A young gay Muslim in Edmonton told me that the religious leaders of Islam claim that experiencing same-sex desires is one thing, but to act upon them is to engage in sin. Unlike other religions where same-sex desire itself is deemed abnormal or sinful, there is no Islamic law that regulates feelings.
This dichotomy allows gay Muslims to not be worried about same-sex desires as long as they keep them hidden. While a few devout gay Muslims struggle with themselves endlessly, many lead dual lives by showing one face for Friday prayers and another for private sexual encounters.
This is true for Muslims of all stripes including Sunnis and Shias. They find that the closet helps them get by, especially as even dating before marriage is frowned upon in conservative Muslim circles. It is a situation where inertia has set in.
Many LGBTQ2S+ Muslim activists are less interested in challenging the status quo in Muslim communities and instead focus their attention on other issues, including racism and Islamophobia. In the absence of any direct challenge, several religious leaders of Islam have concocted an anti-LGBTQ2S+ discourse from classical Islamic legal manuals and contemporary Christian fundamentalist rhetoric.
Conservative Muslim institutions, like Muslims in Calgary, have interspersed harsh Islamic punishments on liwat (anal sex between men) with videos from hateful fundamentalist Christian preachers like Pastor Steven Anderson. Anderson’s rampant homophobia and anti-Semitism has allowed African countries like South Africa, Botswana, and Malawi to ban him—but the group Muslims in Calgary seems comfortable in promoting his videos on their website.
This group promotes death punishment for homosexuality but tries to cover itself legally with the disclaimer that they do not condone extrajudicial violence. It takes a twisted mentality to promote death for homosexuals but also claim that Islam means peace or that they are not homophobic. The silence of other Muslim leaders on the promotion of such hateful views and their refusal to acknowledge my calls for intersectional work is proof of their complicity.
The brunt of this hatred is borne by the parents of LGBTQ2S+ Muslims—for whereas LGBTQ2S+ youth can find a voice in the language of social justice activism, the elderly parents risk contending with forbidding cultural mores. Indeed, while there are many resources for LGBTQ2S+ Muslims, thanks to the work of groups like Muslims for Progressive Values, there aren’t any social support groups for the traditional parents.
Even LGBTQ2S+ Muslim youth, who find venues like The Mosquers, Tarjuma, or the Green Room in Edmonton empowering—as these are spaces away from the strictures of the older generation of conservative uncles and religious leaders—have to remain quiet on LGBTQ2S+ concerns. Acceptance has its limits even in such spaces for youth.
The tradition has been fossilized on LGBTQ2S+ issues, which is evident when Muslim academics like Dr. Sherman Jackson claim that there is no place for homosexual expression in Islam. Other Muslim thinkers have scathingly attacked the seminal scholarship of Scott Kugle, who was at MacEwan in 2017, on the affirmation of LGBTQ2S+ Muslims in Islam. But for all their touting of an unchanging tradition, Muslim scholars do change their positions. For instance, Shaykh Omar Suleiman, who was invited to Edmonton for a fundraiser in November last year, once opined: “Days are very near that disagreeing with homosexuality will be just as bad as being a racist … If as Muslims we don’t take a clear stance on this, we will be forced to conform and watch this disease destroy our children.”
After the Orlando shooting, he adopted a more accommodating tone by advising not to treat gay people as less than oneself. However, such a position leaves LGBTQ2S+ Muslims without any hope for intimacy, affection and companionship.
Suleiman’s viewpoint would be the most LGBTQ2S+ Muslims could expect from mainstream Muslims. It isn’t much to dismantle the status quo of forbidding cultural mores and the continuation of secret liaisons. So much for his being “extreme in pursuit of justice.”
The gay Muslim youth who seek counsel from me are bombarded with this overwhelming Muslim narrative that seems to have taken hold, especially in the absence of any challenge by LGBTQ2S+ Muslim activists.
More than a decade pushing for change in Muslim communities, I find myself alone. Yet, I continue to reach out into the past, to the mystics who shaped my tradition of Islam. With the strength of my convictions, I remind LGBTQ2S+ Muslim youth that not even 7,000 years of joy can justify seven days of repression, that Allah creates whatsoever He wills and that Allah loves us all.
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