Thursday, 1 December 2011

Muslim States Must Support LGBT Rights

by Melody Moezzi
Author, Speaker, Attorney, UN Global Expert
Published in Huffington Post (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

Last week, in an historic and long-overdue move, the United Nations passed a resolution recognizing the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people around the world. With South Africa leading the charge, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted in favor of the resolution by a narrow margin of 23 to 19, with three abstentions. The new declaration holds that no one should be subject to discrimination or violence based on her or his sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sounds like common sense to me, something that ought to go without saying, but unfortunately, it cannot go without saying. According to Amnesty International, 76 countries around the world continue to criminalize consensual same-sex relations, and whether as a result of discriminatory legal systems or hate crimes or suicide, one thing is certain: gays, lesbians and transgender individuals are being killed, tortured and victimized all over the world, simply for being who they are.

If that isn't the very definition of a human rights violation, I'm not sure what is. The LGBT community represents the most vulnerable and marginalized sector of nearly every society worldwide, and as such, it's vital that international bodies like the U.N. speak up in support of LGBT rights. Likewise, because it is so often religion that is abused and misused to justify the assault, murder and harassment of gays, lesbians and transgender people, it is equally important for religious individuals, groups and organizations to stand up in defense of the LGBT community.

As a Muslim, it is my moral obligation to speak out and stand up whenever I see an injustice being carried out, and if I see any particular group that is especially vulnerable or marginalized, it is my moral duty to rush to that community's aid. So, it's especially painful for me to see Muslim majority countries and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) voting against this historic U.N. resolution. If it was, as I suspect, some alleged affinity for Islam that led Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan, Senegal or other OIC countries to oppose this resolution, I have some words of caution and advice for the OIC.

First, as Muslims, I'm sure you know that it is your religious duty to pursue peace and justice and that there is no sin worse than oppressing another human being. So, no matter your personal theological opinion or your interpretation of the Biblical story of Lot, it is incumbent upon you to resist oppression, and in doing so, to protect those who happen to be most vulnerable to it in any given time or place.

Second, if we, as Muslims, expect our rights to be respected around the world, then we too must respect the rights of other minority groups. This includes the LGBT community. As Muslims, we know what it's like to live in a world that can be hostile and discriminatory. Therefore, we have an even greater obligation to create the least hostile and discriminatory planet we can.

Let's face it, my dear OIC member states, there are alarmingly large numbers of people out there who are convinced that Islam is the devil incarnate, that we Muslims are out to conquer and destroy the world, and that Islam is both "wrong" and "immoral." I know that these people exist because they love sending me emails. That said, I vehemently disagree with all of them, and I thank God that their hatred and bigotry hold no weight in any American court of law. So too, your intolerance and homophobia should hold no more legal weight than any of my pen pals' vicious Islamophobia.

Finally, the LGBT Muslim community, along with their many heterosexual allies such as myself, will not let bigots and homophobes define our religion for us or for the rest of the world. We have scholars and imams in our ranks, and we refuse to be considered "less Muslim" because of our sexual orientation, gender identity or our choice to acknowledge that such distinctions are in fact God-given.

Thus, the OIC member states that chose to oppose the recent U.N. LGBT rights resolution have not spoken for Muslims worldwide, and this is one Muslim who isn't about to let them try.

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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Thank you Mufti Sahab, for helping me out of the closet" - Tamash Been

by Tamash Been
The blogger wishes to remain anonymous
Published The Express Tribune Blogs

From every angle, I am your typical Pakistani middle class urbanite twenty-something. There is nothing about my mannerisms, wardrobe or grooming that differentiates me from anyone in my social circle. However, even some of my best friends don’t know my deepest darkest secret, a secret that I have been suppressing for far too many years now: I am gay.

This is a story of what made me come out to my best friends: a Mufti sahab.

On Sept 6 2011, on the show Frontline, which is hosted by Kamran Shahid some panelists were discussing personal freedom in an Islamic society.

The debate touched upon a get together held at the US Embassy in Islamabad to celebrate Gay Pride on June 26, 2011. Being in the closet, I was interested in how the panelist viewed sexuality. Two of the commentators, Orya Maqbool Jan and Mufti Abdul Qawi, both of whom represent the ideological right of the country made some rather hurtful remarks about gay people. However, when the Mufti sahab referred to gays as “worse than animals” something snapped in me. In an epiphany, I realized the absurdity, the ridiculousness, the ignorance of the people who think they are the moral compass of the society. Suddenly, my self-worth was independent of their narrative. I got my ‘gay pride’. The very next day, I came out to my best friend, and then to another one, and then to another one.

