Popular speech accepts that “Catholics” oppose homosexuality because that is the publicly expressed view from the Vatican, but completely overlooks evidence from research that most real – life Catholics in fact do not see homosexuality as a moral issue and even support legal recognition for same sex marriage; ignores the historical evidence that queer relationships have always been a fact of church life at all levels of the church; and the plainly observable fact that the outwardly homophobic face of the church is belied by an intensely homoerotic culture. In the same way, the popular perception that Muslims are implacably opposed to homosexuality is also a gross oversimplification, which is contradicted by the facts.
Classical Arab literature is replete with examples of works which celebrate the delights of wine and beautiful boys. In the years when homosexual activity was subject to strong legal sanction in Western countries, wealthy gay men regularly took holidays or even permanent settlement in some Arab cities, where such pleasures could be pursued without legal penalties – and the supply of pliable and available young men abundant. In spite of the public face of Islamic hostility today, private toleration and practice of same sex relationships continues, even today.
A recent BBC report on the story of one lesbian couple who celebrated their marriage in a traditional Muslim form illustrates this - and also reminds us that marriage exists and is real, even where there is no legal recognition of it. Here are some extracts from that report:
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British gay Muslims seek Islamic wedding
British gay Muslims are joining the global fight for equality and seeking gay Islamic marriage. The BBC’s 5 live Investigates speaks to one couple about their ‘nikah’ – a Muslim matrimonial contract – and asks how they balance their sexuality with the Islamic faith.
“We met about three years ago, at an iftar – a breaking of fast during Ramadan.
“I think a lot of Muslims find that time of year very spiritual and very enlightening, and so I think that’s why our relationship developed, because we spoke about our faith.”
“Eventually we went on a date.”
Asra recalls the first time she met her partner, Sarah, three years ago. The gay couple, who are also Muslim, are one of a growing number of gay, British Muslims who have cemented their relationship with marriage – Islamic marriage.
Asra and Sarah decided upon a ‘nikah’ – a Muslim matrimonial contract. Whilst nikahs have traditionally been the reserve of heterosexual Muslims, Asra and Sarah were aware that other gay Muslims had followed this route and the couple decided to investigate further.
“A few friends said you don’t really have to have an official Imam, but you need someone who is knowledgeable enough about the Qur’an to do it. Fortunately, one of our friends was, and she offered to do it. She’s a lesbian herself, and she said we could do it in her home.”
Three months after the proposal, the big day came. Asra wore a white shalwar kameez – a traditional Pakistani outfit – and Sarah a pink dress.
“I wanted to wear leather, but Asra wouldn’t let me,” she sighs.
“We got rings from Camden market, and we drew up contracts – we got a blueprint off the internet of a heterosexual contract and we both looked at it separately, to see if there were things we wanted to change.”
In attendance were six friends, who also acted as witnesses – “and a cat,” says Sarah.
The short ceremony was conducted in Arabic, and additional duas – prayers – were read and the marriage was essentially no different from the nikahs performed for straight Muslim couples all over the world.
This personal story illustrates an important, bigger point. As in the Catholic, Mormon and Evangelical churches where official opposition hides a growing number of people who are making a faith-based case in favour of LGBT equality, including same sex marriage and full acceptance for queer equality, there are now LGBT Muslim groups, and openly gay Islamic religious leaders:
Gay Muslim voices
One of the key advocates of Muslim gay marriage is the American Imam, Daayiee Abdullah – who himself is gay. He has performed a number of gay nikahs in America and has also advised gay British Muslim couples on how to perform the ceremony.
He reasons that to deny gay Muslim couples the right to a religious union, goes against teachings in the Koran.
Speaking to 5 live Investigates, he says: “Since Islamic legal precedence does not allow same sexes to wed, Muslim societies make it a legal impossibility within Islam [but] by not allowing same-sex couples to wed, there is a direct attack on the Koran’s message that each person has a mate who is their ‘comfort and their cloak’.”
The mistaken assumption that Islam and all Muslims are inevitably homophobic has tragic consequences. Many gay Catholics will know from personal experience the hostility that some sectors of the queer community have against the Catholic Church, for its perceived homophobia. The same applies, to an even greater degree, to Islam, with opposition to Muslim homophobia sometimes acting as a cover for more deep-seated Islamophobia.
It is not just within the Muslim community that gay Muslim couples such as Sarah and Asra have encountered hostility.
“I feel there’s Islamaphobia within the gay community. It’s something that really worries me,” says Sarah.
Asra recalls a particularly unsavoury incident.
“There was an occasion at gay pride once where one of the marchers turned around and quite crudely said ‘we didn’t know pride was allowing suicide bombers on the march’ – it was really shocking to hear it from a fellow gay marcher.”
But according to Sarah, it’s not just Muslims who are rejected by the gay community.
“I think there’s a deep-rooted assumption in the secular queer community that you can’t be gay and believe in anything, apart from yourself or materialism.”
We know that freedom is indivisible. In the struggle for LGBT equality, we should be making allies with other oppressed groups, not contributing to their oppression. We must combat homophobia wherever we find it – but we must not make the mistake of laying the blame for the hatred that comes from some individuals, on the groups from which they come.
(The full 5 live radio programme is available for listening on BBC iPlayer – at least for now. The insert on gay muslims starts from about 05:50).
- Muslim and gay (bbc.co.uk)
- Islamic same-sex marriage? A contradiction in terms or an emerging reality? (lezgetreal.com)
- British Gay Muslims Want to Marry… (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- UK to let gays have church civil ceremonies (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Religion Used Against Who? (aiseei.wordpress.com)