Q&A | The LGBT Community from an Islamic Perspective | Part II

VIDEO The LGBT Community from an Islamic Perspective | Part I 

The question and answer session provided some interesting and unexpected comments from the panelists particularly from Imam Ahmad Azzaari. He began by reminding the audience to avoid suspicion and to “not dig into the hearts of people” in response to a question about the permissibility of shaking hands with LGBT individuals. When someone asked if an LGBT person could convert to Islam, Azzaari affirmed that Islam is a universal faith and is open to everyone.

Photo courtesy of the PGMA Youth Group

Missing Voices

Any discussion about homosexuality that does not include the voices or perspectives of those in the LGBT community is incomplete. The metropolitan D.C. area is home to Al-Fatiha, which draws gay Muslims together through its annual retreats and to Imam Daayiee Abdullah, one of the most prominent gay Muslims in the United States. So one would not have to look very far to include the voice of at least one gay Muslim, if greater inclusion and diversity in the discussion was valued by the organizers.

As it turned out, Daayiee Abdullah was in the audience, and could have provided additional perspective. However, it seems the mosque is only willing to go so far in reaching out and jumpstarting discussion.  It would be nice to move beyond straight Muslims talking about and advising gay Muslims to actually hearing from LGBT Muslims, an act which would require listening and leadership. I wonder what it would be like to have a discussion about converts to Islam and to not actually include any converts or their experiences in the discussion? It’d probably be like most of the women in Islam talks given by men.

Early marriage was advocated by several panelists but there was no mention of mixed marriages between heterosexual and LGBT partners. Despite the earlier biological definitions, also missing from the discussion was an understanding of the sexuality of true hermaphrodites, those with ambiguous genitalia or chromosomal abnormalities and the transgender community.

See You on the Way to the Internment Camp

A man once asked the ascetic and scholar Al-Hasan al-Basri if everything was in the Quran and Al-Basri replied in the affirmative. So the man asked, if how to bake bread was in the Quran? Al-Basri recited the verse, “…So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know.

In this presidential election year and with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley pushing for the legalization of gay marriage in the state, Imam Azzaari shocked many in the audience with his political views and advice. He said that when considering the lesser of two evils, he would rather vote for an Islamophobic anti-Muslim conservative candidate than for a more liberal one who supported human rights for all including those for Muslims and for lesbians and gays.

His reasoning was two-fold, first, that he believed God punished the people in the time of Prophet Lot that actively participated in homosexual acts and also those who supported it. And secondly and somewhat surprisingly, that he felt he could more effectively communicate with conservative candidates even if they espouse strong anti-Muslim sentiment.

According to Azzaari, Muslims have a duty not to lend a hand to any politician that supports sin. But this statement is so general that it has very little meaning. Even the conservative politicians, he claims he can dialogue with have supported and continue to support immoral economic, political, and social policies. It’s unclear whether Azzaari believes Muslims should completely disengage from the political process or participate despite the potential for gray areas.

Later in the Q&A, Azzaari seemed to contradict his earlier statement by suggesting that Muslims could and should work together with diverse groups on issues of mutual concern. So we can work together to find solutions to poverty and hunger but cannot work together to support civil rights, which enable all of us to live here and practice our faith traditions without having the beliefs of others imposed upon us? It strikes me as remarkably inconsistent to use civil protections to practice one’s faith while using religious arguments to counter and deny the extension of those civil rights to others.

Dr. Tariq Ramadan advises Muslims to avoid having an immature and slavish mentality when it comes to questioning scholars. One may have a degree in shariah but that doesn’t necessarily make them qualified to discuss every issue. As an American, our history with Japanese internment camps during WWII is far too recent for me to take the social and political demonization of Muslims so lightly.

Male Rape & Inhospitality?

Imam Azzaari refuted the argument that the people of Lot were punished not for consensual gay sex but rather for rape by quoting from the hadith that Allah has forgiven people for what they were forced to do. Thus Allah would not punish a people forced to engage in sexual acts.

Meanwhile back in Egypt…

I want to try to give Imam Ahmad Azzaari the benefit of doubt, perhaps there were some language, cultural, or other barriers at work as he gave two examples from his own experience growing up in Egypt. Neither example had anything to do with homosexuality but rather highlighted sexual abuse and perversion. Both examples are fairly disturbing, one involving a horse which is rented out by its owner for the pleasure of the village johns and the other involved an older man that molested a friend of the imam while they were on the bus.

Maybe someone can explain it to me, but I don’t see how either story was germane to the topic. Sex with animals is wrong on so many levels and research has demonstrated that most molesters are actually heterosexual men.

