LGBTQ or Same-Sex Attraction: Words Matter

“Sexual diversity is understood in the Islamic framework in the context of desires and not identities. Moreover, it is understood with the framework that protects the nuclear family, particularly ensuring children are connected with their biological mother and father.”

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“Sexual diversity is understood in the Islamic framework in the context of desires and not identities. Moreover, it is understood with the framework that protects the nuclear family, particularly ensuring children are connected with their biological mother and father.”

This article represents the view of the author and not necessarily of TMV as a whole. TMV hopes that by sharing a wide variety of opinions, experiences, and thoughts we can better navigate our community and society with understanding and acceptance. 

It’s Pride month, and as a support group for Muslims navigating sexual or gender identity, we always get the question: “How do Muslims navigate the LGBTQ community?”

A lot has been written about how our worlds differ, but little has been written about how Western and Muslim audiences understand the LGBTQ community. We need to understand the paradigms in which this population is understood, and the subtle differences, otherwise we would accuse each community of bigotry and hate – which unfortunately is common. This article isn’t here to fuel hate or differences but to understand these paradigms.

The Western concept of the LGBTQ community needs to be understood, we cannot dismiss it. The community is sometimes thought to be homogeneous as if all members of the LGBTQ community think the same. For example, stereotypes might say that all community is supportive of drag queen story hour for children or that there is no concept of faith and morality in the LGBTQ community. These statements are not true. 

Intersectionality is important to understand, as the community itself declares “There is no one way to being LGBTQ”. In recent years, groups like LGB Alliance or Gays Against Groomers have challenged the status quo and fought against the narrative that the LGBTQ community doesn’t have diversity in experiences. 

In the Western concept, sexual orientation (and more recently gender identity) is given a basis comparable to race or sex. Some see it as an immutable reality and individuals are celebrated when they take the courage to “come out”. Understandably, after historic discrimination against this group, this is done to acknowledge the struggle of this minority population.

Being ‘gay’ and Muslim: Dealing with same-sex attraction

The terms “gay” or “lesbian” are synonymous with a man or woman who is attracted to the same sex. Similarly the term “transgender” means an individual who may struggle with their sex at birth. Sex (a biological reality) is seen as different from gender (a construct developed over time). The term “queer”, which was perhaps used pejoratively in the past, has been reclaimed to encompass other identities which aren’t “heteronormative” or “cis-gender”.

Often, when we hear about LGBTQ at school or work, it is in the context of human rights. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion groups in our workplaces often educate staff about the discrimination the community has endured. It is important that those from minority backgrounds or diverse backgrounds feel welcome in the workplace. Generally, issues which are apolitical and irreligious are often welcome in the workplace. Hence, a lot of workplaces will promote Pride as it meets that criteria.  

Now that we have touched on the Western perspective, what is the Islamic perspective? How do Muslims understand this paradigm? To understand this, we need to understand what identity means in Islam. Why do we call ourselves Muslim and not anything else?

And who is better in speech than one who called to Allah and did righteousness and said, “I am of the Muslims”? (41:33)

What’s beautiful about the word “Muslim” is that it isn’t an identity. Western Europe tried hard to use the word “Muhammadan” to describe Muslims, suggesting Islam was the creation of the Prophet (sawa). However, we see the term Muslim is not an identity in the Western sense, it is a state of submitting to Allah (swt). This also means previous believers or Prophets that submitted to the will of Allah (swt) in the past are referred to as Muslims:

“Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian; rather, he was a Muslim who turned away from all that is false, and never was he of the polytheists.” (3:67)

When it comes to using sexual identity, there is no concept of sexual identity in Islam, and this includes using the term heterosexuality or homosexuality. The Prophet never used the term “heterosexual” or “homosexual”, when describing “homosexuality” he would always talk about the act rather than the identity e.g. “I fear most from my ummah is the act (عَمَلُ ) of the people of Lut” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1457) or “Whomever you find doing the actions (عَمَلَ ) of the people of Lut” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1456).

