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Muslim Leaders Must Embrace The LGBT Community

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In the wake of the Orlando gay night club shooting, many Muslims condemned the dastardly act of terrorism that took away 49 precious and beautiful lives. Many have also dissociated the actions of the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, from Islam. However, umpteen condemnations are necessary but not sufficient to address the deep-rooted heterosexism and homophobia within conservative Muslim circles.

Religious leaders cannot condemn the actions of extremists but condone and perpetuate the rhetoric that pushes those at the fringes, who deal with inner demons and have imbibed a narrative of martyrdom and heroism, towards aggression and violence.

It is also important to not let such leaders relinquish their responsibility in inflicting pain through severe cognitive dissonance on vulnerable LGBT Muslim youth. This is especially true in the wake of the Orlando gay bar shootings, when suddenly American Muslim leaders have begun to express solidarity with the LGBT community but have done next to nothing to support LGBT Muslims.

Even now, some Muslim leaders are more concerned about protecting an Islam that has been ossified on LGBT issues instead of the genuine concerns of living, breathing LGBT Muslims.

Take for instance the comments by Hamza Yusuf, an American Muslim religious leader on LGBT Muslims in a recent CNN interview. When prodded on gay Muslims who feel ostracized from mainstream Islam, he simply asserted "we are committed to Abrahamic morality," and instead of talking about creating safe spaces, he tritely mentioned that there is "absolutely no compulsion in religion."

For him the genuine human desire for intimacy, affection and companionship is construed as "certain lifestyles" and he ignores the grass roots changes taking place in Muslim circles, through Muslim LGBT safe spaces in North America, Pride Parades in Turkey and LGBT Muslim affirming scholarship, by claiming that, "the vast majority of Muslims would never accept the lawfulness of an active homosexual lifestyle."

He views the story of Lot's people in the Qur'an, a story about inhospitality and coercion, and one which has to be stretched through analogical deduction to superimpose on the lives of LGBT persons, to be "pretty explicit in its condemnation of the act." Ignoring the limited medical knowledge of past Muslim scholars along with their socio-cultural norms, he views Islamic jurisprudence as a body of frozen rules, when he asserts that, "we have a long tradition of jurisprudence that defines it as unlawful."

He is concerned that young LGBT Muslims "want full recognition of their lifestyle" and tries to foist a one-size fits it all prescription by asserting, "I know that people can live celibate lives, I did it myself for many years." However, he cannot generalize his own experiences and foist his own whims on a life affirming Islam that is mindful of the genuine needs of human beings. Indeed, the overarching Islamic objective is the welfare of human beings and not the unnatural suppression of their genuine human desire for affection, intimacy and companionship.

Downplaying the death punishments in the 3 Sunni and the Shia school of jurisprudence, he claims that, "there's no specific punishment in the books of fiqh (Islamic laws) that relate to homosexuality per se." It seems like a PR move on his part to refer to liwat as "illicit sexual relations" instead of "homosexuality," which is ubiquitously used in Muslim circles. In doing so, he is limiting the usage of the word "homosexuality" to same-sex attraction and not conduct.

He also downplays the death punishment by claiming that, "they are legal fictions because they are impossible to prove." However, instead of defending classical legal manuals on the death punishment, perhaps he could work towards ending the draconian punishments that are meted out in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It is clear from the words of such scholars that they are more concerned about protecting abstract legal rules from past centuries than about living, breathing human beings. It is also clear that much of their language is framed as a PR exercise to deflect criticism and to relinquish their own responsibility in inflicting harm on their fellow co-religionists.

Instead of such defensive posturing, the need of the hour is to go beyond the necessary condemnations and actually undertake community initiatives that seek to draw Muslim, LGBT and those at the intersection, the LGBT Muslim community, together. Such initiatives could include joint rallies against hate, inter-faith events that promote diverse LGBT affirming voices and community events where people get to know each other directly at a human level instead of being coloured by the biases of conservative community leaders.

In short, in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings, Muslim leadership has to go beyond mere condemnations to actually have community engagement with the LGBT community and especially LGBT Muslims by creating safe spaces and to move from reluctant tolerance to full fledged acceptance.

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