On Orlando, homophobia and Islam – finding myself through my gay Muslim brother

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The aftermath of terrorism always involves shock and trauma. That, of course, is what makes it terrorism.

We tend to experience a range of confusing emotions, sometimes consecutively, often simultaneously – horror, disbelief, fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, grief, rage, shock.

When news of Omar Mateen’s mass shooting in Orlando broke, I was trying my hardest to take a break from social media. When I finally caught up with what had happened, I found it difficult to absorb. The emotions I remember the most in that immediate aftermath are anger – outraged anger – and, I think, a sort of resigned despair. Sort of like: Why the fuck is this happening? transitioning to: Well should I really be surprised?

After covering developments from a distance over the past week, I’ve had the chance to process my emotions and I’ve realised that actually all the outrage and resignation has really just masked an underlying emotion that has deepened, and overwhelms me whenever I think about it too much (like now as I write this): sadness. Just sadness.

Why has the Orlando massacre affected me especially in this way? I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s because it strikes a personal nerve.

An old friend of mine is gay and Muslim. To protect his identity, I’m going to call him Hamza.

He’s British born and bred, and first generation Bengali from a Sunni Muslim family who follow the Hanafi school of thought.

Read on...

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Like me, my friend was brought up in a largely secular household where religious practice was generally confined to not consuming alcohol or pork, attending the mosque on Eid (and occasional Friday prayers), and learning to recite (though not actually understand) the Qur’an. But underlying that relaxed approach to religion were traditional, conservative values, beliefs and assumptions, amongst which was casual homophobia.

By casual homophobia, I don’t mean that his parents hated gay people or anything like that, or would suddenly run a mile if there was a gay person in the vicinity. No.

Rather, there were simple, basic, almost subliminally assumed ideas: homosexuality is abnormal, in fact, an abomination; people who are gay are not gay ‘by nature’, or even ‘nurture’, but due to a liberal culture of depravity which encourages people to lead sexually amoral lives; being gay is such an abomination that God destroyed the entire city of Sodom because of it; therefore, gay people might well be free to do what they do, but they’re still depraved animals.

These sorts of beliefs are not unique to conservative interpretations of Islam. They can be found, for instance, among conservative Christians – as we learnt when a whole bunch of Christian leaders across the US openly celebrated the Orlando massacre.

But such views are also common among large sections of Muslim religious clergy across all sectarian positions, which is why British-born Shi’a Muslim cleric Farrokh Sekaleshfar – who says that homosexual acts should be punished by death – has an ample audience in the UK, was able to tour Orlando, and was booked to speak at a mainstream Shi’a mosque in Sydney.

Also, his parents had never met real-life gay people, so beyond these vague but presumed-to-be-blindingly-self-evident assumptions, they had nothing much else to go on.

Pretty much as soon as he’d begun experiencing puberty, he says, he’s known he was gay.

Waking up

He remembers it began to surface when he inexplicably developed a crush on a male teacher. After years of trying to suppress it and deny it, he eventually realised that those sorts of feelings were just beyond his control.

At that time, we had no doubt that such feelings were basically unnatural, deviant, and somehow an abomination. Hamza must’ve just been going through a ‘phase’, and he’d probably grow out of it, or something.

As years went by, my personal interest in religion grew on the back of extensive reading of philosophy and into spirituality. By the time I’d started my A-levels, I began my own journey into Islam, aided and hindered somewhat by all manner of bizarre conversations with school friends.

Meanwhile, Hamza was displaying a healthy interest in girls. Except, in reality, what he was doing as I’d learn later was trying really hard to no avail to display a healthy interest in girls.

My re-discovery – or, to be honest, just plain discovery – of Islam led to a creeping distance from Hamza. He still identified as a Muslim and had no intention of denouncing his faith. But he also knew what Islam seemed to say about gay people.

So he struggled with who he was. The rest of his life to date has continued in so many ways to revolve around that internal struggle, which at times has driven him to contemplate suicide.

And my increasing display of religiosity, which was a constant reminder to him of his own faith, was also like a repeated punch to his gut – reminding him that there was something wrong with him, that he needed to try and change himself.

