Moving Forward Amid Disagreement about Gay Muslims

I finally got around to reading Scott Kugle’s Islam and Homosexuality as well as its recent companion book, Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s Wrestling with God and Men, which while specifically dealing with Jewish tradition resonates with issues common to many conservative religious communities. These books have been tremendously illuminating and spiritually healing for me. Reading and reflecting on these works and the very real voices and lives from the lesbian, transgender, and gay community, a community that has been as the Muslim gay activist Faisal Alam notes, “so spiritually wounded” was in many ways humbling, devastating and enriching.

I’ve heard conservative voices, which claim the mantle of orthodox legitimacy poorly paraphrase or summarize the arguments about understanding homosexuality elaborated with much care and detail by Kugle, Greenberg, and others. There is no substitute for reading their works, reviewing their evidence, arguments, and intellectual creativity in full. Irrespective of one’s own personal views being open to learning and truly hearing another person in attempt to foster greater understanding and empathy is a worthwhile challenge.

It seems that we should be able as a religious community to move the discussion forward beyond a simple rehashing of legal rulings regarding particular sexual acts. That discourse has dominated the conversation but is only a side point. I’m going to use broad brushstrokes here so bear with me for a moment. The LGBT community doesn’t need to seek permission from religious authorities for what they do in their bedrooms. It’s none of your business. What we, as a community, do need is a pragmatic religious and spiritual paradigm, which allows us to be fully present, seen, and included in our communities. And as Rabbi Greenberg says, “a way to envision a life of love, intimacy, and commitment…in the context of a religiously alive Orthodox (or otherwise) community.”

For many religious gays, our orientation is not on the table for reconsideration or debate. Many of us have spent the majority of our lives working through the issues surrounding our sexual orientation so what is at stake is our faith and our lives.

Scripture can be read in a multitude of ways, not every reading holds the same subjective weight of validity or truth. Our challenge as we continue to be out and remain in our religious communities is to read scripture in ways, which Greenberg argues “replace the depiction of perversity with mere difference and sinful desire with the simple human longing for loving.” If you want to see that as a slippery slope that’s your business.

Rabbi Greenberg offers that “the challenge of gay inclusion tests any tradition’s capacity to engage with diversity, to encounter the world responsibly as it is rather than as it is wished to be.” How many of us would willingly accept a religious tradition that offers no path or way forward other than lifelong celibacy or “deceptive heterosexual marriage.” If we’re not going to leave our faith, it’s time that we move beyond religiously sanctioned lying about who we are toward the moral imperative to “stay and tell the truth.” I am disturbed by how easily my tongue has become accustomed to reflexively lying in order to hide an integral part of my life.

I wept after reading the conclusion of Rabbi Greenberg’s book, which mentioned three points to help move the discussion forward:

1. For religious leaders: No humiliation. They will agree not to humiliate or intimidate gay and lesbian people from the pulpit and work to prevent such humiliation in their congregations.

2. For gay and lesbian congregants: No public advocacy. Gay and lesbian members will acknowledge the limits of the scriptural process and not presume the Orthodox community will adopt the social agenda of the lesbian and gay community.

3. For communities: No lying. Lesbian and gay members will be able to tell the truth about their relationships and their families.

I think these considerations point toward a meaningful start to move the conversation forward, wouldn’t you agree?

6 thoughts on “Moving Forward Amid Disagreement about Gay Muslims

  1. Islam does not recognised any form of homosexuality, i am confused what your reasoning is, by mixing Islam and Gays. The laws are clear and can not be misunderstood or twisted.

  2. Aslm alkm Ify, kedu? :)

    I’m so straight that – until last month – I held the belief, deep inside me that gays/lesbians are lying to themselves about being sexually attracted to thier own kind. Though I had some sympathy for lesbians because I find women very attractive. My perspective changed when someone I hold in high esteem and I know to be religious confessed he felt the same way about men as I do about women, he said he finds it disgusting to be intimate with a woman just as I can’t imagine myself with a man. I was shocked but it changed my perspective about LGB (I’m still unsure about the T) people and sowed a firm seed of empathy in my heart.

    That said, these inclinations in themselves are not a problem until they’re actualised just like me actualising my bedroom fantasies with other than my wife/ves. My problem is with the activism? Didn’t the Prophet say all of my ummah will be forgiven except the mujahiroon ( those who sin openly)

    • Wa alaykum salaam Mamou, O di mma and welcome.

      To be honest, I don’t identify with the feeling of disgust for the same or opposite gender depending on one’s orientation. I have heard people say this but it is far removed from my own experience and hard for me to understand.

      Empathy is good. I think for far too long and in far too many discussions, a lack of empathy has negatively affected our ability to see each other as human beings with similar longings and desires and struggles.

      I know the orthodox conservative 2.0 rhetoric on these issues tends to be a rather well meaning (I hope) but mostly empty love the person not the action line but I don’t think we can ultimately go very far with this. If you’re straight, it’s easy to say, and feel good about yourself. If you’re lgbt, this approach while an improvement from outright demonization doesn’t really help you live your life.