I had been repressing my sexuality throughout my teenage years. I remained sane and out of trouble by ignoring my urges, and compartmentalizing my life. However, I always ended up facing questions about my sexuality, time and time again. Even though I knew I was gay I could not bear the shame of admitting it – not even to myself. Not to mention, my concept of piety and my basic belief system would have been challenged as well.

I am not the only one with that predicament.

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) individuals do exist in Pakistan. And they come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, from every background, from different classes in the society. This is not a Western phenomenon as many contend but a natural one. Given that homosexuality is found in every culture, in every part of the world, throughout history, calling it ‘unnatural’ is a bit na├»ve. Nobody chooses to be in a minority, especially in an intolerant society like of Pakistan’s.

For most Pakistani LGBT individuals, reconciling their upbringing, social background, religious beliefs, and sexuality, causes mental anguish. The question that faces Pakistani LGBT individuals is, essentially, how much to suppress their inherent instincts, and comply with the societal rules regarding sexuality. Our society is too communal, too conservative, too compliant to be conducive to accepting anyone who is a bit deviant from the heteronormative lifestyle. For the majority, defying these norms is essentially considered an invitation to be ostracized from the community. Many suppress their sexuality, get married, and continue living the lie.

Hence, the hardest thing for me was to accept I was gay.

Usually, LGBT individuals, everywhere, tend to either somehow try to reconcile their beliefs and sexuality or reject their beliefs straight away. In any case, that acknowledgement of self is the first step, very much like with any other problem.

But thanks to one Mufti sahab’s ignorant hate speech, I suddenly became emboldened enough to reject false moral values, with my own.

Mufti Abdul Qawi’s “worse than animal” comment hit a nerve.

Why would I, as a middle class urban individual, choose to be gay? I cannot live that lifestyle openly in Pakistan, so how could I choose to be in that confrontational position? The learned Mufti Sahab did not even consider qualifying his sweeping statement, like a learned man is supposed to do.

Can I live life as an openly gay man in Pakistan? No.

Do I envisage a Pakistan with a tolerant attitude towards its LGBT citizens, which guarantees them equal freedoms and rights?No.

Did I do something revolutionary? No.

Yet, he had called me “worse than an animal.” He denigrated my existence on the basis of something that I have no power over.

I had to take my identity back from these bigots. They shouldn’t have any bearing on what I feel about myself. I needed to reclaim my own identity; as a Pakistani gay man I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am. Why should my self-worth be based on what someone with no sense of perspective applies to most society who shared his beliefs? I was finally a free man.

The response I got from my friends was far more than I could have imagined. Not only did they understand where I was coming from, but they were also very supportive. Their reaction to my coming out further strengthened that sense of pride within me. For me, it was a cathartic experience, mentally. I was finally starting to go towards a relatively happy place in my mind.

Now, not only do I have support of my friends, I also have people who have my back. When they hear a homophobic rants it might not go unchallenged from now on, as they also have vested interest in this debate now. I would like to believe that this makes a small, albeit important, difference to the people around me, as well.

We are a society obsessed with conservatism, where people rarely come to a common platform especially for liberal causes. How would this society react to someone standing up and demanding rights and recognition for LGBT individuals? Not great, I’m presuming. However, these small steps help, in one’s own personal space.

Thank you, Mufti sahab, for empowering me with your ignorance.

Salat al-Istikhara: God's Answer Key for Sound Decision-Making

Daliah Merzaban
Middle East journalist and analyst
Published in Huffington Pos. All Rights Reserved. Copyright.
Posted: 11/ 7/11 11:01 AM ET

The other day I was talking to my sister about an important decision I am on the verge of making. I have had to overcome a good deal of hesitation in trying to reach my final decision, although events have unfolded in a manner that is pushing me more and more in the direction of taking this next step.

Sensing my indecision, my sister replied with only one simple line: "Sometimes, we just have to follow the path God paves for us."

At that, the sequence of thoughts in my head paused for a moment and I found myself at ease. While my mind may wander at times in worry and uncertainty, it always comes back to this very simple lesson: God's will will prevail. Whether we spend time fretting and worrying or not, we will find ourselves both drawn and pushed in directions we perhaps had not expected, and events will unfold exactly as they should.

