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12 Dec 2011

Can you be gay and Muslim?

Abdul Rohman, a faculty member at Indonesian Islamic University, writes in The Jakarta Post that it is imperative to foster dialogue between religious groups and gay communities, and for religious groups to reach out to them and learn how to synchronise their situation with Islam.

The following is an excerpt of an opinion article published in The Jakarta Post on Dec 12, 2011. The author Abdul Rohman is a faculty member at Indonesian Islamic University, USAID Scholar and Msgr.

Should homosexuals give up their faith even though they still believe that Islam is a peaceful religion and a blessing for the universe? Gay people still can practice their religious duties since religion is a personal relation with God and has nothing to do with sexual preferences. What can we expect from religious groups that spread their ideologies through blasphemy, abuse and negligence of their sense of shared humanity as creatures created by the same God as gay people? 

It is therefore imperative to foster dialogue between religious groups and gay communities to bridge the difference. Instead of renouncing gay people as deviant, religious groups should embrace them and learn how to synchronize their situation with Islam. 

It is religion’s responsibility to bring homosexuals closer to God regardless of their sexual preferences. On the other side, gay communities need assistance from religious groups to enable them to practice their religions and express sexual preferences safely. This back and forth process is challenging but even small steps by discussing this issue with moderate stakeholders will bring powerful results. Instead of pointing out different points of view, they should seek common grounds to disseminate peace and resolve conflict within society. 

The notion of being gay and Muslim at the same time is very tough when we see how stereotypical views about gay people are still present in our society. Most people grossly conflate gayness with pedophilia, promiscuity, social pathology and other stigmas.


In the Indonesian context, although the mainstream media still represent gays as fun-loving and with less positive images, increasing public awareness and acceptance of gayness as a part of society through television is promising since most of people still rely on it as a major information and entertainment source. 

To bring the picture to the real world, every gay person should conduct PR work for their own community by showing the compatibility between Islam and homosexuality. Homophobia persists and people easily pin a negative label on gay people because of a lack of information and opportunities to interact with them.


Reader's Comments

1. 2011-12-15 06:35  
the injunctions in the koran against homosexuality are quite difficult and i am not sure how the 'synchronising' would be done.

however, at least in the west, most christian religions accept that people are born gay. that being so, if they insist on recruiting babies at six days of age via baptism, they are tacitly, if not explicitly, accepting that gay people are entitled to stay in their flocks.

i am not sure the same situation pertains in islam since i as far as i know there is no specific equivalent to baptism.
Comment #2 was deleted by its author on 2011-12-15 06:36
3. 2011-12-15 13:59  
No, you cant...not without being a hypocrite
4. 2011-12-15 14:55  
1. Aren't you generalizing a little heavily there about western Christianity accepting the idea of being born gay? How exactly is that connected to baptism? Baptism doesn't give you carte blanche to do what you like - you are expected to follow the Bible, and any deviation isn't going to be accepted out of hand just because you go to church. Leviticus explicitly describes homosexual acts as against God's law, and churches on the whole either fudge the issue and avoid the topic of gay priests and gay marriage, or simply preach from the anti-gay pulpit.

The fact is that most mainstream Christian sects remain officially opposed to same-sex love, even if proportionally fewer act on that opposition, unlike mainstream Islam. For starters, the Roman Catholic Church absolutely outlaws same-sex love, so there's the majority of Christians out of the running. When we discount other explicitly anti-gay churches including the Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Mennonite, Lutheran, Calvinist and most all African and Caribbean Christian churches, that pool of what scaro calls the churches that "accept" gay people looks mighty small. Mormon and Jehovah's Witness congregations are universally anti-gay, so out they go.

Then we can pretty much count out churches that sit on the fence, as they universally side with traditionalists when it comes to things like gay ordination and gay marriage - so there go Anglicanism, Quakerism and, broadly, Methodism.

Doesn't look so positive now, does it? In fact, other than fringe queer churches, name me one denomination that has explicitly come out in support of gay people? Not one church, but one denomination.

Bottom line - of course you can be gay and Muslim. Or Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian or bloody Scientologist. It's between you and whatever fairies you happen to believe in. People have chosen to selectively interpret scripture as long as there's been scripture to interpret - the above list of various Christian denominations is a testament to that.

Whether your fellow believers will accept your sexuality, however, is another matter. And in that respect, I have to side, reluctantly, with scaro and his flawed argumentation.