A Moving Partition

Women were invited into the main hall for the discussion with a green barrier in the middle to divide the space by gender. Black folding chairs were added just before the start of the maghrib prayer to further delineate the space between men and women

Folding chairs were used as an additional barrier

And for the isha prayer, one older uncle eagerly spearheaded the effort to push the barrier into an L-shape to further enclose and restrict the space reserved for women. It’s disappointing to see that even when an effort is made to include women that it can be so easily undone.

By Isha prayer, the barrier had become more restrictive
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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

12 thoughts on “Q&A | The LGBT Community from an Islamic Perspective | Part II”

  1. It is so refreshing to read your commentary on this event after reading the write-up in TML. And, it’s wonderful to have you back blogging again. 🙂

  2. “He said that when considering the lesser of two evils, he would rather vote for an Islamophobic anti-Muslim conservative candidate than for a more liberal one who supported human rights for all including those for Muslims and for lesbians and gays.”

    WHAT?!

    This imam apparently does not know the history of the country he’s living in if he thinks supporting an Islamophobic anti-Muslim as a Muslim is ever a good idea. If it’s an issue of lesser of two evils, I think we can all agree that the greatest evil is shirk, and some conservatives clearly worship all-mighty dollar more than they revere any of their purported “Christian” values. People just aren’t living in a constructive reality sometimes…

    It’s great that they tried, at least, to address the issues…although the evolving partition is disturbing. We really have to think about why this is, why men are so uncomfortable sitting in the same room as a mass of women that they have to erect (haha, pun intended) a huge barricade in the masjid. Seriously? Are we that distracting? If our power of distraction is that great…I need to start using that as a mechanism to gain power, and like, run things, seriously…

    1. Yes, it didn’t seem he had fully considered the implications of his responses, which appeared contradictory and maybe the Q&A format didn’t allow for sufficient reflection.

      It was sad to see that in a discussion, which could be considered a step forward for the community, the same old issues where women are devalued and excluded from full participation were still on display. The exclusionary practices and attitudes at mosques are real and they have many negative implications for our community, which will continue to be a source of weakness if not seriously addressed.

      People are hungry for a mosque community that is relevant as can be witnessed by the huge turnout for the event, which on most other days is quite empty.

  3. ‘It would be nice to move beyond straight Muslims talking about and advising gay Muslims to actually hearing from LGBT Muslims, an act which would require listening and leadership.’

    We don’t expect Muslims who self-identify as drinkers or fornicators or murderers for their input qua drinkers, fornicators or murderers. Why should this issue be any different?

    1. Actually, I would be interested to hear from someone who has more direct experience than me on any range of issues and I would value that input as part of the discussion. I feel we miss out and perhaps overlook possibilities when we intentionally exclude others from the conversation.

      I’m reminded of the stories from the mosque of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) which was a refuge for everyone and where everyone was welcome. And yes, even the sinner of all types was welcome, which in reality we are all, some of us just hide it better than others.

      It seems like we’ve made our mosque communities into places where a myth of perfection dominates and everyone else is stigmatized. It’s not a safe place for people to come with their issues.

      Sarah Yazback, the social worker on the panel, said that she had to create anonymous ways for people to contact her because no one wanted to be seen going into the office of the mosque social worker.

  4. Assalaamau alaykum Ify,

    Jazaki Allahu khayran for sharing your thoughts and reflections on the LGBT event at PGMA. It was definitely eye-opening for me to read this.
    i just wanted to make a few comments and it is not to refute the points you made earlier but to sort of show another side of the issues that permeate in a lot of masajid. I can speak particularly for PGMA because i have been a part of that community for a while and i watched it grow.
    I definitely agree that not having any voices from the LGBT community made for an incomplete discourse. But i must say, they deserve a lot more props for being open to even TALK about this. It wasn’t perfect, but for a first effort, i would score it an A+…..i never thought the day would come when we could finally begin to talk about these very touchy issues that are very present in our communities.

    “It was sad to see that in a discussion, which could be considered a step forward for the community, the same old issues where women are devalued and excluded from full participation were still on display.”

