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Celibacy Is No Prescription for Queer Muslims

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A YouTube video from the Muslim Society of an Australian University showed how two traditional Muslim leaders prescribe permanent celibacy to queer Muslims despite making erroneous statements.

Specifically, one indicates that "homophobia is an irrational fear of race or gender," whereas the other expresses disbelief on queer people doing without sodomy. Like other traditional Muslim leaders, their prescription is based on the view that same-sex orientation is a test from God.

Permanent celibacy is a value foreign to Islam, which recognizes the legitimate sexual need of human beings. Some traditional scholars admit that most human beings are not super-moral figures. As such, permanent celibacy imposes great hardship on human beings including queer Muslims.

One of the Muslim leaders in the video is familiar with the medical and psychiatric consensus on same-sex orientation and perhaps with alternative approaches to the relevant Qur'anic verses. He even concedes that permanent celibacy is "a big call to make."

However, he rejects the possibility of establishing an institution for queer Muslims by expressing concern on having two sets of rules for straight and queer Muslims. Furthermore, he emphasizes the "truth" over "what fits with what we want."

Such arguments ignore that the Sharia allows for exceptions based on the natural constitution of human beings. Several past jurists allowed the marriage of intersex persons, based on their inner disposition, with male or female partners. Other scholars opine that left-handed individuals are not bound to eat with the right hand.

Such arguments also ignore the overriding Islamic principle of "avoiding hardship." Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has stated "We are there to serve Allah, and that is why whenever the law does not serve you, you are permitted to abandon it, and that is actually following the law." It is important to note that such statements are based on equity, welfare and necessity instead of personal whims.

The YouTube video suggests how several traditional leaders, who are not formally trained as jurists, issue opinions anyway. Many of them may want to reflect on Imam Khalid Latif's words that "by pretending to have answers, people in authoritative positions cause a lot of damage to the well being of others."

According to the test argument, patience through permanent celibacy leads to rewards in the Hereafter. It seems, however, that this opinion is analogically deduced from Hadith texts rather than on the explicit words of these texts, which confer martyrdom on a person who perseveres and dies of plague or stomach disease.

The medical and psychiatric consensus that same-sex orientation is neither a disability nor a disease dissuades such analogical deductions. Furthermore, while, scripturally abusing queer Muslims and their straight allies, traditional leaders do not make similar arguments against Muslims facing disability or disease.

It is noteworthy that while some traditional scholars acknowledge the human need for sexual expression even for imprisoned Muslims, they do not do so for queer Muslims. Are not queer Muslims bestowed with human dignity that comes with the right to the essentials of life, which includes the legitimate need for intimacy?

Traditional leaders choose a reading of the "people of Lut" texts that lack nuance. They formulate their opinions on an atomistic reading of the verses instead of a holistic contextual and linguistic analysis, which accounts for the underlying assumptions of the jurists and exegetes.

Jurists and exegetes viewed same-sex conduct as anal intercourse and associated the act with subordination and humiliation. Qur'anic commentaries have portrayed the "people of Lut" as pederasts or aggressive rapists of trespassers.

Either way, jurists and exegetes viewed same-sex conduct as superfluous as they assumed a base heterosexual orientation for all human beings given their view that males and females were respectively active and receptive partners.

Traditional leaders also ignore the balance in the Prophet's statement by selectively emphasizing the latter part of his statement, "prepare for the Hereafter as if you are going to die tomorrow" at the expense of the first part that states, "work for this world as if you are going to live forever."

Several traditional leaders are afraid that allowing for extenuating circumstances for queer Muslims may lead to lifting of other religious rules. As such, instead of emphasizing the higher and universal Qur'anic values of mercy, compassion and good conduct, they fossilize the Qur'an by socio-cultural values of past centuries.

Frantz Fanon has stated that people will protect their core beliefs by rationalizing, ignoring or denying new evidence that contradicts those beliefs. As such, traditional leaders may find it challenging to re-examine their permanent celibacy prescription for queer Muslims.

However, Thomas Merton has stated that it is easy to prescribe others to accept their hardships of poverty as God's will and that one should share some of that hardship prior to making such assertions. As such, traditional leaders are better advised to walk in the shoes of queer Muslims before prescribing them to "tough it out."

Rather than projecting formula based answers, should traditional leaders not honestly admit that they "don't know"? Should they not reflect on verse 2:286 that teaches against invoking tests from God through the prayer 'Our Lord, do not burden us beyond our capacity'?

How can traditional leaders expect queer Muslims to cheerfully live cloistered or closeted lives both of which strip one of human dignity and self worth? Would they still churn out such arguments if their own children were grappling with same-sex orientation?

Having been so poorly treated by their co-religionists, many queer Muslims have left the folds of Islam. In his radical speech on women's rights, Imam Habib Ali stated that it should not surprise us that women go to human rights organizations when traditional Muslims have failed to treat them with dignity and respect. He also added that God would judge Muslims for conduct that drives generations of Muslims away from Islam.

Let the spirit of his radical speech encourage traditional leaders to reasonably address the plight of queer Muslims and reflect on the generations of queer Muslims that lose their faith.

In short, it would be petty to state that life is a test of whether a vulnerable minority can be celibate for some elusive purpose. It seems more reasonable to argue that life is rather a test of whether the overwhelming majority can show empathy for the "other."