Islamic teaching on gays must change. "It has to or it will die from its harshness or rigidity, ... The way it is presently understood, it rots the heart and decays the brain." ~ Imam Daayiee Abdullah
In the aftermath of the Orlando gay bar shootings, mainstream Muslim organizations suddenly began to express solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Likewise, many LGBTQ Muslims across North America visibly asserted their voices. Such has been the impact of this jolting event that some conservative Muslims have begun to express concerns on defending "Abrahamic morality."
Change is often resisted by the self-styled guardians of tradition, who try to control the lives of their co-religionists by preying on their fears through threats of kufr and fisq (apostasy and disbelief). In reality, such leaders are unhealthily addressing their own deep-rooted insecurities by upholding a stringent morality derived from medieval legal manuals.
In contrast, a vast majority of Muslims do not necessarily refer to those legal manuals to make their decisions on a whole array of issues including interest-based mortgages, pre-marital sexual contact, latest fashion trends, working in liquor stores and celebrating holidays like Halloween. Likewise, Muslim sexual minorities are not necessarily looking for a fatwa (legal opinion) on the permissibility of anal intercourse.
Muslim sexual minorities, like their straight co-religionists, have various ideological bents. Some are fiercely monogamous, others are polyamorous; some have a liberal outlook, others are quite conservative. However diverse, many of them want the option to live their lives as upright citizens in the Muslim community without suppressing their deep-rooted desire for affection, intimacy and companionship.
Muslim sexual minorities face the brunt of anti-Muslim bigotry but their problems are compounded by the deep-rooted heterosexism within conservative Muslim communities. This is especially so when the only respite highly educated leaders offer Muslim sexual minorities is the argument that draconian punishments are mitigated by high evidentiary requirements.
Since they are merely concerned about defending medieval legal manuals, lost on them is the fact that busybodies heavily encroach the private sphere and wreak oppression on fellow human beings in places like Egypt, the Emirates and Pakistan.
Even if the private sphere is somehow protected, what comfort do such leaders offer vulnerable Muslim LGBTQ youth? That they are going to be given draconian punishments in the Hereafter? The oppression of such rhetoric is reflected in the correspondence I received from two young Muslim females.
"Save for a few close friends, no one else is aware that I'm not straight, because I know the backlash and anger I would receive from Muslims and non Muslims alike, and the recent tragedy in Orlando has only strengthened my decision to keep this secret from my family and community. ... I've gone many days and nights wondering if Allah hates me for who I am."
"The Orlando shooting really hit me hard and I was wondering how you cope with all the prejudice and hatred, or if you have any resources you could point me towards. To me, this seems like a double-edged sword of sorts and that I have to defend my existence to both sides."
The Qur'an cautions about people whose hearts are sealed. Nonetheless, the following oft repeated claims are challenged below for Muslim sexual minorities, who must contend with such prejudice on a regular basis.
1) The physical and metaphysical harms of the homosexual "lifestyle"
It is not clear why conservative Muslim leaders repeatedly conflate same-sex unions that rest on affection, intimacy and companionship with the "harm" of a single sexual act. The metaphysical harm is based on the view of a god who burns people in eternity for sodomy. Many Muslims, however, derive their ethics from love that empowers them and not fear that seeks to suppress and diminish their existence.
2) Discrimination on the basis of religious freedom
The Prophet taught to love for others what one loves for oneself, and this includes a life based on intimacy, affection and companionship. As such, those who attribute petty instructions to God by insisting on the right to deny hiring sexual minorities in Islamic institutions and mosques merely reflect bukhl (spiritual stinginess).
3) Comparison with an array of sexual behaviours
What stops conservative Muslim leaders from equating same-sex relationships with non-procreative heterosexual relationships? The nauseating comparisons with incestuous Zoroastrian marriages to preach reluctant tolerance, silly analogies with pre-marital and extra-marital "pride," and "virtuous pedophile" identity, simply reflect an intimidating and insulting tactic.
4) Hate the sin, not the sinner framework
Empty slogans of "compassion" are cheap. They are no substitute for volunteering with sexual minority community centres, learning from counselors and psychiatrists, graciously listening and not judging sexual minorities. Are conservative Muslim leaders willing to go beyond lip service by leaving their own domestic lives to carry on the burden of others?
Lives are at stake. These are the lives of our own Muslim sexual minority youth and their parents. Conservative Muslim leaders should not try to superimpose their own struggles with personal sexuality onto the lives of others.
Thankfully, a recent Pew survey shows that 42 per cent of American Muslims support same-sex marriage and 45 per cent say homosexuality should be accepted.
There are many Muslims who do not recognize the authority of self-styled community leaders who try to control the lives of their co-religionists by thumping medieval legal manuals. Such leaders should note that for many Muslims, the bedrock of Islam is love not fear.
In support of this opinion piece:
Imam Daayiee Abdullah, President and Chair, MECCA Institute
Dr. Emran El-Badawi, University of Houston
Dr. Adis Duderija, University of Melbourne
Dr. Laury Silvers, University of Toronto
Jamila Tharp, Coordinating Imam for Redwoods Unity Mosque Initiative
Kelly Wentworth, Secretary, Muslims for Progressive Values
Frank Parmir, Director, Muslims for Progressive Values, Columbus, Ohio
Omar Sarwar, Columbia University
Rameez Ahmed, Toronto
Sohail Ahmed, U.K.
Hadi Hussain, Pakistan
Nakia Jackson, U.S.
Mow Wehelie, U.K.
Dino Suhonic, Netherlands
Griffin Downing, San Francisco
Gian Marco Visconti, Edmonton
Omar Mahmoud, Egypt
Shayma Johnson, Strathmore
Tony Eljallad, Board member, Al-Gamea
Tanda Chmilovska, Calgary
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