed to police others to maintain power and control. In the cloak of defending religion, such leaders prey on the fear of eternal Hell fire to quash all reason and rhyme.
In their haste to prescribe false marriages to gay Muslims, they forget the Prophet's admonition of doing no harm. Perhaps, the lives of their own sons and daughters are not at stake?
Failing such madness, they prescribe a lifetime bereft of intimacy, affection and companionship to vulnerable LGBT Muslims, whose lives were shaped by devotion to the same texts and tradition.
How does one make these leaders realize that their fear of an unknown future is destroying lives in the urgent present?
When LGBT Muslim activists approach these leaders, they are either met with freezing silence or charges of upholding a "Westernized narrative". They are sidelined for their lack of credentials from Islamic seminaries.
Such leaders have mastered the art of preventing LGBT Muslims from coming out by asking them to hide away their sins, through threats of fisq and kufr (disobedience and disbelief), or through the paternalistic argument that they were specially chosen to bear this test or burden for a deferred reward in the Hereafter.
As such, many LGBT Muslims feel repressed by the weight of tradition and live with cognitive dissonance by leading compartmentalized lives. Many throw the baby out with the bathwater when they jettison every semblance of faith from their lives.
A gay former Muslim, Sulayman X, wrote:
I was not prepared for the sheer volume of hate mail that quickly descended on my inbox. ... After three years of this verbal assault, I quite lost my faith in Islam, its claim of being a "religion of peace" no longer holding much water. For me it had become nothing but a wall of hatred and shrill intolerance.
Against overwhelming odds, LGBT Muslim leaders refuse to let go of hope.
The status quo cannot change unless Muslim leaders step forward and closeted Muslims themselves step out and actually act for change. Indeed, they have the power to give precedence to human dignity over the callous reading of ancient texts, the power to stop the dehumanization of LGBT Muslims by reducing their lives to a single sexual act, the power to affirm the truth of LGBT Muslims, to see them as their own sons and daughters and to include them at the table of humanity.
Against overwhelming odds, LGBT Muslim leaders refuse to let go of hope. They offer vulnerable LGBT Muslims safe spaces, much needed community and a sense of belonging, all that they are denied in mainstream Muslim spaces.
Such leaders understand that their painstaking academic work gets ignored and at best treated as a minority position. They are also mindful of hackneyed heresy charges. Yet, they refuse to have their faith defined by scriptural bullying.
Some of them have come together to offer words of comfort and hope for the new year as follows.
Dear LGBT Muslims,
We cannot wait for decades for social acceptance to live our lives. We cannot look for validity from people who may perhaps never understand us.
We do not necessarily need all the neat theological answers to live. All we need is a kind heart and compassion for others. Our oppressors only have as much power on us as we grant them.
Some may decide to become martyr for the cause to live up to the dictated "moral standards" or because of the judgment they may find in LGBT spaces.
But if we can live our lives without being jaded or bitter, but with a sense of self-worth, joy and inner peace, then we will have achieved what many gay and straight people fail to find their whole lives.
We neither need to work out like gym rats nor have deep pockets to find our self worth. But we do need faith in the divine spark within ourselves. That spark which some of us have buried deep within ourselves in response to hurtful words and incidents, the spark which is our gift to ourselves that we are no less or better than anyone, that like others, we are special for the sole reason that we exist.
In essence, you do not need our or anyone else's permission to live your life, which is a short one, so live your life and make it extraordinary!
Imam Daayiee Abdullah, Founder and Executive director, MECCA Institute
Jamila Tharp, Unitarian Universalist candidate for ministry, spiritual guide, writer & activist
Tynan Power, transgender Muslim activist and author; founder of Pioneer Valley Progressive Muslims
Omar Sarwar, Queer Muslim Activist and PhD Candidate in History, Columbia University
Ify Okoye, writer and activist
Mark Brustman, writer and activist
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