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?

Continue reading “Q&A | The LGBT Community from an Islamic Perspective | Part II”

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VIDEO | The LGBT Community from an Islamic Perspective | Part I

VIDEO: Part 1 and Part 2

Earlier this month, the youth group at the Prince George’s Muslim Association (PGMA) mosque in Lanham hosted a discussion before a packed crowd on how Muslims should understand issues related to homosexuality and interact with members of the LGBT community.

When I first saw the promo email’s subject header in my inbox, I almost deleted it without opening it thinking that it must have been spam since it’s pretty rare for mosque lectures to touch on hot-topic issues.

The panel discussion idea was the brainchild of Manaar Zuhurudeen and I also give credit to the PGMA youth group and the mosque leadership for being progressive and pragmatic enough to take the first step to make the mosque a safe place where serious and relevant discussions can take place. I used to love going to the mosque but my enthusiasm has waned over the years as the mosque with its penalty boxes and other make-shift barriers has come to symbolize a place of increasing cultural isolation, irrelevance, and loneliness.

At PGMA, men and women pray in separate rooms but for this event women were allowed into the main hall both for prayer and to listen to the panel discussion. Still, there were barriers erected to divide the hall in half and by gender.

Dr. Adeyinka Laiyemo, a physician, opened by mentioning that frank discussions about sex are still largely considered taboo in the Muslim community. Dr. Laiyemo’s powerpoint presentation included a few graphic photos of certain disorders like Turner Syndrome and Klinefelter Syndrome, so I knew this would not be a typical mosque lecture.

Working in health care these definitions and photos are routine but it I found it remarkable how we as a Muslim community could come together in the mosque to discuss these issues with pictures in a such a matter of fact manner when we’re still so uncomfortable even sharing a hallway or prayer space. It occurred to me that this is probably similar to the way many issues were discussed openly in the mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessing of God be upon him).

Laiyemo broadly defined a number of terms related to biology, sex, and sexuality including true and pseudo-hermaphrodites and men on the “down low.”

PGMA’s imam Dr. Ahmad Azzaari, also a physician by training, spoke next  about the history and prohibition of homosexuality in Islam. Imam Azzaari said the issue of homosexuality is addressed a number of times in the Quran and that this repetition and emphasis indicates the seriousness of the matter. He read verses in the Quran that mentioned the story of the people of Lot whom many Muslims believe were punished by God for their homosexuality and a number of hadith from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Azzaari also offered a rebuttal of the interpretation that the destruction visited on the people of Lot was due to their lack of hospitality and attempted rape of their guests.

In another welcome change from the typical mosque lecture, two women were included on the panel. Dr. Naseem Sharieff, a pediatrician and community activist, and Sarah Yazback, a doctoral candidate in education counseling, who has been involved social work and counseling in the Muslim community for many years.

Dr. Sharieff used a white board on stage to illustrate her points and began my mentioning that every person has his or her strengths and weaknesses and that the challenge is in what we do with those weaknesses. In a nod to Muslim converts, Sharieff acknowledged that there is a difference between those born into Muslim families who are Muslim by chance and between those who are Muslim by choice through conversion and commitment to practice.

In choosing to be Muslim and to practice the faith, Sharieff advised that patience in the face of tests and trials makes a person stronger. She encouraged Muslims to not despair when faced with life’s hardships but rather to turn to the Quran, which contains both prevention and cure for what ails the heart. As she closed, Dr. Sharieff reminded the audience that they could maintain their beliefs and still treat others with respect and accord them their rights.

I found Sarah Yazback’s presentation to be the most enlightening part of the discussion. She began by acknowledging the importance of creating a safe space where people especially young people feel empowered to discuss relevant issues like homosexuality particularly for young people growing up in this society as homosexuality, gay marriage, and the repeal of discriminatory laws continue to be in the news and become more mainstream. Acknowledgement, Yazback clarified, does not mean justification and that legitimizing feelings does not mean legitimizing specific behavior. Continue reading “VIDEO | The LGBT Community from an Islamic Perspective | Part I”