Friday, 10 July 2015

World Have Your Say Asks About Muslims and Gay Rights

The questions posed on World Have Your Say earlier this morning were inspired by the recent article "An Open Letter To American Muslims on Same-Sex Marriage," by Dr Reza Aslan and Hassan Minhaj which appeared a few days ago on Religious Dispatches. Their Open Letter and WHYS's questions got me to thinking about what has brought us here, to the point that we as Muslims can openly call each other to celebrate milestones reached by LGBTQ people - and, for LGBTQ Muslims, more openly live and celebrate our lives.

The conversation on same-gender love and Islam has been shifting for many years now. Dr Scott Siraj Kugle has been writing and speaking about same-gender love since at least 2000. In 2003, Al Fatiha International and Salaam came together to produce a conference for gay and lesbian Muslims. Faisal Alam, El-Farouk Khaki, and Daaiyee Abdullah were at the forefront of organising the conference. The backlash from the Muslim community was so severe that several different means of security needed to be established for the safety of those who attended. In 2006, in a chapter of Lahoucine Ouzgane's "Islamic Masculinities," Asifa Siraj examined the ways in which same gender-loving Muslims reconciled their sexual orientations with Islam by narrating the stories of several gay Muslims.

By 2006, LGB Muslim leaders, as well as academic allies, were gaining more visibility on the global stage and were becoming much more vocal in their support for the rights of gay Muslims. Regarding the founding of Salaam, El-Farouk Khaki said in 2006, "We [Muslims] need to recognize that there is a fringe element at the present time within the Muslim community that resorts to violence; for reasons that are multi-level. We need to isolate this element and identify what leads to this sort of alienation and this psychology of violence." That same year, Dayiee Abdullah went on to assert, "[T]he Koran does speak allegorically and very clearly that sex is an important aspect of each human being’s life.... The Koran does not say that same-sex individuals should not have loving relationships."

In 2009, El-Farouk Khaki joined with his now-husband Troy Jackson and friend Dr Laury Silvers to establish El-Tawhid Juma Circle, a mosque space devoted to gender equality and LGBTQ inclusion. At about the same time, Dr Amanullah De Sondy, now Senior Lecturer In Contemporary Islam at University College Cork of Ireland, had burst onto the academic scene, offering his support for the human rights of LGBT Muslims: "Sex, sexuality, gender - call it, construct it in whatever way you want it to be. It is wrong when it infringes on the rights, liberty, spirituality of the other and aims to take position over and above God."

In 2012, El-Farouk Khaki put his foot down rather solidly in condemning those who use religion to hate LGBT persons of faith, saying "I want to say to the religious right, you're not right. You're the religious wrong! I know of no faith tradition, mine included, that denies the inherent human dignity of every one of God's creations - if you believe in God.... So, for all those who hate in the name of God, that's your god. It's not our god. It's time for this to stop."

Meanwhile, Dr De Sondy has kept on in that same vein in which he began several years ago, to the present day, challenging people to revolutionise the way that they think about sex and sexuality in Islam. Most recently, his book "The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities," published in 2013, has compelled Muslims to turn traditional discourse regarding gender and sexuality on its head and consider new ways of thinking on the topic.

That same year, Dr Kugle, whose 2010 text "Homosexuality in Islam" broke ground in the academic discussion of reconciling the Islamic faith with a gay identity, produced "Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims," another narration of the lived experiences of gay and lesbian Muslims.

It was in 2012 that Junaid Jahangir began writing on Islam and homosexuality for Huffington Post - most recently calling on straight Muslim allies of same-gender marriage to "come out of the closet" earlier this month. While Reza Aslan and Hassan Minhaj did not specifically cite Junaid's article in their call to celebrate gay marriage, the timing of their article is indeed very significant. Most significant in that article is their call: "We shouldn’t be perpetuating our marginalization by marginalizing others. Rejecting the right to same-sex marriage, but then expecting empathy for our community’s struggle, is hypocritical." Reza and Hassan also quoted the same verse from the Qur'an which El-Farouk Khaki also quoted during his 2012 speech: "Be just, for this is closest to righteousness."

All of these fierce people, activists, journalists, and academics alike, have for several years cultivated an environment which is much safer for gay Muslims to live their realities and speak out about their experiences. As a gay Muslim myself, I am indebted to and tremendously grateful for the support of Dr Amanullah De Sondy, El-Farouk Khaki, Dr Scott Kugle, Asifa Siraj, Daayiee Abdullah, Faisal Alam, Junaid Jahangir, Reza Aslan, and Hassan Minhaj as we gay Muslims have struggled for recognition and validation by our fellow Muslim peers.

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