Muslim Masculinity: Spirituality and Religious Authority (Part 2)

On Saturday, November 14, 2015, altMuslimah (“altM”) and the Princeton Muslim Life Program co-hosted the symposium, Muslim Masculinity in an Age of Feminism. altM is dedicated to broadening the impact of the conversation. The Twitter highlights are recapped here. Below is part two of the video recording (linked) and transcript of the first panel, Spirituality and Religious Authority. Part one is located here.

Muslim Masculinity: Spirituality and Religious Authority (Part 2)Click the image to access the video of Panel 1.

Professor Atiya: [Our source of law and ethics] is the Qur’an, the word of God. Our secondary source is the Sunnah, the practice of the Prophet, the way of the Prophet, as defined in the hadith, which are the narrations.

We know that the Qur’an does not speak for itself. The narrations don’t speak for themselves. We have written narrations – at first they were oral, [then] they were written. You need a human being to deduce and to extract what the meaning of those texts are. Therefore, if you have a human being who is deducing that and is extracting that, there is going to be an element of bias. There’s going to be an element of “my understanding of the world, in the time that I’m living in and the place that I’m living in is going to certainly affect the way that I understand the verse to be.”

We say the Qur’an is timeless. Of course, the Qur’an is the word of God. Does that mean the understanding is timeless? I think that’s where we have to understand what context is. We have to have, as Shaykh said, what were the occasions of revelation? Maybe there was a particular story why this verse was revealed, in response to something. We know the name of [one of] the surah, “She Pleaded With God.” What kind of a title to a surah is that? There’s so important in that story. The woman who was being abused by her husband had no recourse, but she pleaded to God, because in the end, as Shaykh also said, our relationship is with Allah (SWT). “She Pleaded With God” became the title of the surah, the first verses of that surah because God responded to her… through revelation.

Values and ethics are derived on a contextual basis: based on your environment, based on your place, based on your time. If the Qur’an wasn’t so dynamic, the Qur’an would not survive. I like to use the comparison of the United States Constitution, which was written 200 years ago. If it was not flexible and dynamic, it would not survive. The Qur’an was set forth to us as a book of guidance… to achieve our path to God. Again, as I say, it’s happiness of this world and the hereafter.

Let me bring it back to the masjid. Let’s just go practical now. Our masjid, house of God, Bayt-ul-Allah, is the seminal institution of our civilization. The masjid was a place not just of prayer, it was a community location. [It was] a place where our Prophet (PBUH) decided cases [and] welcomed delegations from other areas. It was not a place just for prayer.

We now have masjids where women don’t have access to the building. Woman may have sub-par access to the building, and there’s a whole side-entrance movement. “You have access, but you’ve got to go to the side. You’ve got to go pray next to the kitchen, or maybe in the basement.” You may have access, but then that access is now sub-par. You may or may not have access to the spiritual leader of the masjid, the imam. What does that mean? You don’t have access to guidance. You don’t have access to scholarship. Certainly, in many masjids, you don’t have access to participation on a decision-making level and leadership in the masjid.

What are we doing to our community… in the 21st century here in America… when I as a woman growing up in this country have access to every single thing in this country, but I won’t have access to some of the masjids that I go to? What are we developing in the psyche of our young men and women? Because this is not a women’s issue, this is a men’s issue also. This is an issue of our community and our humanity.

You see a lot of women fleeing from the masjid, and when women flee from the masjid, the family is also not a part of the masjid. Maybe the men will continue to go, because… it’s an obligation for them to go for jummah. We say, “Oh, women, you don’t have to go.” Access to jummah is 52 weeks a year of access to some kind of scholarship. Even if you don’t like the khutbah, you’re going to get something out of it. I always say, “You have to go for jummah, you have to take your place.”

If we have a society where women have access to education, they’re in university, they’re in college, they’re in school; they have access to marketplace, they go shopping; they have access to other institutions, but yet we don’t encourage this access to the masjids. If you’re not there, then you’re not part of the discussion, you’re not part of the leadership and you’re not part of that structure. I find that to be very problematic.

