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Inclusive Islam: Albertan Muslims should support GSAs, especially now that they are threatened

By Junaid Jahangir

Albertans gathered outside the Alberta Legislature in support of Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools last Wednesday. The event allowed people to put aside internal community differences to congregate as one in their common humanity.

This included those who avoid partisan political affiliation on account of faith obligations and others who feel that the Pride community diminishes its history by including corporations and the police in the Parade.

The cause is significant for the LGBTQ2S+ community, as provincial elections are around the corner and the UCP party leadership has stated that it will replace NDP’s Bill 24 that offers protection to vulnerable LGBTQ2S+ youth in schools.

Were such a measure to come into force, youth who join GSAs would be at an increased likelihood of being outed to their parents. Additionally, schools would not be under any pressure to offer space for GSAs were a student to muster up the courage to request one’s creation.

For political conservatives, this would seem like a victory, as they would be able to ‘protect’ their youth from the ‘gay lifestyle.’ The ranks of conservatives may also include some Muslims, who perceive themselves under siege by ‘Western fahisha (indecency).’

However, protection of Muslim youth through GSAs is an Islamic duty of Muslims, irrespective of their political outlook. There are several reasons for such a position—which may seem odd to some Muslim institutions.

First, Muslim youth will have to live with the reality of LGBTQ2S+ peers and it is in schools that racism, homophobia, and transphobia can be adequately addressed. The best way to overcome such prejudices is to forge connections with those unlike us. GSAs provide an incredible opportunity for people to connect to others who are different from us and to recognize that our common humanity transcends any differences on the basis of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

The Prophet is reported to have said that Arabs are not superior to non-Arabs and likewise non-Arabs are not superior to Arabs. This teaches Muslims that prejudice goes both ways. In our current context, this means that just as others have a duty to stand by their Muslim peers by condemning Islamophobia, Muslims also have the obligation to stand by their LGBTQ2S+ peers by condemning homophobia and transphobia.

Standing by vulnerable communities and resisting hatred are Islamic values and this necessitates Muslim institutions to come out in support of GSAs.

Second, LGBTQ2S+ Muslim youth have no affirming resources in the Muslim community in Edmonton. However, the Prophet is reported to have said that wisdom is the lost legacy of a Muslim, who should acquire it wheresoever they may find it. Theologically, this allows Muslims to break the mould of binary thinking between Islam and the West and to accept the immense advancements made on LGBTQ2S+ issues.

Indeed, Muslims have often taken guidance from advancement in the Western sciences on such issues. On the concerns of transgender persons, the highest of Sunni and Shia religious authorities have accepted the need to consult other professionals. Sunni scholars at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, have also operated from the model of khuntha nafsiyyah (psychological intersexuality).

On the issue of sexual orientation, the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) has condemned conversion therapy and affirmed the sexual orientation of vulnerable minorities just like the American Psychological Association (APA).

However, in the absence of helpful resources in Muslim communities in Edmonton and in the presence of forbidding cultural mores, GSAs offer a safe haven to LGBTQ2S+ Muslim youth to rest from the pressures of Islamophobia, homophobia, and transphobia. As such, it becomes imperative for Muslim institutions to come out in support of GSAs.

Third, in the age of the internet, pornographic pictures and videos are ubiquitously available irrespective of whether Muslim youth are raised in Western or Muslim majority countries. The phenomenon of internet cafes and online search results for pornography from Muslim majority countries attest to this fact.

Pornography is not necessarily a healthy introduction to sexuality—whether gay or straight—as it often eschews the notions of affection and consent, which are incredibly important in building healthy sexuality. Additionally, whereas, Muslim youth are exposed to such material, they are often ill equipped on information pertaining to safer sexual conduct. The research of Muslim professionals like Sobia Ali Faisal is clear: Two-thirds of sexually active North American Muslim youth have been sexually active before marriage.

The Prophet is reported to have said that, la darar wa la dirar (there is no harm or reciprocating harm) in Islam, which partly informs the oath taken by Muslim doctors to do no harm. This means that if the medical and professional bodies have taken the position over decades to affirm LGBTQ2S+ people, then it becomes incumbent upon Muslims to uphold that cardinal principle to affirm their LGBTQ2S+ brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in Islam, irrespective of any theological wrangling.

GSAs offer spaces to build healthy connections and friendships away from secret encounters and connections that can sometimes be predatory and unsafe. The research on such spaces is clear, as they bring about a reduction in toxic behaviour comprised of substance abuse and unhealthy sexual practices. In essence, GSAs save lives.

Paradoxically, the spaces that the conservatives are so riled up against are the very spaces that would protect their own youth from prejudice and from a wide array of harmful behaviours and encounters. For Muslims, this means that instead of jumping on the conservative bandwagon, which is based on rife ignorance and prejudice, they should listen to the wisdom of their own religion—Islam—which teaches them to do no harm and to accept no harm.

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