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Monday, January 11, 2021
Let LGBTQ Muslims Breathe
By Junaid Jahangir and Hussein Abdullatif
11 January 2021
The discourse in Muslim online spaces is often led by straight cisgender Muslim men, who grew up in the West or who converted to Islam and have a mass following. In either case, in search for an identity, their entire narrative is that of one upmanship. An illustration of this appears in a YouTube video where a loud Muslim spokesman compares his biceps with that of his opponent. Their discourse is reactionary, so that every issue is dissected from the point of view of establishing the superiority of Islam. All of this is less about the need to fulfill genuine spiritual needs that happens without riya (showing off) and more about a boisterous attempt to validate themselves by dictating how other Muslims should lead their lives. It is less about Islam and more about celebrity cults where their followers, like Trump’s minions, ignore their rape jokes, sexual harassment allegations and even violent rape charges.
Much of their narrative revolves around the concerns of women and sexual minorities. Instead of coming up with original narratives on addressing the pressing issues of the environment that is engendering pandemics, the exacerbating inequality under a capitalist system gone awry, or for that matter creating better institutions against corruption that is rife in Muslim majority countries, they focus on how they can better control, monitor, suppress and marginalize the bodies of women and sexual minorities. This narrative includes an extensive article on how a past exegete upheld the death texts on liwat (male anal intercourse) despite their being rejected by a vast majority of past and contemporary Hadith experts. In other words, they sustain their “majority” position by recourse to minority positions. Their prejudice is manifest when they claim that texts that make you “cringe” cannot be attributed to the Prophet but then find nothing cringeworthy in killing off men involved in consensual sexual conduct in horrific ways. When some begin to adopt a “middle of the road” self-serving approach by arguing that Muslims can support the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, so that the civil rights of the Muslim community to live according to their “traditional norms” is respected, they are attacked by the more hardcore spokesmen. Such intra community conflict sometimes includes “vulgar epithets.”
More recently, a paper was published in which two cis Muslim men, straight and gay, go to town on addressing transgender issues. The gay man is a physician who rejects the gay identity and instead identifies himself as SSA (struggling with same-sex attraction) and does not have the integrity or courage to use his real name. Enjoying the privileged life of a physician, without naming himself lest the professional medical, psychological and psychiatric authorities should peer review their skewed narrative, he validates himself by attacking a minority within a minority, that is amongst the most vulnerable and faces perpetual social ostracism let alone cold-blooded murder. He is reminiscent of Rasheed El Din, another closeted man, who about a decade ago would run this website “Eye on Gay Muslims,” where his ilk would engage in backbiting against Imam Daayiee Abdullah and other pioneering gay Muslim activists. Indeed, some of the worst homophobic abuse comes from self-loathing closeted Muslim gay men, who are struggling with themselves. Instead of forging a narrative to help build an affirming community away from the narcissism in gay subcultures and the repression in Muslim spaces, such closeted men remain miserable and inflict that misery upon others.
Their paper takes the same approach of upholding their “majority” position by recourse to minority opinions. For instance, they sideline the majority Shia Ithna Ashari position that allows gender reassignment surgery (GRS) to uphold the minority Shia position that forbids it. On several issues in Islam, one can find opinions ranging from prohibition to detestability to outright permissibility. Take for instance the issue of masturbation, there are texts that depict masturbators as residents of Hell, opinions that allow it under duress, as well as texts that show that the Companions allowed their youth to practice it in a very casual manner. This means that the choice to uphold one strand of texts over others reflects more about the bias of the wielder of the texts than anything else.
The paper is quite long winded and seems like a collection of fringe opinions in the fields of medicine and psychology. The orientation seems closer to Protestant fundamentalism than Islam. Yet, even if the authors collect such fringe opinions to create the impression of the preponderance of their views, such a viewpoint would be rejected by professional Pediatric, Psychological and Psychiatric bodies as skewed and harmful. In fact, Muslim medical and psychological professionals including the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) may need to do a critical peer review of this narrative. So far as the Islamic section of this paper is concerned, it follows the same pattern of using a strand of particular opinions that rejects GRS in opposition to other opinions that allow it.
