Discussions on LGBTQ inclusion in Muslim communities are one of those things that make my blood boil because in my community, as in some others, Muslims who support same-sex unions and condemn homophobia tend to be disregarded. For many Muslims, the recognition of Muslims who may identify as queer or trans poses a challenge to many of our communities, either for our theological, cultural or political reasons.
For me, speaking about LGBTQ Muslims has brought along a lot of contention among friends and community members. I have been confronted for sharing, writing or speaking about LGBTQs issues like the first lesbian wedding in South Africa, the work of Imam Daayiee Adbullah or the existence of an all-gender-identities-and-sexual-orientations-friendly mosque founded in Toronto by El-Farouk Khaki, Troy Jackson and Laury Silvers.
While many Muslims will just want to “stay out of it,” due to personal beliefs or to the pressure that can exist in our communities, this approach has proven ineffective in preventing violence and discrimination against LGBTQ Muslims. There have been numerous attacks against homosexual Muslims which this year have included the circulation of hateful anti-gay leaflets in the U.K., a Turkish “honour killing,” and the murder of Ahmed Ghoniem in Australia, which has been identified as a possible hate crime.
Without getting into a never-ending theological debate on LGBTQ rights, it somehow seems that the discussion is finally getting Muslims from different perspectives together to condemn homophobia. An excellent Huffington Post article by Junaid Jahangir shows how attitudes are changing among Muslim leaders. Despite their theological views or their personal feelings towards homosexuality, it seems that some Muslim scholars and politicians have come to understand that without a strong stand against homophobia, violence will continue to be justified. Jahangir admits that there is still a lot to do to help LGBTQ Muslims, but he sees the involvement of Muslim leaders and organizations as a big step in the process of ending homophobia.
While I completely agree with Jahangir, I also feel that it is important to recognize that broader community involvement is key, and that shaping the values and beliefs of our communities takes more than few scholars and politicians supporting the cause. Talking about homophobia and violence in our communities, promoting understanding and, above all, fighting homophobia through education are some of the most powerful ways in which we can start reshaping opinions and values while rejecting violence.
As we can see in media stories of Muslim scholars condemning homosexuality in Nigeria, Australia, and Ghana, among others, dominant narratives both inside and outside of Muslim communities portray Muslims as unified in their opposition to LGBTQ communities. Such stories ignore the increasing number of Muslim scholars, such as those mentioned by Jahangir, who have at least come to take a strong stand against homophobia.
Violent behaviours against LGBTQ people are also often depicted as an attitude of Islam or Muslims in general (such as Islamic states ignoring a UN panel on gay rights), and opinions condemning these behaviours are sometimes pushed aside. This perhaps sends the message that it is normative not to accept people who identify as queer or trans, or that violence is justified because it is a universal “Muslim-wide” principle.
When media coverage on LGBTQ issues does come up, it tends to cover mostly men. In general, the media discusses LGBTQ matters in relation to what male authorities (religious authorities or politicians) have to say about the topic like in Juhangir’s article. Furthermore, as Diana has observed in previous posts, gay men’s issues receive particular attention while sidelining other groups such as lesbian women.
While she’s not specifically focused on Muslim women, Melissa Carroll has a great piece on the challenges of gender in dealing with LGBTQ issues. She explains that while violence against gay men is mostly presented, at least in the Western media, as an issue of human rights and homophobia; lesbians who are abused or commit suicide are often brushed off as hyper-emotional and as victims of their own feelings. Within a Muslim context, questions of definition in Islamic sources have also presented a challenge in identifying and addressing issues related to queer women specifically, which may contribute to the lack of discussion surrounding the topic.
Thus, we are not quite there yet. We continue to face a lot of challenges in including all people in Muslim communities. Condemning homophobia is definitely a big step and a crucial one, but we continue to face challenges in the smaller scale of our communities. A big part of this challenge, I think, is also how the media deals with Muslims who identify as queer or trans. Without enough representation of voices that condemn violence, and without fair representation of all the groups that compose the LGBTQ community, it will be hard to broaden inclusion and support for LGBTQ Muslims in our communities.