Looking at LGBT Equality in Muslim Communities

As Islam has taken a more prominent place in the United States’ religious landscape, there have been more questions about how Muslims interact with the same issues that have sometimes caused tensions in other religious faiths.

LGBT equality is one of those issues, and we’ve started to see more coverage in major news outlets and on personal blogs alike. The themes of respect, dignity, and understanding are important steps toward inclusion. Several stories and upcoming events highlight important conversations among Muslims in the United States.

On October 24, 2011, Muslims for Progressive Values and Human Rights Campaign will host “An Evening with Congressman Keith Ellison,” the democratic representative from Minnesota who is both a faithful Muslim and staunch supporter of LGBT equality. Many Americans are unaware of the existence of progressive Muslims; this event is a wonderful opportunity to hear the voices of Muslims who are devoted to both their faith and to progressive ideals, including equality for LGBT people. Host committee members include Faisal Alam, founder of Al-Fatiha, a North American group for LGBT Muslims and Imam Daayiee Abdullah of Masjid An-Nural Isslaah (Light of Reformation Mosque) in Washington, D.C.

Imam Abdullah has made an impression as one of the few, and perhaps the only, openly gay Imams in the United States.  He was recently interviewed by Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, who are traveling to a different state for each day of Ramadan. Their project, called 30 Mosques, started in Alaska and their journey ended in their hometown of New York City. During their stop in Washington, D.C., Aman and Bassam sat down with Imam Abdullah to talk about his experience being gay and Muslim. Although the interviewers say that they don’t believe that Islam is compatible with being gay, they treat Imam Abdullah with respect, and their post about meeting him is written with humor and care. The comments, unfortunately, devolve into theological nitpicking and personal attacks, the antithesis of the original post, which focuses on respect, even in the face of disagreement.

Al Abawba, an online Middle Eastern news outlet, recently published an article about religious observance and LGBT Muslims during Ramadan. In speaking with Muslims who identified as both LGBT and not, they conclude that LGBT “people are like any other people, [they] have [their] faith and beliefs.” The article highlights the struggle some Muslim LGBT people face because of their own internal or familial conflicts about their sexuality, but also acknowledges that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is not a barrier to being Muslim.

Scott Siraj Al-Haqq Kugle’s book, Homosexuality in Islam: Islamic Reflection on Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims, addresses many of the concerns expressed in the Al Abawba article. In conversation with Susan Henking, Kugle discusses his decision to come out to his Muslim brothers as gay and his academic colleagues as Muslim in the wake of September 11, 2001. Although the conversations were difficult, he has no regrets about his decision to be honest with his friends and colleagues and encourages Muslims in the United States to speak up about their views on LGBT equality, in large part because they have the freedom to do so. Kugel also advocates for more interfaith work with Christian and Jewish communities that may have more resources for LGBT people of faith. His next book, Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslim Activists, will be available in 2012.

Eid Mubarak to our Muslim readers.

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