10/25/2015 06:02 EDT | Updated 10/25/2016 05:12 EDT

Conservative Muslims Must Lead the Dialogue With LGBT Muslims

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Rainbow-colored gay pride flag waving in the sky

What else can you do when faced with death, what can anyone do? You go on living. -- Bilbo Baggins

Recently, in London, U.K, Sohail Ahmed, a Muslim gay man, had to listen to a fellow Muslim radio show caller suggest that gay people were influenced by the fashion industry and media and that the punishment for homosexuality was death. In Arizona, Sumayyah Dawud, a Muslim transgender woman asserted that a Tempe mosque banned her and the largest Muslim civil rights group CAIR discriminated against her.

Muslim LGBT persons experience such viewpoints and conduct from conservative Muslim communities as a norm. It is a consequence of such intransigence that we witness not only silence but also a defence of human rights violations of LGBT Muslims in relatively liberal places like Tunisia and Indonesia.

Alternative progressive Muslim voices exist through Muslims for Progressive Values and advocates for human rights like Farhat Othman, who has written in Arabic and French on the decriminalization of homosexuality. Such voices deserve support to get amplified in various parts of the globe, instead they are pejoratively sidelined by anti-Muslim bigots.

Meanwhile, conservative Muslim beliefs get actualized when ISIS throws gay men off tall buildings. Such deeply entrenched heterosexism and transphobia must be challenged.

However, when challenged, conservative Muslims, which include people who are educated and economically well off, become defensive. They reject charges of homophobia even when they support the death punishment for homosexuality. While they project heterosexist and transphobic views behind the cloak of freedom of religious expression, their understanding of religion is devoid of nuance and reason and utterly bereft of empathy and compassion.

Conservative Muslims believe that Islam is clear on the issue, even if they are unable to appreciate the contextual and linguistic analysis of the Qur'anic verses on Lot's people and the weakness of the Hadith texts on "homosexuality." They remain content on regurgitating terse rulings from medieval Islamic manuals even when they paradoxically argue for context on issues of slavery, concubinage and warfare. It is apparent that talk is cheap, especially when they argue that they do not discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, and yet impose stifling restrictions on LGBT Muslims.

How does one have dialogue with conservative Muslims, if they are not willing to have one? More importantly, how can Muslim LGBT lead the dialogue if a majority amongst them understandably segregate their lives from conservative Muslim spaces? Yet, the importance of dialogue within conservative Muslim communities and through Muslim texts cannot be over-emphasized. Such a dialogue will have to be led by conservative Muslim communities as part of a much-needed internal critique, for outside solutions may be rejected as part of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Conservative Muslim leaders will have to create space for the good work done by scholars like Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle and Imams like Daayiee Abdullah. The presence of LGBT Muslim voices at annual Islamic Conferences will help break down barriers and allow for representation of intra Muslim diversity. In this regard, relatively progressive and influential Muslim community leaders, scholars and activists may have to play their role in assisting LGBT Muslims get their voice out in Muslim community spaces.

Conservative Muslims must understand that it is a sign of weak faith and ill manners to gang up on vulnerable LGBT Muslims, who, as in the case of the harassment and veil stripping of Sumayyah Dawud, also face anti-Muslim bigotry. They must understand that according to their faith, they will be accountable for excluding people from the sanctuary of Islam. Indeed, the Prophet admonished that "among you are those who drive people away."

They need to reflect on the Prophet's teaching that a characteristic of a believer is that he does not concern himself with that which does not concern him. In other words, instead of probing people's private affairs through suspicion and slander, which the Qur'an warns against in verses 24:15 and 49:12, they need to mind their own business.

In light of the above teachings, it was quite callous of the Tempe mosque leaders to ban Sumayyah Dawud from the local Islamic Centre and mosque. It was equally disgraceful for violating her privacy, which according to her, happened by sharing of her personal and confidential particulars.

Gender reassignment surgeries were not present in Medina at the Prophet's time and yet the mukhannathun (trans persons) were freely welcomed at his household. Clearly, gender in Islam is not entirely based on external anatomy, and as such, Imam Johari Malik has asserted that "if you present yourself as female, then you should be able to pray as a female."

Likewise, it was hypocritical of CAIR to abandon Sumayyah Dawud, while claiming that they did not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender. CAIR needs to internally reflect whether they are there to serve all Muslims or only those who abide by their definition of "model Muslims." Such community leaders should not worry about conservative Muslims who spread bigotry, as Dr. Hashim Kamali has asserted that the "quest for truth must be maintained even in the face of hostility from the masses. For these people may be uninformed, and may themselves be in need of enlightenment."

While conservative Muslims must lead a dialogue with LGBT Muslims, the latter should not give into despair. When Muslim communities shun them, they may find comfort in Allah's mercy engulfing them.


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