12/21/2013 08:50 EST | Updated 02/19/2014 05:59 EST

Homophobic Muslims Need to Grow Up


Eid Al Adha 2012 prayers at the LGBTIQ affirming, gender equal and religiously plural El Tawhid Juma Circle in Toronto. courtesy: Pear Studios, Watermark on pix, used with permission from El Farouk Khaki, founder of Salaam Canada Queer Muslim community

Early this month, anticipating stiff opposition, Syed Adnan Hussein showed much inner strength to openly initiate a religiously plural, gender equal and queer affirming Unity mosque in Halifax.

The initiative is part of a larger trend in Islam initiated by the founders of the El-Tawhid Juma Circle and followed by the progressive inclusive and Universalist Muslim communities across the globe.

Unfortunately, soon after the media announcement from CBC, online spiritual bullying by homophobic Muslims began. Their comments, which alluded to the "homosexual agenda" and "the wrath of Allah", showed lack of a reasonable understanding of a mature faith.

In contrast, Hussein showed marked integrity and courage by standing up to people, who exhibit bukhl -- a form of spiritual stinginess expressed by those upholding patriarchal traditions without regard to context, nuance or the violation of human dignity.

For those attacking this initiative, religion seems to be merely an exercise in asserting a supremacist attitude instead of bringing people together and promoting harmony.

The Halifax conservative Muslim leaders expressed that they had not heard of any local queer Muslims. This response was expected as their dogma denies queer Muslims the affirmation of their identity and prescribes them to remain closeted and mimic the motions of a married life.

In true visionary style, Hussein bravely emphasized the need to affirm one's identity. He stated:

To me, creating a spiritual space where all are equal is really important because that might impact their lives outside of the spiritual arena as well.

The toll that concealing one's identity takes on the self is evident in psychology literature. The minority stress theory suggests the connection between internalized homophobia and a wide range of mental and physical harms.

As members of a religious minority, conservative Muslims should be able to relate. Indeed, being Muslim is more of a choice than being queer. The many hateful incidents against Muslims and general stereotypical characterizations have made many Muslims vigilant against such bigotry.

The demonization of Muslims means that Muslim communities must strengthen themselves with love and acceptance, in line with the Qur'anic dictate that evil must be repelled with something good.

They have the God given strength to stem hateful attitudes by husn al dhan - the principle of thinking well of others, giving them the benefit of doubt, not making unwarranted assumptions or being overly suspicious and judgmental.

It is this husn al dhan that compels some Muslims to respect the hermeneutically different but sincere beliefs of the queer affirming, progressive and Universalist Muslim community.

However, Jamal Badawi, Director of the Islamic Information Foundation in Halifax, argued as follows.

What the Qur'an says clearly, just like the Bible, that homosexuality is not accepted ... It is not regarded as the norm in terms of the needs of society ... You can disagree with people and their views ... But discrimination, that's what we all should be against.

Such thoughts are a product of privileged straight male bias, and only serve to inflict cognitive dissonance upon queer Muslims, whose genuine concerns are suppressed for the "benefit" of the majority.

The argument against discrimination is meaningless without initiatives to stem homophobia that is usually cloaked by freedom of religious expression and which often comes on full display at online Wahabism based sites and within conservative Muslim social circles.

Badawi's comments necessitate the question, what constitutes a norm in a multicultural society?

Badawi's opinions also illustrate how conservatives in the three Abrahamic religions misappropriate the story of Lot to demonize the queer community.

How can conservative Muslims equate queer individuals with the people of Lot, whom the Qur'an describes as committing evil deeds in public assemblies, highway robbery and violating hospitality?

This only reveals a mindset that views consensual sexual activity as more heinous than economic and sexual exploitation of others. Notwithstanding the work of human rights Muslim activists, the political structure in several Muslim countries sidelines sexual exploitation but addresses sexual autonomy quite harshly.

Badawi, like many conservative Muslims, states that the Qur'an is clear on 'homosexuality.'

But should the verse, which depicts the entire nation of Lot as pursuing other males, without mentioning the pursued partner, not raise the question whether the pursuit was to forge loving same-sex relationships between consenting adults?

Indeed, the Qur'anic description of the unruly mob demanding that Lot yield his male guests suggests otherwise.

Furthermore, should not a nuanced approach be used to address the phrase used in the verse - 'you approach men lustfully instead of women' -- just as it is adopted to address a similarly simple phrase -- 'there are my daughters if you must' - in a related verse that depicts Lot offering his daughters to the frenzied mob?

Muslim scholars reject simplistic interpretations when superficial understanding of a verse is challenged by reality or other textual proofs. As such, a careful understanding of the purport of this verse is warranted, based on a simple fact that even in the most sexually permissive of communities, only a minority of males sexually desire another male.

When every Qur'anic chapter, save one, starts with the invocation of Allah's boundless mercy, should not scholarly interpretation sustain that mercy?

If we do not offer up our daughters to a frenzied crowd, then what earthly reason have we to subjugate our sons and daughters to the hell of the closet and the life of utter desolation?

Conservative Muslim leaders like Badawi must rethink their stance, as the Qur'an admonishes against blind imitation and calls for constant reflection.

Indeed, the famous exegete Muhammad Asad referenced an old Kurdish nomad in the following words.

If water stands motionless in a pool it grows stale and muddy, but when it moves and flows it becomes clear: so, too, man in his wanderings.

Halifax Unity Mosque Founder, Syed Adnan Hussein is not alone.

While, the usual suspects spout off abusive comments on the internet, he should rest assured that the constellation of queer affirming Muslim communities and their allies, growing rapidly and not backing down, stand shoulder to shoulder with him.

They are proud of his venture and pray for his continued success, both now and in the hereafter.