Gay Men in Islam

Let’s continue our exploration of homophobia in world religions with a look at gay men in Islam. Most Islamic regimes across the globe, are oppressive to queer people. Homosexual acts may even be punishable by death. Is there a way forward for queer Muslims?

The Islamic Position on Homosexuality

Islam is the second largest religion on the planet with over a billion followers on six continents. With such diversity, consensus can’t happen. Differences between groups and their positions on queer people vary widely and are becoming more pronounced.

Moderate positions on our rights are held almost exclusively by Muslims in the West. Muslim communities here continue to be pushed to re-examine their positions. Muslims, like LGBT people, are among the most oppressed groups in our societies.

In many Muslim countries, homosexuality is illegal, in some, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, punishable by death. But, there are relatively few prosecutions for these “crimes”.  Muslims prefer to believe that gay people don’t exist and that homosexuality is an imported problem.

Historically things have been better in the Muslim world. In the 19th and early 20th centuries gay men often fled to Morocco to escape persecution. Male partnerships were recognized in a ceremony in the remote oasis of Siwa in Egypt.

Homophobia is not unique to Muslims in the Middle East. Egypt and Lebanon both have large Christian populations and their attitudes towards homosexuality are similar. The change required goes beyond religion.

Muslim Justifications for Homophobia

Most Islamic scholars agree that homosexuality is incompatible with theology. This is most often justified by the story of Lot which echoes the Sodom and Gomorrah story in the Old Testament. But, this story was never about being gay. It was about rape.

While it is clear that the prophet Mohammed spoke about the need for punishment of homosexual acts.  He never specified  what it should be. There is no religious basis for the extreme positions taken by some Muslims. 

Internalized Homophobia Among Muslims

Queer people in Muslim environments are subjected to the kind of oppression that leads to internalized homophobia. When someone sees their sexuality as wrong they suffer significant hits to their self-esteem and mental health. 

Omar Mateen, the man responsible for the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, was thought to be a closeted gay man. He used gay dating apps and visited gay bars including the nightclub where the massacre took place. Self-hating gay men continue to be a significant threat to our communities. Finding a path for these men to accept themselves serves us all.

Expectations of Conformity

Marriage is extremely important in Muslim society. Someone remaining single is disastrous to the family. Arranged marriages are still common. Society as a whole takes precedence while the preferences and rights of the individual are secondary. Those rights are not placed above the enforcement of societal norms.

A gay man may be ostracized but his family for refusing to marry. In some cases, gay men have been murdered by their relatives when their sexuality was discovered.

Queer Rights

Organized gay rights activism began in the Middle East in the early 2000s. In 2004 a group of Lebanese activists started Helem, the first queer organization to function openly in an Arab country. There are several gay-friendly mosques and a few openly gay imams in the West. But, they are a rarity. The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity hosts an annual retreat for LGBTQ Muslims in Pennsylvania.

LGBT Muslims have become visible. It’s impossible for anyone to deny that we exist in Arab countries.  A growing number of Islamic scholars in the West believe that condemnation of queer people is wrong. There is hope that we can move the rights of queer Muslims forward. Non-Muslims must support their fight. None of us is free until we all are.

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