It is easy to lose sight of this when we are standing at a crossroads, compelled to make important choices that will fundamentally change our lives. They could be decisions on whether to accept a job offer, move ahead with a marriage proposal, relocate, pursue a new business venture, make an investment or buy a home. Very often, these choices are not clear-cut and are weaved in personal sacrifice, loss and gain. Choosing a certain path may seem less desirable than we had expected good decisions would feel, sometimes precarious and fraught with uncertainty.

While weighing the pros and cons of these decisions, we will often do some soul searching and seek advice from family members, friends and colleagues. Yet I have found that as a Muslim, someone who is striving to live in submission to God, it is important not to underestimate the power of turning to the Almighty for guidance in decision-making, big and small.

While using reason and logic in determining what outcome is better for us, we must also involve God in all decisions through careful prayer and supplications. Muslims will often perform a special prayer for guidance, Salat al-Istikhara, to help us reach important decisions. When offering this prayer, we ask God to guide us to the right choice concerning any affair in life.

The prayer requires that I ask God with sincerity if the action I intend to do "is better for my religion and faith, for my life and end, for here (in this world) and the hereafter then make it destined for me and make it easy for me and then add blessings in it, for me."

And alternatively, "if this action is bad for me, bad for my religion and faith, for my life and end, for here (in this world) and the hereafter then turn it away from me and turn me away from it and whatever is better for me, ordain that for me and then make me satisfied with it."

Istikhara prayer is meant to make evident specific choices that resolve our dilemmas and answer our questions in the most-favourable way. In essence, istikhara requests from God the clarity of a situation so that the appropriate choices rise from beneath our distractions and confusion. At the same time, the prayer also requests that wrong decisions be made indisputable through impenetrable obstacles.

Performing istikhara properly means truly leaving the matter to God and withholding our own inclinations and emotions. It is trusting that once we have put forth the proper, earnest effort toward pursuing our goals, then God will make events unfold in the direction that is best for us.

"You may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad for you," God informs us in the Holy Quran (2:216) "God knows but you do not know." To truly embrace this idea is quite challenging in practice, because we can find ourselves persuaded that certain situations, scenarios or relationships are the best for us. When they fail to happen or persist we are often dissatisfied, frustrated and feel a sense of loss or neglect.

There have been numerous times in my life when I have been convinced that one option is right for me. Then, within a matter of weeks or months, an entirely different scenario unfolds, sometimes revealing the inconsistencies of my previous disposition. In the end, we cannot fully grasp why one path we are guided toward is better for us than another.

Striving to live in submission demands that we understand and accept that we lack the foresight to know what is good for us at all times. It involves accepting what life deals us, whether our immediate perception of the consequence is positive or negative. I have tried as much as possible to internalize the idea that every step we take is exactly as it was meant to be, although doing so can be difficult indeed.

The right path is certainly not always the easiest but if we follow His cues, we will be certain about the appropriateness of each choice we find ourselves moving toward. When we involve God in each decision, even in the face of a doubtful outcome, we can say Alhamdulillah (Praise to God), trusting that He will guide us to what is best.

How Will Facebook and Twitter Impact Islam?

by Nidhal Guessoum
Professor of Physics and Astronomy at American University of Sharjah, UAE
Published in Huffington Post, UK. All Rights Reserved. Copyright.
Posted: 11/29/11 08:14 AM ET

During a recent Friday sermon, a young Muslim sitting next to me took out his Blackberry and started to check his messages (while the Imam was giving his speech). I was quite stunned. The young man then put away his smartphone, but 10 minutes later took it out again and typed a few things. That gave me a good indication of both his (short) attention span and the addiction to cyberspace that youngsters have fallen victim to these days.

I could not shake off this little scene from my mind, so I later googled "Twitter and religious services", and lo and behold, I found pages titled "Tweeting during church services gets blessing of pastors" (an article in the Houston Chronicle two years ago) and "Does God Tweet?", an online forum organized by the Washington Post two years ago, where 16 contributors presented their thoughts on whether a relationship with God can be established through Twitter. Can prayer be reduced to a 140-character statement? Can we no longer free our minds, quiet our inner selves, focus on our spiritual dimension, and establish a meaningful religious state of being?