Life went by for some years before Hamza told me that he was still, basically, gay; that his brief flirtations with girls had gone nowhere because they were driven by perpetual self-delusion and self-denial; that he felt more normal if he just pursued relationships with guys.

When we’d have these conversations, he’d frequently break down and cry. He was in agony, despair.

I tried to be there for Hamza, to show him compassion – and I told him that it wasn’t his fault and that inshAllah (God willing) he wouldn’t be punished for his actions because he couldn’t control the way he was.

I struggled with these thoughts myself. I knew that Hamza hadn’t chosen his sexuality. It was just who he was, and there was nothing he could do to change it. Why would God make a person gay and then punish them for being what he made them? How did that fit the God of Mercy (Rahman) and Justice (Adalat) the Qur’an spoke of so frequently?

Deviancy from classical orthodoxy

At first, I resolved this for myself in the recognition that much of what is taken for granted about homosexuality by Islamic clerics on the pulpit, is not entirely obvious from the Qur’an itself, nor even from orthodox interpretations. The Qur’an nowhere advocates any specific punishment for either homosexuality, or ‘homosexual acts’ – let alone the death sentence.

While the orthodox consensus is that homosexuality is sinful, throughout the centuries of Islamic jurisprudence there has remained significant disagreement on whether or not it should be punished at all.

The internal complexities of these scholarly legal disagreements are rarely, if ever, reflected by populist Islamic preachers today.

There’s a useful passage about this from Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor of The Guardian:

In orthodox Muslim teaching, the question of sin arises only when people act upon their sexual impulses, but same-sex acts are not among the small number of crimes for which a penalty is specified in the Qur’an. What punishment – if any – should be applied is a matter of opinion and interpretation. Furthermore, the levels of proof required by Islamic law are so high that if the rules are properly applied no one need ever be convicted unless they do something extremely blatant, like having sex in the street in broad daylight.

In the absence of a clear-cut Qur’anic injunction, the hadith – historical narrations of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad – provide the primary resources for the legal rulings on punishments. But inconsistencies in these historical reports, differences in views about their authenticity, and varying nuances in jurisprudential reasoning, led different classical scholars from different schools to arrive at completely different conclusions.

The premodern Hanafi school, for instance, completely rejected the idea of a death penalty for same-sex acts. Even those Hanafi jurists that believed homosexual intercourse was a crime, did not accept that there was any reliable authority or hadith showing that the Prophet had ever declared homosexuality or homosexual intercourse to be a crime worthy of punishment – leaving the question of penalties as a ‘discretionary’ matter for the jurist.

One fascinating 1997 thesis on homosexuality in classical Islam from the University of Tennessee points out that:

… there was no homogeneous punishment. Each law school prescribed different degrees of punishment for sodomy. Ibn Hanbal and the Handball school of law came the closest, judging by the severity of the punishments, to grouping sodomy with other zina. He insisted upon stoning as the punishment for sodomites while other schools of law were content with flogging as the means of punishment. Ibn Hazm is noted as having gone as far as to reduce the punishment to a mere ten lashes.

Such chronic disagreement exists because the relevant historical reports are contradictory, with ongoing unresolved scholarly dispute over their ultimate reliability and accuracy.

While Hamza continued to suffer largely in silence, leading a double-life that he concealed from everyone except a handful of friends, I’d resigned myself on this basis to a position of axiomatic agnosticism that, nevertheless, accepted the basic assumption that Islam fundamentally viewed homosexuality as a deviation from the natural order.

I knew Hamza, and accepted him for who he was as my friend and brother in faith. But I didn’t know how to reconcile this with my own beliefs. So I put my misgivings about it all in a box, telling myself that my reservations were motivated by the pain my friend was going through.

And that’s how things carried on for years. I hadn’t realised that what I’d actually done is erect a box made of concrete steel-reinforced psychological walls that had shut out my friend, and essentially thrown him off the deep end to fend for himself, for the rest of his life.

I was comfortable in my box. I think I even felt a bit smug about how ‘accepting’ of my gay Muslim friend I was. Of course, it wasn’t me that had to struggle with my sexual identity.

