In my mosque, we don’t have a single imam, but rather the sermon is delivered by different people from week to week. I don’t go to the imam of the week and ask, “Are you Arab or Indian? Syrian or Lebanese? African American or Somali? Did your parents hail from Karachi, Kabul, or Kerala?”
Rather, I listen to the sermon to see if this is a person I can learn from, a person who can inspire me to strengthen my commitment to living a life of decency and piety.
If these accidents of birth – race and ethnicity – are of no import to me, then why should another accident of birth – heterosexual or homosexual – make any difference?
If a gay man has a profound connection to his faith, deep knowledge, and a way with words and rhetoric that can inspire me to be a better Muslim, then of course I would be delighted to listen to his sermon and to pray behind him. Orientation has nothing to do with the matter.
Most Muslims believe that homosexual acts are a sin. Many believe that simply the fact of being gay is a sin. I disagree. The Qur’an, like the Bible, has passages about the people of Sodom. Two things are apparent from the story. First, it is a story of intended rape – the men who come forth from Sodom intend to have their way with Lot’s guests regardless of whether they want to or not.
But more than that, it is a story of a town where orientation has been turned on its head. Men who are naturally heterosexual have abandoned their wives in favor of fulfilling their desires with men. Much as men in Afghanistan commonly take young male lovers as a sign of status — whether or not either or both of them are heterosexual — so too the people of Lot had wholesale abandoned their natural proclivities.
That, I can see, is a perversion of nature. It says nothing, however, about men who do not have those proclivities to begin with.
Similarly, there is a narration from the collections of Hadith in which the companions of the Prophet, having been away from their wives for an extended period of time during a military campaign, asked if it was okay to fulfill their sexual desires with one another. The Prophet said no.
Again, it’s clear to me that these were heterosexual men, men with families and children, and the Prophet told them not to act against that nature. It doesn’t say anything about men whose nature is to be attracted to other men rather than women.
The Qur’an does mention such men – men who lack the masculine talent – in a verse which talks about women’s dress. Women are advised to be modest, and to draw their scarves across their chests in public. This is followed by a list of exceptions – your father, your brother, your nephews. Included in that list are men who lack the masculine skill.
That the Qur’an makes casual mention of such men in a list of other, presumably straight men, speaks to me of acceptance of homosexuality as a natural state at a profound level.
Further, in one narration from the Prophet’s life, we learn that his wives were in the habit of visiting with one such man in their inner chambers. When the Prophet overheard him describing a woman’s body in detail to a straight man who might be interested in marrying her, he advised them that they should treat him like a heterosexual male.
Clearly, it was not friendship with a gay man that was at issue, but rather that he had a loose tongue and no compunction against describing private parts of a woman’s body.
Those Muslims who believe that being gay or acting upon gay impulses is a sin would have big problems with an openly gay imam, but I see no issue. And it is the Qur’an and the example of my Prophet that lead me to believe there is no issue.
On the issue of gay marriage, I have various overlapping and reinforcing thoughts.
The Qur’an is quite adamant that there is to be no coercion in religion. It is not for me to impose my morality on you. Even the Prophet is told over and over that his job was not to force compliance, but to deliver a message.
This is why I believe Islam was never intended to be used to formulate state or national law after the death of the Prophet. It’s why I believe in secularism. More importantly, if even the Prophet could not impose Islamic morality on others, if the Qur’an clearly states there shall be no coercion in religion, then how can we allow some to force their morality on others?
Those who believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman are trying to impose their morality on the entirety of society. Those who advocate for the legality of gay or lesbian marriage are not forcing anyone into a same-sex marriage, nor are they forcing a member of the clergy who does not believe in same-sex marriage to perform their wedding ceremony. They are simply asking that they be allowed to follow their consciences the same as everyone else does.
I do not see how we can justify denying them freedom of conscience, even if we may happen to believe it is a sin. It is between them and God, just as your actions are between you and God, and my actions are between me and God.
Further, in a secular society my liberty ends at the tip of your nose. That is, so long as my actions do not harm others, then I am free to do as I please. Gay marriage in no way threatens anyone.
Gays aren’t seeking to end straight marriage. Seeing my two male or female neighbors in a loving, mutually supportive relationship in no way threatens my own marriage. Homosexuality isn’t catching, like a disease; my children will be heterosexual or homosexual on their own right, not because they observed two women or two men in love. As such, I can have no objection, from a secular point of view.
Finally, the Qur’an clearly discusses marriage with the assumption that the marriage partners are male and female. It does not address marriage where both spouses are of the same sex. One canonical position throughout the history of Islam has been that whatever is not expressly forbidden is permissible.
Following that position, one could argue that same-sex marriage is allowed, since the Qur’an has not forbidden it.
Of course, most Muslims would argue that the Qur’anic view of marriage is not just an assumption that pertains to the vast majority of humankind, but that it is normative. I find no reason to believe that is the case.
The Qur’an also assumes that men will be the breadwinners of the family, but that does not mean it forbids women from being the breadwinners. Indeed, for the first thirteen years of Muhammad’s career as a Prophet, he was supported by his wife’s wealth.
Clearly the assumptions about men being the wage earner do not mean that men must be the wage earner, or that women cannot be the wage earner, but rather is a recognition that in most families throughout the course of history this has been the set up. So too, same-sex marriage.
All of these – my understanding of freedom of conscience within Islam, of secularism as inspired by that freedom of conscience, of what is forbidden and what is allowed, and of how the Qur’an relates to normative values – all of these lead me to believe that it is not my business to forbid same-sex marriage.
Finally, there is the issue of sin. Islam clearly says that sexual relations outside of marriage – be it premarital or extra-marital – are a sin. I find it hard to condemn an entire subset of humanity, who God created to be as they are, to either a life of celibacy (which the Prophet clearly discouraged) or a life of sin.
The Prophet said we are not true believers until we want for our brothers and sisters what we want for ourselves. I want a satisfying, committed, loving relationship with my spouse. How could I want to deny that to anyone?