Update: Listen to an episode of BBC’s “World Have Your Say” devoted to Reza Aslan and Hasan Minhaj’s letter. – ed.
To Our Fellow American Muslims,
Hey there. It’s two of your brothers. We’re writing to you about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in all fifty states. The good news is that a whopping 42% of you support marriage equality, as do both of our Muslim elected officials in the United States Congress. One even serves as vice chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus! There are many faithful gay and lesbian Muslims in the US and we love and support all of them.
At the same time, many of you are scandalized by the ruling (we know because you keep tweeting about it), and many more of you are equally perturbed but have chosen to keep it to yourself. With all the rainbow-flag waving and self-congratulatory pats on the back this country is giving itself right now, you don’t need another reason for Americans to dislike you.
Sure Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee can call the Supreme Court decision the precursor to the End of Days and the final battle of Armageddon. But if you try saying something like that on TV you may end up in Guantanamo. So you’re staying quiet. You may not like the Supreme Court’s decision but you’re willing to tolerate it.
We understand where you’re coming from. Being Muslim in America is not easy. On the one hand you’re a part of mainstream culture. You’re a Warriors fan. You listen to Kanye. You watch Game of Thrones. You even went to the office Christmas party and sang Silent Night!
On the other hand, you want to stay true to your faith and traditions: You go to the mosque and send your kids to Islamic school, fast during Ramadan, and swap Turkey bacon on your BLT, all in an attempt to establish a firm Muslim identity in a non-Muslim country.
But now that same-sex marriage is legal in America, it’s shaking up your faith. You’re afraid of the future and what this could mean for your kids. You recognize the growing acceptance of gay rights, but personally you just can’t bring yourself to embrace the shift. You may feel okay with having gay acquaintances or coworkers. You may even agree that being gay doesn’t disqualify you from also being a Muslim. But privately, you still feel like the LGBT community is a living contradiction to what you were brought up to believe.
But here’s the thing. When you are an underrepresented minority—whether Muslim, African American, female, etc.—democracy is an all or nothing business. You fight for everyone’s rights (and the operative word here is “fight”), or you get none for yourself. Democracy isn’t a buffet. You can’t pick and choose which civil liberties apply to which people. Either we are all equal, or the whole thing is just a sham.
We Muslims are already a deeply marginalized people in mainstream American culture. More than half of Americans have a negative view of us. One-third of Americans—that’s more than one hundred million people—want us to carry special IDs so that they can easily identify us as Muslim. We shouldn’t be perpetuating our marginalization by marginalizing others. Rejecting the right to same-sex marriage, but then expecting empathy for our community’s struggle, is hypocritical.
Think about the way people look at your hijabi sister or your bearded brother when they walk through the mall. Think about the grumbles and stares you get at airports. Think about the vitriol that’s spewed on you by your own elected political leaders. That’s how your LGBT brothers and sisters feel every day of their lives. Are you okay with that?
We don’t know about you, but our faith teaches us to care for the weak and the marginalized, the poor and dispossessed, those who are trampled underfoot, those who are persecuted—no matter who they are, no matter what they believe, no matter who they choose to love.
Believers, stand firm for God, be witnesses for justice. Never allow the hatred of people to prevent you from being just. Be just, for this is closest to righteousness (Quran 5:8).
It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
You may think LGBT rights is a new conversation, something that’s only recently come into contact with modern Islamic thought, but trust us, it’s not. Challenging the status quo for the betterment of society is one of the very foundations on which Islam was built.
No one is asking you to change your beliefs. If you feel your faith tells you that homosexuality is haram, fine. We disagree with your interpretation, but you’re entitled to it.
Ain’t America grand?
But if you can’t find it in your heart to accept gays on principle, think about the country you want to live in. After all, the constitution that just ensured the rights of LGBT communities is the same constitution that protects our mosques and community centers, that keeps our Islamic schools open, that allows us equal rights and privileges in the face of overwhelming hatred and bigotry from our fellow Americans. You can’t celebrate one without the other.
That’s why it’s not enough to simply “tolerate” the Supreme Court decision. Tolerating another community only stirs up concealed fear toward the marginalized and apathy toward the political process. As minorities we don’t have the luxury to have either of those emotions. We have to do more than tolerate. We have to embrace. We have to fight for the right of others to live their lives as freely as we want to live ours.
Bottom line is this: standing up for marginalized communities, even when you disagree with them, is not just the right thing to do, it’s the Muslim thing to do. Remember that whole God is merciful and compassionate thing? That extends to all people, not just those who are straight.
Celebrate. Don’t tolerate. Love really does win.
Reza Aslan and Hasan Minhaj
Agree, disagree, find out more about LGBT issues in Islam, and continue the conversation here.