The Flaws in the Latest Anti-Gay Islamic Theology

Image: Flickr user CharlesFred (https://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/) under Creative Commons license.
Image: Flickr user CharlesFred (https://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/) under Creative Commons license.

American LGBT Muslims continue to face the twin challenge of resisting anti-Muslim bigotry in the LGBT community and resisting homophobia in the mainstream American Muslim community. But there is good news: polls suggest that the American Muslim community is becoming increasingly accepting of homosexuality. This has provoked a cultural backlash on the part of socially conservative Muslims who see absolutely no room for same-sex love and relationships in their religion. These conservative community leaders have thus made LGBT Muslims a target of their moral panic, insisting that the terms “LGBT” and “Muslim” can never belong in the same sentence.

We’ve seen seasoned American Muslim preachers make their homophobic views more palatable to the public, proclaiming their “political” support for the legalization of same-sex marriage at the same time they express their “moral” opposition to what they deem an egregious sin. Gay marriage is all well and good, unless a Muslim asks for one, in which case she must be immediately awakened to the wrath of God.

These same preachers have also pathologized same-sex love, but without any coherent empirical or sociological grounding for their reasoning. For instance, the famed Yasir Qadhi argues that “unnatural inclinations,” such as homosexuality, are a response to the “proliferation of sexual images” and the “increasement of public sexuality” in society. He provides no evidence for this claim, and appears to have delegated the task of constructing a modern theoretical framework for his anti-gay theology to a younger generation of socially conservative Muslims.

This framework is intended as a response to present-day understandings of sexuality and sexual orientation, moving beyond the mere insistence that the Qur’an can’t possibly be interpreted except as an unequivocal condemnation of same-sex relations. The thought is that Islam’s categorical proscription of same-sex love and relations should be viewed not as a harsh divine decree without any discernible rationale, but rather as something which ought to make sense to any reasonable person.

Two such prominent young Muslim thinkers—Daniel Haqiqatjou and Mobeen Vaid—have taken the lead in resisting not just the trend toward acceptance of same-sex love, but also the secular liberal values that they believe have normalized it. Their articles on this topic have been widely circulated throughout the community, but not carefully analyzed or debated. Fortunately, those of us who support LGBT Muslims can take comfort in knowing that although Haqiqatjou and Vaid have the weight of Islamic scriptural exegesis and legal history on their side in abominating same-sex love, their other reasons for reprehending it—reasons accessible even to non-Muslims—are unoriginal and unpersuasive.

Below are the two main fallacies in their thinking.

Crude (and false) analogies

Following in the footsteps of socially conservative Christians and Jews, Haqiqatjou and Vaid use a series of inappropriate analogies in denouncing the LGBT rights movement, particularly the “self-destructive behaviors” it promotes and “the lifestyle it assumes.” For them, the gay rights movement has saddled monotheists with the imperative to make space for loud and proud homosexuals, but this is equivalent in principle to an adulterers’ rights movement demanding space for loud and proud cheaters. Apparently, pursuing a consensual gay relationship is no different than breaking one’s marriage vows.

What’s important to grasp here is that these analogies go well beyond any of the stated reasons in scripture for the supposed immorality of same-sex relations, such as the Qur’an’s suggestion that the people of the Prophet Lot were committing lewdness that no other creature in the world had committed before them. (Interestingly, for this statement to be compelling, it must be understood to refer to something other than same-sex acts, as evolutionary biology has shown that homosexual behaviors have long existed in the animal kingdom).

According to Vaid, people who experience same-sex desire should realize that they’re “not unique in being burdened with powerful drives that nonetheless must be disciplined and restrained.” Resisting the temptation to be sexually involved with a person of the same sex is akin to resisting the temptation to lie or steal. It doesn’t matter that being denied the pleasure and emotional fulfillment of a loving relationship often carries severe consequences not entailed in fighting the urge to steal.

To be sure, unlike many of the older conservative preachers, Vaid avoids the condescension of recommending heterosexual marriage to people who are exclusively attracted to members of the same sex. But he still prescribes lifelong abstinence for these people, who must recognize that there’s nothing “unduly onerous” or “prejudicially burdensome” about such a requirement. How do we know this? Well, people who suffer from poverty, disease, unattractiveness, disapproving parents, a dearth of potential partners, or sheer “happenstance” may also be barred from marrying, yet must remain abstinent in accordance with Islamic law.

