Abdullah is still standing alone
Abdullah is a brave young man and an independent thinker for he refuses to be dictated on his spirituality or sexuality by others. He submits to none except Allah
Abdullah grew up in an observant Muslim family. He learned how to recite the Qur’an, say his daily prayers, follow dietary restrictions, and fast during Ramadan. Apart from general ethics, he also imbibed values that include respecting elders, being chaste until marriage and observing haya (modesty).
It is because of such values that he has had found it difficult to broach the topic of his same-sex attractions. If he were living an independent life on his own, perhaps it would have been less of a concern. However, his personal life is tied with that of his family and community.
Marriage is encouraged in Islam, as celibacy is not viewed as Islamically normative or ideal. While, there have been examples of Prophets Jesus and Yahya (John) and Muslim scholars (Islam Today, Scholars who never married) like Tabari, Zamakhshari, Nawawi, and Ibn Taymiyyah who never married, culturally, Abdullah is expected to marry and start a Muslim family.
The topic is too taboo for him to discuss with his parents. After all, sexuality is not usually discussed in Muslim families. Any education at Islamic school is limited to ritual cleanliness after bodily discharges and on the importance of preserving chastity.
Muslim youth are often counselled to lower their gaze and resort to fasting to curb any urges until their marriage. Such information is not helpful for Abdullah, for whom this chastity seems to have no end. The only possible sexual expression allowed to him is that of a sham marriage, which raises ethical concerns. Additionally, which parent would like to marry off their son or daughter to those pejoratively referred to as “homosexuals.”
Some conservative Muslims stridently try to impose the separation between spirituality and sexuality, when they assert that “you either be gay or Muslim.” (YouTube Video, Moderate Muslim: Being gay in Islam is PROHIBITED!) Some can be outright demeaning. Given such deep-rooted homophobia and heterosexism, Abdullah keeps his sexual orientation hidden.
However, he cannot just divorce his spiritual expression of Islam. His values of modesty, fidelity and empathy for others provide him grounding in the face of pressure to conform to prevailing standards of exterior beauty or irresponsible sexual expression.
Whether Abdullah decides to stay in the West or go to a Muslim majority country makes no difference. Youth growing up in Muslim majority countries also face such pressures brought forth by globalization and cultural exchange.
What Abdullah needs is not permission to have sex, which is a private act undertaken by many outside the folds of sham marriages. Rather, he needs a way to live an honest life that allows him to legitimately fulfill his genuine human need for intimacy, affection and companionship.
Youth like Abdullah find it threatening to meet a Muslim Imam face to face to discuss their personal issues. However, Abdullah did muster up the courage to consult with an Imam online. Perhaps, he thought that just as affirming ministers and Rabbis offer words of comfort to their LGBT youth he could get the same from his Imam. Such expectations turned out sour.
The online Imam dutifully told Abdullah that there is ijma (consensus) on the issue of homosexuality in Islam, defined as anal sex between men, as it is deemed one of the major sins and that justifying it amounts to kufr (disbelief). Additionally, Abdullah was also asked to avoid labelling himself as gay and rather view himself as afflicted with same-sex attraction. He was counselled to view his situation as a test from Allah wherein he must struggle against his same-sex desires.
Youth like Abdullah are made to feel as if they were afflicted and their situation is viewed in the context of alcohol, drugs, fornication, watching pornography and other vice. Often the argument is made that there is no proof of the innateness of homosexual orientation and that those who argue for an LGBT affirming hermeneutics are biased.
LGBT Muslims are biased but so are the Imams who counsel youth like Abdullah. The former seek to live a human life, not one of saints or sinners. The latter are often driven by their own distaste and contempt, which clouds their approach to the texts. Yet, morality is not based on our capacity for disgust.
Until Muslim community leaders and Imams address their own prejudices, Abdullah cannot hope to receive a reasonable response to his concerns. Additionally, Muslims will have to recognize that strong faith does not rest on mindless following but on constant reflection. The doctrine of “we hear and obey” has been severely usurped by those against whom the Qur’an asserts that, “they have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah.”
Moral sophistication dissuades us from lumping same-sex relationships with all sorts of vices. A better analogy of same-sex relationships would be with non-procreative relationships. Furthermore, intimate relationships are based on more than a single act of anal sex, on which, according to scholars like Bazzar and Shafi, there are no clear texts either in favour or in prohibition.
This allows us to acknowledge that if there are no bars on allowing non-procreative relationships then there exist no earthly reasons to prohibit same-sex relationships that would allow Abdullah a life based on intimacy, affection and companionship. Such an approach would constitute the middle path, in contrast to the polar extremes of permanent celibacy or irresponsible expression of sexuality.