I thus wondered how Twitter, Facebook, and current and future social networking and micro-blogging tools will affect religions in general and Islam in particular. My worries were heightened when I found an article titled "25 Reasons Why Twitter Is Spiritual," but none of the reasons were remotely convincing.

Facebook poses another set of challenges and concerns for Muslims. First and foremost is the freedom of speech that either can be much greater than many Muslims are accustomed to (in their countries) or can be abused to the point of becoming hate speech. There have already been a number of instances where a page was set up to publicly and crudely "criticize" Islam, and last month an Egyptian was jailed for "insulting Islam" on Facebook.

In reaction to this, some Muslims have either waged Facebook-boycott campaigns or just went ahead and created Muslim social networks, e.g.,, or

Other concerns that many Muslims have with Facebook relate to the loss of "virtual modesty," of "correct behavior" and of privacy. The concern over "modesty" refers to images that can be deemed indecent. "Correct behavior" decries the loss of inhibition that people exhibit online, often in stark contrast to their everyday personalities, and the hypocrisy of voicing views online that are quite different from one's beliefs and practices in "real life". And the issue of privacy online is well known.

Finally, there is the huge problem of time waste in social-networking activity. Two years ago, a study was conducted among evangelical Christian college students; these were found to spend an average of 18.6 hours a week on social media, half of that on Facebook. Interestingly, 54 percent of these religious students reported that "they were neglecting important areas in their life due to spending too much time [on that activity]." On the other hand, 43 percent of the students stated that this helped alleviate stress in their lives, and 35 percent reported that their social relationships were improved by that. The authors of the study warned against the negative impact that this time waste will have on the religious activities (prayer, Bible study, attending services, serving others, etc.) of the users of social media.

And indeed, as I mentioned in my last column, an important Iranian cleric recently warned his students of the "dangers and temptations" of the Internet and advised them to "spend more time praying and less time clicking through cyberspace."

Two conferences have recently been devoted to exploring the impact of 'new media' on the discourse among Muslims (worldwide) and with other religious communities (interfaith dialogues).

Last April, an online "conference" was organized on "The Future of Islam in the Age of New Media," which consisted of 60 speakers, who each spoke for one minute on the topic. Most of the speakers spoke enthusiastically about the effects that the new media are having on the Islamic discourse and culture. Some participants, however, expressed some interesting concerns.

The most important effect that was highlighted is that the new media are allowing a larger exposure of ideas regarding Islam and giving people new freedoms to discover or express thoughts that have often been hidden from view. Muslims are becoming more aware of the diversity within their tradition and can now shape their opinions in a more informed way. This democratization of the Islamic opinions, however, has turned into a "fragmentation," a plethora of views with no core or reference frame. Moreover, a "ghettoization of views" has occurred (as has been observed with other obscure views or groups): liked-minded people linking up and reinforcing each other's views.

There is also much greater female participation in the discussions concerning Islam, as Muslim women have avidly taken to blogging, even in the more conservative countries.

The new media also offer interesting opportunities for exchanges with "others," a chance to counter Islamophobia or just plain ignorance, provided that one gets out of his/her "ghetto" or bubble of similar views.

However, one must be careful not to give these new tools more credit or power than they actually have. After all, only a small fraction (10 to 15 percent) of Muslims worldwide has access to the internet, according to the 2011 Global Information Technology Report. Moreover, the internet and the new media, require a certain level of education and sophistication. Thus, the impact that the new media are having on Muslims' views and understanding of their religion is -- for now -- largely confined to the well-educated segments of society.

The organizer of this online conference has now started a second phase of the project, where some of the speakers are brought back for more in-depth interviews. They will be exploring the main themes that emerged in Phase 1.

The other conference I wish to highlight is one that was recently devoted to the exploration of the effect of social networks on interfaith dialogues: "Social Media and Inter-Religious Dialogue: A New Relationship," which was organized in October 2011 in Doha, Qatar.

The conference aimed at addressing a number of themes, including: social media as a tool for dialogue instead of hateful attacks, and how to develop religious frameworks and ethical regulations to protect society from the misuse of these tools -- a 'Global Code of Conduct' for respecting sanctities and religions.

Clearly, the new media and social networks have created a new dynamic within religious communities, including Muslims. Some effects are already being felt, both in the practice and in the formulation and understanding of the religion itself. This is one of the most important developments of our times.

Doha Debates: "This House believes that political Islam is a threat to the West"