Muslims must reconcile with homophobia in Islam
I read an article in Everyday Feminism titled, “Why the Idea That Islam Promotes Intolerance of the LGBTQIA+ Community Is a Lie.” In that article, Andrew Hernández argues that Islamic doctrine does not in any way, shape or form promote homophobic attitudes. Instead, prejudices against sexual minorities in the name of Islam can be ascribed to none other than Islamophobia, western imperialism, colonialism and the misinterpretation of Islamic scriptures for political gains. Hernández is not necessarily incorrect. However, these are apologetic arguments typically employed by commentators desperately attempting to divorce homophobia from the foundational texts of Islam.
There are plenty of other articles intent on furthering the fantasy of Islam as a gay-friendly religion, or at least understating the role Islam plays in fermenting homophobia, most of which received widespread publication in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre. Writers from a number of left-wing publications tried to pin the murderous rampage on factors like “toxic masculinity,” “christian zealots,” “white supremacy” and even “capitalism.” Yasir Qadhi, a well-known Islamic scholar, declared that “the guy was mental, plain and simple” and that “Islam’s stance on homosexuality is irrelevant to this massacre, period.”
Homophobia is, without a doubt, not exclusive to Islam; other religions and institutions are also intolerant of LGBTQ people. But homophobia is deeply institutionalized in the Islamic world. Approximately 40 out of 57 Muslim-majority nations have laws that criminalize homosexuality in some manner. Ten of those countries impose the death penalty for homosexuality. In countries where the death penalty has not been established, the gay community often endures imprisonment, harassment and social ostracism. In Egypt, where homosexuality is not technically illegal, debauchery laws are exploited to conduct mass arrests of LGBTQ people. Men and women suspected of being gay are tortured in Lebanon. And this past summer in Istanbul, Turkey, authorities fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse a gay pride parade.
The proposition that Islam does not doctrinally condemn homosexuality and that Islamist persecution of the LGBTQ community is absolutely ungrounded is simply delusional. And this is a delusion that precludes people from actively criticizing the atrocious anti-gay literature in Islam — which serves as the basis for Islamic laws that prescribe death and imprisonment for homosexuality — and prompts the depressing views Muslims from across the globe have on homosexuality.
I should know, considering my close proximity to the issue of homosexuality and Islam. Growing up in an Islamic community, I struggled with being gay and Muslim during my early teenage years. I always felt tremendous guilt for harboring same-sex attractions and was utterly convinced that Allah was going to throw me in the pit of hell because of it. I had been taught in my madrassa (religious school) that homosexuality is not merely repugnant and depraved but perhaps one of the worst sins Allah’s creations can possibly commit — so abhorrent that Allah triggered an earthquake to destroy an entire nation accused of this indecency. I vividly recall the day same-sex marriage was finally legalized in the United States and how the leader of my local Mosque devoted his Friday sermon to assailing the LGBTQ community. He described the LGBTQ community, especially gay Muslims, as pathetic weaklings who were wholly misguided about nature and religion and were rightly doomed for hell.
This is the kind of pernicious, homophobic rhetoric I grew up around as a queer person. It was both emotionally traumatizing and theologically disorienting. So much so that it plunged me headlong into an abyss of anxiety, confusion and uncertainty that eventually resulted in my demise as a Muslim. As deeply unbearable as it was, I could not reconcile my Muslim faith with my sexuality.
From a theological perspective, homosexuality is not only a sin but a crime under Islamic law — a religious-based legal system where rules are derived from infallible scripture. The diversity of thought among the historical legal traditions has been limited to discussions of the type of cruel and unusual punishments prescribed for homosexuality rather than the morality of punishing sexual orientation. In other words, same-sex sexual activity is strictly prohibited in Islam.
In light of this, it is unsurprising that homophobic attitudes are prevalent in the Muslim world. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2013, 75 percent or more of Muslims in 33 of the 36 Muslim countries consider homosexual behavior to be morally wrong. Muslims inevitably take these homophobic attitudes with them when they migrate to the West. Just last year, a survey for a Channel 4 documentary revealed that 52 percent of British Muslims believe homosexuality should be illegal. In March 2016, 51 Muslim states blocked 11 gay and transgender organizations from attending an annual United Nations meeting to raise awareness about HIV/AIDs prevention.
Needless to say, plenty of Muslims do not harbor anti-gay attitudes. In fact, many Muslims themselves identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum. Some are even able to maintain healthy relationships with their religion and respective communities. Similarly, Muslims are not to be held responsible for the actions committed by fringe groups or lone wolves. But doing so should not preclude us from acknowledging the relationship between Islam and the homophobic attitudes endemic in Muslim communities.
When Islamic extremists commit heinous acts of violence against the gay community, or any other group for that matter, they are indeed driven by aspects of their religion. This isn’t to say that Islam is inherently and particularly violent. I’m saying that religious ideology is frequently a neglected and misunderstood explanatory lens. In other words, homophobia in Muslim societies has a deeply Islamic nature.
Muslim leaders should cease making apologetic claims to defend their faith, and instead work to actively condemn homophobia while making mosques more inclusive for LGBTQ Muslims. They should follow the examples of Daayiee Abdullah and Muhsin Hendricks, both openly gay Imams, who are putting their lives at risk to establish inclusive spaces for queer and questioning Muslims. This progress will only materialize once Muslims begin questioning and critiquing traditional Islamic prohibitions of same-sex activity. This is perhaps a radical and untenable suggestion because in mainstream Muslim communities, it is not religiously acceptable to question sacred texts. Nonetheless, that shouldn’t stop LGBTQ Muslims from reexamining their sacred scripture, which is often used to discriminate against them.
All in all, Muslims are an extremely marginalized community. Therefore, they have a duty to also stick up for other oppressed groups, including LGBTQ folks. In the words of religious scholar Reza Aslan and Muslim comedian Hasan Minhaj, “Democracy isn’t a buffet. You can’t pick and choose which civil liberties apply to which people. Either we are all equal, or the whole thing is just a sham.”
Mahad Olad is a second-year politics major with a minor in dropping some truth. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.