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7 Shifts In Islam On LGBT Issues

Conservative Muslim leaders often claim that the Islamic position on homosexuality is clear and immutable. They exaggerate the issue of homosexuality to be on par with the six articles of faith and the five pillars of Islam. Despite their claims, the contemporary Muslim position on LGBT issues has gone through several shifts as follows.

1. Promoting the death punishment is no longer politically expedient

Three of the four Sunni and the Shia schools of jurisprudence prescribe death for homosexuality. A very influential scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi mentioned:

"The schools of thought disagree about the punishment. Some say they should be punished like fornicators ... Some say we should throw them from a high place, ... Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement."

However, such opinions, especially post Orlando, have become politically incorrect. A Canadian Muslim scholar, who had said, "put my name in the paper. The position is death," recently apologized:

"Many years ago I made hurtful comments against homosexuals for which I have apologized. My views have evolved over the years. I am fully committed to peaceful coexistence and respect among all people."

2. Homosexuality is no longer viewed as a disease

Muzammil Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, had expressed:

"Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption ... No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education."

However, in an interview from 2012, he expressed:

"Many Muslim jurists today are inclined to accept on the basis of modern research that it is quite possible that people may be born with this [orientation] ... we all have to learn and understand things more, so we do change our minds on the basis of understanding the human situation."

3. Social ostracism of homosexuals is no longer acceptable

In the past conservative Muslim leaders have socially ostracized gay Muslims to the extent of refusing burial rights in Muslim cemeteries. Muzammil Siddiqi had opined:

"Those who insist on this lifestyle, consider it legitimate and feel 'gay pride', we should not associate with them and should not take them as friends. We should certainly avoid those people."

However, post Orlando, Muslim and LGBT communities broke bread together in Toronto and Ireland. Nihad Awad, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed solidarity with the LGBT community:

"For many years members of the LGBTQIA community have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community ... Today we stand with them shoulder to shoulder."

4. Gay Muslims can lead in mosques

The late Taha Jabir al-Alawani at Corboda University in Virginia had scathing remarks for the association of gay Muslims with mosques:

"They are neither fit to establish masajid (mosques) and frequent them, nor are they fit to lead those who frequent the masjid whomever they may be."

However, in 2013, many Islamic scholars visited the El-Tawhid Juma Circle mosque in Toronto, co-founded by gay Muslims, who at times also lead prayers. One of the visiting scholars expressed:

"As a scholar I need to be able to meet those people on their own terms and not come across as somebody who is studying them for the sake of criticising them ... We want our own subjectivity to come into focus and hopefully allow us to become better scholars of Islam."

5. Transgender Muslims no longer have a test of celibacy

Conservative Muslim scholars have traditionally prohibited transgender Muslims from marriage based on the argument of trials of life. According to one opinion:

"The inherent guidance regarding sexual relationship corroborated by the Shari'ah directives may not be overlooked by them. Many other people also suffer some kind of physical abnormalities in this world of trial. If we appreciate that all of us are put through a test in this worldly life, it would surely lessen the sense of deprivation."

However, recently in Pakistan, a group of Sunni clerics issued a fatwa (legal opinion) allowing marriages of transgender persons:

"Through this fatwa, we want to inform the public that they can marry. ... It is permissible for a transgender person with male indications on his body to marry a transgender person with female indications on her body."

6. Homophobia is no longer acceptable

There are conservative Muslims scholars who have argued that not even pigs and dogs engage in homosexuality. Others associated homosexuality with the consumption of pork:

"You have substantiated my point that those who consume pork do not understand the harms of homosexuality. You have proven that eating najas (filth) instils a behavioural attitude that sees no harm in it."

However, in 2008, Imam Johari Malik expressed that Muslims who have never consumed pork cannot say that it is nasty and therefore we can question how those who claim that, "gay sex is nasty" know about it. He vehemently stated:

"It's time to get past our homophobia to help human beings."

7. Muslim scholars have shifted from opposition to solidarity

Before Orlando, Muslim scholar Omar Suleiman had expressed:

"Days are very near that disagreeing with homosexuality will be just as bad as being a racist. ... If as Muslims we don't take a clear stance on this, we will be forced to conform and watch this disease destroy our children."

After Orlando, he expressed:

"If you believe that homosexuality is immoral, that's fine, but you do not treat someone who's gay as less than you because they don't hold that belief."

However, conservative Muslim leaders still prescribe permanent celibacy to gay Muslims. But can we trust their opinions when a deep-rooted heterosexism clouds their judgment? Indeed, instead of yielding to their oppression, gay Muslims can reflect on the Qur'anic teaching:

They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah ~ 9:31

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