But in the process, my brother in faith, who had futilely been banging on the outside of my clever little box, realised that no one inside was really listening. He was completely alone, with his self-hate and his growing sense of despair that he’d never, ever be able to lead a normal life.

Honour and delusion

That came to a head a few years ago when Hamza just couldn’t take it anymore. Both his siblings were happily married, and nearly every day his mum would ask Hamza about getting married.

It’s a sort of ‘izzat’ (honour) thing in a way (Bengalis pronounce it ijjat) – you have to marry off your kids. Otherwise, you must be some sort of grotesque monstrosity and failure in the eyes of ‘the Community.’

His parents kept arranging things to speed up the process. They’d invite Hamza to parties and weddings and do’s so that he could meet a decent girl, or at least identify girls he could consider meeting with a view to making a marriage proposal. His mum especially tried to get Hamza to speak to different girls or she’d invite him to marriage events, and Hamza would just go along with it, terrified that his parents might start to wonder why their single son has no interest whatsoever in getting hitched.

Years went by like this, and I’d sometimes get phone calls from Hamza complaining about how it was just getting too much, that every day his mum was challenging him and asking him why he wasn’t being proactive about finding a wife. What was wrong? Why wasn’t he interested?

It was incessant. It was insane. It was downright annoying.

Even now, though I’d fully accepted that he was gay and that was it, Hamza would sometimes try to push himself.

“Maybe, y’know, if I try to make an effort, I’ll be more interested and then, y’know, I can just see how it goes?”, he said once.

Yeah maybe, I’d tell him, not believing it, but half-hoping that actually maybe this time he might find a girl so gorgeous he’s genuinely attracted to her.

That delusion disappeared pretty quickly.

“I have to tell my parents,” Hamza told me one day. “I have to tell them. How long can I carry on like this, pretending? Sooner or later, I’ll have to tell them.” He’d gaze down at the floor in a daze. “They won’t be able to cope. What will they say? Will they hate me?”

When Hamza finally came out to his parents, it was as if the trauma would never end. What he went through, though, was nothing compared to some of the horrible things other gay Muslims have experienced: ranging from complete, instant excommunication from the family, to assault and even attempted (and successful) murder.

The traumatic arguments and discussions that went on between Hamza and his family only managed to reinforce to him that he was little more than a dirty, deviant, disgusting aberration from humanity, a morally depraved harbinger of evil who had no choice, if he wanted to remain Muslim, except to either force himself to find a wife and settle down, or live the rest of his life a non-eligible bachelor.

Salvation through suicide

Hamza’s parents, who were in their late 50s, were suddenly faced with this seemingly impossible choice between their son and the heartfelt beliefs and values they’d grown up with.

The pressure drove Hamza to the brink of suicide.

At their wits end – and genuinely fearing for the son’s health and well-being, his parents would repeatedly tell Hamza that he was an abomination. His mum would follow up by sending him these long horrifying texts providing all sorts of religious reasons why the path he’d chosen meant he was doomed to receive Allah’s eternal Wrath.

I remember Hamza had called me up one day and said that he just doesn’t want to live anymore. He was crying and crying.

He’d been crying all night.

He’d just had a bust-up with his parents the previous day, and he couldn’t cope anymore with the ultimatums, threats and wholesale denunciations of his entire being. He felt worthless, pathetic.

He hated himself and wished everything had been different.

This was not a unique experience for Hamza, but it had become unbearable, and had now reached the point where constant contemplation of suicide could manifest in reality.

Coming out

By the grace of God, I was able to come out of my box because my eyes had begun opening. In March 2011, I’d attended a fascinating seminar at the University of Cambridge on gender and sexuality in Islam delivered by Farah Zeb, then a PhD candidate at the University of Essexes Department of Islamic Studies. The seminar was part of a series of workshops and discussions being held on the theme of Islam in British society.

Zeb drew on the works of a number of contemporary Islamic scholars, particularly Professor Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, to argue that Islam did not, necessarily, condemn homosexuality. She offered tentative re-interpretations of several key Qur’anic verses, and disputed hadith, to make her case.