    For the comment above, i would have to say, and Allahu a’lam…this is not so accurate. I watched for months as the brothers and sisters on the executive committee and sisters’ committee worked to have the sisters pray together in the main hall with the brothers (with a barrier)..and guess what, majority of the sisters still preferred to pray in the musallah so this never caught on. I dont think PGMA(i cant speak for other masajid) devalues women and exclude them from full participation, there is just a dire lack of women who WANT to be more involved. I dont know if you got a chance to speak to any of the sisters from the community and get their perspective on this. I was one of a few sisters who were actively involved in the masjid and i found a lot of sisters in the community were more comfortable behind the barriers(i wasnt one of them). When looking at these issues, we cant just look at it from the “american perspective”. We are in america but our mosques are a melting pot of all sorts of cultures, so something you might perceive as oppressive (having to pray in a separate room) might be perceived by another sister as a blessing (privacy and comfort). These things are not so clear cut. I have a friend whose mum will not go to the masjid because she beleives women shouldnt. This is a choice she has made for herself and she has a right to that belief. Again, i know there are definitely elements of male domination in our masajid but what are WE the women doing about it. We can complaining all day long about how our masajid are not what they should be, but just talking about it wont change anything. We need to get our hands dirty and get involved. Try and work with our local communities to make the mosques the kind of open and safe haven that the mosque of the Prophet SAW was. This advice,of-course applies first and foremost to me.
    I have found from my personal experiences that pointing out the problems never really improves the situation. AT the end of the day, we need manpower to make these things happen. We need to be present and involved so the next time an LGBT event is planned, there can be a voice that sees the need to have someone from that community on the panel.

    SO…this comment turned out to be a lot longer than i planned. I apologize if i said anything that came of negative as my intention was only to give naseehah. Masha Allah!!! i respect you a lot and i truly see the good intention behind your pursuits but at the same time, i just wanted to put in my two cents.

    Fee amanillah 🙂

  5. Wa alaykum salaam wa rahmatullah Jemilat,

    Have we met? I frequented PGMA for years when I lived closer to it. Perhaps, we know each other by face if not by name. And I agree PGMA does deserve high marks for being amongst the few mosques in the area willing to initiate challenging conversations.

    As for the participation and barrier issue, I think it’s complex. I remember the old setup where we, women and men, regularly prayed together in the pink musalla because that’s what was emphasized and provided as an option. Now, even if the administration reaches out to invite women to the main musalla it would require additional efforts on their part, which is hard work. The stigma and the mental not to mention physical barriers that were erected in recent years have set in as women were excluded from the pink musalla and given the classrooms as an inferior alternative.

    The social pressure to conform is immense and often holds us back from doing what we’d like to do. Even at the LGBT event, a group of sisters wished to move up to sit and to pray as space was becoming tight and a sister tried to pull them back further behind the barrier. I myself dislike praying behind barriers and in separate rooms but I’m not immune to the clear social pressure in our communities and often acquiesce to it.

    1. Yes we have met….but not at PGMA…i probably started frequenting PGMA after you moved. i met you at a couple of Al-Maghrib classes(i’m sure you meet so many people at the classes that it might be hard to remember :))…i’m Nigerian also.

      JAK for the perspective. May Allah SWT facilitate this path for the muslim communities all over as we all struggle to be better servants of the Almighty..ameen.

      Stay Blessed

  6. I love your response, Jemilat.
    Personally, I prefer partitions. And if I happen to attend a masjid with no partition, it is fine with me. The main thing, whether partition or no partition, is A-D-A-B!!!
    Proper adab from Muslim men and women will make us closer to our Lord through our salawat.
    During the times of the Prophet Muhammad, salla llaahu alayhe was salam, there was no partition. But there was one thing that they fully understood and put into complete practice (which is our own missing ingredient nowadays) and that is PROPER ADAB. I cannot emphasize it enough.
    I think we should go beyond wasting time on partition, no partition, lack of women’s voices, etc. If a Muslim woman wants to do something tangible for her ummah, she can do it with the will of Allaah. There are many issues affecting us today, especially Muslim women all over the world. We don’t have to wait for the men to handle our cases. Let’s ride on and follow the footsteps of our female superstars (Women around the Messenger, salla llaahu alayhe was salam)

    As I stated earlier, I prefer partitions bcos I love my privacy. That privacy is empowering to me. I just love it! and that’s just me. Without partitions, I’m fine with it. I’m not there for the men anyway. I’m in the masjid for Allaah.

    I know every masjid is different with different policies. Alhamdulilaah for my own masjid in the Southwest. The sisters are way too active, whether as daeeyahs in the female prisons, volunteers in the female janazah committee, shura committee members, or volunteers in the Social and Welfare committee that caters to the Muslims from Burma and Iraq.
    For me, this is empowering and impressive.

    There are many issues affecting the ummah nowadays. It’s left for any potential sister to roll up her sleeves and contribute her time and talents. Complaining will not solve anything.

  7. Just dawned on me that, while the Quran offers directives on punishing heterosexual marital infidelity and promiscuity, it does not homosexuality. Unless I am mistaken, even in the case of Lot’s people, Allah seems to reserves Himself the power, and option, of punishment. Why is that so? Unless homosexuality falls under general sexual promiscuity as outlined in the Quran. In that case, there is no special emphasis put on homosexual promiscuity as being any worse than the heterosexual kind.

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