When people think of Islam and homosexuality, the image of the Islamic State throwing gay Muslim men off a building comes to mind. Such a dark and horrific action has no place in Islam or in the 21st century, but that doesn’t stop barbaric terrorist organizations from unleashing chaos on this world — especially when it’s directed at gay and lesbian Muslims. To those unfamiliar with Islam, Muslims can be seen as a religious group hostile to homosexuality. The narrative sometimes told emphasizes, for example, gay refugees from Palestine afraid to confront their families and Hamas, but there’s another story in the making, right here in the frontier: young American-Muslims that are supportive of gay marriage, and are active in making great strides for LGBTQ rights.
When the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday legalized same-sex marriages in all 50 states, many American-Muslims were thrilled with the news. For these Muslims, their own religion convictions support their views on gay marriage and believe that God’s compassion trumps all. “At the end of the day, for me ... faith is about love, tolerance, and kindness toward my fellow human beings,” says Alex Shams, a 25-year-old Iranian-American journalist in Palestine.
“Islam, like other faiths, is about seeking and understanding eternal truths, and I firmly believe that there as many paths to the Truth as there are people on this Earth. A faith that is not based in love is for me no faith at all, and anything that takes us away from the commandment to love our fellow humans is guiding us away from religion and from the Truth, in my opinion," he adds.
Katie Dunaway, a bisexual Muslim, echoes Shams' words and believes religion places an emphasis on justice. “Islam places a premium on social justice. This ruling is absolutely in line with Islamic values, and I personally could not be more thrilled about it,” says Dunaway, who resides in Austin, Texas. “Marriage is half the religion, as the saying goes.”
But for other Muslims, like 25-year-old college student Hassan Yahya Patterson, what is written about homosexuality in the Qu'ran transcends human intellect.
“i think that Allah's uncreated speech is so far transcendent and beyond what we can understand that it becomes precarious to try to use the Qu'ran in an exceedingly literal and legalistic way,” says the Ethnic Studies undergraduate at Metropolitan State in St. Paul, Minnesota. “So when Abu Mansur Maturidi [a highly respected scholar of Islamic jurisprudence during the Islamic Golden Age of the the 9th century] says that the precepts of Islam are in the fitra [Arabic word closely translated to “primordial human nature”] or innate ways of being, you kind of have to look inside yourself and meditate on this to come to what should be.”
Patterson makes the argument that being accepting of gay and lesbian couples are more in line of God’s characteristics. "Hate is more egotistic and prideful,” Patterson adds. “Acceptance seems more in line with the characteristics of Allah like love and mercy.”
And for Islamic scholars like Omid Safi, Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, standing in support for gay marriage has more to do with being simply a decent human being. According to Safi, someone’s religious convictions should never stand in the way of someone else’s liberty.
“I have not forgotten that existing interpretations of shari'a so far prohibit same-sex activity. Fine, that’s our business, our own internal religious conversation,” Safi writes in his Religion News Service column “What Would Muhammad Do?” “But we are here talking about the state recognizing a marriage, not a state dictating to religious traditions what they should or should not teach.”
The Iranian-American professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies goes on to make the point that some rights shouldn’t only be granted to a certain group.
We don’t want a society in which some people are "kind of" married, sort of married. We don’t want a two-tiered model of marriage. We don’t want a two-tiered model of justice. We don’t want a two-tiered model of citizenship. A two-tiered justice is not justice, and a two-tiered citizenship is not real citizenship.
"Some would say, as the Prophet Muhammad said: 'Do not do onto others what you dislike for yourself,'" Safi wrote.
These words of LGBTQ support are accompanied by the actions of American Muslims. Daaiyee Abdullah, America’s first openly gay imam, is the only imam to provide funeral services to Muslims that died from AIDS. And he’s also turning to Islamic scripture to quell the homophobia that runs through the conservative crowds of Muslims.
“There’s nothing in the Koran that speaks against homosexuality. The Lut [Lot] story speaks about heterosexual men who use homosexual sexual acts as a form of punishment,” Abdullah told the Washington, D.C., LGBT publication Metro Weekly in an interview. "When you read it literally, it says, 'men who turn away from their wives or mates.' Gay [men] don’t tend to have [female] mates unless it’s a cultural situation they’re forced into, by family or culture."
Aside from Abdullah's contributions, a plethora of internet groups are forming for Muslims to stand up for LGBTQ rights and education. Facebook groups like Radical Muslims (not what you think), Muslims Against Homophobia and LGBT Hate, and organizations like Muslims For Progressive Values are not only providing safe spaces for LGBT Muslims, but creating a discussion and providing them the platform to be a part of it.
Although the American-Muslim community have been making great progress in actively seeking ways to reform their own communities when it comes to the discussion of homosexuality and LGBTQ rights, Shams believes that there is still a lot more work to be done by society as a whole.
"I believe that marriage is an important step toward gaining more rights and acceptance in the United States and around the world," Shams says. "But it is just that, one step, and much, much more must be done to further the cause of justice and equality for all."
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