I didn’t find it convincing, and I remember agreeing with one other participant in the event who was so shocked by the presentation, he accused Zeb of “deliberately twisting the words of Allah.”

But the presentation had peaked my interest, and I began to follow up her sources. After a year of intensive personal study, I’d found it increasingly difficult to cling on to my internal assumptions about the way Islam approached homosexuality. I’m going to break this down into a number of simple points.

Firstly, the verses in the Qur’an commonly believed to mean unequivocally that God condemns homosexuality and same-sex intercourse as sins so abominable He destroyed an entire city, are not actually as clear-cut as they might first seem.

The Qur’anic story of the Prophet Lot (Lut in Arabic) speaks of a group of men who had sexual relations with other men. The act is harshly condemned, implying that Islam opposes the ‘homosexual act’, and condemns the ‘homosexual orientation’ that leads to it.

But a close reading of the verses suggests that the verse is far more specific than that. The Qur’anic story of Lot does not portray the condemned men of Sodom as homosexuals, but quite explicitly as heterosexuals, men who were married to women, but decided to abandon their wives to have group sex with men in extraordinary public displays.

At first glance, one verse appears to focus on homosexuality:

And Lot, who said to his people: ‘Will you persist in these indecent acts which no other nation has committed before you? You lust after men instead of women. Truly, you are a degenerate people.’ (7-80-81)

So far so obvious. Men instead of women. But the science of Qur’anic tafsir (interpretation) cannot be based on taking one verse out of context and in isolation. A further series of verses provides unambiguous textual specification to what these men were doing.

The following verse demonstrates that the Prophet Lot’s condemnation was directed not at homosexual men, but at heterosexual men who were already married:

Will you fornicate with males and abandon your wives, whom God has created for you? Surely you are great transgressors. (Qur’an 26:166)

So this is already an unambiguous specification: The ‘you’ being condemned for lusting after men instead of women were married heterosexuals who abandoned their own wives. Further verses clarify that the specific meaning of the reference to ‘lusting after men instead of women’ concerned these heterosexual men forcing themselves upon – raping – other men:

And we sent forth Lot to his people. He said to them: ‘You commit indecent acts which no other nation has committed before you. You lust after men and assault them on your highways. You turn your very gatherings into orgies.

But his people’s only reply was: ‘Bring down the scourge of God upon us, if what you say be true.’ (Qur’an 29:28-29)

The implication here is explicitly clear. The Prophet Lot defined the unique and unprecedented indecency of these acts as heterosexual men forcibly sexually assaulting men in public in groups.

An integral reading of the Qur’an remaining true to the text in its totality, thus can be read as stating that the abominable behaviour requiring the destruction of Sodom was not, simply, homosexual desire or consensual homosexual intercourse. On the contrary, the sin was far more specific: the condemned men of Sodom were condemned because they were married heterosexual men who abandoned their wives to go out and rape other men in the streets in groups, as part of a wider system of unequal power, domination and exploitation.

This crime was a bizarre and unprecedented form of extreme sexual depravity, namely, mass male rape of other males. And it was condemned as part of an oppressive structure of power within the city in which both men and women were complicit.

Further challenging the idea that the Qur’an is condemning homosexuality is the fact that it wasn’t just these men of Sodom who were punished in the story of Lot – women of the city were punished too, including the Prophet’s own wife (7:84).

As Scott Siraj Kugle points out:

Men were not the only ones punished in the destruction of Sodom. According to the Qur’an, the whole city was destroyed. Lut’s wife is specifically mentioned. Were Lut’s wife, other women and the children of Sodom punished for male homosexuality? That does not seem to be a reasonable conclusion.

The orthodox conclusion that these verses apply to the criminality of same-sex acts seems quite a stretch from the highly specific language of the Qur’anic text.

But it’s not entirely surprising that this conclusion was reached, given the historical context of early interpretations of the Bible which similarly claimed that the Biblical story of Lot was about prohibiting homosexuality. Such early Biblical interpretations played an unfortunate role in establishing the ideological context in which Islamic scholars tried to understand the Qur’an.

