Popular Muslim scholars support the death punishment for homosexuality under Islamic law. Noted Muslim academics claim that while some past scholars rejected such punishments, others supported them. Other renowned academics equate the concerns of LGBT Muslim youth with those of alcoholics or drug addicts.
On the other hand, post Orlando, North American Muslim institution stakeholders reached out to the LGBT community. They recognize the significance of intersectional work with LGBT allies in an increasingly Islamophobic environment. The concerns of LGBT Muslims, however, remain unaddressed.
Except in the spaces offered by Muslims for Progressive Values in the U.S. and El Tawhid Juma Circle in Toronto, LGBT Muslims do not find affirmation in mainstream Muslim spaces. While Muslim institution stakeholders reject draconian punishments for LGBT Muslims, they view homosexuality as a major sin and prescribe permanent celibacy to LGBT Muslims as a test from Allah. Not surprisingly, poster boys with a penchant for becoming a martyr for the cause generalize and promote such prescriptions.
Yet, under media scrutiny, mainstream Muslim institution stakeholders are quick to claim that they do not hate gay people. This includes imams who view gay men as diseased or who view them with contempt. Some imams have even mentioned that anyone can pray in their mosques without facing harassment or discrimination. But media-savvy comments are a far cry from the ground realities.
In Edmonton, community social workers talk about Muslim youth who are homeless because of their sexuality. Some families offer shelter and protect some of these youth. Others face harsh winters, drugs and prostitution that go with life on the streets. One gay Muslim who suffered so much abuse quietly converted to Christianity.
Such people do not wish to deal with their fellow Muslim peers who can be quite judgmental. Indeed, gay Muslim youth have been tainted with having a “weakness” and blamed for inviting prejudice upon themselves. Some Muslims even make the “reverse racism” type argument when they claim that it is LGBT people who persecute religious believers by somehow forcing them to accept the gay identity and same-sex unions.
Concerning Muslim institution stakeholders, while they offer a nuanced view on verses that support beating wives or not taking Jews and Christians as friends, they literally equate the Quranic phrase “approaching men with desire” with homosexuality. Scholarship that offers a nuanced view on this matter is sidelined as aberrant.
Perhaps, LGBT Muslim activists understand the futility of engaging Muslim institution stakeholders on the issue. It is therefore not surprising that while they have created separate spaces, there has not been much progress in terms of having an LGBT Muslim contingent in Muslim groups like CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, etc. especially in their conferences and gatherings. Many LGBT Muslim youth continue to remain closeted and feel that culturally sensitive strategies should be employed instead of coming out. This includes remaining in the closet and delaying marriage, especially for girls, until they become financially independent.
Since Muslim institutional stakeholders and LGBT Muslims rarely have a dialogue, progress on the issue remains restricted to media-savvy statements. Muslims do not want any theological accommodation of LGBT Muslims outside the lens of being sinners but want their religious belief on the issue to be respected. But how do they envision doing all that? Do they really expect LGBT Muslim youth raised on critical inquiry to buy their theological framework like the poster boys who have relinquished all reflection and reason at the altar of the “we hear and obey” doctrine?
The whole involvement with civil rights allies puts Muslim institutional stakeholders in a bind. If they don’t want Muslims to face discrimination on tenancy and employment, on what basis would they erect the same barriers against LGBT clients? They may make the claim of the right to exclude in a private religious institution, but that would make Islam a narrow club instead of a wide umbrella that offers sanctuary to all humanity. Should the media-savvy statements like “we do not hate any one” have the qualifier “except for LGBT Muslims”?
Muslims have the right to hold on to an orthodox belief on same-sex unions. The problem lies in translation of those beliefs. What options do LGBT Muslims have in the Muslim community if they live with a same-sex partner? Can they assume leadership roles in the Muslim community? Can they lead prayers or teach Quran in Sunday school? These are not hypothetical questions, for where some LGBT Muslims adopt a secular lifestyle, many others wish to perform as many religious good deeds while affirming their humanity through intimacy, affection and companionship in a legal relationship.
Indeed, the challenge before Muslims in North America is the creation of theologically plural spaces, where they disagree with one but respect each other simply on the basis of human dignity and as brothers and sisters in faith. It is high time that Muslim institutional stakeholders invited LGBT Muslim activists in their spaces and started work with them on the concerns of LGBT Muslim youth. As Rev. Tony Campolo said, “You don’t have to legitimate somebody’s lifestyle in order to love that person, to be brother or sister to that person and to stand up for that person.”
Can Muslim institutional stakeholders go beyond media-savvy statements to actually put to practice their own lofty sound bites on kindness, compassion and mercy?
*Image: A vigil in memory of the Orlando victims. Flickr/Alisdare Hickson.