Published in Washington Post
June 13th 2016
Copyright, All Rights Reserved
Muslim Americans. LGBT Americans. One would imagine that the marginalized would unite.
the straight Muslim man who is profiled at the airport for his bushy,
long beard to the transgender Muslim who fears being shunned from the
mosque held so dear to heart and faith — is there so much distance?
those who are marginalized are not immune to their own prejudices and
phobias. Omar Mateen, who killed at least 49 people in a gay nightclub
in Orlando on Sunday morning, offers a chilling example.
spent more than a decade researching Islamic masculinities, including
five years living and teaching in Florida before I moved last year. I
have heard some Western Muslim leaders step haltingly toward acceptance.
But most of what I have heard, when Muslim leaders speak to the LGBT
believers in their midst, is callous disregard or deafening silence.
can no longer go on without accepting every Muslim of every sexuality.
Sunday’s violence in Orlando proves that all too painfully.
have monitored the evolving statements of Western Muslim leaders — most
of whom are straight — over the years, here’s what I have heard: a
slight movement with regard to LGBT issues by some. Many are silent, but
some have realized that the issue must now be publicly addressed,
especially with the rise of countries adopting same-sex-marriage bills.
are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims who stand proud in
their understanding that they have a God-given right to claim their
gender and sexuality. But the religious leaders who speak out at all on
LGBT issues say only this — reluctant and guarded — “Hate the sin and
not the sinner.” From the discussions I have had informally with these
leaders, this is as far as they think they can go without losing their
This sort of cautious stance echoes repeatedly. Muslim writer Mehdi Hasan headlined his 2013 essay
on the subject, “As a Muslim, I struggle with the idea of homosexuality
— but I oppose homophobia.” University of Oxford professor Tariq
before that, “Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam,” but “we must avoid
condemning or rejecting individuals.” There are dozens more statements
like these only a YouTube search away.
In the anxious day since the shooting in Orlando, this horrific event
seems to be making Muslim communities at last stand up and make bolder
statements about the LGBT community. But not all offer support. There
are those on social media — Muslim and Christian, in the Middle East and
the United States — who basically applaud the disgusting actions of
Mateen. And surely it is easier to focus on “the other” than to admit
that there is a true overlap between the Muslim community and the LGBT
community, and between Islamophobia and homophobia.
Muslim communities are saying it: LGBT Muslims do exist. They face both
Islamophobia and homophobia every day. And they are grieving.
is a thorny issue within Muslim communities, who find it difficult to
find the rainbow within historical, rigid understandings of the
tradition. But it is possible to f
Of course, it is also easy to find the dark,
gloom or heterocentric within the Muslim tradition. We must remember
that much of this “tradition” was written by heterosexual Muslim men who
may have been pressured to uphold particular forms of gender and sexual
custom in print.
challenge for Muslim communities around the globe today is to find and
appreciate differences and pluralism and to support the lives of
believers who do not fit societal norms. It is imperative if we want to
support those on the margins who are hurt and damaged.
We need to
think carefully about what goes through the mind of that closeted
Muslim man listening to the statements today, who may well end up
married to someone of the opposite sex because he fears losing his
position in his Muslim community. We need to think carefully about what
these statements do to empower heterosexual Muslim individuals, who then
stand to represent not just Islam but the “ideal” gender and sexuality.
Are the small steps by Muslim leaders enough? Is this slight movement
enough to prevent hatred and killing? There is no quick fix to this
tension. But just as heterosexual Muslims combat Islamophobia through
their loud voices, they must also now listen and accept the voices of
LGBT Muslims as equals within the fold of Islam.
Much of our
effort in the West to combat extremist ideology relies on building
bridges between people, and many Muslim leaders are the first to take to
the podium in interfaith dialogue. In light of the Orlando shooting, it
is now untenable to have this dialogue of action without including and
accepting every face of marginalization within faith communities
— especially the LGBT people who are essential partners in our desire
for a bright and colorful world.
Amanullah De Sondy, author of “The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities,”
taught Islamic studies at the University of Miami. He now lives in
Ireland, where he teaches at University College Cork.