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Islam and homosexuality

Islam_homosexualityQueer Muslims face institutional oppression in a variety of forms. Institutional religion and science in the homelands tends to pathologise them, the law to criminalise them, the media may see them as a curiosity or a monstrosity, and mainstream society ostracises them. Islam and Homosexuality is a two-volume collection espousing the scholarship of 20 researchers from around the world. Editor Dr Samar Habib introduces the work for The Scavenger.

I edited and introduced this collection for publisher Praeger in 2009, and Parvez Sharma, the maker of a very important documentary film, A Jihad for Love, wrote the foreword.

It was an international effort, collecting scholarship from around the world and seeking to tackle the taboo respectfully and without the usual sensationalist elements which follow this issue wherever it goes.

The collection was born out of a deep labour of love. Each contributor laboured for their love, whether it was a love of the faith in which they were born and raised; a love for the rights of innocent human beings guilty of nothing but love and the desire to live according to that love; a love for the Arabic language and its indelibility from cultural Islam in a variety of its inter-national manifestations; a love for oppressed minorities, whether in the West or the East; a love for the Prophet and his Sunna of toleration and compassion about which we seldom hear; a love for the divine; a love for secularity; a love for security, peace and prosperity; a love for civic pluralism; a love of scholarship; a love of humanity in all of its contradictions and differences.

Each contributor brought with them their own unique perspective deeply rooted in the context out of which they wrote and the scholarship each undertook for their task. My task here is not to speak on their behalf, but to acknowledge the multiple positionalities, including contradictions, out of which the contributors spoke.

What was importantly revealed in the two volumes were the things that religious as well as non-religious queer Muslims were doing to deal with the uncomfortable position of being doubly marginalised.

Whether in diaspora or in Muslim-majority countries, queer Muslims faced institutional oppression in a variety of forms. Institutional religion and science in the homelands tends to pathologise them, the law to criminalise them, the media may see them as a curiosity or a monstrosity, and mainstream society ostracises them.

In diaspora, queer Muslims face an added challenge, that of institutionalised racism both within the queer community and without it. And they may belong to family structures which retain an oppressive perspective on gender and sexually variant minorities.

Although keenly observed in mainstream media, the oppression of gender and sexual minority persons in the Muslim world was the subject of one chapter.

The approach to doing something about these issues is suggested by the ensuing chapters involving sociological accounts of queer Muslims' lives and experiences; philosophical, spiritual and exegetical considerations of Islam that can be sensitive to those who practice the faith and are gender or sexuality variant, as well as research into relevant literature and film from a vast expanse of historical and geographical contexts.

While it was important to acknowledge the pain and suffering produced for people who have turned inward society's hatred and fear of something they attach to themselves (the frightening creatures that inhabit the story of the prophet Lut), what was of equal interest, was the emergence of accounts of familial closeness and acceptance.

Fathers and mothers who at first may be concerned but eventually can see that such is the nature of their children, moments of compassion and understanding, of support and acceptance, moments of solidarity and even religious incorporation, moments of inclusiveness, that are concealed but that are emerging.

A Sudanese national with whom I was discussing Islam, gender and sexuality said to me, a non-Muslim woman, "to me, you are veiled" and when I asked him "how come?" he said because I had cut my hair off. It was a sign of modesty, he said. And indeed, there is nothing in the way I dress that would not appeal to those who are deeply concerned with women dressing modestly.

In those moments of recognition of difference and acceptance, even welcoming, that one encounters daily, it is difficult to only see the machinations of institutional governance, politics, religion.

There is something about human kinship that the scholarship in the two volumes produced, that give us hope to persevere in the up-hill struggle to achieve a truly dignified life.

Islam_homosexualityIslam & Homosexuality, edited by Dr Samar Habib is published by Praeger Books.

Dr Samar Habib is the author of Female Homosexuality in the Middle East and Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality. She is the chief editor of Nebula: A Journal of Multidisciplinary Scholarship.

For more information on the book, visit the
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