February 11th, 2013
Last week’s historic vote on gay marriage in the British House of Commons was noteworthy not just for the quality of the speeches, such as this one by MP David Lammy, but also for how Muslim MPs voted.
Five Labour Muslim MPs supported gay marriage as did one Conservative. Three other MPs who could not attend had previously stated their support, two Conservatives and one Labour. Only one Muslim MP, the Conservative Rehman Chisti, joined the scores of MPs citing ‘religious grounds’ in their opposition.
Many MPs explicitly said that they took their orders from the Vatican, or cited Bible verses in the debate. That seven out of eight Muslim MPs did the opposite should be better known. It’s unfortunate that it is not as it would probably surprise many, although it should not.
Muslim MPs only arrived in any numbers in Britain at the last election but both locally in Britain as well as in other Western democracies numerous Muslim politicians have shown themselves to be gay friendly and supportive of LGBT rights. The sole Muslim member of the US House of Representatives, Keith Ellison, has a 100% Rating from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC President Joe Solmonese calls him “a true champion”.
Although senior Muslim organizations joined the opposition led by the English and Scottish Catholic Churches to the marriage bill, you would hardly know it — a source of anger to some Muslims. In contrast to various Bishops, there have been no headlines about the latest outrageous statement from prominent Muslim clerics claiming that civilization is about to end.
Why not? Perhaps because any assumption that British Muslims are opposed to LGBT equality is somewhat dashed not just by these MPs actions but also by polls. One in 2011 found that British Muslims are more likely to strongly agree with the statement ‘I am proud of how Britain treats gay people’ than are people of no religion. Only Sikhs were more likely to strongly agree.
According to journalist Brian Whitaker:
However much Muslims may disapprove of gay sex, opposing discrimination on principle serves the interests of Muslims and gay people alike.
He notes that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the major representative body, formally declared its support in 2007 for the Equality Act outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The MPs who votes for gay marriage supported the position made by the most senior Muslim MP, Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, who said he voted in favor of the legislation “because I believe that this is fundamentally an issue of equality.”
One, Nadhim Zahawi, made a point in debating a Christian Same-Sex Marriage MP opponent from his own Conservative Party, arguing, like Prime Minister David Cameron has, that:
“I think as Conservatives we should be supporting civil partnerships moving towards marriage between a man and a man, and a woman and a woman, because having a fabric of society that is held together by strong relationships is a conservative value.”
Several of the MPs represent large Muslim communities, such as Rushanara Ali in East London. Her seat was famously won by the anti-Iraq war left-wing MP George Galloway after Labour kicked him out and he formed the Respect Party as an odd coalition between Trotskyists and Muslims. Galloway, now representing a different seat, voted in favor of gay marriage, and that doesn’t seem to have gone down well with East London Respect supporters.
Galloway was accused in the 2010 election campaign by Peter Tatchell of appeasing homophobic sections of the Muslim community. MPs like Rushanara Ali may well see some dirty tricks, and may well lose local support in the 2015 election, because of their gay marriage vote.
Homosexuality and Islam has recently come right to the fore in Britain as an issue for Muslim communities, highlighted by a long running storyline about a gay Muslim character in the top rating soap opera East Enders, as well as numerous stories running on the the BBC’s radio network catering for Britain’s Asian communities.
So it’s not surprising that the Labour MP’s vote is, away from the mainstream media spotlight, causing some consternation, and not just in the UK but also in Pakistan, from where much of Britain’s Muslim population originates.
Others are arguing that, as the writer Abdullah al Andalusi puts it, the MPs actions just shows why voting and Western-style politics is not something that good Muslims should engage in. It’s all corruption. Voting is “intellectual inconsistent with the concept of sovereignty to God alone (not man) but naive, and self-defeating”, he writes.
But there are also many comments like this one wondering why Muslims are in a lather about this issue and not ‘more important’ ones:
Why is it that the Muslim community wakes up and turns their attention to Muslim MPs on non-issues that quite frankly doesn’t really affect their society at large. BUT chooses to sleep when Muslim MPs make efforts to build strategies to improve general society at large that have a direct impact on the Muslim community?
In short, people are comfortable sitting on their sofas bad-mouthing MPs on non-issues but can’t stand up and show support for our Muslim MPs on day-to-day issues that affect them directly. It doesn’t always have to be religious issues you know everyone has a duty to serve society in general regardless of creed.
Please tell me, am I missing something here.
Muslim politicians everywhere in the West have battled assumptions about their political views from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Kamal Qureshi, a Member of the Danish Parliament, says that:
Because I have a Muslim background people kept expecting me to have a certain attitude. Equal rights were one of my issues, and soon LGBT rights became my issue. I was one of the first people to attend a gay parade in Denmark who was not gay himself. At first there was opposition within the Parliament and even within my own party, but I said that this was an opportunity to make clear if we really believed in equality or if we did not. And after struggle my party (Socialist People’s Party) accepted this.
Gay marriage backer Saqib Ali, a Representative in Maryland, says that his position is nothing to do with his faith in Islam but a decision he made as a politician representing his constituents with and without faith backgrounds:
If I tried to enforce religion by law – as in a theocracy – I would be doing a disservice to both my constituents and to my religion.
After Scottish Muslim clerics called for pro-gay marriage politicians to be voted against, Hanzala Malik, a Labour member of the Scottish parliament, said that although they had every right to their opinions:
People of any community are living in the real world and want more than a single view on faith to be the focus of an elected representative. The Muslim community expects others to give us freedom so why would we deny it to others? And to say this could affect the outcome of the election is just pie in the sky.
Threats of vote-denial or being called names is not, unfortunately, the only risk which some Muslim politicians have taken to support LGBT rights. The Dutch MP Ahmed Marcouch has been called a traitor for his encouragement of integration and his prize winning work promoting gay rights in the Moroccan community in the Netherlands.
In 2004 the Hijab-wearing NDP candidate Itrath Syed in Vancouver was excommunicated along with her parents from her local Mosque, one they had helped to build, because of her politics. In an angry open letter she argued that:
Muslims in Canada must be clear that we can not demand our own equality in Canada, our own rights to be who we are, while also calling for the rights of others to be restricted. If the principle of equality under Canadian law is compromised, it will be compromised for all minority communities.
I am not running for leadership of the Muslim community, I am running for a position in Canadian government. I am not asked about my religious views, I am asked about my views on Canadian law. These are two completely separate things. As we all know because we make those distinctions every day of our lives.
The stories of these pro-gay British Muslim MPs as well as the others I’ve cited as well as many more around Europe deserve to be better known. But it should also be pointed out that, like the British Conservative politician Chisti, there are also others in conservative parties who aren’t supportive of marriage equality — but that’s because of their politics. People like the very prominent Dutch Muslim Christian Democrat MP CoÅŸkun Ã‡örÃ¼z.
And then there is Alabama State Rep. Yusuf Salaam, the Democratic politician who introduced a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage…
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Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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