You're more likely to get tolerance (but NOT acceptance or support, I hasten to add - after all, we tolerate mosquitoes) from most Christian churches than from any branch of Islam, even the less orthodox branches such as Sufism and Ahmadism. My best friend is a gay Muslim, but the thought of coming out to his mosque leaves him in utter terror for his life, and that of his family. And he lives in the UK. I can't imagine how terrible life might be for the terrified gay muslims living in Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Islam isn't the problem. Institutionalized, State-backed Islamic fundamentalism is.
5. 2011-12-15 20:51  
Not really. The Church of England and the Catholic Church do, for example. Pretty mainstream religions by any definition?

You are generalising by saying that Anglicanism universally sides with traditionalists. You can take it from the horse’s mouth – the church I attend every now and again – certainly doesn’t - and nor do many other Anglican churches. And they are accepting, in a practical sense. You might say they don’t have much choice really, given the numbers of the congregation who are gay. But the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the C of E has always had that side to it.

Who said say baptism gave carte blanche for anyone to do what they liked? Not me. The topic here is about whether you can be in a religion and gay at the same time, not what you do. And for many mainstream Christian religions that is a fundamental difference.

The implication is that in baptising people, those religions which accept that the orientation is natural , by recruiting people at six days of age, do so knowing that a certain % are likely to have that orientation and act on it.

The better stance for them, if they *really* cared about the orientation as much as some of them like to carry on about, is to stop recruiting at that age and wait till people are 21 and vet them before accepting them as members. But what’s the chance of that?

So I take their stance as essentially disingenuous in one way. They know their intake is 4-5% people whose innate urges are against scripture, at least, and probably against their teaching. They know from experience that people tend to act on their sexual urges. Yet they let them in. They are therefore giving a message under the radar that whatever their teaching says on the topic, they are prepared to tolerate some deviation around things which are inborn. That kind of stance, saying yes at one level, no at another, is pretty fundamental to Christianity, which at the heart, is about paradox and reconciliation of opposites. They don’t use something like a trinity, and a cross, as their symbols by accident.

Islam gives a different message. There is from what I can see, no specific point at which one becomes Muslim apart from commencement of the practices which define one as Muslim at a young age. I am not sure whether Islam says homosexuality is caused or innate.

The scripture of Islam contains rather botched paraphrasing of Old Testament stories, the ‘Lut’ surahs, for example There is one argument that the surahs envision two kinds of men, one with the capacity of males, and others who are ‘natural eunuchs’, who those surahs may not apply to. That is a minority view, if a fascinating one. But it has always been there – there were male-male marriages in Morocco in the 19th century for example.

At the same time, the same literal Word of God tells us about a version of heaven which includes boys ‘khouris’ provided for one’s sexual pleasure. Much more fun than the harps and clouds which popular culture says are offered to Christians.

However, Islam has a fundamental difference to Christianity. It not look into men’s souls on the matter of sex to anything like the same extent as Christianity, ie ‘I tell you if a man looks at a woman lustfully, then he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ I can't find an Islamic equivalent to that. Nor does Islam generally require reconciliation via a hierarchy.

While one’s fellow adherents are likely to be as toxic as all-get-out on homosexual questions, a gay Muslim may be less riven by inner angst, because at the end of the day, his innate nature is between him and God, and if he practices the Five Pillars, and doesn’t rock the boat, no one really has much come back against him. I know many gay Muslims who are remarkably uncluttered by the baggage of internalised guilt, compared to gay Christians.

Is Islam that terrifying in the Middle East? Well to a Western gay man, used to our kind of gay expression, yes. But not to them, if the rampant cruising I see each time I go there is an indication.

Why does this happen? One thought is that in a religion that is so strict, the last thing most people want to do is to go looking too deeply into others’ flaws. There are many examples of this kind of outlook in modern Arabic writing – Naguib Mahfouz goes into it all in great detail in his Cairo trilogy for example.
6. 2011-12-15 23:17  
Islam and homosexuality is incompatible

Islam and those who pracrtice this religeon have become increasingly violent towards western values in general and gay people in particular.

I spoke to many moslems who consider themselves as 'moderate' and most of them expressed a very hostile attitude toward homosexuality. I hate to think what wouldbe the attitude of less 'moderate ' moslems. The most 'progressive' attitude by moslem 'moderarte' was that gay should be kept deep in the closet and seek to 'convert' into straight persons.

