Some articles defending actions taken against LGBTQ2S+ people in the Islamic world hurt the victims
There are several articles that depict the Muslim world as a gay paradise, including a piece last October by British journalist and author, John R. Bradley. Around the same time, 70 Egyptians were arrested for their perceived sexual orientation.
Pieces like Bradley’s often adopt an anti-western or anti-colonial lens to show that homophobia was imported into Muslim countries. Making strange bedfellows with the religious right, such work blames the LGBTQ2S+ community for inviting persecution through an “alien western identity politics.”
Akin to slut-shaming, where victims of sexual abuse are accused for inviting abuse upon themselves by wearing provocative clothing, Bradley suggested that it was gay rights activists who provoked the Egyptian clampdown by waving a rainbow flag.
He also asserted that young Arab men would consider it absurd to attach “an all-consuming social identity” to homosexual desire. Additionally, wading into Islamic discourse, he asserted that the Qur’an merely warns against having “sex in the middle of the street” and that Islam simply encourages social rehabilitation.
Bradley concluded that, “Who needs the gay ghetto … when the souks and coffee shops are teeming with charming boys perfectly happy to jump into bed as long as they trust that the next day you will not tell.”
In making such claims, articles like these strip the agency of Muslims to fuel or resist homophobia. In viewing Muslims as subjects of cultural colonialism, they ignore the role of Muslims in cross-cultural exchange, as they shape Islamic feminism and Muslim LGBTQ2S+ discourse both for good and bad.
Such a binary of Islam and the West must be broken.
The LGBTQ2S+ identity may have originated in the West but Muslims have cultivated it with free agency. This includes many practicing Muslims, some of whom have memorized large chunks of the Qur’an.
A social identity based on gender expression and sexuality has always been indigenous to Muslim societies, as in the case of the mukhannathun (effeminate men) and the habaib (female beloveds). To borrow from Shakespeare, calling a rose by any other name does not diminish its fragrance.
Islamic discourse is not simplistic, as most people often pick and choose from a vast tradition with widely differing viewpoints on liwat (anal intercourse amongst men). Three schools of jurisprudence prescribe death for liwat with high evidentiary requirements, a case often made by neo-traditionalist Muslims who like to copy-paste draconian texts.
However, in juristic schools, which encourage social rehabilitation, the standards of incrimination are relaxed. This is especially concerning as the age of cell phones and emails has allowed unprecedented invasion of the privacy of same-sex couples.To emphasize, the oppression of LGBTQ2S+ Muslims in non-Western countries cannot always be attributed to colonialism and western constructs. This is manifest in the case of the systemic oppression of the non-binary hijra community in Pakistan and the Sunni-Shia polemic on tarnishing each other’s revered religious figures with charges of liwat, which perpetuates hatred of sexual minorities. In essence, if western critics, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, were genuinely concerned about the plight of sexual minorities in Muslim countries, they would use their influence to help them instead of blaming them for being visible.
However, such critics seem more content on perpetuating the status quo of unregulated secret sexual encounters and stoking an anti-western discourse instead of nurturing an authentic Islamic discourse that would affirm LGBTQ2S+ Muslims to live with intimacy, affection, companionship and above all, human dignity.
By Junaid Jahangir