Same-Sex Muslim Marriages Coming to Mosque Near You?

In the last few years, the international emphasis on locating social rights within the Qur’an has primarily been driven by and for women. NGOs in Morocco, Malaysia, Jordan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, and countless other Muslim countries have rallied communities, encouraging them to look critically at the patriarchal structures that have dictated Qur’anic interpretation to date. Through methods unlike those of western countries—methods that often include political embeddedness, the provision of social services, and ijtihad (the independent legal interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah)—these women’s organizations have quietly and non-confrontationally effected change in the international understanding of women’s rights in Islam.

Now, a new generation of Muslims is coming of age. These young Muslims raptly follow gay pop icons, watch the Obama administration refuse to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, and generally witness a liberalization of social values. For better or worse, they feel the pressure of international human rights, and their understanding of their own rights have changed in kind. Perhaps as a result, international media have paid closer attention to the ways in which gay Muslim youth worldwide are attempting to reconcile their faith with an identity most of them feel they didn’t choose.

A BBC series last week investigated a trend in which gay British Muslims seek nikahs, altering to suit their purposes the traditional Islamic contracts designed for straight couples. The piece is surprisingly good, discussing the colossal strain placed on gay Muslims who feel like their central identities are in diametric opposition. While for most Muslims—and for most religious people, really—this opposition forces them to choose one identity over the other, the article maintains refreshing focus on Muslims who believe that being gay needn’t prevent them from living an Islamic lifestyle.

Near the end of the article, one of the interviewees named Sarah mentions that “there’s a deep-rooted assumption in the secular queer community that you can’t be gay and believe in anything, apart from yourself or materialism.” In most religious communities, it’s absolutely true that queerness presents too overwhelming a challenge to explicit religious text; Genesis doesn’t kid around in reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, and it’s hard to justify your sexuality when Deuteronomy plainly states you should be stoned to death for it. But wonderfully, compellingly, there’s a recent uptick in the number of faith-based organizations helping gay Muslims integrate both identities into their lives.

A little side note, if I may: I’ve always believed that one of the best things—if not the best thing—about Islam is its infinite interpretations. The same ambiguity and lack of consensus that causes all the ruckus we in the blogosphere complain about also gave rise to Imaan, the Safra Project, and The Inner Circle, to name a few. These groups attempt to locate social equality in the Qur’an in the same way that women’s  organizations have been for years now. They create communities within communities, provide counseling, answer questions, hold symposia, and develop networks. They actively work to engage both the Muslim and queer identities of their constituents, and they continually break new ground and challenge what we think we know about the future of Islam.

And though the goals of these queer organizations and gay Muslims fall squarely outside of mainstream Islamic tradition, they’re being achieved through a cycle of interpretation and re-interpretation that’s richly and beautifully Islamic. Let’s hope it keeps getting the media attention it deserves, because it might just herald a new era of social rights in Islam.

  • Jihad-Punk


    Like you already pointed out in the article above, but let me say it. It annoys me that a lot of people in the LGBTQ community assume that you cannot be gay (or bi or trans) and still believe in God, because their assumptions come from a Judeo-Christian perspective. Yeah well, None of us here are Jews or Christiansm, don’t read the Bible, and don’t follow the Old or New Testaments! The Holy Qur’an is different, there’s barely a mention of homosexuality in it or the Hadith, and Muslims have been historically very accepting of gays and lesbians unlike Christians.

  • Humayra

    This is an interesting article, though the title is rather misleading (or for conservatives, alarming). I don’t know of any gay Muslims who are trying to have Islamic marriages in “mainstream” (aka conservative) mosques; they hold their nikahs in other venues. They aren’t trying to force conservatives to perform their nikahs, they just want to be left alone to celebrate their relationships and live their lives.

    “Genesis doesn’t kid around in reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, and it’s hard to justify your sexuality when Deuteronomy plainly states you should be stoned to death for it.”

    Uh oh. This is a typical conservative Muslim type of argument which unfortunately doesn’t hold water (and is fundamentally dishonest into the bargain): the yeah-Islam-condemns-gays-but-so-does-every-other-religion argument. To make this argument work, you have to (1) read these biblical passages in context, and (2) ask how most Jewish and Christian biblical scholars understand and interpret them.

    Briefly: Many of the latter argue that the “sin” of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t what we know as homosexuality today, but lack of hospitality. (The film, “For the Bible Tells Me So” which is available on youtube gives a simple, introductory overview of that line of argument.)

    But really, a more fundamental problem, at least for religious feminists, surely should be that if we take the story of Lot as a literal guide to sexual morality, then a father’s throwing his daughters out to be raped by a rampaging mob is presumably a “moral” act (Gen. 19:5-8). (Or, for medieval Muslim exegetes who claim that Lot actually offered his daughters to the would-be rapists for marriage, that marrying off girls without their consent to men known to be violent and abusive is just fine.) Don’t think so.

    As for stoning, the Bible also says that disobedient children should be stoned to death. No Jews or Christians today argue that this should be practiced.

    And regarding “mainstream” Muslim ideas about marriage and sexuality–those have changed radically in the last 150 years or so; they aren’t impervious to change. For details on these changes, read Kecia Ali’s hard-hitting book, _Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence_. In fact, it would be wonderful if MMW would do a review of that book.

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  • SakuraPassion

    This is interesting. To be quite honest, I’m not surprised. It was only a matter of time.

  • RC

    yay for humanism! islam could use a bit more of it. i’m all for it.