Imam Sohaib: Ustada Tammy… what happens in the community when there’s a lack of women scholarly presence? How does that affect the community, and what do we need to do to bridge that gap? What do we need to do in our masajids and in our other centers to make sure that there are more women who are represented in the teaching of the religion? Why is that even important, for both men and women?

Ustada Tammy: It is something that is very much a part of our deen, a part of our tradition that women are – I don’t like to use the word “included” because they are more like, “so important”, “integral” – in scholarship. Our tradition going back to the life of the Prophet (SAW), women were teachers. He taught Ayesha, she taught the Ummah. We know that the companions used to ask Ayesha about the most detailed and difficult matters, despite her youth.

Over the centuries this was the case as well. The famous scholar and mystic Rabi’ah al-Adawiyah was known as, “The teacher of men.” People would go to her in the city of Basra and they would ask her questions, difficult questions. She sometimes rejected suitors. We know these stories, because she was so focused on her ibadat and focused on her scholarship. These are really important things not just to share with… our daughters, but also with our sons.

The problem of access. We need to look back to our study of the life of the Prophet (SAW) and… all of the classical period of scholarship, and see that it wasn’t just women who knew that they had a role in scholarship, but it was the men who understood that as well. That’s very important because… sometimes masajid will try to find a shaykha, or a female teacher, and they’ll bring her in and they’ll say “She has to teach the women.” Why? Why is this the case? Why should women not have access to the resident scholar of the center? To be able to sit and to learn with him, and vice versa? If there is a shaykha, the Muslim men who attend the community should be able to have access to her as well, because this is our way. This is our practice.

It shouldn’t be that every discussion of seeking knowledge or ibadat is sexualized. That it has to be segregated in this way.

This is something we want to revive.

Now this is going to sound like a very minor point, but it is something I still think is important. From my experience at NBIC, providing women with access to child care is so important, if they’re going to seek knowledge in a serious way. That every program, every initiative, should provide women – and men of course, if the fathers are the caretakers of the children – with access to child care. One can’t focus on seeking knowledge when they’re concerned or worried about where the children are and who’s watching them.

Imam Sohaib: Before we open it up to the audience, I’m going to ask Imam Jihad a question. Imam Jihad, you mentioned earlier how you are [working on] building a curriculum and putting together classes, for young men in particular, about masculinity. Even if that’s a project that is in its formative stages, reflect with us about your thought process, about what this is shaping out to be, and what advice you have for all of us who might be interested in developing a similar type of class in our masjids or centers.

Imam Jihad: We have a full-time Islamic school in south Los Angeles, formerly south central Los Angeles. Many of the gangs originated right here in these neighborhoods. The school is, I would say at this particular point, which is not planned, it’s 100 percent African-American children.

So, I’ve been placed in a situation in which I’m observing these young boys and they remind me of myself. They are in a context [where] the script handed down to them [is] mainly influenced by hip-hop music, which [has] a lot of chauvinism, hyper-sexuality, [and] disrespect towards women. This is the reality, this is the context that these young boys are in. In developing a curriculum for them, for myself it’s looking back at some of the models of Black masculinity or Muslim masculinity and merging those masculinities and creating a synthesis.

One thing I would argue is that Black American males have never been given consistent access to idealized American masculinity.

This is going back from slavery to Jim Crow, where Black males had to utilize a mask. They couldn’t present their true feelings; they couldn’t present their sadness, confusion and fear. [One] model that came out of that was accommodationism. [A] proponent of this [was] Booker T. Washington. Then this transition to a protest masculinity with W. E. B. DuBois, where he argued against Booker T. Washington. Then you have Marcus Garvey came along, he said, “Separate. Let’s leave, let’s initiate this exodus, and let’s go back to Africa.” These are some of the models. Then some of the social movements that came along [like] the Moorish Science Temple. Their masculinity included, “Where’s your fez at,” and some of the Arabic nomenclature. Instead of saying “as salaam-alaikum” they say “Islam.”

