Hugh Fitzgerald: A Lesbian Muslim and the “Unsurmountable Rift” (Part Two)

“He [Miriam’s father] initially prevented her mother from seeing her, even though she still wanted to have contact. They have managed to see each other occasionally at her sister’s house, but Miriam admits she has given up wanting to change how her mum feels….

As for her father, Miriam recently saw him at a family gathering with other relatives who don’t know about her sexuality.

“I used that opportunity to be normal with him. When he was about to leave for work I went up to him and gave him a big hug. He was rigid, but I stayed there for an extra 10 seconds to have that extra contact because I bloody miss him.

“I could either do what he said on that day [and leave], or I could keep testing the waters and that’s [what I’m going to do].”

In Islam, as in many Christian denominations and in Orthodox Judaism, homosexuality is seen as a sin. While there have been moves towards acceptance of homosexuality in some religions, Islam in the West has tended to stay with the Orthodox view.

The writer of this BBC piece — who is not Miriam — is subtly attempting to make us believe that the particular cruel treatment of homosexuals in Islam is no different from what one could find in “many Christian denominations” and in “Orthodox Judaism.” This is flatly untrue. The treatment of homosexuals is much harsher in Islam. What Christian or Jewish sect punishes homosexuals with being flogged hundreds of times, or being given prison sentences, or even being executed? He does admit that there has been a change in attitudes toward homosexuality in Christianity and Orthodox Judaism, which “moves toward acceptance,” while in Islam nothing has changed. But he does not say what is most important, which is that Islam cannot change, because the Qur’an’s text is immutable, and the judgement as to the “authenticity” of a particular hadith cannot be modified. The hadiths in which homosexuality is condemned and punishments set out have long been deemed “authentic.”

Some “progressive” Muslims have tried to suggest that while male homosexuality is condemned in Islam, lesbianism is not. There is no textual authority for that, nor do the Qur’anic commentators accept such a view. Dr. Taha Jaber Al-`Alwani, President of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences and President of the Fiqh Council, states:

The scholars of this Ummah are in agreement – based on what has been revealed in the Qur’an and what has been authenticated in the Prophetic Tradition (Sunnah)- on prohibiting both behaviors (gayness and lesbianism) because in each of two actions there is an assault on the humanity of a person, destruction of the family and a clash with aims of the Lawgiver, one of which is the establishment of sexual instincts between males and females so as to encourage the institution of marriage.

Why does the BBC author claim that Islam “has tended to stay with the Orthodox[!] view,” which only confuses since he has just referred to “Orthodox Judaism”? The implied existence of “Orthodox Islam” that punishes acts of homosexuality or cross-dressing with punishments ranging from fines, floggings, to life in prison, torture, and death, may make the unwary think there is an un-Orthodox strain of Islam that rejects such punishments. There are Muslims who reject such punishments, but Islam itself does not.

We know that ISIS flings homosexuals from rooftops, while in Iran they are hung from cranes. In Saudi Arabia acts of homosexuality or cross-dressing can be punished in a wide variety of ways, ranging from fines, floggings, to life in prison, torture, and death, depending both on the details  of the crime, and on the social position of the offender. Ordinarily Saudis of the upper class, especially those of the ruling family, receive much lighter punishments while foreigners, e.g. Yemenis, Somalis, Pakistanis — have in recent years received the death penalty for the same crimes. In Afghanistan, the Pashtun culture sanctions relations between men and young boys aged 9 to 15, whom the men use unashamedly for sex; these men are called “bacha baz” or “boy players.” Yet these men do not consider themselves homosexuals, and are not punished for such behavior. “Real” homosexuals — that is, men with men, or women with women, do live in fear of severe punishment, especially, but not only, by the Taliban.

Miriam and her partner, who is white British, hope to marry in 2020. She plans to wear traditional dress for part of it and there “may be a few Asian tunes”. But the rest will be “as gay as gay can be” – with a drag act as compere and DJ.

In the meantime, the 35-year-old is focusing her efforts on a group she has founded that she hopes will become “a safe space” for Muslim LGBT+ people to meet without fear of discrimination.

If Miriam can openly celebrate her lesbian wedding, and if she can create a “safe space” for Muslim LGBT people, that is only because she lives in the West, and is the beneficiary of the West’s tolerance, a tolerance impossible in any Muslim country.

“I think Islam itself is a very closed off religion. If you look at some older members of the community, they are living in the 8th Century, not the 21st. But it is possible to be Muslim and gay. I genuinely believe that although I had a girlfriend earlier in life, I wasn’t out to myself. I feel not just stronger now after having those experiences, but more accepting of myself.”

Only “some older members”? It is not a question of age — all Muslims who take Islam to heart are in some sense “living in the 8th (or, more accurately, 7th) century.” They accept as immutable the mores of 7th century Arabia. And it is “possible to be Muslim and gay” safely only if you live in the tolerant West, protected by its laws, and even then you may have reason to worry. It is not possible to be “Muslim and gay” with any such  sense of security if you live in a Muslim country, especially one that follows the Sharia, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and the Sudan. Nor is it possible to be “Muslim and gay,” that is “Muslim and gay” without fear, if your relatives regard your behavior as bringing shame to the family, and decide you must be punished. In Miriam’s case, the family’s cutting off all contact with her was the punishment that Miriam’s soft-hearted father prescribed), but for some Muslims, her behavior could have led to much, much worse.

Miriam’s story reveals the great anxiety that Muslim homosexuals feel even in the West. Her own story is comparatively mild; she successfully conducted her affairs, and hid her proclivities for many years. And her father, learning of her leanings, cut off the family’s contact with her, but neither he nor any other male relative tried to punish her physically for bringing dishonor to the family. She was protected, above all, because she lived in Bristol rather than Baghdad. The British government safeguarded her.

Islamic texts cannot be changed. Homosexuality is a sin, according to several Qur’anic passages. Homosexuals are to be severely punished, as Muhammad makes clear in the hadith. But even if the ideology of Islam cannot be changed, Believers can be brought to the point of informal tolerance of homosexuality, including a refusal to enforce the punishments Islam mandates or, indeed, any punishment at all.. Not all Believers, fortunately, follow the Islamic commands to wage violent Jihad and to strike terror in the hearts of Infidels. The same can happen with the treatment of Muslim homosexuals. Let a kind of convivencia be implemented, first in the West where our laws protect Muslims like Miriam, and then, by slow degrees, in Muslim countries where, not because of, but despite. the explicit teachings of Islam, a modus vivendi which tolerates homosexuals may eventually be created.

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