      I’m not sure I understand what activism means in this context though I’ve heard that argument advanced by a number of people. To continue to lie and remain closeted is extraordinarily painful even if on a surface level more comfortable for others who can then pretend as though lgbt Muslims don’t exist in our community. To be honest and acknowledge my orientation comes with its own set of challenges but is healthier for me spiritually and emotionally.

      I do not accept the premise that acknowledging that I and many others exist is sinful. And those who claim to love us and not the action should also reject that premise, otherwise their claim about love is most certainly hollow. I don’t accept the premise that discussing or bringing awareness to issues faced by lgbt Muslims is sinful. I think the only way, we as individuals and as a community have made progress in understanding these issues is by engaging with each other openly and honestly because then it is so much harder to demonize or ignore.

  3. Salaamu alaykum Ify,

    Ramadan Mubarak. I’ve been meaning to reply to this post for some time. I agree with the first and second points of not humiliating and not advocating. I can’t reconcile with the last point, but maybe I don’t understand it.

    To me, it sounds the same as if someone (a woman in this case) were to go to the masjid and speak openly about her boyfriend or non-Muslim husband. As you know, it’s one thing to commit a sin and another to openly talk about it as if it’s not a big deal. In this scenario, this woman talking about it and expecting others to accept it and be ok with it is not only unfair but also unIslamic. Muslims should want what’s best for each other. If I’m cool with my Muslim brother or sister sinning (and openly), I do not wish the best for them. Part of wishing the best for them is wishing them to be steadfast and abstain from sin and especially displaying it. Of course we all sin, but as Muslims we’re always supposed to be striving to keep away from it and seeking forgiveness for doing wrong.

    I know that this is a difficult and very personal issue and I won’t pretend that I understand what it’s like. I empathize with your struggle and also, as a Muslim, want to say that remember that Shaytan takes us step by step. His plan is to do away with guilty feelings of committing certain acts and then beautifying them, so that not only do we do them but we believe we are doing something good. We then become defensive when people try to warn us and tell us we shouldn’t be doing this or that. Anyway, may Allah guide us all to the straight path and lead us to a proper understanding of and adherence to of His deen . Ameen.

    Wa salaams

    • Wa alaykum salaam wa rahmatullah Amani,

      Congratulations on your most recent graduation and I pray you will find this Ramadan beneficial. Some of my fondest memories include iftars at your old place.

      Perhaps, you’re right in that you may not understand the intent of the last point. No lying means to live with integrity. So often, I’ve felt a need to lie or hide integral parts of my life, this is soul-crushing. So what if a woman speaks about her boyfriend or non-Muslim husband? I don’t know why we are expected to assume something negative about her. Rather I would try to assume the best and have a good opinion about her. That she even comes to a mosque is impressive and worthy of praise considering how soul-crushing many mosques are today. If she cannot discuss her issues with her fellow Muslims where can she discuss them? Unfortunately, in so many mosques and Muslim communities, we pretend as if the only people who can be welcomed or even attend have to pass a religious piety test. Passing the test is easy, you can just fake it by #performingpiety, the litmus test rules are well-known. Put on the right clothes, say the right cliche things, don’t criticize the status quo, pretend as if you have no problems or questions or struggles.

      There’s a well-known hadith, which mentions that lying leads to negative outcomes. It’s a strange thing for those invested in believing that being gay is sinful to then encourage lying. I don’t believe the fact that lgbt people exist is sinful. Even if one were to consider being gay as sinful, there was a man from among the companions of the Prophet known for drinking and the Prophet told the companions to leave him alone and not abuse him because of his love for Allah and the Prophet. I don’t recall anyone encouraging the man to lie about his drinking. But day in and day out, people ask lgbt’ers to lie about our existence, our relationships, our hopes and joys and sorrows and fears.

      That we exist and that we exist in mosque and Muslim communities is a reality. Visibility helps raise awareness and sensitizes the community to issues that might otherwise be ignored. If that imam who made the Adam and Steve joke knew lgbt’ers were present in the congregation, don’t you think he would have made a better choice? I know from personal experience many many people who have thought more deeply about issues or have begun to choose their words more carefully after simple interaction with someone they had previously otherized.

      Refusing to lie or pretend doesn’t mean I expect you or anyone else to agree with me. Rather it’s a statement of my intention to live with integrity just as you can live with integrity regarding whatever views or beliefs you hold. Being out is actually not so difficult for me, it’s freeing in a way, lying and hiding was much more of a struggle.

  4. No one should look down on anyone for the sin they commit. The Prophet (PBUH) discouraged the companions from abusing the man who drank, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t advised to stop or advised to be discreet (we don’t know the whole story). Abusing anyone for any reason is wrong of course.

    It isn’t about “lying”(covering up) to pass a litmus test but rather hiding one’s sins as Allah hid it for us. If it’s revealed for advice, that is different. Openly displaying one’s sinning (out of pride, especially), however, is worst than committing the act (whatever it may be, we all sin). One of Shaytan’s tricks is to convince us we’re hypocrites for displaying ourselves as “good Muslims” in public and committing sins in private and to get us to be “real” by telling people what we’re doing or doing them openly.

    Being gay (having homosexual feelings) is not a sin. Acting upon them is.

    Anyway, I feel like we will be going around in circles. I pray that Allah guides you (and us all) to straight path, to help us understand and practice His deen in the right way and helps us through our struggles.

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