Hussein Rashid has a thoughtful piece in Religion Dispatches on the need for the American Muslim community to begin a rather overdue dialogue with its gay members. This is a topic I’ve often considered trying to gingerly broach, myself. I say “gingerly” because it’s a complex topic, and one where it’s easy to get co-opted by zealots on one side or another.
Taking as his point of departure a controversy over an ad promoting tolerance towards gays that was rejected by a progressive Christian magazine, Rashid writes in “Mosques and Welcoming LGBT People” (Religion Dispatches):
The ad, in my reading, says that anyone who believes in God is welcome in a house of worship.
As Muslims living in America, we too will be faced with a similar issue: how welcoming will we be? Like the ad, I am not advocating for a discussion on the theological question of homosexuality or support of same-sex marriage. I am interested in how do we treat people. […]
To me, that says our next great challenge will be how do we deal with Muslims who are out. Will we be welcoming? I fear that will we say that we will accept some behaviors we consider sinful, but not others. We will pride ourselves on having no clergy to get between a believer and God, but start checking on everyone to make sure that they have a “good” relationship with God.
Excellent points, all, but in one ancillary respect, I disagree. While my main motivation here is also to protect people’s rights and dignity, I think for improvements to take root a parallel theological discussion is needed, as well. Not to overturn traditional Islamic commitments to “family values” but to inject rigor and fairness that is often lacking today in our day of sterile Islamist false dichotomies and neurotic identity politics sometimes masquerade as Islamic piety.
While there certainly is a tendency among secularized Western intelligentsia to mistake what one might term “natural” discomfort with homosexuality for homophobia on the part of traditional Muslims, Christians and Jews, that doesn’t change the fact that its human dimension is almost invariably ignored in mainstream discussions within the Muslim community today. And hateful and/or asinine oversimplifications concerning gays often go completely unchallenged in Islamic media and fora that otherwise strive to impose a modicum of nuance and fairness onto intra-Muslim debates.
One need not embrace a stance of unreserved acceptance or moral relativism to admit that a far more nuanced and humane conversation about the complexities of this issue in an ever more pluralistic world is needed within the Muslim community.
I think that Muslims’ ongoing and intensifying experience of Islamophobia in Western countries should sensitize us to the plight of gays within our community. As I observed in a discussion of the piece on Facebook, “If anything has the potential to wake the broader Muslim community up to how it feels for gays to be demonized simply for existing, it ought to be the instinctive hate on display in the Park 51 campaigns. Getting people to make that connection is easier said than done, though, even when it stares them in the face.”