Robust Biblical scholarship has, however, refuted those early interpretations, finding that the Biblical story of Lot was not about prohibiting consensual homosexual relations, but rather about aggressive abuse of strangers via anal rape.

Kugle is not in fact the first Muslim scholar to have recognised that the Qur’anic story of Lot was not addressing consensual same-sex intercourse, but condemning male-on-male mass rape.

The first was the well-respected classical scholar, the Mufti of Andalusia, Ibn Hazm. Like his contemporaries, Ibn Hazm still saw homosexual intercourse as a sin – but he argued that the Qur’anic texts had nothing to do with condemning consensual homosexual acts. Rather, they condemned Sodom’s system of repression and idolatry (worshipping other than God) that included among its most abominable crimes the mass gang-rape of male strangers by heterosexual men.

Ibn Hazm, as Kugle describes in his book, highlighted a number of Prophetic traditions that supported this view.

Numerous hadith usually cited to justify the idea that the Prophet advocated a death penalty for homosexuality have weak and unreliable chains of transmissions.

Take this oft-cited tradition from Ibn Kathir:

“Whomever you find doing the act of the people of Lut, kill the active and the passive participant.”

Premodern Hanafi jurists, such as Ibn Ali al-Razi al-Jassas, rejected its authenticity because one of its transmitters, Amr ibn Abi Amr, is classified as weak and unreliable in authoritative biographies of the narrators.

Another hadith reads “the one practicing the act of the people of Lut, stone the one on top and the one of the bottom, stone them both together” – yet al-Jassas noted that one of its transmitters, ‘Asim ibn Amr, is weak and unreliable.

Yet both hadith continued to circulate and even form the basis of legal rulings despite their weak chains of transmission.

Orthodox opinion holds that Islam sees heterosexuality as normative – and that therefore all men must seek to marry only women (and vice versa).

While the analysis above challenges the assumption that the Qur’an explicitly condemns homosexuality, Kugle agrees that the Qur’an clearly advocates heterosexuality as a baseline Divine normative. This is frankly undeniable: the Qur’an simply offers no explicit framework prescribing non-heterosexual relationships.

Yet the Qur’an (24:31-24:33) also specifically acknowledges the existence of men who have no sexual desire for women, and does not condemn them. The verse mentions “men who are not in need of women” – it does not specify whether they are gay, asexual or anything else.

In his book, Kugle elaborates on this with reference to a range of authenticated historical reports on the existence of these men (mukhanath) who were “not in need of women”, how the Prophet recognised them as part of the umma, and that he even recognised their distinctive sexuality because they were the only men allowed to enter into the private spaces of women.

Such verses and Prophetic traditions acknowledging men who were not sexually attracted to women suggests that while the Qur’an explicitly posits heterosexuality as normative, it equally recognises sexual diversity as co-existing complementarily with that normativity, as part of the created order.

Waking up – for real

When I met Hamza on the day he was ready to give it all up, I was only in the midst of coming to grips with this sort of re-excavation of my faith. But I’d gone far enough to have realised that I’d been not only fundamentally misguided from a theological perspective in which I’d simply assumed that my Muslim forefathers were correct – but that I’d allowed this to utterly cloud my relationship with my friend.

And I was faced with the fact that, it was at least partly because of this complete dereliction of what makes us human at our core, that my friend had given up on life.

It wasn’t just a wake-up call. It was a recognition that a blind attachment to a parochial set of traditions and beliefs set down by groups of powerful Muslim men over centuries had allowed me to abandon my own brother in faith. If ever there was a form of idolatry, this was it – an questioning allegiance to artificial constructs and prejudices in the name of aligning myself with the Divine Reality.

I realised that this was more than a question of faulty theology, which brought me back to the fundamental question: What the hell was I doing with my life if it meant that my own brother in faith was going to experience this sort of trauma while I stood by and did nothing?

Why was I using what I’d now begun to realise was not ‘Islam’, but a historical bastardisation of Islam, to justify passing the buck on one of our most important obligations as Muslims: to care for our “brothers and sisters in faith and humanity” – to paraphrase Imam Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and fourth Caliph?