Then the Nation of Islam. My father came through the Nation of Islam. He found masculinity in the Nation of Islam. “Where’s your papers?” My father sold fish. “Where’s your fish? This was the part of masculinity during that particular time. This is sort of hyper-masculinity, and transitioning from that and looking at Malcolm. Studying Malcolm and his speech in “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Do we want to employ some of that during this particular day and time? Looking at Martin, some of those who came before.

Now in the world of traditional Islam, studying fiqh, studying the Arabic language. Coming into my time, where now you can’t gain masculinity, you’re not a man until you learn tajweed, iqfan, idgham and all this stuff. You’re not a man until you learn about.. all these classical texts dealing with the Arabic language… I thought I was a man after studying this beginners’ book of fiqh and my teacher said “No, you’ve completed a children’s text. Now you have to move on, you’re not a man yet. You have to get to Khalil and some of these other texts.”

So now, fusing horizons, bringing in this world of traditional Islam along with some of the past heterodox movements. I’m realizing that my masculinity is not complete. Now what came into play is my experiences working as a chaplain in the prison for a few years, not just a prison, but a women’s prison, which formed my masculinity. Hearing narrative of some of the inmates changed my life, changed my masculinity, my personal masculinity. Hearing a woman say that she’s been molested and raped, sexually assaulted by relatives, by her mother’s boyfriends, changed my masculinity… Hearing each other’s narratives, being able to hear these stories, would change the masculinity of the community [and] develop more empathy for each other.

Now I’m here trying to build this curriculum in order to create this synthesized masculinity for these young boys who we hope [will] be husbands, fathers, and individuals who are righteous citizens in the community. It’s not easy. That’s one thing from my experience right now, it’s not easy bringing in all these narratives. As a Black man living in America, when we’re still talking about “Black Lives Matter,” that’s problematic. It’s not easy for an individual like myself, trying to navigate this particular environment and also bring the young brothers up with me, in order to build that viable Muslim masculinity.

Imam Sohaib: I love how what you’re describing, in the making, is very multi-layered approach. It’s not just “This is the Prophetic model,” which is important, but also bringing stories of the ancestors and bringing stories from contemporary society.

At this point I want to open it up to the audience.

Javed: Echoing Imam Khalid’s keynote speech, he was talking about bringing this all into action. I’m really frustrated right now. I live in a small town in southwest Virginia. The mosque there mostly caters to international students. I’m a stay-at-home dad with 2 daughters. Every time I bring them to the mosque, which is rare, they’re behind the wall.

All my life I’ve been hearing about the Prophet (PBUH), about his masculinity being fluid, but it doesn’t really translate into our spaces, as we’ve heard.

What are some concrete things? Do you have a position on building American institutions? Do we try to get involved in those institutions that are already there to change them, to make them more gender-equal spaces? Or do we say, “forget it,” and try to make our own institutions, our own American institutions that reflect the sort of gender equality that we’re looking for in the mosques?

Professor Atiya: I think in the end it does come down to a call of action. I’m a member of the ISNA Masjid Forum, Masjid Committee, and I request that you all, if you just Google “ISNA Masjid Forum,” there’s a lot of information on there guiding Muslim communities to better governance of their masjid, more welcoming masjids, and more women-friendly masjids, which, we argue, is the Prophetic example. We very recently, in September, over the weekend of the ISNA convention, issued a statement, and it’s called the Statement on the Inclusion of Women in Masjids. Our committee came up with that statement with the help of many scholars, and we were able to get the North American Fiqh Council to endorse that statement, so it’s coming out of the Fiqh Council of North America now.