Making charges of kufr (disbelief) is a bullying tactic. It seeks to intimidate Abdullah into silence, even as Imams become defensive on charges of expressing homophobic sentiments. (YouTube Video, Abdullah Hakim Quick – Homosexuality) The greater scholars clearly mentioned that those who issue such charges were writers of lower calibre.
Abdullah was silenced with the test argument, which can be dangerously seductive as it allows him to become martyr for the cause. Indeed, there are poster boys who have abandoned their Allah given critical faculties at the altar of conformity. (Muslim Matters, From a same-sex attracted Muslim: Between denial of reality and distortion of religion) The problem, however, is that where the test argument is used for those with disabilities, being gay is not construed as one. Here the cause of oppression is textual interpretation.
However, if Ibn Qayyim’s statement that the sharia is all justice, mercy and welfare is to be accepted then anything that departs from it, in this case, inflicting the harm of permanent celibacy has to be rejected as being inconsistent with the Islamic ethos. Indeed, Allah does not impose asr (undue hardship).
Additionally, it is often claimed that stronger the faith, stronger the test, which necessitates the question that when did LGBT Muslims, often deemed as sinful, become so exalted so as to be severely tested. Alternatively, when did the abomination become a test?
Abdullah was also silenced by the doctrine of ijma (consensus), which has been excessively abused to silence dissenting viewpoints. This is despite the fact that there is no consensus on the definition of consensus in Islam. Moreover, past consensus have been subject to change when stronger evidence allows us to support an alternate viewpoint.
In the case of homosexuality, stronger evidence emerges from the consensus amongst the constellation of professional bodies including the American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health. (Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health, Position Statement on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE))
The consensus amongst professional bodies has been possible due to developments in psychology, which informs us about the hidden aspects of an individual beyond the external attributes. While past scholars like Al Amidi were constrained by the manifest exterior, contemporary scholars have been able to issue rulings based on the framework of khuntha nafsiyya (psychological intersexuality).
Thus, just as clerics defer to medical experts on the issue of transgender persons, there seems no earthly reason to not do the same in the case of gays and lesbians. Furthermore, the obsession with the gay gene is not productive to address the issue of homosexuality, especially when in Islam, the word of sexual minorities can be accepted based on an oath.
Abdullah was told to eschew the label of being gay, which is a West centric social construct. However, labels based on gender and sexual expressions have always existed, be they zarifat (courtly ladies) or habaib (beloveds) for women or the derogatory term ma’bun (receptive partner) for men.
Much of the classical discourse was predicated on viewing homosexuality through the lens of pederasty and disease that afflicted the anus or the labia. Advances in psychology allow us to shift the paradigm from ubna (anal itch) to sexual orientation. This is possible only if Muslim community stakeholders stop viewing it as a Western problem and more as a pressing matter that concerns our Muslim LGBT youth.
Even if cultural misinformation is remedied by distinguishing the concerns of LGBT Muslim youth from exploitation-based pederasty, concerns arise from religious interpretations that severely forbid homosexual expressions.
Abdullah has witnessed how many Muslims copy-paste Qur’anic verses and Hadith texts that strongly condemn homosexuality. He has experienced strongly worded sentiments and contempt from fellow Muslims. Some go so far as to quote rulings on the death punishment for homosexuality, which are supported by popular Muslim speakers. (YouTube Video, Homosexualität / Homosexuality in ISLAM - Pierre Vogel + Dr. Bilal Philips) Even renowned academics emphasize that many past authorities supported the death punishment. (Brown, The Shariah, Homosexuality & Safeguarding Each Other’s Rights in a Pluralist Society)
Fortunately for Abdullah, the Hanafi school rejects the death punishment for homosexuality based on the logic that qiyas (analogy) cannot be applied on Had punishments. Additionally, several scholars like Maulana Abu Zafar Hassan Nadvi and Maulana Zaheer Abbas Rizvi distinguish between a sin and a crime and reject any punishment for private conduct. (The Times of India, Homosexuality immoral, but not criminal: Religious leaders) Yet, this does not help address Abdullah’s concerns as he already resides in the West where the issue of punishments is moot.
Abdullah, however, has done his own homework over time. He knows about the verses on the people of Lut. (Qur'an, surah Al-‘Ankabut, ayah 29) mentions that they ambushed travellers and engaged in evil deeds in public assemblies. (Qur'an, surah Al-ijr, ayah 70) mentions that the people of Lut had forbidden Lut from offering hospitality. The exegesis of verse (Qur'an, surah Al-A’raf, ayah 80) in the commentary of Ibn Kathir mentions that they invented homosexuality.