I feel so sad for Indonesian gays who believe that holding a dialogue with their fellow non-gay moslem will help to advance their case.

If I was living in a moslem country I would emigrate to a western country.
7. 2011-12-16 00:16  
When Christ said, ‘I tell you if a man looks at a woman lustfully, then he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ tells me that He is describing the fallen state of humanity, in need of His redemption. That is, human beings are sinful by nature, and to deny otherwise is self deception. I understand I think what Edsmale says about hypocrisy, but my point is germane to my belief that we are all hypocrites if we think ourselves sinless.

The teaching of the RCC may or may not be similar to the CoE, but its catechism teaches that the psychological genesis of being so remains "largely unexplained" (opening up to genetic factors, I think) but hangs on to the tradition that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.". It goes on to say the number of men and women with deep-seated homosexual tendencies is "not negligible", and that (homosexuality) constitutes for most of them a dilemma, or in their words, "a trial". RCC teaching goes on to say any unjust discrimination...should be avoided...(as LGB's) are called to fulfill God's will in their lives. It seem the RCC is "intrinsically disoriented" in how it treats LGB's, but it is a lot more favorable than it used to be, from reading one of Brian McNaught's books about how LGB Catholics were treated 40 and 50 years ago. Big institutions like the RCC don't just turn on a dime like a Lotus Elise. It is about as manuverable as an Australian 3 trailer road train. Look at how long the it took the RCC to get astrophysics right. So now the RCC embraces science more than it did, but still we may not see acceptance in our case until we are long gone.

As for Islam, I see many members declare their Islam publicly, as I think they should, just as Christians should, even in the face of really nasty comments and in some cases, personal peril. When you declare your dedication to God in the face of people who think they know what God wants for you, that is true martyrdom.

Chompi27, Scaro and Xepherus, I for one am glad to see you guys discussing this in a much more civil manner than the dialogue we had 5 months ago in a similar forum.

God bless.
8. 2011-12-16 00:25  
BTW, frankly I have no idea of how popular culture got "harps and clouds", other than from Warner Brothers cartoons. No one really knows what heaven is like...but I won't accept the Steven Hawking view of it as being a discarded computer on a pile of others.
9. 2011-12-16 11:54  
Thanks to scaro and penstate for broadening the discussion. Particularly scaro for expanding on his all-too-brief earlier post.

Scaro, the relative tolerance of the church you attend is commendable, but if you refer to my earlier rebuttal you'll see I acknowledge that, within Christian communions, individual churches may well open their arms to gay worshippers, ordain gay priests and even endorse gay marriages. But one church is not exemplary of an entire faith. Anglicanism is the perfect example - as the Primate of the Anglican communion, Dr. Rowan Williams, has publicly rejected gay marriage and opposed the ordination of gay priests in Anglican churches in the US and Canada's offering blessings to gay marriages. Williams stands in opposition despite the fallout risking a schism unprecedented in the Church of England's heartland, where public support overwhelmingly favours gay marriage.

As for Catholicism, it may not actively encourage hostility or violence against gay people, it still speaks of homosexuality as a "disorder" and something that needs to be treated and counseled against. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the gay community.

"Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." That's straight from Catechism (OK, via Wikipedia) ;).

I also feel that people tend to get overcome talking about "innate gayness" and homosexuality as an identity. This isn't really relevant to scripture, that weaves parables into what amounts to the blueprints for a comprehensive legal system, which talks in terms of acts, behaviors and crimes against God - not identities. Islam doesn't debate homosexuality as a human characteristic - it merely outlaws same-sex sexual acts. The same goes for Judaism and Christianity. Be who the hell you want to be - that's between you and God, but don't do what he told you not to in that book we read every weekend, or if he doesn't smite you, we will.

Scripture in all the Abrahamic faiths describes homosexual acts as sinful and contrary to nature. End of. However, nowhere in any holy book is homosexuality or gay sex referred to as part of a person's nature, in the same way heterosexual union is described in terms of acts, not states of being. I would say that the issue is precisely what you do, not who you inherently are. Catholic priests are expected to be celibate, but not to surrender their heterosexual nature along with pleasures of the flesh. I daresay gay priests who were celibate wouldn't have much bother reconciling what you call their inherent urges with their faith, so long as those urges weren't acted upon.