Now the challenge is how do we implement that? We’ve set forth, well, this is the Prophetic model, and the Prophetic model was a gender-inclusive space. The Prophetic model was a space where older, younger were welcome. It was a place where everyone of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds were welcome. It was a place that did not have a barrier between where women and man prayed. It was a place where women had access to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and even after, of the rightly-guided caliphs.

We set forth that statement, and now our duty is a call to action… How do we implement this? How do we implement it in a masjid that’s already built, that has a wall? We just bring an ax? All change has to come from within. I would argue that from a political perspective, you can’t go into a country and make a change. There’s not going to be a real change. Change has to come from within, and that is our challenge.

Let me just tell you two examples [from] my experience. This kind of goes to what Sister Tammy said. I belong to the ICJ masjid down the street. During Friday prayer, the multipurpose room becomes a women’s prayer area, so carpets are laid down. Normally it’s an uncarpeted area. During the weekdays those rolled-up carpets were put in the place where women pray during the week. Let’s say you went on a Sunday, you were there Dhuhr prayer. You’re praying like the princess and the pea, who slept on 12 mattresses. You’re praying on multiple levels of carpet.

I was on the board at the time, so I said to the guys on the board, because they were all guys, I said “I want all of you, after the meeting, to go and pray on 7 layers of carpet and tell me how you feel.” Sometimes your legs are more elevated than your head; it’s chaotic.

What happened? Within days, it was changed on a practical level. There was a suggestion at our masjid forum last week: Why don’t you have a speaker behind the barrier, male or female, and have it video broadcast in the men’s section? Let’s see what change that could elicit.

It’s all about our imam leadership. We had a situation in our masjid where you have a woman with her 4 children or 3 children around her. These are not just girls, they’re boys too. [You have] Dad in the front all merrily enjoying his time in the masjid, but taking no ownership or responsibility for his children. Our imam has called it out at the mihrab. It comes from leadership.

We had an imam at our masjid forum last weekend that said there was a curtain in his masjid and he wanted to take the curtain down. Women would get up there – patriarchy is not just about men, it’s about women who’ve embodied [it] – and close the curtain. He’s an imam from New Jersey and he said “I had to say from the mihrab, ‘This curtain is coming down, and this is the rule of the masjid. This is not something that’s flexible.’”

I hope I gave you some practical applications. Get involved and be there.

Javed: I read that Women-friendly Mosque Initiative at the general body meeting of that mosque, maybe 3 days ago. [And there was] complete silence. I’m just struggling with whether I should go get involved in this masjid, or attempt to make my own space.

Shaykh Yahya: If I could just add, briefly, to what was already mentioned about the call to action. I think that there’s a long-term solution and a short-term solution, along with the call to action and everything that was mentioned. The long-term solution is going to take a long time. It is a very sad state of affairs that we have from 6 to 10 million Muslims in the United States of America, and we only have one functional Islamic institution that’s well-known – this is Zaytuna College. A few other examples could be mentioned, but oftentimes it’s not a viable option to send your child. To me [that means] that we can’t rely on academia to produce our next generation of leaders. Academia’s important, you have to be involved in that and people have to be exposed to it, but it’s not going to solely create the next generation of leaders. That’s the long-term solution.

We have to take educational institution-building very seriously. It’s paramount for the future of Islam in America.

The short-term solution is, [and] I have a lot of that softness in my heart for [it], this idea of the third space. Some people will critique that… I do think that it’s important, and it plays a very important role in the situation where there isn’t an example where you can take people to a certain place. That third place could be in your house. It could be in another rented facility. There are other ways of doing it that people should take initiative. That if something’s not there, while trying to rectify the mosque or the local institutions, then take the initiative to do something on their own.

The short-term solution is, [and] I have a lot of that softness in my heart for [it], this idea of the third space. Some people will critique that… I do think that it’s important, and it plays a very important role in the situation where there isn’t an example where you can take people to a certain place. That third place could be in your house. It could be in another rented facility. There are other ways of doing it that people should take initiative. That if something’s not there, while trying to rectify the mosque or the local institutions, then take the initiative to do something on their own.

