Ramadan, IDAHOTB and Sexual Diversity

On Sunday, May 17, the world commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia: #IDAHOTB.

This day brings awareness to the bullying, harassment, violence and hate perpetrated by society, against persons of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer plus community – the LGBT+ community.

Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia speak to hate, fear or any negative feeling towards homosexual, trans and/or bisexual persons for various reasons. More often than not, persons do not understand sexuality and gender diversity, (and humans are generally fearful of things they do not understand), oftentimes rejecting it. It is also thought that LGBT persons threaten their understanding of the binaries of gender and sex – just one or the other, when naturally it exists in varieties like everything else does. The most common, it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs, and their religious teachings to reject these persons.

Let’s Talk about Religion.

I grew up in a Roman Catholic home, but converted to Islam when I was just about fifteen. This occurred after a period of soul-searching – when the Church was not giving me an understanding of self, spiritualism and God. It was also a period of conflict, as I was struggling with understanding my own sexuality.

At the age of 16 my dad made some-what of an insensitive joke shared between my mother and I, a joke that I wouldn’t mind hearing from friends now but back then, as I navigated the male-dominated place of worship, and my own insecurities, it was salt on my open wound that my dad would share something so… private.

I ran away from home for a few days.

I ran away from home, I ran away from my friends mocking me, from the embarrassment, I ran away from my religion.

While I returned home three nights later, I ran from Islam for 9 years.

 

Islam and Homophobia 

I decided to return. I have had many years to learn about me, to understand myself and to love myself; it was time to now spiritually re-connect, most of all to understand sexuality and gender diversity from an Islamic perspective.

I used this year, Ramadan – the holiest month in the Islamic calendar – to reconnect.

“Islam” called the religion of Peace isn’t exactly portrayed as peaceful since the late 90’s into the new millennia, and especially after 9/11. Many persons saw terrorism, the war in the middle-east, and what we in the West would see as oppressive societies with massive human rights violations such as gender and social inequalities; persecution of the press, homosexuals, Americans; and no freedom of religion. The hatred for these situations birthed the term, “Islamophobia” – hatred towards all Muslims and their religion.

Islamophobia is minutely expressed in Guyana, in fact we see a more tolerable religion that gives charity, exists in social cohesion and shares in the cultures of the Guyanese society, one such culture shared by all is the culture of homophobia.

I have come to understand that while homosexuality and transgenderism is sinful in Islam, it is not rejected for religious reasons in the West like they would in the East; and while some use their religion to justify their homophobia, for most Muslims, their homophobia comes from the culture that already exists and not the religion itself.

Let me rephrase, I have found that Muslims in Guyana who are homophobic bare these attitudes from the existing homophobic culture, more than they do from the religion itself, even though homosexuality and gender diversity are sinful in the religion. This phenomenon can also be seen in other major religious groups – most Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians in Guyana express the same.

How can someone have a religion that describes a sin, but still support people who live in that sin? While other groups, like the Evangelicals and Pentecostals use the same Bible and its teachings to reject, march against, protest, and say hurtful things against LGBT persons.

Well I wanted to understand my religious community more, and I wanted to use my past experience with boys from the Masjid sniggering at an insensitive joke.

 

A community understanding

I wanted to dive deeper in the minds of Muslims, particularly Muslim men, to understand how our homophobic culture influenced their thoughts and interactions.

IDAHOTB this year fell at the beginning of the holiest period, the last ten days, of this, the holiest month for Muslims. I asked Muslim men on my social media network, “What are your personal views on Islam, and sexual and gender diversity?”

The answers were very diverse, from condemnation of persons who oppress LGBT persons, to interpretations and understandings of the sin of homosexuality. As a light in my heart, I have not received any rejection or opposition, the closest negative answer I received was “I am not supportive of LGBT rights, but rather neutral. If I was against it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation”. 