At no point does Vaid reflect on the fact that these circumstances can be made possible out of defeat in a way that having same-sex desire cannot. One isn’t forbidden sexual relations on account of one’s poverty or health in the way that one is forbidden sexual relations on account of one’s supposedly wayward sexual desires. The default rationalization, again, has to be “fine, but it doesn’t matter because it’s still proscribed by our scripture.” Yet this strains against the assumption that the prohibition ought to be sensible to any reasonable person.

Haqiqatjou is less diplomatic in his approach. Responding to the question of why LGBT Muslims should be deprived of a life of sexual and emotional fulfillment, he cites the example of a person who is ethically obligated to suppress his desire to masturbate in public. “Decent people must,” he says, “as a matter of decency … learn to train their impulses …” But this is just to state the obvious without going to the bother of explaining what sexual decency consists in or why private consensual sexual relations should be compared with public non-consensual sex acts.

If the analogy to public masturbation isn’t convincing enough, Haqiqatjou reminds us that we need only rely upon our intuition and “visceral abhorrence” to necrophilia, pedophilia, coprophilia, and bestiality to know that homosexuality, too, is wrong. After all, he proposes, it was only very recently that homosexuality was arbitrarily removed from this list of flagrantly repellant sexual practices. Put another way, we’re to believe that one universally comprehensible reason to regard same-sex relations as immoral is that they’re intuitively as repulsive as having sex with a child or an animal.

Poor understanding of sexuality and sexual orientation

Even more absurd than Haqiqatjou and Vaid’s analogies to cheating, stealing, and sex with corpses are their baseless claims about the nature of human sexual orientation. By Vaid’s lights, it’s sufficient to refute the immutability of sexual orientation by appealing to authority—that too of the work of queer theorists who dispute not the immutability of orientation itself, but rather the immutability of homosexual identity across various historical periods and cultures.

However, we’re never told why we must accept the soundness of social constructionist arguments about sexual orientation, much less why only one religion’s framing of sexuality and sexual orientation is the exception to the rule of cultural relativism. The correctness of social constructionism is assumed rather than argued for, an assumption made all the more lazy by the simultaneous insistence on the objective normative truth of Islamic values and doctrines.

Not to be outdone in logical rigor, Haqiqatjou merely asserts the validity of classical theological and juridical conceptions of what we now describe as sexual orientation. We’re expected to take seriously the essential role of males as “penetrators” and females as “recipients of penetration”; the origins of sodomy in the capricious “desire for sexual variety” on the part of fundamentally heterosexual people; and the spread of a mental illness known as ubnah, which causes an anal itch in males who consequently wish to be penetrated. Neither community leader assesses the compatibility of these antiquated concepts with contemporary scientific understandings of sexual orientation.

Whereas a minimally rational case can be made for things like the Islamic prohibition of pork and the prohibition of alcohol on grounds of health—that is, reasons other than “the book forbids it”—thinkers like Haqiqatjou and Vaid fail to make any such case for same-sex relations. As a result, the debate on this topic among young American Muslims continues to revolve primarily around how best to construe the sources of Islam, not whether there are any scripture-independent reasons for honoring the prohibition of same-sex relations or the repercussions of this prohibition for those who experience only same-sex desire.

The exact causes of the rising acceptance of homosexuality in the mainstream American Muslim community are yet to be studied, but it’s entirely plausible that more and more practitioners have grown weary of being repeatedly told “because God says so, end of discussion” when asking why same-sex relationships are prohibited in Islam.

The recent mobilization of millennial progressives and liberals under Bernie Sanders’ grassroots political organization and inspirational intersectional movements like Black Lives Matter have surely played a part in allowing young American Muslims to make common cause with LGBT Americans in the fight against white supremacy, neoliberalism, imperialism, and hatred toward those who are different.

The good news? Unless young socially conservative American Muslims come up with original arguments for the immorality of same-sex relationships, we should expect greater affinity between these marginalized minority communities in the future.