Family-centric, traditionally misogynistic cultures such as those in the Middle East and Asia are by default less accepting of homosexuality due to the overwhelming social importance attached to marriage and procreation. This also holds true of red states in the US, and Christian communities in Africa - the reason such communities are often hostile, even violent, towards gay people is because the family remains the primary social unit, and the church its primary social venue. Anything perceived to threaten either institution is seen as dangerous - divorcees and adulterers have almost as much to fear in Zambia as gay men do. More if they happen to be female. MSM may cruise with impunity in Turkish cities, but if women attempted to do the same, cruising for anonymous sex with straight men, I doubt the police would turn a blind eye.

Khouris are an interesting point, but then, there's plenty of contradictory material in all scripture. The medieval Warren Cup, excavated from an Islamic villa in Palestine, depicts some pretty raunchy anal sex between men and boys, which suggests that men generally don't struggle to come to terms with male-male attraction, so long as they, as you put it, "don't rock the boat" - i.e. you get married and have kids, but anything you do behind closed doors is between you and your Maker.

It always seemed odd to me that Solomon and David could have dozens of wives, but somehow after Jesus died that became a venial sin. Same goes for current Christian attitudes to fish on Fridays, oxen sacrifice and eating shellfish. Perhaps mosques are more literalist in their interpretation of the Koran (maybe it helps they're not working from translations, meaning it's harder to deny or re-align the meaning of what's written down, unlike Christians' Coptic-Hebrew-Greek-Latin-German-English Bibles).

I really can't say whether gay Muslims suffer greater angst or guilt than gay Christians, and I wouldn't dare to speculate. That wasn't my best friend's experience of coming to terms with his sexual preference but erhaps that's because he was coming to terms with his gay identity, living in a society that he felt demanded he self-define as a gay man rather than a MSM.

The very concept of a "gay man" is brand new to most parts of the world (and only a few decades old in the west). In the excellent documentary A Jihad for Love, we see the crisis experienced by gay men and women who choose to come out in the modern sense. While gay sex has gone on in Islamic cultures since before they were Islamic, the idea of intrinsically gay men and women, who don't marry people of the opposite gender for procreative purposes, is simply way, way out there in terms of a social concept. But the same goes for virtually faithless mainland China, so are we looking at a problem of religion, or a problem of social and cultural attitudes?

What this debate leads to, in my mind, is a potentially fascinating discussion about whether it's same-sex sex that isn't reconcilable with faith, or queer identity. Is it our identity fundamentalists hate, or the fact we have sex with people of the same gender.

I'd love to hear people's views on that potential hot potato. Starting with scaro and penstate.

For the record, I'm an atheist. Just so you know where I'm coming from theologically.
10. 2011-12-16 14:02  
As long as Not Sex in Mosque ! he..he..he....
11. 2011-12-16 16:35  
Could be a very successful porn film...
12. 2011-12-17 00:21  
Thanks, for your commentary, Xepherus. Now, we compare gay sex in pre-Islam Islamic cultures, to their current situation. From what I read, and experienced with Muslim friends, the idea of intrinsically gay men and women who don't procreate is not only simply "way, way out there" in terms of social concepts, but way, way stressful for the indiidual concerned. I have had Muslim friends whom I have consoled on the phone, sobbing through a river of tears about death threats ("honor killings", they call it) from their OWN BROTHERS.

In faithless Communist countries, being gay is considered "disordered" or some other confusing term, so as Xepherus said, are we looking at a problem of religion, or a problem of social and cultural attitudes? Looks like the latter to me. As for Christianity, it depends on that too. Over here in the States, it's mostly hand-wringing, worried parents, depending on their religious and social background. Probably is more laissez-faire in the northeast and northern States, the West Coast, and perhaps suprisingly, Texas and parts of the Great Plains (like Iowa). In the UK and Europe, even more so. In parts of central and northern Africa, Russia, and some former Soviet -bloc countries, it is dangerous for LGB folks, except maybe Poland or the current Czech Republic, which ironically has a stronger Catholic culture, hence the leaning toward Catechism teachings and what-not, adding to perhaps a "grumbling tolerance" versus murderous mobs. Same goes for Cuba, which like Poland and the CR, never really gave up its religious life despite Communism, whose god is the State.