Imam Jihad: We’re building a new masjid facility in Los Angeles. [There was a sister who] came in one day and did her one-day protest, complaining on how it should be, how this should be set up, that should be set up and everything else. That’s the wrong strategy.

The first strategy should be to build relationships. People [are] not going to make changes until they know how much you care. It’s being consistent [and] realizing it’s a process.

When you come in and try to disrupt that process, it can be you being oppressive to them. [In] my experience as an imam, it takes time to get people to change. I’ve tried the overnight thing, it doesn’t work. You produce insincerity – people aren’t sincere in that particular change [because] it was too fast.

[So] I would recommend if you want to really make a change that’s sincere in that community, build relationships. Build relationships with that community, let them know how much you care and how much you’re a part of the community. Don’t just show up one day, 2 days, or even a month, and protest and walk away. Stay there and let them know that you’re in it for the long run.

Audience Member: …What are the ways we can in our community [dismantle this concept that male teachers can only teach men and female teachers can only teach women]? Is there a relationship between accepting that concept [and] integrating that with spirituality? … Because of the male ego and masculinity, [what we learn all our lives as men is] not open to that. Does that have to do anything with our spirituality?

Ustada Tammy: To establish in our communities, the goal and the focus, [we] can’t tear down the barriers or the walls until we get to the actual source of the problem. [The problem] is that a lot of our communities are using our masjid space as just a prayer space, and people leave. What we want to do is to reestablish this ethic of learning that is [such an] integral part of our tradition. If we reestablish this ethic of learning, people will not just be coming through and leaving, and making a comment about the wall or the curtain or whatever else. They will feel like they are invested in that space and invested in their own spiritual and personal growth in that space. Reestablishing that ethic of learning that [everyone in] the family, from the oldest to the youngest, from the male to the female, are coming to the masjid or that space to learn, to seek knowledge.

Once that is done, there will be understanding among all those involved. There needs to be, after the ethic of learning, the ethic of trust. So the learning has been established; everybody understands their rights, obligations, duties, goals, spiritual goals included. After that there’s going to be trust. Now that the learning has been established, there needs to be less policing. Because everybody has the understanding, we don’t have to have those barriers in the way anymore.

This is one of the things that we’ve been trying so hard to establish at our center, that

علم (ilm, knowledge) should be accessible to all, from the very young all the way up in age, men and women alike.

The reason that I mentioned child care is [about] what Sister Atiya had said. The men attend the masjid, they attend the khutbah, they attend the different lectures. [But] it’s understood, it’s like a given, that the wife [is] home with the kids or she’s in the masjid in the back with the kids and they’re screaming, they’re disrupting other people when they’re trying to learn. If we were to throw all the kids into the front it would be a whole different conversation we’re having here. If women have quality child care during programming, then they can sit, just like the men, and learn, take ijazah, and go on to teach. We raise an entire generation, a new generation, of female scholars who can teach both men and women.

Professor Atiya: If we don’t realize that the focus is that we are human beings that have our own unique skills, education, tradition, and knowledge, we are lost.

Who should be teaching? The one who’s the best amongst us as a scholar and as a teacher.

When we need masjid leadership, for example, who has the skills and ability to do that? It shouldn’t just be that, “Okay, there’s a woman or a man.” Who is the person who rises to that? We do that in our lives outside of the masjid in the community. So, get an education. Hone your skills. Give back to your community. The community should look at you based on your knowledge and your abilities and your skills – and not your gender.

Asma: This question is from Twitter. How do we raise our boys when their Black, Muslim masculinity makes them subject to state surveillance and violence?

Audience Member 2: This is a followup to the masjid conversation, which clearly has stricken a really strong note within us. I think part of the rhetoric is about the religious guidance that for males, congregational prayers are required, and reward is higher for females praying at home. One, is that sound guidance? Is that cultural or religious? Secondly, how do we push back against that in moving towards safer spaces that are more inclusive?