The re-evaluation of my faith, what it meant, and how it fit into the existential reality of my place in the world, was part of an ongoing journey into re-discovering what it means to be human. Religion, humanism, Islam, non-Islam, philosophy, science, politics, play, have all had important roles in that process of re-discovery. But the most important part of all has been the recognition that all these are merely facets of the wider continuum of life, awareness, and the growth of consciousness through communion with the other.

I realised that I had a brother who needed me to be his brother – not some jumped-up insecure preacher chronically obsessed with telling myself and everybody else what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, who’s ‘condemned’ and ‘saved’: not a self-styled ‘believer’ who uses religion as an excuse to play God.

And in endeavouring to embrace that recognition, I began to find myself, and truly re-discover my faith and identity as a Muslim.

Hamza’s doing ok now. It took a lot of work, and Hamza was the one with the integrity and guts to do it. But so were his parents, whatever their errors or failings. He gets on with them – but only because after several years of trauma and drama that would make Bollywood mildly proud, Hamza’s parents resigned themselves to the fact that they’d rather have a relationship with their son, than not have one in the name of ‘honour’, or ‘righteousness’ or whatever.

They don’t talk about ‘the gay thing’ anymore. Ever. But to that extent, Hamza’s parents had the bravery to see their attachment to Islam not as an insurmountable barrier, but as a reason to embrace their son and love him unconditionally, despite being unable to accept him for who he is.

It’s a painful compromise, and it’s not perfect, but then that’s life.

Gay as sub-human

When the Orlando massacre happened, it brought up much of this to the surface again.

Hamza has come out to his family, but he struggles with his attachment to Islam because of the way ‘Islam’ – or rather, the supposed representatives of ‘Islam’ known as ‘many Muslims’ (including me) – reacted to him.

In the name of ‘Islam’, Hamza was rejected as a sort of sub-human wretch who was no longer worthy of life or happiness or anything that superior ‘normal’ people are entitled to. It’s no wonder, then, that he finds it increasingly difficult to see how he could ever engage with wider Muslim institutions or communities.

Some such institutions and communities view him as an unadulterated personification of evil; others, more mildly, see him as an unfortunate victim of the unfathomable anomaly of ‘gayness’, deserving of compassion perhaps, but not capable of being a true Muslim while living a ‘gay lifestyle’. For the most part, mainstream Muslim institutions just don’t want to know.

The treatment of LGBTQ people by mainstream Muslim institutions and communities parallels the vague, seemingly innocuous ‘casual homophobia’ that I grew up taking for granted because it was so, well, unnoticeable until the emergence of my gay friend brought it to the surface of consciousness.

And it is homophobia – it’s homophobia because LGBTQ people are not practically welcome in our institutions and communities in any way, shape or form.

You can get pissed out of your brains, go clubbing all night, get laid with members of the opposite sex and wank for endless hours on porn using the ‘private browsing’ function of your web app. But if you’re lesbian, or gay, or bi, or trans, or queer, then you’re not just viewed as sinful or deviant: you’re an ever-present threat to the morality of the community. And the prospect of you being a part of that community therefore evokes reactionary moral panic involving repetitive denunciations of your obvious immorality.

Being a LGBTQ person is the ‘unacceptable’ sin from which there’s no return, bar not being LGBTQ at all.

The extent of this bizarre homophobic moral panic reaches even to those who think of themselves as being accepting of LGBTQ people.

After the Orlando massacre, an American friend and colleague, the writer Wajahat Ali, issued a brave public call via Facebook for Muslims to once and for all let go of their hang-ups and stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people. He pointed out that as fellow minorities, LGBTQ people have frequently stood up and campaigned for the rights of Muslims in the face of discriminatory legislation, hate speech, and marginalisation from public life. Why, he said, should Muslims not do the same for their LGBTQ brothers and sisters?

In the comments, one respected American Muslim leader voiced his “respectful” disagreement with Wajahat. Muslims should not be expected to renounce their values when standing in solidarity with LGBTQ people. A Muslim can stand in solidarity with Christians without saying they believe in the Son of God. He proceeded to emphasise that he had done lots of work with LGBTQ communities.

