Some gay Muslims don’t even know or think that they are gay. Some heterosexual Muslims engage in gay activities without thinking anything of it. For women, gay sexuality is rarely spoken about. It’s almost laughable or assumed to be so innocuous for women to love each other, that it’s not worth paying attention to. In public spaces, men openly hold hands, stroke each others’ arms and thighs, and kiss on the cheeks. It’s normal. There is no secular culture clamoring for gay rights. But there is a religious culture calling for condemnation. Hijabman recently flipped me this video. This is a raw and warm message from a young gay Muslim to others who says:
Your sexuality is not incompatible with Islamic teachings.
Made for the Dan Savage-It Get’s Better Program, this Shia, Pakistani Muslim talks about his experiences growing up gay in a conservative community, and how he survived by being upfront about his feelings. He went through high school like many gay teens — feeling awkward and different from the hetero norm of school crushes. But instead of as he says, “following the stereotypical gay culture,” he just portrayed normalcy while still being honest about his preference for the same sex.
Despite any prejudices he encountered, his main concern was his family. His father made it clear that if any of his children turned out gay, he’d turn his back on them all. He was not prepared to bear the shame of what the community would think about him as a father. So this young man’s sexuality was kept hidden until the day his father found out accidentally.
The initial response was as you’d imagine: “It’s not natural. It’s wrong. It’s disgusting. You’re a failure of a son. What will the extended family think?” It turns out however, that his immediate family didn’t care one way or another and eventually his father came around.
It’s a success story.
Gays throughout the Muslim world are persecuted, beaten, whipped and executed under the aegis of Islamic law. And you will be hard pressed to find a mainstream or conservative scholar who will say that homosexuality is fine and dandy, seeing that Islamic tradition is fairly clear that sodomy is not permitted (which may be why there is less emphasis on gay women? Let’s also forget for a moment that penetration isn’t a requirement of sexuality, and that a few Muslim men who do have their first experience with other men, expect sodomy with their wives later on. But this is religious law and sex we’re talking about. And that always gets sticky).
What you will find are cultural arguments saying that homosexuals are abhorrent, hated, abominations, and are beyond the pale of Islam. It’s interesting that the Qur’an uses similar terminology when speaking about backbiting, lying, drinking, usury, and just about any other sin. The most strongest language is reserved for shirk, assigning partners to the “oneness” of God.
So the traditional position on homosexuality is that it’s a sin. This does not mean however, that a gay Muslim should be excommunicated, banned from prayer, condemned to hell or executed. Sherman Jackson, a brilliant community leader and scholar of Black Islam and Medieval Law, says exactly that in a speech on creating space for gay Muslims.
There is a wide spectrum of reaction to homosexual Muslims. From outright persecution and condemnation to a progressive acceptance and call for the redefining of marriage to include same-sex partners. People argue that there is no word for gay or lesbian in the Qur’an, and that Islamic jurisprudence is guided by male scholars for a male audience, as well as coloured by culture, politics and context. (Gee, sounds EXACTLY what I argue when speaking about women in Islamic jurisprudence!)
When I’ve spoken with gay Muslims, the sentiment I hear is that, “I don’t want to be a part of a religion that sees me as sinning. If I’m sinning I’m going to hell regardless of me being accepted. God made me this way. What’s normal for you is NOT what is normal for me — so why should your religious standards be applied to me?”
What I’ve found refreshing about these two videos is this: The “It Gets Better” video was the first time I’ve heard a gay Muslim say, “You know what? It’s ok. Sexuality is compatible with Islam — the two are not irreconcilable. It sounds like he has a great support network among his family, and that he’s found peace in his life and in his religion.
I think it’s rare that you hear a mainstream Muslim scholar coming right out and saying, you know what, gay Muslims are our brothers and sisters in Islam. This means they are deserving of our love, support, and protection.
It’s our deeds that we will be held accountable for in the end. And no one has the right to assume that a person isn’t worthy of God’s love.