"They say we are the people of Lot. But in fact we are the angels of Lot. We were sent so that the mercy of others may be tested." - Leyla Jagiella
Professor Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle is an American Muslim academic noted for his seminal work on homosexuality in Islam. Thirteen years after his essay in Progressive Muslims and six years after his book Homosexuality in Islam, conservative Muslim leaders have promoted a rebuttal.
The timing of the rebuttal is interesting. Post-Orlando, mainstream Muslim groups have begun to express open solidarity with the LGBT community. Muslims and LGBT communities have even broken bread together in Toronto and Dublin. This societal shift bolsters Kugle's affirmation of LGBT Muslims, which the guardians of "Abrahamic morality" perceive as threatening.
Indeed, openly gay Imam Daayiee Abdullah observes:
"They are running scared. We have broken the dam of lies, and their fears are rushing out to clog the water outlets ... but no avail, for as the waters of truth rise, the tsunami of change is coming."
Academic arguments, satire and humour that challenge established positions are essential for growth. However, the rebuttal challenges a minority opinion to destroy any threat to the mainstream dogmatic position. The conduct of an overwhelming Muslim majority has been aggressive in online discussion threads.
Omar Sarwar, a gay Muslim graduate student, mentioned, "I had to delete my comment because the thread was becoming abusive." Hasan Nuri, a Jewish convert to Islam, similarly stated:
"[Conservative Muslim leaders] let their cult like followers participate in the verbal stoning of LGBT Muslims to leave the religion, burn in hell, etc. ... Actually I spent most of Ramadan wanting to leave, because there is nothing but brick walls no matter where I turn. ... I'm exhausted and I'll be surprised if I stay Muslim."
There is a Hadith attributed to the Prophet that states, "among you are those that drive people from the sanctuary." Indeed, by endorsing the rebuttal, the author's mentor quoted, "If they disagree with the Qur'an so much, why don't they just leave the faith and do as they please?" Paradoxically, even in his defensive clarification, he re-asserted, "Why believe in a book whose main premises you disagree with?"
The objective of the rebuttal was neither to reach out to LGBT Muslims, viewed as resorting to "cheap emotional refutations" nor to invite a dialogue with Kugle. One Muslim activist, who works with LGBT Muslims, asserted:
"This is not about queer people and their sufferings - it is about creating solidarity among Muslims who are very anxious about their present and their future, who are anxious about sexuality in general, ... the interests of making a larger majority comfortable that they will be OK, that fetishized tradition and particular leaders will save them."
Kugle is no stranger to ostracism. He mentions about heresy charges and facing online boycott of his books. Yet, Garrett Fugate-Kiriakos, a gay Greek Orthodox convert to Islam and a PhD student in Islamic Studies, defends him passionately.
"Kugle, as a leader and scholar, has done a lot more work in nourishing the spirituality of Muslims who happen to be queer than [conservative Muslim] leadership and usage of knowledge. He is one of the few Muslims out there repairing a lot of the spiritual damage and trauma queers have suffered in mainstream mosques and [through] rhetoric."
Garrett's observation is buttressed by the testimony of scores of LGBT Muslims who resolved their inner conflict through Kugle's work. One medical student wrote:
"I'm a 24-year-old medical student and I'm a practicing Muslim, having learned Islamic studies ever since I was little ... [His book] has helped me to reconcile with my religion and sexuality. Scott Kugle has probably saved my life from one of constant internal conflict and depression with his writing."
It is this life-saving work that the rebuttal seeks to destroy. Conservative Muslim leaders seem more interested in defending ink on paper than living, breathing human beings. The proposed alternative is perpetual conflict between faith and sexuality. This toxic struggle is sold as a "test from Allah." Commenting on this obsession of conservative Muslim leaders to inflict tests on gay Muslims, Garrett writes:
"I don't understand where people get this idea that if a queer person 'acts' on 'it' that they are not being tested. For example, relationships of any sort can be very challenging. ... Similarly, dealing with a family who disowns you because you won't marry is quite a test."
However, those who are mentally paralyzed and controlled through the fear of eternal hellfire buy the test. They grow bitter and find LGBT Muslims as threatening to their faith. Their faith seems so weak that in order to fast, they demand people around them to also fast.
The rebuttal can be deconstructed argument by argument. However, if Behnam Sadeghi is correct then legal inertia in Islamic law is not necessarily broken by legal counter arguments in vacuum. It is societal shifts that compel jurists to evaluate if the law is tolerable. This is perhaps why conservative Muslim leaders are scared of recent attitudinal shifts in the Muslim community.
While Kugle needs no defence, Leyla Jagiella, a PhD student in religious studies, passionately wrote:
"Scott Kugle is a 'scholar' in the best sense of the word. We are talking about a man who can fluently converse in Classical Arabic and a couple of other literary languages of the Islamic world. ... He is educated not only with regards to the disciplines, principles and tools of classical Islamic theology but also anthropology and modern secular religious studies.
It is exactly the lack of such a broad base of Islamic knowledge that is a big problem in the world of our Muslim scholarly establishment these days. And the victims are too often the marginalized, who are judged by "specialists" who simply do not have knowledge of half of what they are talking about."
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