The irony is that Wajahat hadn’t said anything about renouncing anything. He didn’t issue a rambling theological sermon, or suggest that Muslims re-interpret long-held assumed tenets of their belief – as I’ve done here! He just issued a call for absolute ethical integrity: stand in solidarity with your LGBTQ “brothers and sisters in humanity.”

Yet this simple ethical call to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people against all hate elicited a sort of bizarre moral panic, demanding that Muslims make sure they don’t renounce their haloed theology of gay-condemnation. Wajahat had never demanded anything of the sort. He’d just asked us to act like human beings – in the true spirit of our faith.

After I responded pointing this out out in the thread, another American Muslim guy popped out to make a point of repeatedly saying that homosexuality is condemned by Islam, and that there is simply “no such thing as LGBTQ Muslims”: Any LGBTQ person is already fundamentally breaching and rejecting the axiomatic Qur’anic prohibition of homosexuality, and is therefore no longer a Muslim (unlike alcoholics, wankers and fornicators of course).

Despite the fact that there is simply no textual justification for defining someone as a Muslim or non-Muslim on the basis of their sexuality, this sort of homophobic extremism is all too common among some parts of Muslim communities.

Later that evening, a who’s who of American Muslim leaders held a frantic teleconference to discuss how to respond to the attacks. A colleague who was privy to the call told me that for the most part it was a sensible discussion, in which the horror of the Orlando mass shooting was unequivocally condemned, and the need for Muslim communities to voice their opposition to it was repeatedly affirmed.

But one theme kept cropping up again and again: we should condemn, but that doesn’t mean that we are renouncing our belief that homosexuality is a grave sin.

I bring this up not because I expect Muslim institutions to renounce orthodoxy, but because of the absurdity of senior Muslim leaders panicking over the idea that simply expressing solidarity with LGBTQ people automatically puts Muslims in danger of ethically endorsing LGBTQ people and ‘LGBTQ lifestyles’. Why the defensiveness? Why the moral panic?

Because mainstream Muslim leadership still wants to pretend that LGBTQ Muslims don’t exist.

You want to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people? Great.

How about, instead of the PR gains of condemning the Orlando massacre and reaching out to non-Muslim LGBTQ victims and communities, you grow a pair of balls and stand in solidarity with the Muslim LGBTQ people in your midst?

Because there’s more to standing in solidarity than lip service, soundbites and photoshoots: when you stand in solidarity, you support and care for each other, you’re there for each other, when the shit hits the fan, you’re a protecting friend, when the going gets tough, you’re the tough that gets going.

Where’s the soul-searching?

How could mainstream Muslim leadership allow itself to fall so short of the Divine amanat (trust) of vicegerency, the human obligation of planetary trusteeship that the Qur’an refers to when describing God’s act of creating the primordial human being?

How could Muslim communities decide to abandon millions of their own brothers and sisters in faith, to leave them languishing in the throes of self-immolation and alienation, simply because of their sexual identities? And all in the very name of Islam itself? All in the name of the One from which we have all come, and to which we will all return?

How can we then pretend that the rampant casual homophobia that penetrates our mosques and community centres – our casual dinner table discussions of the self-evident righteousness of the death sentence for LGBTQ people – has no role to play in the internal crisis that drove Omar Mateen to repress his own homosexual identity by finding salvation through the martyrdom of extreme violence?

What is the point in going through the motions of feigning solidarity, when we refuse to follow up our promises with the action required to fulfil those promises? When we refuse to accept any responsibility at all for the toxic climate of hatred that we have contributed to? When we prefer instead to point the finger of blame everywhere and anywhere but at ourselves?

Will we not stand up for those we have oppressed?

Will we not rise up in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who cry out for help?

Will we not discover who we really are, and what our faith truly demands of us, by embracing the Other, in recognition that really they are and always have been an integral part of Us?

With love and sincerity,

Your brother in humanity


Featured Image via ‘Alisdare Hickson’/’Flickr’

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