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To Canadian Imams: Give Muslim LGBT Youth The Support They Deserve

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Imam Soharwardy in Calgary, Dr. Shabir Ally in Toronto and Imam Jebara in Ottawa serve the Muslim community's interests in their respective cities. They lead their communities through tumultuous times that have stoked many incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry along with the rise of extremist Muslim groups. Retired Muslim leaders like Dr. David Liepert in Calgary do the same.

They have much on their plate as shepherds of the Muslim communities. Apart from their regular duties, they are addressing concerns of a community that feels vulnerable, addressing hatemongers and standing up against extremist Muslims. However, as an academic, I call upon them now to show leadership in addressing the concerns of LGBT Muslim youth.

It is not easy being an Imam these days. If progressive Muslims have faced anti-Muslim bigotry despite their religiously plural, gender-equal and LGBT affirming worldview, one can only imagine the hate received by the Imams. In 2014, the aging Imam Soharwardy was even attacked by a ramming car.

Despite such ugly incidents, they continue to stand firmly against Muslim extremists. Imam Soharwardy has shown remarkable leadership as an outspoken critic of ISIS. Last year, he led many Canadian Muslim clerics in excommunicating ISIS followers from Islam.

On the Muslim LGBT issue, Imam Soharwardy even expressed that:

"Any homosexual Muslim can come to our mosque and pray without being harassed or discriminated against ... They are all God's creation, and they can come and pray."

This right to worship without judgment was one of the points mentioned by Rabbi Steven Greenberg in his book Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition.

Indeed, limiting discrimination and inhibiting prejudice is the first step towards a reasonable accommodation of LGBT Muslims in Islam.

However, an affirming Muslim position may not necessarily emerge from clerics in Muslim countries, where prohibitive laws and taboos dissuade any meaningful conversation on a delicate subject.

Yet, their position and influence in Canada confers upon Imams like Soharwardy, Jebara and Ally immense privilege and responsibility to undertake a venture that others are unwilling and unable to accept.

But working on this sensitive subject theologically is not easy. Indeed, it has taken the clergy in the Christian and Jewish faiths many years of theological discussions to assume affirming positions.

Properly address their concerns instead of viewing them as outsiders or pariahs.

A proper conversation in Islam beyond defensive posturing is in the nascent stages. Orthodox believers and LGBT Muslim activists have written much in the media. The former prescribe permanent celibacy or sham marriages to LGBT Muslim youth. The latter persist in their claim that being gay is not a choice and that they do not deserve apostasy charges for writing on the subject.

We need to move away from framing the issue in oppositional terms. After all, the issue concerns Muslim LGBT youth and their families. These are our youth, brothers and sisters. As such, Imams and other Muslim leaders have to properly address their concerns instead of viewing them as outsiders or pariahs.

In this regard, my co-author Dr. Hussein Abdullatif and I offer Imams and Muslim leaders academic assistance through our magnum opus, Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions. It is a consolidation of the exegetical and juristic literature on the subject in one place.

The book delves into the primary texts, the Qur'an, the Hadith and classical jurisprudence before it engages with the arguments of contemporary Muslim leaders. In his foreword to the book, Dr. Scott Kugle wrote:

"It is written by believing Muslims for believing Muslims, and for this reason, it takes piety and rectitude very seriously. It is addressed to the ulama class, the traditional scholars and legal jurists who continue to shape Muslim public opinion on matters great and small."

Likewise, Associate Professor of Islamic Law Dr. Rumee Ahmed at the University of British Columbia wrote:

"This comprehensive and unflinching study sets the stage for serious scholarly debates to come. The authors delve deep into the Islamic legal tradition, clearly describing both the challenges involved with reconciling Islamic law and same-sex unions, and the potential for Islamic law to not only tolerate same-sex unions, but to embrace them."

I offer Imams Soharwardy, Jebara, Ally and others a way to think through this complex issue theologically. I request them to read the book and leave it up to them to decide how to best address the concerns of Muslim LGBT youth.

Dr. Mohammad Fadel, Associate Professor of Islamic Law at the University of Toronto, has already presented his views on a possible theological accommodation through necessity. Eschewing taqlid (imitation), Muslim Imams have to navigate through the theological proofs themselves and address this complex issue in their own unique ways.

In this quest, I humbly beseech the Canadian Imams to not abandon Muslim LGBT youth to the vacuous alternatives of the cloister or the closet. I fervently hope that the Islamic principles of justice, mercy and compassion will illuminate their way.


Credit: Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield

Our book comes out in October and is available here, here and here.

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