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Conversion therapy goes against Islam’s core tenets—do no harm

By Junaid Jahangir

Earlier this month, NDP MLA Nicole Goehring invited me to the Legislature as part of the Conversion Therapy Working Group, which includes Catholic, Anglican, and United Church faith leaders.

I shared the tale of my own six months seeking a cure with the new Health Minister, Tyler Shandro. I had hopped between doctors, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Dealing with my own issues back in 2004 took a heavy toll on me and delayed my doctoral dissertation.

I, along with many others, believe conversion therapies should be banned, and banned swiftly. Shandro said the UCP is opposed to conversion therapy, but that’s not been totally clear. Drafting laws against the terrible practice may not end them entirely, but it would send a strong message against them, and in support of Alberta’s LGBTQ2S+ youth.

I also believe that while such bans do not necessarily end harmful practices, at the very least they send out a strong official message against them. That is why when I was invited earlier this year to join the working group, I seized the opportunity to ensure that an affirming Islamic perspective was part of the conversation.

My involvement with the working group was based on—besides my own experiences—a paper I had co-authored with my long-term working partner, Dr. Hussein Abdullatif, a pediatric endocrinologist in Alabama. The paper briefly documented the harm inflicted on young LGBTQ2S+ Muslim youth, who were accessing online Islamic services to change their sexual orientation.

There are too many stories to tell here: societal shame causing sleepless nights, meal-less days, self-loathing, and, in some horrible cases, suicide ideation—all because the youths’ families could not accept them for who they are.

Often from conservative Muslim families, they are torn between orthodoxy and the need to afirm their own identities on the other. Sadly, some are willing to try any form of conversion therapy that would rescue them from their predicament. Faithful Muslim ‘counsellors’ oblige in confidential settings.

Abdullatif’s and my paper was also a response to an article in the American Islamic Journal. Written by a Muslim medical practitioner, it argued that conversion therapy was in line with Islamic teachings.

We had tried to get ourt paper published in the same journal, but after a single year, it was rejected without much explanation. We started writing the paper in 2012 and, in 2016, it was finally published in the Journal of Homosexuality under the title  “Investigating the Islamic perspective on homosexuality.” Through it, we critiqued the contemporary conservative Muslim position and offered an affirming Muslim position on the issue.

We referenced the 2009 task force report of the American Psychological Association on sexual orientation change efforts, which clearly states that sexual minorities seek conversion therapy mainly due to social stigma and prejudice.

The report comprehensively surveyed the literature, which indicates that there is no scientific evidence for any long-term success of conversion therapy. Some research between 1960 and 2007 supported the practice, but the papers suffer from serious methodological issues. None of the recent research allows drawing any conclusions on the efficacy or safety of conversion therapy.

The report is also crystal clear on the harms of conversion therapy: depression, hopelessness, loss of faith, deteriorated relationships with family, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, self-hatred, sexual dysfunction, suicidal ideation, feelings of being dehumanized, increase in substance abuse, and high-risk sexual behaviours.

We also referenced University of Alberta Professor Andre Grace, who wrote that all major U.S. mental health associations have issued statements warning against the potential harmful effects of conversion therapy on clients.

But apart from American professional associations, the Lebanese Psychiatric Association has also strongly opposed conversion therapy and declared that the assumption that homosexuality is a result of disturbances in the family dynamic or unbalanced psychological development is based on faulty information.

In 2013, the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health urged healthcare providers in the country to refrain from this unethical and potentially harmful ‘therapy.’

“Efforts to change sexual orientation are not based on any sound scientific evidence. On the contrary, this practice has been abandoned due to proven failure and serious harmful effects,” says a statement released by the group.

Above all, I am reminded of the Prophet’s saying, la darar wala diraar (there is no harm or reciprocating harm) in Islam, or “do no harm and accept no harm.”

In spirit, Islamic literature decries conversion therapy: It states that ignoring legitimate, human needs leads to taklif ma la yutaq (creation of obligations that cannot be met). The 14th century jurist Shatibi recognized that some human dispositions are so inherent that to deny them would be to harm human beings irreparably.

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