12/21/2015 06:24 EST | Updated 12/21/2016 05:12 EST

Let LGBT Muslims Speak For Themselves

Rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza, San Francisco, California
Barry Winiker via Getty Images
Rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza, San Francisco, California

Recently, American Muslim activist Linda Sarsour broached the issue of LGBT Muslims, among other issues on the Al Jazeera program UpFront. She raised the concern of creating spaces to bring LGBT Muslims closer to Islam.

Those involved in the discussion were cissgender males, one of whom equated same-sex unions with drugs and alcohol on the basis that both are considered sins. If the objective was to create safe spaces for marginalized LGBT Muslims, then the discussion failed.

As an activist, Sarsour would know the imperative of not usurping the agency of individuals or communities whose concerns are being discussed. Indeed, she would be concerned when straight males speak on behalf of women and when Black Muslim voices are sidelined in discussions around Islamophobia.

This necessitates that activists try their best to let members of the diverse Muslim community speak for themselves. Indeed, when the panel with Sarsour discussed sectarianism, Mehdi Hasan, a Shii Muslim, was present.

However, often in such programs, LGBT Muslim activists are not invited. As a consequence, they are viewed paternally and assumed to be voiceless, despite the radically inclusive mosques set up by LGBT Muslims. Sarsour's panel was no different in terms of "saving" LGBT Muslims through its "love the sinner, hate the sin" framework.

Excluding the "martyr for the cause" poster boys, which self-respecting LGBT Muslim would accept the invitation to conservative Muslim spaces to be shamed and cured? This is where Sarsour and others may want to reflect on how they would feel if an American missionary organization invited them to be "saved" from their "lifestyle choice" of dressing and behaving in a certain (Muslim) way?

This entails the importance of having LGBT activists speak for themselves in such programs. Indeed, there is no dearth of LGBT Muslim activists that include, amongst many others, Shaykh Daayiee Abdullah, Mark Brustman, Terna Tilley-Gyado, Tynan Power, Urooj Arshad, Kaamila Mohamed and both Faisal Alam and Omar Sarwar, who, like Sarsour, are located in New York.

Muslim leaders need to stop making hackneyed analogies of same-sex unions with drugs and alcohol or, for that matter, a whole array of sins and crimes that evoke their personal disgust. When it comes to qiyas (analogy), they would know that it is one of the weaker tools in Islamic jurisprudence, as it is highly contestable.

For an analogy to fit there must be crucial elements present between the two cases, and crucial elements that prevent the analogy from fitting must be absent. It is therefore both simplistic and absurd to compare same-sex unions with drugs and alcohol. Might as well compare eating pork with murder and rape on that count.

Instead of making silly analogies, Muslim leaders need to reflect on what prompts them to compare same-sex unions with alcohol and drugs, and what prevents them from comparing them to marriage for infertile couples, for example.

Unable to provide a persuasive rational argument, such Muslim leaders will fall back to the texts along the metaphysical lines of "God says so." For them, verses 7:81, 26:165-166 and 27:55 are about approaching men with "desire and lust" irrespective of consent.

Of course, in order to uphold their claims, they have to suppress others verses like 29:29 and 15:70, which mention highway robbery, public evil deeds and the issue of protecting guests. In other words, they casually sideline the context of coercion and inhospitality to sustain their personally preferred conclusion. Surprisingly, the same scholars will harp on the need for context when it comes to relations with People of the Book, jihad, slavery and concubinage.

In order to make these verses about gay people, they have to sustain the absurdity that law-abiding gay citizens also engage in highway robbery, commit public evil deeds and forbid their neighbours from entertaining guests. Notwithstanding their complete disregard for context that is informed through reading all allied verses collectively, even their isolated reading is bereft of subtlety and nuance.

They have to ask themselves whether when the verses talk about pursuing other men instead of women, are they suggesting that gay men should pursue women and, if so, who will provide their daughters as objects to "save" gay men? Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the texts do not mention the male partners being pursued, as men in general are not receptive to the advances of other men. Viewed in such a light, does not the pursuit of men in general by other men reflect the lack of consent and when enacted, does the act not constitute rape?

Such leaders erroneously assume that LGBT activists and scholars take a Qur'an-only view. Had they read Scott Kugle's Homosexuality in Islam, they would have noted his reflection on the weakness of various Hadith texts. Likewise, in el-Menyawi's "Same-Sex Marriage in Islamic Law," they would have found a detailed treatment of jurisprudence.

Yet there are Muslims who continue to copy and paste spurious Hadith texts that call for the death penalty for homosexuality, none of which are found in the canons of Bukhari and Muslim. By incessantly posting such texts online, they are simply revealing their ideological affiliation with ISIS members, who throw gay men from high buildings and subsequently stone them to death.

Indeed, when it comes to homosexuality, many Muslims react out of hatred and disgust. When LGBT Muslim activist Omar Sarwar posted on Mehdi Hasan's Facebook page on the importance of inviting LGBT Muslim activists when their concerns are highlighted, a swarm of young Muslims responded fiercely.

Their self-righteous anger was manifest in the choice of their words, which included shouts of "immoral desires," "sickness," "ignorance," "conquer desires," "you can't be gay and Muslim," "don't get scholarly with me" and "there is consensus, full stop."

Such words remind one of the Prophet's admonition that, "among you are those that drive people away."

In essence, Muslim activists like Sarsour should invite LGBT Muslim activists and let them speak for themselves.


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