Audience Member 3: I’m the director of mental health for a small non-profit group out in central Massachusetts. Through my work I’ve seen a lot of survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, just a lot of other traumas within our communities. Unfortunately, in a lot of those situations, religion comes [in]to play. There’s a lot of people who use religion as a means of control. When I’m supporting an individual and they bring those things up, [while] I have a good amount of knowledge in these subjects, but I don’t have as many examples as I would like or as many beliefs and all that kind of stuff, so I can’t really back it up as much as I would like.

What would be your advice in learning more about these topics, so that we can back up everything that you guys are talking about? Unfortunately, sometimes in a lot of masjids, they don’t have imams. Our masjid right now, we don’t have an imam, so we don’t have a lot of information, and if you go and Google some of this stuff you’ll get some really bad articles.

Audience Member 4: There’s a growing presence of LGBTQ Muslims who are very devout as well, so I would ask the panel how they would address the complication of masculinity, the complication of acceptance or compassion of these experiences, in the face [of] changing cultural interpretations of inclinations versus traditional jurisprudence, and just general pragmatic acceptance of the mosque. [For example] trans people, where do they pray?

Audience Member 5: Psychological studies show that women’s opinions and their points that they make publicly, whether it be in the sphere of academics, religious scholarship, or even as witnesses in court cases, are typically not accepted as authoritative… I really would have liked to hear more about that with respect to Islamic religious authorities, and specifically [about the Qur’anic] verse regarding having 2 female witnesses versus a man. Is that a factor of the woman’s inability to be a good witness, or is that a factor of men not accepting women’s authority in a singular form and therefore they need 2 witnesses to corroborate and to bring some legitimacy to the argument?

Also, Peaceful Families Project is a great resource, in terms of educating oneself for the sake of mental health and women’s roles and domestic violence.

Shaykh Yahya: Articles to look towards. I’ll mention 4, by 2 authors. One is by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, on the website, titled “One God, Many Names.” The second article is “Mercy: the Stamp of Creation.” Two articles by T. J. Winter, otherwise known as Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad: one is titled “Boys Will be Boys,” the second is “Islam Irigaray and the retrieval of gender.” I think both of those are extremely helpful to get into very deep assessment of this.

As for the idea that it’s better for women praying at home… it’s very easy just to quote a hadith, but we have to understand the interplay between hadith and law. What we have to understand is that when we speak of the Sharia, that is the sacred law, that even though there is a historical development of schools, there’s a difference between the sacred law itself and those schools.

What you’ll find in most issues, this one included, is that there is a range of opinions. [It] becomes the responsibility of religious leadership in any particular time and place, to best fit this range of opinions to the needs of their particular time and place.

What you will find, then, is that there’s an acceptable continuum, and among that continuum you will find that which is permissible to that which is best, and in that you can’t force everyone to take the higher, best opinion. You could be stringent upon yourself, but not on others. If we understand this and apply it in our circumstances, I think you’ll get out a lot of the problem with these type of questions that were posed.

Imam Jihad: In regards to the question about Black males, I think it’s important for us to relate what’s happening today, where you have law enforcement being highlighted in their actual murder of young Black males, to lynchings and castrations that took place during the time of Jim Crow. I think it’s important for us, a part of Black masculinity and teaching young boys coming up during this particular time, to adopt Islam’s strong doctrine against thulm (oppression). This would translate into, we have to learn to be able to protest during this particular day and time. I’m not talking about protesting in regards to just marching. For example, a part of resistance is me being in the academy, me being in the university, in class. This is a resistance. When I bring up the struggle that’s taking place in regards to Ferguson and Mike Brown and everything else, bringing up these issues and making this a part of a conversation.

