Merging Pride and Eid, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, might seem like an unexpected conbination, particularly when viewed through the lens of the mainstream narrative of Islam’s attitude towards homosexuality. There are many in the public sphere who point to Isis executioners throwing gay men off buildings, or to the disappearing of gay men in Chechnya, and question whether Islam is incompatible with queerness, and Pride with Eid.
On June 16th though, Salaam Canada, a group that creates safe spaces for LGBT Muslims, will be hosting a queer Eid and Pride lunch to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. With all the goings-on in the world, how are LGBTQ Muslims actually able to reconcile their religion with their sexuality?
I, too, struggled with this reconciliation after coming out. My Lebanese parents raised me to fast during the month of Ramadan, pray five times a day, and attend Friday prayers from time to time. Despite that, the religion didn’t resonate with me. It felt more like a checklist of what not to do to avoid hellfire rather than it being something spiritual to connect with. When I came out as gay, the faith seemed to get in the way of my finding common ground with my family. I was given a choice, but the only reasonable one was for me to leave the house. I left my religion behind too so in a lot of ways, I didn’t reconcile a thing, which makes me that much more curious about how others do.
Momin Rahman, a sociology professor at Trent University in Canada is working on a study that looks at the the strategies used by LGBT muslims to reconcile Islam with LGBT life. In a phone conversation, he explains that most of the people they spoke to during the study didn’t necessarily see them themselves as religiously Muslim. They saw themselves more as culturally Muslim.
“I think if you have a cultural identification as Muslim then you’re not as concerned with, or you’re not as conflicted about being gay and being Muslim because your Muslim-ness isn’t necessarily specifically religious,” he explains. “I think that that does make it easier.”
But what about those people who are closely connected to their faith and who value what the Qur’an says about who they love?
Lali Mohamed, an advisor for Salaam Canada, is of Somali descent and lives on the intersection of queerness, blackness, and Islam. There was very little talk about homosexuality when he was growing up but, when it was discussed, it was seen as haram, or forbidden. It was difficult for him to acknowledge his sexuality at first but still, he was lucky; he didn’t have a painful reconciliation process because of how he interpreted the Qur’anic text on his own.
“I found the story of Lut and this was the story that was consistently referred to in the mosques when homosexuality was brought up, and it was clear to me almost immediately that the story of Lut wasn’t actually about homosexuality. That is a story about sexual assault, about rape, about unfriendliness and at a very young age for whatever reason I knew that wasn’t about me.”
In Islam, the story of Prophet Lut (or “Lot” in the Hebrew Bible) with the punishment of the people of Sodom is used as a case and point for condemning homosexuality but some argue that the story is a condemnation of male rape not of queer love and consensual gay sex.
In the Qur’an, there is no mention of “homosexuality” explicitly but there is reference to “men who are not in need of women,” but those men aren’t condemned in the text. There’s also an ambiguous verse about punishing two people who engage in a lewd act. Some have interpreted these two people as a man and a woman, and some see them as two men. In any case, the texts advises to leave them alone if they repent and amend.
El-Farouk Khaki (above), the founder of Salaam Canada is the imam at El-Tawhid Juma Circle, a mosque for LGBTQI2S people in Toronto. Khaki believes that the problem with some homophobic interpretations of the story of Lut is that many people read the text with their own cultural biases; when Islam is on its own, it isn’t homophobic, not based on the Qur’an anyway.
The only explicit condemnations of homosexuality come from the Hadith, which are words and stories of the prophet, Muhammad (whereas the Qu’ran is the word of Allah). Khaki takes the Hadith with a grain of salt. If it goes against his understanding of Qur’an and its message, he rejects it.
“The reality is that there is no singular compendium of Hadith… There’s like millions and millions of Hadith and Sunnah that never went into any of the compendiums so it’s an imperfect science,” he says (Sunnah is a set of daily life guidelines based on sayings and deeds of the prophet.) Khaki compares the Hadith to a game of broken telephone, Arab style, and he sees the Hadith and the Sunnah as tools to help interpret the Qur’an, but not to replace it.
Despite all this evidence, its difficult to ignore the fact that queer people are under threat in Muslim regions around the world. Whether it’s the purge of Chechen men, or the entrapment and detainment of queer people in Egypt, it makes it difficult, at times, to defend Islam. The fact that so many of the countries where being queer can get you killed are Muslim majority nations doesn’t help either. But perhaps there’s a danger in isolating Islam over other religions because it makes it seem like homophobia is a Muslim invention rather than an issue that appears in a multitude of religions, cultures and societies. It might minimize the tribulations of LGBTQ people in non-Muslim majority countries too, like those who suffer in Jamaica, Russia, or even in the United States, which has seen an alarming increase in the number of murders of transgender people.
Last year a Pew poll also showed that 52% of Muslims in America believe that homosexuality should have societal acceptance, where only 34% of white evangelical Christians felt the same.
“I like to push back against the narrative that somehow Islam is more homophobic or more misogynistic than, say, another religion,” says Mohamed, “because I think that feeds into a particular Western oriental narrative that Islam, or Muslims, really… that they’re backwards or primitive.”
Although I admit I didn’t really know what Islam said about homosexuality prior to writing this piece—I’d always just assumed it was explicitly against my sexual identity—it doesn’t change much for me. I’ve already developed my own belief system outside of Islam, based on my life experience and it works for me. But it’s not so crazy that there would be a Pride / Eid event next month since there’s no clear evidence that Islam, based on the Qur’an, hates homos. And hopefully that knowledge will pave the way for other LGBT Muslims to reconcile their religion with their sexuality if they’re looking for that.