03/14/2016 10:57 EDT | Updated 03/15/2017 05:12 EDT

4 LGBT-Affirming Islamic Teachings

Sunrise at Millabedda

There are many LGBT Muslims and many LGBT persons who embrace Islam as their faith. They address the prohibitive Islamic texts on homosexuality in their diverse ways. Some adopt the "martyr of love" narrative to live their life as a struggle. Others live with severe cognitive dissonance, often zealously following repetitive rituals to fill the inner void.

Yet, LGBT Muslims can draw much spiritual comfort from their faith while gently setting aside norms that do not speak to their authentic selves, for Islam is much more than the story of Lot's people.

Spiritual well being and inner peace are crucially important for gay men to help address low self esteem due to internalized racism and body image issues. This poor self worth also translates to gay men judging their peers very harshly. Indeed, some LGBT spaces that were supposed to honour diversity become breeding grounds for self-contempt and hatred.

However, LGBT Muslims can draw upon several Islamic teachings to effectively address the myriad of problems they face in LGBT subcultures. In doing so they can affirm the worth of human beings irrespective of their race, body shape and mannerism.

Following are four ways that LGBT Muslims can draw comfort from Islamic teachings and nurture spaces that truly honour humanity.

1) Internalized Racism

LGBT Muslims can recognize the absurdity of judging their peers through the colour of their skin. After all Islam was never a religion specific to an ethnicity and region. The greatest manifestation of this diversity can be witnessed during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca where Muslims of all nations and colours congregate to express their common humanity. As such the narrow online messages of "No Asians" have no place in Islam.

The Prophet (upon whom be peace) mentioned in his last sermon:

Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, or of a white over a black, or a black over a white, except by taqwa (consciousness that spurs good deeds).

2) Body image issues

LGBT Muslims can realize that they cannot demean themselves and their peers by judging through the extremely narrow criteria of beauty distorted by a small subculture in the history of the world. Throughout Islamic literature, be it Ismaili or Sufi, the batin (inner) takes precedence over the zahir (overt). This entails that the unhealthy obsession with certain body characteristics, which manifests itself through narcissistic displays and which consumes ones spirituality has no place in Islam.

LGBT Muslims can derive tremendous comfort from the Prophet's words:

Verily Allah does not look to your bodies or to your faces but He looks to your hearts.

3) Objectification

LGBT Muslims can also recognize the callous dehumanization that is involved when human beings are reduced to specific body parts and abused as disposable objects. This entails taking a deeper look at ethical sexual conduct, which in Islam is circumscribed by immense responsibility.

In matters of intimacy, human beings are most vulnerable, which is why it may be crucial to honour the values of adab (manners), haya (modesty), hifz furuj (protection of the private parts), dard mandi (empathy), mawadda (affection) and bey laus mohabbat (unconditional love).

LGBT Muslims can shape their own world based on the timeless wisdom of the Prophet encapsulated in the following text.

A person chooses his life partner due to four reasons - rank, wealth, beauty and taqwa (consciousness that spurs good deeds). One should choose one who is best in taqwa.

4) Coming out

LGBT Muslims understand that coming out may not be feasible in places that are not safe. After all, one of the cardinal Islamic principles is encapsulated by the legal maxim, "Do no harm and accept no harm." This means not only disallowing others from oppressing one's soul but also protecting oneself from one's own negativity and self-flagellation.

The foundation of Islam rests on Tawhid (Oneness) that countenances no interference in the relationship between a human being and the Sacred. The Persian mystic Rumi's teacher Shams Tabrizi is reported to have mentioned in his 40 rules of love:

Nothing should stand between you and God. No imams, priests, rabbis or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. ... Believe in your values and your rules, but never lord them over others.

Coming out is a process and not simply a narrow expression of one's sexual orientation. It is about being comfortable with oneself after having resolved multiple aspects of one's identity. This entails that in the process of coming out one searches for one's own values instead of superimposing norms of ages long gone by or those of subcultures that prize the superficial.

Indeed, LGBT Muslims can draw much wisdom from the words attributed to the Prophet within Sufi circles that, "whosoever knows himself knows his Lord."

In short, by attuning to spiritual teachings informed by their religious tradition, LGBT Muslims can attain inner peace. This would strengthen them enough to reject the superficial and focus on the values that really matter. In other words, they would move beyond complaining about the "scene" marred by superficiality and bigotry towards affirming spaces of their own. But then again, the first step towards that journey starts from within.

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