on gay muslims
By Leila T.
As far as taboos go, few loom larger in Muslim society than that of homosexuality. While the mainstream party line has been to deny and denounce, murmurs from the left have been gaining momentum as they call out for a more gay-friendly interpretation of Islam. In a debate that seems to polarize instantly, is a moderate “solution” to the question of homosexuality in Islam attainable?
In 2001, Egyptian officials stormed a cruise boat come gay-nightclub that was moored on the Nile and arrested 52 partying men -known thereafter as the “Cairo 52”- despite the fact that in Egypt (as in Jordan) homosexual activity is not illegal. A prosecutor on the “Cairo 52” case summed up the opinion of Egypt’s majority when he stated to the court that, “Egypt has not and will not be a den for the corruption of manhood, and homosexual groups will not establish themselves here.”
Much of Egypt’s media stood by the prosecution, printing the real names and addresses of the men and labeling them “agents against the state.” By 2003, twenty-one were convicted of “habitual practice of debauchery” (three years in prison), one man of “contempt for religion,” and another, the “ringleader,” was convicted of both charges and received five years of hard labor.
So, where does this Islamic aversion to homosexuality stem from? Many have noted a strong correlation between the attitude that certain Muslim leaders hold towards homosexuality and their attitude towards “the West” in general. As scholar Brian Whitaker argued to the Guardian, perceptions of an over bearing, “decadent” west “coupled with fears of globalization and modernity” have brought about the spread of very rigid interpretations of religion that leave little room for fringe or unorthodox opinions. A much publicized (and much derided) example of this attitude came in September of 2007 when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a lecture-hall full of uber-libral Columbia graduate students that “in Iran we don’t have homosexuals like they do in your country.” While even some progressive scholars later conceded that Ahmadinejad was correct in differentiating between the relatively public and political nature of homosexuality in the West versus the very underground manner in which it exists in Iran, few in the audience or the media interpreted his comments as anything other than bigoted or imbecilic; his attempt to chalk homosexuality up as a Western phenomenon fell on very deaf ears.
"It's a great option... I get married to a lesbian, we sleep in different rooms and remain friends. Meanwhile, i can have a boyfriend." - Syed Mansoor
Though “the West” –bashing is always a popular sport, most Islamic leaders tend to focus on the Qu’ran when arguing that homosexuality and Islam are entirely irreconcilable. The story of the prophet Lot and the people of Sodom is really at the crux of their argument, and is also paramount of Christianity and Judaism for the same reason. To put it briefly: Two angels visit Lot and warn him that the city is about to be destroyed; the people of Sodom show up on Lot’s doorstep demanding he turn over the visitors so that they might, presumably, rape or molest them; Lot refuses and chastises them for ‘leaving off their natural affection for women and approaching men with lust,’ the city is destroyed, Lot escapes, and his wife turns to look back and is also destroyed.
The dominant opinion in Islam has been to interpret this story as a straightforward condemnation of homosexual acts; if a man lusts after another, he will be damned. The Muslim mainstream has remained fairly unflinching on this point with conservative and moderate leaders alike openly vocalizing their condemnation of gays in Islam. 2006 found the Head of the Muslim Council of Britain Sir Iqbal Sacranie (considered moderate enough to be knighted in 2005) commenting on BBC that homosexuality, specifically homosexual unions, are “harmful” and “not acceptable.” Similarly, Jordan’s Sheik Hamdi Murad commented to Pulp that “people of both genders that practice homosexuality are committing one of the biggest sins in Islam, bigger even than adultery as is goes against man’s natural instincts to engage in sex with people of the opposite gender.”
Threatened and disparaged, life for those individuals that identify as gay and Muslim is, to say the very least, complicated. “It’s such a big wrong in the Koran that it is impossible to be accepted,” Ayman, a gay Muslim currently residing in San Francisco, told The New York Times in 2007.
“I still feel like I’m a Muslim; I don’t accept that anyone insults the faith… When I read what it says in the Quran, then I fear Judgment Day.” in addition to the crippling guilt and fear that can often come from feeling at odds with one’s own religion, Muslim gays must also grapple with the added pressure to marry, settle down, and start a family. As Hasan, a 21-year old man living in Berlin, put it this January (2008) to the Herald Tribune, “I’m living one life here and the other one the way they wish me to be.” He said that despite his homosexuality he still planned to marry when he turned 30, as his parents wished. “I have to have children, to do what Islam wants me to do,” he concluded.