Some may not be satisfied with all that, but considering some of the alternatives listed, it may be a good point at which to pause and get our bearings saying thanks to God, and to those who went on this road before us. Life was not this good for LGB's before the Christopher Street riot in 1969. In the 1970's not even Hugh Hefner could argue for gay rights without having his sexual orientation brought up by some moron who knew nothing about debate. And life for LGB's was generally miserable then, from disownment, to outight violence, even murder. So thus it is now for our Muslim friends.

Thanks, Xepherus, for being frank about your status as an atheist. For the record, I'm a Christian, a member of a Catholic parish in the "Deep South", which is suprisingly not only accepting, but whose pastor could outwit, within argument of Scripture, any fundamentalist, from Fallwell to Phelps. So now it is known what my theological foundation is, both of my arguments, and my existence.

God bless.
Comment #13 was deleted by its author on 2011-12-17 00:24
14. 2011-12-17 00:27  
The comment I deleted was a duplicate. I might add that if the Vatican argues that "Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law...", how do they explain what happens in the animal kingdom? Granted, we are not animals, but animals are physically a much bigger population in the natural world, aren't they?
Comment #15 was deleted by its author on 2011-12-17 20:04
16. 2011-12-17 20:03  
[I deleted a duplicate too. This functionality obviously ins't working 100% yet. ]

The whole topic of gay animal behaviour has apparently not been an easy one for scientists to deal with. I suspect the prejudice there was that humans, having more imagination, are more perverse, and that animals by contrast are neater entities following more predictable inclinations. That this is not so seems to cause some scientists quite a bit of trouble!

Abrahamic faiths are like the law in Judeo-Christian countries in that it's the act that causes the problem for them, not the identity.

On the Anglican religion, it's substantially more than just a few individual churches that are tolerant or accepting, and it's the semi-institutionalised acceptance which is probably tearing that religion apart.

The RCC just allows indvidual churches to ignore the party line - at an individual level. And they just about all do ignore it in liberal Western countries. That's probably smarter, if a lot more disingenuous.

Although inevitably I do not agree with his stance, I kind of feel sorry for Rowan who has to preside over such civil war; it's not exactly a secret that if it were just a matter of his personal choice, he would be more supportive.

But I guess it is not easy to be the fall guy, the head of a Church which fell apart on your watch because you followed your conscience.

I'm a 'sort of' Anglo Catholic. But my main spiritual impetus derives from esoteric/occult traditions. Weird guys in dark rooms with masks on, incense and swords. No problems with gay members there.
Comment edited on 2011-12-17 20:06:33
17. 2011-12-18 09:39  
no 10...ur comment is very rude !!!!
18. 2011-12-20 15:06  
Same-sex sexual activity is widespread in nature, making the argument that homosexual acts are unnatural untenable in scientific terms, but that doesn't tend to be a barrier to religious fundamentalists.

I still believe that culture, individual circumstances and family play a far bigger role in gay rights than religion. While religion certainly spills over into all those categories, there is enough anecdotal evidence that some Muslim families grudgingly accept gay children, just as atheist households have turned gay sons and daughters out into the street.

While proportions differ, it really boils down to individual attitudes, social understanding and cultural environment as to whether or not you can, say, "be gay and Muslim."

In London or New York, most likely you can. In Mecca or Jakarta, maybe it's more of a challenge.
Comment #19 was deleted by its author on 2011-12-31 00:29
20. 2011-12-30 00:01  
In Jakarta, more of a challenge. In Mecca or Tehran, one is more likely to be hanged.
21. 2012-02-09 06:46  
I never trusted these so-called "religious scholars' an inch, be they muslim or christian. Or even buddhist or hindu or jewish,etc, for any matter. If you notice their new 'tolerance' message you'll see that they barely paid lip service to "tolerance" and did little if anything to stop the prevalent homophobia, both blatant AND latent, happening right in their very own communities; last I checked "conversion therapies", now disguised under the more benevolent-sounding "counseling" is still very much alive and kicking in many religious institutions. And in certain countries/societies homosexuality is a punishable crime justified by religious laws. Just as one can say "I love you" yet behave in a completely opposite manner, religious leaders, like politicians, only say things we LIKE to hear, just so they can hold on to power and control. And the reason they are courting the gay community now is precisely due to the fact that they're losing their grip on those in modern society.

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