By Kouser Fathima
The Orlando shooting by Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan origin, has left the world shocked. This time the shooter has targeted the gay community, killing 49 people and injuring many in a gay club. Initially the reason for this gruesome act was unknown. It could be anything, ranging from mental illness, homophobia, suppressed homosexuality, and easy access to guns or terrorism. News about the shooter calling 911 before the incident and confirming his allegiance to the ISIS has completely shifted the focus to Islamic terrorism.
The reaction to the mass killing ranged from condemnation to blaming Islam and Muslims for the crime. Muslims too condemned the killing and showed solidarity with the LGBT community. The Council on American Islamic Relations issued a statement that read, “We condemn the monstrous attack and offer condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who are injured or killed.” The Muslim civil liberties organisations asked for blood donations to help the injured. Muslim thinkers issued statements about how Islam has nothing to do with the crime and Muslims should not be blamed for the act of one guy. Imam Tariq Rasheed of Islamic Centre of Orlando and Imam Muhamad Musri, President of Islamic Society of Florida, have issued statements condemning the attacks.
Such condemnation of this act from Muslims is a welcome development. It also reminds us that homophobia is a universal trait and many people proudly acknowledge being homophobic. While homophobia is not an exclusive Muslim world problem, the fact is that many Muslim-majority countries reward death penalty to gays. The Muslim society has a strong anti-gay attitude. It is commonly seen that gays are persecuted in the Muslim world both by the regimes and people. In Saudi Arabia, the maximum punishment for homosexual activity is death sentence. However, the state uses other punishments such as whipping, prison sentence, etc. Seventy-five countries have criminalised homosexual relations and eight countries – Saudi, Iran, Brunei, Qatar, Sudan, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia – have made homosexuality punishable by death sentence.
One of the challenges faced by Muslims today is how to handle the LGBT issues in the Muslim society. The Quran condemns gays and warns them of severe punishment. For example, read the following verses:
“For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women, ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” (7:80-84)
“Of all creatures in the world will ye approach males. And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing.” (26:165-166)
Muslim scholars in the west are trying to change the way gays are treated in the Muslim community. In their efforts to be inclusive, they discuss the problems faced by Muslim gays and invite representatives from the gay community to talk shows. The US based Al-Fatiha Foundation propounds the progressive Islamic notion of peace, equality, and justice, where people from all walks of life are fully embraced and accepted into the faith. Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) holds monthly events for Muslim LGBTs and works for their rights and protection.
One mosque in America also has a gay Imam leading the prayers. Imam Daayiee Abdullah has initiated reforms at a mosque in Washington DC. He is openly gay and the first to act as an Imam. He had preformed the Janazah prayers for a Muslim man who died of AIDS; other Imams had refused to perform the prayers.
In the Middle-East and Asian countries, the reaction of Muslim communities is strikingly different. Any talks of the LGBTs are highly scandalous; they are ridiculed, shamed, and warned. There are regular sermons against them. The increase in their numbers is seen as a direct threat to Islam.
Despite the fact that Omar Mateen himself might have been a closet gay, the strong Muslim reaction against the LGBTs leaves many youth confused, further fuelling their resentment against them. When homophobia is aided by religious diktats and twisted ideologies, tragedies such as Orlando might happen more happen. The Muslim world needs to wake up to the challenges of the twenty first century and accept that alternative sexual orientations are a reality.
Interestingly, there are 11 gay Imams worldwide and 9 of them are openly gay. Daayiee Abdullah of USA, Ludovic Mohammed Zahed of France, Muhsin Hendricks of South Africa, El Faroukh Khakhi of Canada, and Rahal EKS of Germany are some of the examples of gay Imams. Muslims in west are more open to the idea of Muslim LGBTs and, hence, more accommodating. There could be various reasons for Muslims’ intention to negotiate different sexualities in the west, which could range from critical education, exposure to various cultures, progressive interpretation of the Quranic verses, and fear of legal repercussions. In five Muslim nations – Mali, Jordan, Indonesia except in Aceh, Turkey and Albania – gay marriage is legal. Homosexuality is decriminalized in around 11 Muslim countries – Lebanon, Kazakhastan, Bahrain, Northern Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Iraq, to name a few.
After the Orlando shooting, many Muslim scholars have openly condemned homophobia. However, the number of Muslims cheering the shooter is alarming. Homophobia among Muslims is a serious issue and needs to be tackled head on. If someone targeting you for your eating habits is wrong, then targeting others for being sexually different is equally wrong. No one should be killed for their faith, gender, race, eating-habits and sexual preferences. Muslims who cry of Islamphobia must speak out against homophobia.
Dr. Kouser Fathima is a Bangalore-based dentist who writes on issues concerning women, especially Muslim women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @drkf_18
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