02/09/2016 12:47 EST | Updated 02/09/2017 05:12 EST

Conservative Muslims Must Address Their Deep-Rooted Heterosexism

MUSTAFA OZER via Getty Images
Turkish gay rights group (LAMBDA) activists wave peace flags infront of a mosque in Istanbul on March 16, 2010 during a demonstration against Family Affairs Minister Aliye Selma Kavaf. Some 60 activists denounced Kavaf and called for her resignation, as they accuse the Family Affairs Minister of insult, incitement to crime and incitement to enmity and hate -- crimes which are punishable by up to two, five and three years in jail respectively. Kavaf, who is also women's minister in the Islamist-rooted government, said in a newspaper interview last weekend that she believed homosexuality was a 'biological disorder, a disease.' AFP PHOTO / MUSTAFA OZER (Photo credit should read MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images)

On January 28, Rev. Mark Chiang from the Edmonton Presbytery (United Church), Netta Phillet and Priel Buzny from Temple Beth Shalom, and I participated in a panel on the Abrahamic faiths and homosexuality at the University of Alberta. The responses to my presentation reflected the unprovoked and unneeded suffering of LGBT Muslim youth.

Given strongly held views by celebrity Muslim preachers, it was not surprising that a gay Muslim student emailed me expressing that if he accepted himself, he would lose relations and hurt his loved ones. His only way out was to abstain from any kind of intimacy, affection or companionship.

I also received an online request from a young gay Muslim, who wanted to discuss "something personal." I later discovered that he had taken loads of sleeping pills and was admitted to the hospital.

At the panel, Mark, Netta and Priel spoke of how many denominations in their respective faiths fully affirmed their LGBT members. Unfortunately, I could not say that for Islam outside the progressive Muslim circles.

Celebrity preachers, popular amongst conservative Muslim students, attempt to bulldoze the diversity of Islam. Indeed, Shia, Ismaili, Bohra, Ahmadi, Sufi and progressive Muslim voices are conspicuously absent at Muslim Student Association events.

Even when Muslim preachers do not advocate for the death punishment explicitly (ubiquitous in classical Islamic legal manuals), the predominant Islamic position remains that of social ostracism. It is argued that while it is a sin to "practice" homosexuality, it is also kufr (disbelief) to justify it.

It is therefore not surprising that many LGBT Muslims suffer from cognitive dissonance. Unable to deal with sexuality in a healthy manner, many lead dual lives. Paradoxically, some who engage in unhealthy sexual expression become judgmental of fellow LGBT Muslims who accept themselves.

Safe spaces for LGBT Muslims in Edmonton are non-existent. Last year, a health education worker in Edmonton indicated that several LGBT Muslim youth are homeless and mentioned having to deal with the suicide of a 15-year-old Muslim boy.

Where the older Muslim generations are cautious about homosexuality as a "Western" phenomenon, even younger Canadian Muslims generally view the issue through the lens of "sin."

In this day and age of Gay Straight Alliances, the raising of the transgender flag at the Alberta Legislature, will the Muslim community wish to sideline the plight of some of its most vulnerable members?

We are told that the prohibition of homosexuality is black and white in Islam. Comparisons are often made between sins like eating pork, drinking wine, committing adultery and homosexuality. However, all such arguments do not reflect a reasonable understanding of Islamic law, which is meant for the welfare of human beings and not for sole subjugation.

Revelation is guided by reason and not by unthinking dogma. When straight Muslim students defend celebrity preachers through "context" even in the face of clear homophobic and supremacist utterances, how can they ignore that context in the case of a scriptural story about coercion and inhospitality?

If Muslims are not going to reflect deeply on the classical definition of liwat -- penetration of men suffering from anal disease by other men with superfluous desire -- what is the point of thumping verses where Allah repeatedly asks human beings to use their intellect and reflect?

It is moral sophistication that allows us to distinguish between addictions that lead to harm and human constitution that yearns for intimacy, affection and companionship. Islamic principles indicate that nothing has been forbidden by Allah without the provision of substitutes, halal meat for pork, many beverages for wine, marriage for adultery, trade for gambling and so on.

Yet, conservative Muslims expect gay Muslims to remain permanently celibate or enter a marriage of convenience. Would they like such petty prescriptions for themselves or for their own sisters and brothers?

Human beings are not super normal creatures. Muslim researchers indicate that two thirds of young Muslim adults in Canada and the U.S have had sex before marriage. This is despite the fact that their situation is temporary for they have the option of marriage.

How can anyone then reasonably expect LGBT Muslims to remain permanently celibate? In making such unreasonable prescriptions, are not conservative Muslim leaders first making sinners and then judging them for being sinners?

The bias of LGBT Muslims is clear, for just like any human being they desire to live their lives with intimacy, affection and companionship. It is time conservative Muslims thought about their own biases, of how their deep-rooted heterosexism and paralyzing fear of eternal Hellfire is destroying lives in the urgent present.

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