Muslim-Americans cannot ignore the proverbial pink elephant in the room any longer: What is Islam’s stand on homosexuality and how should we deal with the LGBT identity of our fellow-Americans, some of whom are Muslims themselves?
We owe the victims of the Orlando massacre and their families at least this much honesty and clarity, without which we can rightly be labeled as rank hypocrites.
Let’s first consider what the Quran says on the topic, the most quoted of which are five verses from chapter 27 (54-58) about the people of Prophet Lot, which is the same biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Prophet Lot had warned his people of immorality for approaching men with desire instead of women. These men attempted to sexually assault even the angels who had come down to Lot in the guise of men. As a consequence, God destroyed the people of Lot with a shower of brimstone.
As the Turkish writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty wrote, most Muslims have traditionally interpreted these verses to mean that Lot’s people were wiped out because of homosexuality, ignoring the other equally valid possibility that they were subjected to divine punishment for attacking Lot’s guests, in other words, for sexual aggression.
Even more significant in the Quranic telling is that the people were punished by God and not by man, including Prophet Lot. The Quran does not indicate any earthly punishment, in contrast to the Old Testament, for instance, which commands that gays “are to be put to death.”
So why this irrational, and often fatal, homophobia against gays and LGBT communities in so many Muslim countries?
(Just last April in Bangladesh, for instance, Xulhaz Mannan, a leading gay rights activist and editor of the country’s only LGBT magazine, who had also previously worked at the United States embassy in Dhaka, was hacked to death by fanatics, a killing that drew sharp criticism from the US ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat.)
It comes mostly from century-old Islamic laws—known as Shariah—derived from the Quran and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad by men who are, we often forget, as fallible as the average Muslim. The essence of Shariah, as promulgated by these mostly unchallenged scholars, and blindly and unthinkingly accepted by a large number of Muslims, is that homosexuality is a disease in need of a cure, failing which persons “guilty” of it deserve cruel and unusual punishment.
We Muslim-Americans have to counter this interpretation and lead the fight against the stigmatization of the LGBT community.
There are two main reasons:
First, we cannot cherry pick our fights. We cannot fight injustice against, say, Black Americans and marginalized communities that include us, while shunning minority communities like the LGBT community and secretly or openly harboring hatred toward them. If we ourselves discriminate against any community, we have to put up with discrimination against our own. (More than half of all Americans have a negative view of Muslims!) It’s as simple as that.
Second, and more importantly, it is the Quran that, in fact, instructs us to treat minority communities with care and respect. Muslims believe that the Quran contains no contradictions, that its inner consistency is one of the miraculous signs of the divine text.
The way we interpret any verse of the Quran, therefore, must be consistent with the interpretation of any other verse. Consider this verse: “Believers, stand firm for God and be witnesses for justice. Never allow the hatred of people to prevent you from being just. Be just, for that is next to piety.” (5:8)
In the light of this verse, can we claim to be just and pious if we are unjust toward others?
No. In fact, we are being true to our faith when we fight for the rights of others, particularly those we may disagree with, leaving judgment to God alone. In the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
To do otherwise, to impose judgment on those we deem beneath us, would be an act of arrogance, a vice condemned in several Quranic verses.
Ultimately, we must decide what country we Muslim-Americans want America to be. Should we carry a grudge against the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in America, thereby silently acquiescing in the marginalization of the LGBT community? Or should we extend our empathy to the downtrodden, as Islam requires us to?
For me, and for many of my fellow Muslim-Americans whom I have spoken with, the choice is clear. We are for the rights of everyone to lead their lives as they want to, even if we disagree with them. Live and let live, with dignity and empathy.
Given that it is in America that we can practice Islam with more freedom than in any other so-called “Muslim country,” it is our duty and responsibility to demand that this message is also broadcast by our Imams and scholars from the more than two thousand mosques throughout America.
Hasan Zillur Rahim is a professor of Mathematics at San Jose City College. He emigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S. four decades ago. “Earthians.” First published by New America Media