This is reinforced by the Quran which uses the term approach (لَتَأْتُونَ) when describing the “homosexual” act:

“Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.” (7:81)

Why is this important? This is because Islam acknowledges that desires are often involuntary and can be experienced by anyone. Therefore, anyone can experience same-sex or opposite-sex desires, experiencing such desires by itself couldn’t possibly make us sinners. It is only when we take an action, we have a choice whether to do one thing or another, Islam recognises people don’t choose their feelings. Every day we struggle with our nafs, pushing from desires which are bad for us: 

“Allah wants to accept your repentance, but those who follow [their] passions (الشَّهَوَاتِ) want you to digress [into] a great deviation.” (4:27)

Islam also recognises the case of the asexual or those that do not have sexual desires (الْإِرْبَةِ):

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment [i.e., beauty] except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess [i.e., slaves], or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women.” (24:31)

Therefore we see that sexual diversity is understood in the Islamic framework in the context of desires and not identities. Moreover, it is understood with the framework that protects the nuclear family, particularly ensuring children are connected with their biological mother and father. 

When it comes to using gender identity, the distinction of male and female is clear in Islam:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (49:13)

Hadith literature has used the term “khuntha” for a variety of biological, intersex conditions. Some literature also uses the term “mukhannath” to describe effeminate ones. Therefore, Islamic theology recognises individuals that may not feel secure in their gender identity. However, the belief that gender is completely socially constructed and is not influenced by biological or genetic factors isn’t upheld. This would imply that God does not determine the sex and it is left to the individual to determine that:

“But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allāh was most knowing of what she delivered, and the male is not like the female.” (3:36)

Does Islam Permit Sex-Reassignment Surgery?

Muslims who are in conflict with experiences around sexuality and gender may use terms like “same-sex attracted” (SSA) or “gender distress” (GD), these terms focus on the experience of the conflict rather than basing an identity out of an experience. They may acknowledge that the experience is a part of their reality, but not a means of identification. Therefore, some Muslims may not use the terms queer, lesbian, gay, or transgender.

If we were to see the term LGBTQ in a broad sense, a simplistic understanding would define anyone who isn’t “opposite sex attracted” or “gender congruent” may align themselves with the “LGBTQ” term. If we were to take this broad thinking further, we could argue that Muslims who use the identifiers SSA or GD are part of the intersectional LGBTQ community. We might even be able to see the rainbow as a representation of diversity. 

Muslims, for the most part, do not have an issue with the human experience of diversity in sexuality and gender. However, some argue that this isn’t about experiences but about a world of identity wars politically trying to win the narrative. Others may feel that what may have started as a grass-root social movement is now hijacked by corporations for profit (such as Pride). The proponents of this view feel that there is usually one narrative of experiences around sexuality and gender shown in media or school and other perspectives of understanding, especially faith-based perspectives, are attacked and considered inferior. They may feel there is already bias and prejudice around Islam and these topics. 

So to answer the question of Pride month that we started with, how do Muslims navigate this issue, perhaps it’s time for us to engage this empathically with our LGBTQ counterparts, such that there’s healthy discourse on both sides to understand each other. When we discuss such topics with work colleagues or those unfamiliar with the Islamic paradigm, they may feel Islam doesn’t recognise the human rights of these minorities or that the faith doesn’t have room to accommodate these human experiences.

We can play a part in changing that narrative and showing true Islamic values of how inclusive the faith is and that a person with gender distress or same-sex attraction is just like any other Muslim, our feelings don’t identify us, our actions do. While both the Muslim and LGBTQ communities may be using different terminology to describe experiences, we can all share our common experiences of struggle in speaking our truths. 

“So by mercy from Allāh, [O Muḥammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allāh. Indeed, Allāh loves those who rely [upon Him].” (3:159)

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