Coming out for queer Muslims
by Junaid Jahangir
As in other religions, coming out for queer Muslims is fraught with challenges posed by the self styled guardians of faith. Many queer Muslims live cloistered or closeted lives because instead of treating them with dignity, conservative Muslim leaders try to silence them when they speak out.
Where conservative Muslim leaders are afraid of changes in their lifestyle, closeted queer Muslims are afraid of social ostracism. Both elect the easier road by not directly addressing an ethically pressing issue.
Conservative Muslim leaders cheapen the discourse by treating it as one of permissibility of sex. However, the lives of closeted people indicate that one does not need permission for sex.
On the other hand, some queer Muslims choose to internalize scriptural abuse. It is quite possible that they become poster boys for celibacy campaigns to deal with racism, narcissism and hyper-sexuality within some gay subcultures.
However, Tunisian Professor Abdelwahab Bouhdiba has aptly noted that ‘hyper-sexuality and religious Puritanism are certainly convenient ways of escaping our responsibilities and masking our failures’.
The issue at hand is the affirmation of one’s humanity, of both one’s spiritual and God given legitimate human need for sexual expression. Based on the Prophet’s teaching on following the middle path, the challenge is to situate this middle path between celibacy and promiscuity.
However, one may not expect many conservative Muslims to change their opinions on Muslim same-sex unions any time soon. At the same time, queer Muslims cannot allow ill conceived opinions to dictate the course of their precious lives.
Borrowing from Doris Lessing, queer Muslims have the right to be informed by their religious tradition without being bullied by it. As such, they may have to be spiritually chivalrous to magnanimously allow for difference of opinion.
Much has been accomplished by brave queer Muslim activists, who, despite great personal risk, continue to assert their truth with dignity. Against all odds, they have managed to forge faith based communities, along with Muslims for Progressive Values, which espouse slogans of ‘Allah Loves us All’ and ‘Allah made every color of the rainbow’.
Conservative Muslim leaders who themselves are struggling with modernity and faith lose any moral authority by making arguments that strip others of their human dignity. In contrast, queer Muslim activists, instead of losing faith, have taken the higher road and continue to create resources that offer support to the most vulnerable in the society.
In Edmonton, I have tried to address common arguments that are used against queer Muslims through a book chapter, student paper and online magazine articles, Muslim blog post, and more recently in the Edmonton Journal and the Huffington Post here and here. I have also tried to create awareness through the Outreach panel discussions and the Inside/Out presentation at the University of Alberta apart from presentations at three United Churches.
However, if conservative Muslim leaders cannot see the obvious wrongs they are perpetuating in the name of God, then to borrow Dr. Faisal Bari’s words, arguments are futile here. More importantly, even my most sophisticated of arguments are of no consequence if queer Muslims have convinced themselves that they do not deserve any better than either the cloister or the closet.
Borrowing from the 13th century Sufi Shams Tabrizi, queer Muslims should not allow any self styled religious authority to interfere in their relationship with God. Moreover, conservative Muslim leaders should pay heed that their religious duties are of no consequence if they continue to inflict their fossilized rules and harm others.
Queer Muslims can also find comfort in the words of the 13th century Sufi Rumi who suggested that the universe was within oneself where one should look for answers instead of looking elsewhere for guidance. In a similar spirit, he quoted a saying attributed to the Prophet that ‘He who knows himself knows his Lord’.
Based on such wisdom and notwithstanding the legalistic approach of conservative Muslim leaders who would prescribe closeted or cloistered lives, queer Muslims should come out, wherever they are able, and assert their voice for truth. In doing so, they will let their inner light shine and make their lives extraordinary.