A part of this resistance and protest is developing programs. We’ve founded Ishla LA, a social movement in Los Angeles in which we’re confronting the issue [of] mass incarceration. Everybody should have on their shelf The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Another book to read is Cool Pose by Richard Majors. These are some issues that we’re having in this time. If I’m going to be Muslim in south Los Angeles, I have to adapt. Many Muslims moving to these areas, more urban areas, have to adapt. A part of adapting is developing a sense of resistance against these systems of oppression in those particular areas.

In south Los Angeles we have formed an LLC, which deals with banning the box on applications, where the formerly incarcerated, they want some self-determination. They want agency and they want a job, simply put. We want to make sure that we develop systems which help them transition from prison into free society. Then also, having a school and prevention. We have to prevent our young boys, our young sisters, from going into these prison facilities, and that’s all of our responsibility. Don’t think I’m just mentioning that as just a Black struggle. That’s a Muslim struggle, because Islam strongly talks against oppression. Any type of oppression, wherever we see it, all around the world, we have to get involved.

One individual can[not] get involved in every thing… Choose a lane and get involved in that particular issue, and stay consistent.

Professor Atiya: Sister, with your question regarding the 2 witnesses. There are a couple places in the Qur’an where Allah (SWT) talks about witnesses, and there’s no indication of male-female; it’s general usage. There is one example when they’re specifically mentioned about women. From what I understand it is not that it’s one male or 2 female witnesses. It’s one male, one female and a reminder. What we always have to go back to… is that we always have to understand that the Qur’an was revealed in that particular context. Just the idea of a woman being a witness, or a woman getting inheritance, or a young girl, surviving infanticide, were revolutionary at that time, so I just stress the contextuality of it with respect to witnesses, it’s a presumption. Times have changed, and that instance is about economics. Times have also changed, and that’s why our Qur’an is dynamic. We have black-and-white rules, but it’s also dynamic

Ustada Tammy:

It’s the responsibility of all of our communities to fight oppression, wherever that it is. It’s something that we should not allow our ethnic backgrounds to cloud our degree of involvement.

It needs to be major, it needs to be aggressive, it needs to be forceful. We need to teach our children to be this way, that it doesn’t matter whose cause it is. If it’s for justice, then we’re there with it. I do not always say that that is the case, but it’s something that we’re working to change as much as possible.

Imam Sohaib: I just wanted to honor the question about LGBTQ Muslims in our community. I think that it’s very important for us to develop a more compassionate consciousness around this issue.

Unfortunately, a lot of times we make [LGBTQ Muslims] a very politically divisive issue, and sometimes we forget about the fact that very real human beings are being affected by the discourse we engage in and by the policies that we implement.

From an Islamic perspective, we do not consider a person who has same-sex attraction as being a person who is in sin. Attraction is something of the heart. It’s something of the emotions, and to the degree it’s biological and to the degree that it’s sociological, all of those things are nuanced, but the reality is that the attraction in and of itself does not make a person sinful.

We have to understand that in our community there are people, there are going to be people, who have these persuasions, and that we have to be a community that negotiates and figures out, in a very responsible and compassionate way, how we can make spaces in which people are comfortable. Places in which people feel that they are welcome, they’re at home. Closing the door on anybody, rejecting people, is not going to move us forward in trying to achieve a more Prophetic community.

Oftentimes, people think that these are entirely new questions and new issues, and it’s just not true. In the history of Islam you had people debate questions like, “If a man has certain feminine qualities,” and they understood what that meant. There were debates about whether they could lead the prayer or not. People had different conclusions about the answer to that question, but the fact that it was debated shows that it’s not just this new question that suddenly someone’s come up with in the 21st century. Or the fact that certain masjids had, actually, special section between the men and the women for the transgendered community. These are things that people don’t know about, but in our history, Muslims have grappled with these issues. The fact that it’s become so politicized is part of the reason why I think that we have so many problems, because when things are politicized, compassion goes out the window.

I would recommend reading a book called Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800, which… talks about the reality of people having homosexual tendencies before it became an identity, a politicized identity, and a politically divisive identity within communities.


Read Part 1 of the transcript here.

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