  • Sulayman F

    Humayra, I think you’re really barking up the wrong tree when you’re implying that Islam’s prohibitions on homosexuality are based on Judeo-Chrisitian ideas. Islam does not generally borrow from those two religions despite their common stories.

    It’s one thing to say that Jews and Christians are misinterpreting the story of Lot (AS) and Sodom and Gomorrah, but the LGBT response has been that Lot was a bad character himself. Muslims say Lot was a sinless prophet, so that argument is a complete non-starter to Muslims.

  • Matilda

    Is it really about “borrowing”?
    “Borrowing”, or refering to a common thought is not a problem generally when it comes to for example eating pork, than I´ve seen imams refering to the common interpretation and word of God. And many muslims do at least say so, that it´s the same God that muslims, christians and jews believe in. Religions do in real life influence each other, and how they are interpreted. I´ve heard leading young muslims comparing islam to an up-dated version of Christianity like some sort of computer game (of course said in this way to attract young people, but non the less it´s a discourse ways of thinking), so maybe Humayra isn´t so wrong after all?

    Or, is it only in this sensitive question that muslims don´t want to strengthen their arguments by refering to how (some) christans and jews think the same?

    It´s also happens not so seldom that muslims refer to science, to prove that the quran is true. In the case of homosexuality this behaviour is different though, since science has proven that homosexuality is something normal in the animal kingdom, and that lesbians children are better of than heterosexual parents children.

  • Jannah

    Speaking of the Qur’an’s version of the story: What about Lut attempting to marry off his daughters without their consent to men known to be violent and abusive? How does that track with Islamic principles of marriage, or of women’s status?

  • Harika

    Great post thanks .I posted this article on a discussion site I am a member of ..someone posted the below and I am posting it here to ask Sara for her reply .

    “Fat chance. This sounds much like the fantasy of someone trying to reconcile “belief” with “science”.
    Neither Judaism, nor Christianity nor Islam can be interpreted as being pro gay relationship, whichever way you look at it. A handful eccentrics claiming to be gay couples AND Muslims (or Jews or Christians) at the same time are just that: “eccentrics”.

    Why? Simple. All these religious teachings have one thing in common: to promote a successful descendant, generation after generation.
    Hence, all three Abrahamic religions shun homosexuality. You cannot be a member of one and be [gay] at the same time.”

    This comment has been modified to fit within moderation guidelines.

  • Krista

    @ Harika: My response for that is that it’s not anyone’s place, whether or not they’re Muslim, to kick gay Muslims out of Islam. Ignoring the importance of Islam in a person’s life might be just as painful to them as ignoring their sexuality. Whoever wrote that comment doesn’t have to agree with it, but assuming a right to tell people they can’t follow the religion they follow seems incredibly patronising.

  • Michael Elwood

    “Speaking of the Qur’an’s version of the story: What about Lut attempting to marry off his daughters without their consent to men known to be violent and abusive? How does that track with Islamic principles of marriage, or of women’s status?”

    That’s an interesting question, Jannah. The Quran is interesting not only for what it says, but how it says it (or doesn’t say it). This is true not only about the Lot story, but other stories as well. The Bible says:

    “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof,” (Gen. 19:8).

    The Quran says:

    11:78 His people came rushing towards him, and were accustomed to committing sin. He said, “My people, these are my daughters, they are purer for you, so be aware of God and do not disgrace me regarding my guests. Is there no reasonable man among you?”

    As you can see, there’s a slight difference in the stories. The Quran doesn’t say, “do whatever you like (to my daughters)”. But that’s what some think is meant by, “they are purer for you”. One of the main principles of Quranic exegesis is that the Quran interprets the Quran. The Quran (25:33) calls itself the best exegesis (ahsana tafsir). Elsewhere, the Quran says:

    24:33 “Let those who are not able to marry continue to be chaste until God enriches them of His Bounty. If those whom you have over them contractual rights seek release, then release them if you find that they are ready, and give them from the wealth of God which He has bestowed upon you. Do not force your daughters into marriage when they have desired independence, in order that you may make a gain in the goods of this worldly life. But if anyone has compelled them, then considering their compulsion, God is Forgiving, Compassionate.”

    I’m using Yuksel’s translation which, like Ahmed’s, interprets al-bigha’i in the context of marriage. Others interpret it as a reference to prostitution. However this word is understood, it’s clear that they are not to be forced into it (wa la tukrihu). 24:33 gives us a clue how we should understand 11:78. Yuksel adds in his footnote for 24:33:

    “What about if they don’t want to be chaste, then should they be forced? Of course not. For instance, “Don’t force your children to eat meat, if they chose to be vegetarians” does not mean “Force your children to eat meat if they don’t want to be vegetarians.” The word FaTaYa has been usually mistranslated as slaves. For its meaning through its Quranic usages please see: 12:30; 12:36; 18:10; 18:60; 21:60; and 24:33.”

    Unfortunately, this protection is often ignored by men (scholar and layman). As LGBT Muslims fight for their rights, they’ll have to make their case just as Muslim feminists have. I read a review of Scott Kugle’s book a while back. That might be a good place to start (he seems to take a Quranic approach).

    [I tried not to get too theological 'n' stuff. How did I do, Fatemah? :-)]

  • Harika

    Thanks Krista I will use that in my reply

  • Krista

    Okay people, this thread is going off-topic in a bunch of different directions. Let’s stick to the article that Sara’s talking about, and to the points that she made in her post. Thanks!