First things first: this is not an attempt to reconcile the Qur’an, Prophetic tradition, or classical Islamic thought with the cause of LGBTQ rights. Others more qualified than myself are doing that work. In fact, my argument depends somewhat on such a project being impossible. Let’s take for granted that Islam has no room for the accommodation of homosexuality – ignoring not only the efforts of reformist scholars, but also the numerous queer Muslims who are at peace with their bodies, hearts, and Creator. For a moment, let’s pretend that these intersections do not exist.
If the question of Islamic doctrine has already been answered, then our next question is how the Muslim community should treat a community with which it shares nothing. Prop 8’s overturning interrupted the latest anti-Islamic hysteria, the proposals to ban niqab in Europe and uproar over New York’s so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” I oppose niqab bans and support the Cordoba House, because I believe in the rights of Muslims to live among non-Muslims and be recognized as full citizens. I believe that Muslims should support same-sex marriage because this respect is not only something we take; we must also give. American Muslims do not have an argument against same-sex marriage that is morally superior to objections against the Cordoba House. It’s the same issue: America is debating itself as to whether minority communities can live openly and proudly by their own values.
There is a strong temptation—I myself had felt it at one time—for Muslims to seek acceptance by insisting that in America’s culture war, we hold much in common with the Christian Right. Some Muslims would contend that Islam is not anti-American at all, precisely because their values align with the Latter-Day Saints who organized and funded for Prop 8. On some level, this seems natural, and it’s not totally off the mark. However, it also imitates an ugly precedent in American history: European immigrants who, when treated with scorn and suspicion by Anglo-Saxons, sought acceptance as fully “white” by joining in the lynching of black people.
Muslims who think that a shared Abrahamic morality makes them more American are missing something big: the defining “culture war” of this moment is not Queer vs. Straight, Islam vs. the West, or Christians vs. Non-Christians: it is Tolerance vs. Intolerance, Equality vs. Inequality. In this war, as Intolerance pulls out its hair with panic and issues the same irrational screams about Muslims and Queers (They’re imposing their ways on us! They’re taking over! They’re destroying America!), the overturning of Prop 8 and the apparent triumph of the Cordoba House are victories for the same side.
For Muslims who oppose same-sex marriage on religious and moral grounds: stay true to yourselves. Teach your values to your children. Pour your opinions into books and hand them out on street corners. Establish mosques in which homosexuality is denounced every Friday afternoon; but do so with the knowledge that in our real culture war, there are all kinds of people who will defend your place in American life. This includes not only a wide spectrum of Muslims, but also non-Muslims: Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, secular humanists, feminists, and homosexuals.
Yes, the American Muslim community has gay friends. There are homosexuals who will stand with Muslims and support a religion that, at least in popular interpretations, condemns them to the point of capital punishment and otherworldly hellfire. In the name of upholding one aspect of Islamic tradition, however, some of us will refuse to return the favor. We will ask to be treated as equals by those who are different from us, but turn our backs when they ask the same.
That’s a bad way to do business, and I can’t believe that it would be a Sunna.
It was really my hope to avoid getting into religion, because I’ve said that this is not a religious issue; but I’m stuck on the narratives of our first hijra, our flight from persecution at the hands of the Meccans. Unable to achieve safety and dignity for the Muslims in Mecca, the Prophet sent them to Ethiopia, to live under the protection of a kind Christian king. As Islam opposes the idea that God could beget a son, the Meccans used this theological divide to argue that the king should not grant asylum to Muslims; but intolerance lost out, and the Muslims lived in peaceful cooperation with their new Christian friends.
From what I understand, the sin of regarding a man as God is a far worse offense against classical Islam than butt sex; but the Prophet placed his community in the care of a man who worshiped Jesus Christ. For me, the lesson is that Muslims can in fact be good neighbors. While we’re talking Sunna, let’s remember this hadith: “Not one of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” If all Americans are our brothers and sisters, let us care for them and accept care from them.
Michael Muhammad Knight’s sixth book, Journey to the End of Islam, tells the story of his travels to Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, and Ethiopia, and his pilgrimage to Mecca. This article was originally printed as part of The Goatmilk Debates at Wajahat Ali’s blog, Goatmilk. A counter-argument was published here on Friday.