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Why All Muslims Are Talking About Queer Sexuality

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In February, U.K. based Muslim MP Sadiq Khan received death threats for voting in favour of same-sex marriage. Ignoring Muslim voices that condemned these threats, many commenters generalized and stereotyped the entire Muslim community.

The 'best rated' comments included gems like 'violence seems to be the only thing these people understand' and 'if these Muslims don't like the way we live in this country please leave'. Another comment read 'these "Muslims" only ever seem to spout hatred and bile!'

Such comments are unfortunate as they ignore the strides made by Muslims in addressing a culturally foreign social construct of the queer identity in a relatively shorter time frame than that taken by the West where the queer identity was shaped organically over decades.

These comments sidelined the encouraging fact that of eight British MPs, only one voted against same-sex marriage. A consistent pattern of support for same-sex marriage amongst Muslim politicians across North America and Europe is also noteworthy.

Indeed, where conservative Christians amongst others stood in opposition, Ontario MPP Yasir Naqvi not only helped pass queer youth anti bullying initiatives but also co-sponsored the amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code to include transgendered people.

Such comments are also unfortunate as by reinforcing the extreme position of the 'death penalty for homosexuals', they seem to suggest that the conservative Muslim 'don't ask don't tell' position is a marked improvement.

People who generalize and stereotype the Muslim position on queer issues end up being strange bedfellows with extremists. By downplaying progressive Muslim efforts, they create divisiveness between Muslims and society at large.

Indeed, such critics have the potential to put aside their unhelpful Islam bashing to focus on addressing human rights abuses. Instead of superimposing foreign solutions, they can support indigenous Muslim efforts towards change.

Notwithstanding hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric, by speaking a culturally and religiously relevant language, both straight and queer Muslims, continue the intra Muslim dialogue on the intersection of Islam and queer sexuality in many ways including reports and even theatre.

Time and again Muslims have condemned homophobes who keep harping on their pet peeves instead of addressing the real issues at hand. Indeed, some Muslims went beyond condemning the death threats to Sadiq Khan by hailing him as a role model for Muslim youth.

Likewise, Muslim students and community members at Cornell University spearheaded an open letter this February rejecting any guidance from a homophobic Friday prayer leader, who had vilified queer Muslims amongst others.

In Australia, even back in 2003, when a prayer leader spouted off hatred against the queer community, a congregant clearly stated that he went to the mosque to pray, not to listen to such rubbish. Indeed, a complaint was lodged with the Victoria Police.

For many Muslims, the Islamic values of compassion and social justice trump spiritual stinginess and homophobia. Inspired by the Prophet's teaching that 'kindness is a mark of faith', straight Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder with their queer brothers and sisters.

Ameena Meer, a former spokesperson and social media head for Park51, also known as the Ground zero mosque, and Imam Dr. Khaleel Mohammad have expressed that Park51 can also break down barriers by reaching out to the queer Muslim community.

Where playwright Wajahat Ali has hosted discussions on same-sex unions, author Michael Muhammad Knight, by referencing the life of an eighth century Muslim scholar, has indicated how the Muslim community could respect an openly gay person.

Likewise, where Dr. Hussein Rashid of Hofstra University has expressed that there are diverse ways of being a Muslim, Dr. Sophia Shafi at the Iliff School of Theology has voiced a call for 'toning down of patriarchy and turning up of love'.

Straight Muslim allies with varying theological backgrounds have banded together with queer Muslims to create safe spaces like the El Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosques, which were followed by MPV Unity mosques and Inclusive Mosque Initiatives.

Shahla Khan Salter of MPV Canada has gone beyond writing articles to march alongside queer Muslims at Pride Parade. Likewise, Kelly Wentworth of MPV Atlanta has gone as far as to help find welcoming conservative mosques for the more traditional queer Muslims.

Alongside other religious leaders, Cincinnati based Pamela Taylor, founding member of MPV, has recently endorsed an amendment that would legalize same-sex marriage in Ohio. She has stated that she cannot imagine 'a God who does not love all of Her Wondrous Creation'.

However, Taylor and others have also noted many challenges faced by queer Muslims. She has expressed that some queer Muslims not only face social and spiritual isolation within the Muslim community but also experience racism and bigotry within the queer community.

Likewise, Ani Zonneveld, Co-founder and President of MPV, has expressed the need to develop educational resources to empower queer Muslims to not be bullied into thinking that they are less than human.

Indeed, queer Muslims have the right to be informed by their religious tradition without being bullied by self-styled religious leaders. Borrowing from the 13th century Sufi Shams Tabrizi, they should not allow any clergy member to interfere in their relationship with God.

They can also find comfort in the words of the 13th century Sufi Rumi who suggested that instead of looking elsewhere one should look within for guidance. Similarly, the Prophet Himself is quoted as having stated that 'He who knows himself knows his Lord'.

Recently, Ayman Fadel, a straight Muslim male, wrote a moving piece on how the movie Philadelphia, his interaction with queer friends and a straight friend, who championed equality rights, helped him abandon acquired homophobic behavior and attitudes.

Fadel's words echo the distinction between worship rituals and being a compassionate human being. Indeed, the Prophet is quoted as having stated that keeping good relations with people is better than prayer, fasting and charity.

Fadel's words also challenge conservative Muslims to ponder if they should be so consumed by same-sex marriage that they fail to show the same vigour on issues including pollution, war, financial fraud and runaway levels of incarceration.

He also asks if straight Muslims can at least recognize that the 'party line does not make a lot of sense in today's world', that there are no amulet based cures for sexual orientation and that queer Muslims should not be pressured into fraudulent marriages.

While, some queer Muslims become poster boys for celibacy campaigns to cope with internalized scriptural abuse from religious fanatics and with racism within queer subcultures, others find an increasing level of support from straight Muslim allies.

As straight Muslim allies, some of whom are as traditionally devout as they come, stand shoulder to shoulder with their queer brothers and sisters, the intra Muslim dialogue on Islam and queer sexuality continues to progress.

While there may be hiccups along the way as evident from the death threats to MP Sadiq Khan, it is also clear that religious fanatics are the ones who find themselves marginalized and are scared enough to act out of such cowardice.

With their straight brothers and sisters coming out to stand by their side, queer Muslims vehemently reject the ill-conceived prescriptions of closeted or cloistered lives. Indeed, as queer Muslims come out, they let their inner light shine and make their lives extraordinary.