Opposing GRS, the paper underscores that the legal maxim that ‘necessity trumps prohibitions’ is restricted to extenuating circumstances, which cannot be “sufficiently proved.” It also highlights another maxim that “one harm cannot be removed by another harm.” However, if extenuating circumstances or Darura (necessity) cannot be legally proven then the legal maxim becomes Abth (useless). Moreover, the maxim on necessity has been applied to the lesser Haja (needs, that which make life better), as in the case of interest-based mortgages. Though, opposition to such fatwas often arises from younger Muslim males who adopt a stricter outlook on issues. Regardless, the second maxim on not removing harm by another harm also has to be properly understood for there are cases where Imam Ghazali (d. 1111) argued that Muslims could, under extenuating circumstances, safeguard the lives of the majority of Muslims by firing at Muslims used as shields by the enemy. This indicates that between the option of two harms, the lesser of the two is adopted. In short, copy pasting legal maxims without nuance and playing games with the lives of trans folks, who have the highest rate of suicide ideation and attempted suicides amongst the entire LGBTQ spectrum, and to cast them towards further harm by ignoring the position of professional medical and psychological bodies and by perpetuating irresponsible scholarship is callous to say the least if not outright criminal.
The paper upholds the gender binary in Islam. However, past jurists did not have sleepless nights trying to figure out the innate gender of the gender non-binary folks. They did subsume them into the binary for the purpose of marriage, inheritance and funeral rites but otherwise let them be in the non-binary state. Their mannerisms and disposition, as in the case of the Khawaja Saras of South Asia, were not targeted save by a few scholars whom the current straight cis males try to latch on to support their worldview, which is ironically more conventionally western than Islamic. Additionally, past jurists could only rule on the manifest and left hidden matters to Allah. That is why the Hanbali jurist Kharqi left the decision of gender to the khuntha mushkil (indeterminate gender) themselves, for none other than they themselves could know about that very intricately private and innate constitution. The Qur’an itself mentions the gender non-binary in verses 42:49-50 that Allah pairs males and females, which can be construed extrinsically for two people or intrinsically within the same person. Additionally, it states on various occasions that Allah creates whatsoever He wills. What cis straight males are doing to validate themselves is to place restrictions on Allah in His grand design of multiple permutations of gender and sexual orientation.
Finally, the paper goes into the verse and Hadith that caution against changing God’s creation. However, mutilating human bodies like self-castration to get jobs in the imperial palaces or mutilating animals for cult activities or financial gains are a far cry from circumcisions, correcting cleft palates, orthodontic work, piercings, tattoos, and in the present context, gender reassignment surgeries. A glaring lack of appreciation for this nuance indicates naivety in the face of social changes that are increasingly liberating vulnerable individuals from the oppressive institutions that predominately serve those at the apex of the social hierarchy - the straight cisgender males.
To conclude, none of the narratives of straight cis Muslim men is about uplifting LGBTQ Muslims. Their approach is about stigma and sacrifice, which countenances no facility to a people trying to live a very short life fraught with immense social prejudice and discrimination. In fact, when was the last time, any one of them stood up to speak against the imprisonment of LGBTQ folks in Egypt or helped out the LGBTQ refugees who escape state persecution in places like Iran? They don’t even offer a platform to LGBTQ Muslims to be part of their panel for a balanced discussion and when someone does, all hell breaks loose in social media. They can’t even tolerate seeing a trans person on an Islamic forum let alone support their God given human rights. Instead, they are making countless videos dictating the lives of LGBTQ Muslims with their respective frameworks of thought only to validate themselves. With their thousands of online followers, their celebrity cult status, their privileged lives where they don’t have to worry about being stalked or killed, unlike many trans folks, they still play the victim, perpetuate the narrative of victimhood and continue to keep a stranglehold on the lives of those LGBTQ Muslims, who do not necessarily have the tools to push back in the specialized language of Islamic law. The metaphor here is that of the supremacist cop with all the powers at his disposal and his knee on neck hold on a vulnerable George Floyd. All LGBTQ Muslims want is for these cis straight Muslim men to let them breathe.
Junaid Jahangir and Hussein Abdullatif are the co-authors of Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions.