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Junaid Jahangir Headshot

Can You be Gay and Muslim? Yes.

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In June, a prominent Australian Muslim cleric dismissed any discussion on same-sex marriage, stating that for Muslims the issue was scripturally clear. Likewise, in a recent live fatwa session, Toronto's Sheikh Kutty told a 16-year-old gay youth, who identified himself as a former Muslim, that the scriptural position was not based on "changing fads or whims of society."

In 2007, Sheikh Kutty had equated gay people to those conditioned to theft, murder or pornography and prescribed prayer based therapy. However, given a changed socio-political climate, conservative Muslim authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to uphold such dismissive and curative approaches.

Muslims for Progressive Values, like affirming Christian and Jewish denominations, have broken the consensus espoused by conservative Muslims that Abrahamic faiths prohibit same-sex unions. LGBT Muslims have helped forge faith based communities like the El-Tawhid Jummah Circle mosques, which are both gender equal and queer friendly.

Such changes have prompted conservative Muslims to modify their positions. Many discuss the issue in online Islamic forums and are increasingly framing the issue as one of desire, if not sexual orientation, instead of 'male anal intercourse'. However, their discourse is channeled by fear, rather than by love.

Fear of change in their traditional lifestyle has pushed conservative Muslims to make arguments that are ultimately based on a simplistic "God says so" refrain. Running out of reasonable arguments, many conservative Muslim authorities now prescribe permanent celibacy to gay and lesbian Muslims based on a modified view that same-sex orientation should be viewed as a test of patience.

Many conservative Muslims erroneously equate same-sex orientation with the desire to commit fornication, a genetic predisposition to alcoholism or with a superfluous desire for pederasty. To make their point on a test of patience, some even analogize the situation of gays and lesbians with that of disabled persons.

Conservative Muslims deem fornication as a transgression by referring to the lawful alternative of a marriage contract. However, since gays and lesbians are denied any avenue to fulfill their legitimate human sexual need, the analogy of same-sex orientation with the desire to fornicate does not hold. Likewise, in contrast to orientation, alcoholism is an addiction with well documented harms.

Past Muslim authorities assumed that men in essence desired women and prescribed that any superfluous desire for beardless boys had to be curbed. Contemporary conservative Muslim authorities apply this prescription for pederastic desire to gays and lesbians, who are denied their basic human need for sexual expression. It makes sense that other Muslim scholars have critiqued such analogy based arguments.

The analogy of the situation of gays and lesbians with disabled persons does not fit either. In contrast to disability, many past Muslim scholars have celebrated homosexual love in their writings. Second, patience for Muslims with disabilities is not about resignation to fate. Conservative Muslim authorities not only encourage disabled Muslims to use crutches, hearing aids, wheel chairs etc. but also allow religious ritual concessions. However, they fail to account for extenuating circumstances for Muslim gays and lesbians and insist on inflicting permanent celibacy.

Like their Christian and Jewish counterparts, conservative Muslims commit scriptural violence by denying the humanity of a vulnerable minority. However, according to St. Augustine, since scripture teaches nothing but charity, it needs to be interpreted until a compassionate interpretation is found. In Judaism, Rabbi Harold Schulweis has stated that the Jewish law was not instituted to make life miserable but rather to introduce love and compassion. Likewise, in Islam, the 8th-century-female Sufi Rabia Basri rejected fear based obedience.

Theoretically at least, several Jewish and Muslim authorities have stated the law changes with new sensibilities and differing situations. A whole array of classical and contemporary juristic tools exists to reasonably address the plight of Muslim gays and lesbians. Muslim scholars, provided they surmount their fear of being labeled as innovators, can tap the Islamic juristic literature on intersex persons, human dignity, necessity and public interest for insights.

In The Road to Mecca, the late Muslim scholar Muhammad Asad emphasized the need for constant reflection, stating that by standing motionless in a pool, water became stale and muddy and only by flowing does it become clear. However, such reflection is only possible in the absence of fear.

When conservative Muslims are able to overcome their fears, instead of getting defensive with 16 year old teenagers, they would address the deeper issue of how their fear to revisit the traditional viewpoint is driving gay Muslim youth outside the folds of their faith.