Here are some of the responses:

“Islam allows for difference of opinion, and religious leaders disagree on many social issues. While most orthodox Muslim scholars are vehemently opposed to homosexuality, there are many progressive Muslim scholars with varied positive opinions about gender and sexual orientation. Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, a contemporary Mauritanian scholar, has argued that ‘[even though] homosexuality is a grievous sin…(a) no legal punishment is stated in the Qur’an for homosexuality…(b) it is not reported that Prophet Muhammad has punished somebody for committing homosexuality…
(c) there is no authentic Hadith reported from the Prophet prescribing a punishment for the homosexuals” – Shaun.

Indeed, the Quran nor did any accounts of the life of the prophet explicitly state “Homosexuality” as a punishable sin, it is often interpreted and placed with the umbrella term “Sexual deviation” or “indecency” which also includes fornication, adultery, and infidelity. While the latter three were expressively mentioned and punished in the life of the prophet, homosexuality was not.

In Quranic context, it is considered a sin due to the story of Prophet Lut (Lot) in the City of Sodom whose inhabitants practiced “indecent behaviours” such as lust, and raping their guests. Some scholars allude sodomy as the main reason Sodom met its fate, while others attribute the rejection of the prophet, attempt to rape Lot’s angelic guests and polytheism as the destruction of the city.

“I just think it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks actually, except the persons it does concern. It’s whether they believe it’s okay or not because I know some Muslims who follow the religion but are conflicted about their sexuality and afraid to explore it because of religion.” – Mursaleen.

This is indeed a sad reality. Some LGBT+ Muslims live in denial, self-rejection and self-hated due to the religious beliefs and societal intolerance. I am hoping this post would make persons understand that they can love themselves and find a supporting community.

“The Quran basically says that there are 2 genders made for each other. On a personal level I don’t practice Islam in every aspect but I adhere to the teaching of Islam in this aspect. While I adhere to this aspect of the teachings, I have no issue with persons who don’t because after all we are all human beings free to make our own choices and I am no one to pass Judgement.” – Azrodeen.

It is a situation of live and let live. If you are not accepting of a person’s personal choice that is your issue. I find it very disrespectful when Muslim scholars or Muslims in general begin to push their views about the LGBT community onto others like in Saudi Arabia, I mean sure you personally don’t accept it, I get that but don’t deny individuals basic human rights especially considering in early days of Islam, Muslims were the guardians of the oppressed. And one of these so-called scholars pointed out that “it’s unnatural”, Like dude the concept of something being unnatural is that it doesn’t exist in nature but this does.” – Athar.

“I don’t have a problem with anyone’s sexual preference but as you may know it’s not fully accepted to be gay or lesbian in Islam, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a Muslim if you are gay or lesbian. I think the Quran states that if two men engage in sexual activities together it’s a sin… like I said you can be Muslim and gay but you’re going to have to accept the sins that come with it. Similarly, like how men and women are Muslims but drink alcohol or do drugs. They are Muslim but they are sinning.” – Akeem

“Islam is a religion of peace and understanding so it should help people to try to be more understanding and more accepting of their fellow human beings.” – Ameer



My concluding understanding, the one I have found to give me comfort is:

“Sexuality is natural. It’s human. I’ll live with it. My religion asks me to suppress such desires or sin and punish, if I do not repent to my God in this life, and on the Day of Judgement. I should fear my God for my sins, but I must understand that God is ever-loving and most forgiving.  I should not feel so helpless and deviant that I turn away from God or my religion. I must live a life where I accumulate more good deeds than bad, for my personal welfare, for society, and in service to God.  Whatever bad deeds I have accumulated I will have to answer for, but I want my creator to know that I loved. I didn’t harm anyone. I tried to live good and to do good for others which also means a peaceful coexistence with my sexuality. Most I can do is minimise my sins, all of them and ask for forgiveness for the few I’ve committed. Mankind should not deny us our rights or equality, nor should mankind cause hardship on our lives for our natural differences. We all sin. There is only one unforgiveable sin and that is to deny God. All other sins are forgivable, and only God can judge our hearts for the choices we made in our lives.” 

 

 

Featured Image by Mukhtar Shuaib Mukhtar from Pexels

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Jairo Rodrigues is a Women Deliver Young Leader, Human Rights Advocate and Social Change Projects Coordinator specializing in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), and programmes related to gender relations, women empowerment, youth development, and LGBT Rights.

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