Of course, archaeological evidence on societies before the people of Lut shows otherwise. The entire context provides Abdullah with enough understanding that the conduct of the people of Lut could not be about same-sex relationships but something coercive as witnessed in recent times in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
However, Abdullah notices that in online forums, (Qur'an, surah Al-A’raf, ayah 81; surah Ash-Shu’ara, ayah 165-166; surah Al-Naml, ayah 55) are quoted without this context. This perplexes him because such a strategy of plucking verses out of their context is often attributed to extremist groups like ISIS. Regardless, Abdullah notices how the phrase atatoona rijjala shahwatan (approaching men with desire) is often construed as referring to same-sex relationships. This is despite the fact that a plain reading of the verses necessitates the question that how did the entire people of Lut and not just a subset of constitutional homosexuals approach other men?
Understanding the Qur’an by the Qur’an allows us to know that the Qur’an itself illustrates their approach as one imbued with coercion. This is quite clear when they demand Lut to relinquish his guests. An understanding that they approached other men by soliciting their consent amounts to speculation and is not warranted from the context. This allows Abdullah to be clear that the verses are not condemning him or asking him to take an opposite gender spouse, which would raise an ethical problem like Lut’s offer of his daughters to the crowd.
Abdullah knows that Lut’s offer of his daughters has been interpreted through various angles. The explanations include Lut simply asking the men to go back to their wives, offering his daughters just to prick their conscience, or telling them to go to the women in the town. However, in all these possibilities, it is clear that the mob constituted men who would have been content with women and yet persisted in their desires to ambush travellers and demand Lut’s guests.
Abdullah also knows of scholars who have affirmed Muslim same-sex unions on the basis of raf al harj (repelling hardship), ird (human dignity), adl (justice), the argument that sexual acts are not inherently qabih (evil) and the idea that if Islamic values allow marriage of sterile couples and elderly women on the basis of realizing intimacy, affection and companionship then we have no earthly reason to deny the same to same-sex couples. (Jahangir and Abdullatif, 2016)
However, despite all his study and homework, he knows that those who are content with copy-pasting texts often ignore careful reflection, dehumanize gay men to a single sexual act and stubbornly act upon their own whims and desires to deny intimacy, affection and companionship to gay men like him.
Abdullah, as such, faces immense intransigence from his faith based community over and above the rising tide of Islamophobia in North America. For girls, who wear the headscarf, the concerns are compounded, as they face being scrutinized for their dress in public, added cultural pressure from parents to marry young and from Muslim male colleagues policing their life choices.
Abdullah is a brave young man and an independent thinker for he refuses to be dictated on his spirituality or sexuality by others. He submits to none except Allah. It is this overwhelming trust in Allah that offers him strength to stay strong to his true values despite societal prejudice. However, he should not have been expected to do all this work to be at peace with himself.
This is not just about Abdullah’s youth but about his whole life. His community status, his ability to assume leadership in the Muslim community, his right to live with a partner without being judged despite theological differences, and of course to be respected with dignity in his old age.
It is in creating safe space for them where lies a great challenge for the Muslim community. Do we leave Muslim youth like Abdullah to fend for themselves against judgmental co-religionists? Do we let them stand alone?
Junaid Jahangir, Hussein Abdullatif
1. Brown, J., The Shariah, Homosexuality & Safeguarding Each Other’s Rights in a Pluralist Society, Al Madina Institute, June 18, 2016, Available at: http://almadinainstitute.org/blog/the-shariah-homosexuality-safeguarding-each-others-rights-in-a-pluralist-so/, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
2. Islam Today, Scholars who never married, Available at: http://en.islamtoday.net/quesshow-13-602.htm, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
3. Jahangir, J., and Abdullatif, H., (2016) Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions, Lexington.
4. Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health, Position Statement on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE),Available at: https://lebmash.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/ps1-en/, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
5. Muslim Matters, From a same-sex attracted Muslim: Between denial of reality and distortion of religion, Available at: http://muslimmatters.org/2016/08/22/from-a-same-sex-attracted-muslim-between-denial-of-reality-and-distortion-of-religion/, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
6. Quick, A.H., How I am still being digitally transformed into a hate cleric, Available at: http://hakimquick.com/page/2/, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
7. The Times of India, Homosexuality immoral, but not criminal: Religious leaders, July 4, 2009, Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Homosexuality-immoral-but-not-criminal-Religious-leaders/articleshow/4736152.cms, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
8. YouTube Video, Abdullah Hakim Quick – Homosexuality, Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH068VWTmgE, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
9. YouTube Video, Homosexualität / Homosexuality in ISLAM - Pierre Vogel + Dr. Bilal Philips, Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyGjp0Mu53w, Accessed (April 20, 2017)
10. YouTube Video, Moderate Muslim: Being gay in Islam is PROHIBITED!Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIfuq5AkSyA, Accessed (April 20, 2017)