The Muslims Who Love The Gays

Jim Burroway

February 11th, 2013

This guest post is by Paul Canning, British gay rights activist and, until last year, editor of LGBT Asylum News. He has also written on global LGBT issues for The Guardian.

Labour MP Sadiq Khan.

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.

Online the five are being debated amongst Muslims across social networks with some calling them names like Munkars – angels who test the faith of the dead in their graves – or the ubiquitous Kaffirs.

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 Çörüz.

And then there is Alabama State Rep. Yusuf Salaam, the Democratic politician who introduced a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage…

 

Lucrece

February 11th, 2013

Compare any country with a culturally Muslim majority that can compete with Scandinavians, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Argentinians, the Canadians, or soon Colombians.

You’re taking elite politicians (among the best educated and economically situated people) in a western country with fairly large liberal bases and give the impression that they represent Muslim communities. They don’t.

No more than a friendly Evangelical Christian politician will be representative of the Evangelical population.

I know the heart of this post is to argue against expectations, but those expectations exist for a reason. I might be surprised by the odd kind cop who doesn’t turn out to be a cunt to those he deals with — but cops inspire ill will in minority populations for a reason. And I hate the idea of people being given a brighter take than it actually is.

paul canning

February 11th, 2013

Lucrece

We’re not talking about “any country with a culturally Muslim majority”, we’re talking about Muslims living in the West and, specifically, those who like and support us.

I don’t write that there are not issues that these politicians have with Muslim communities, but who does it help to snuff out as you do such an obviously positive development? Not us.

Your post is a perfect example of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

Hue-Man

February 11th, 2013

It’s too bad the catholic and talibangelical homophobes can’t understand the message: mind your own business. The problem is that their leadership is trying to impose a theocratic government which listens only to them. If they don’t want men to marry other men, then don’t hold wedding ceremonies in your church!

There seems to be little appetite for positive stories about Muslims so it’s unsurprising that the pro-equality positions of these politicians have not been made more well-known. The West seems to want to see a “moderate” Islam emerge but is unwilling to support its proponents. When was the last time (Canadian) Muslim reform activist, Irshad Manji, appeared on mainstream media programming? https://www.irshadmanji.com/

Jessamine

February 11th, 2013

Lucrece

Your casual use of the word cunt as a derogatory term to describe cops who inspire ill will in minority populations is inappropriate and offensive. Please look around you at all of the women who are standing beside you in this fight for equality. Do you really want to alienate them so thoughtlessly?

TampaZekex

February 11th, 2013

You don’t have to look across the sea or across the border to find examples of pro-gay Muslims. We have Keith Ellison, a Muslim congressman from Minnesota, with a 100% positive gay rights voting record. He is also on record supporting marriage equality.

Gene in L.A.

February 11th, 2013

Lucrece,
I would just point out that “expectations” carried to their extreme become prejudices.

BrianQTD

February 11th, 2013

Yes these Muslim politicians live in Western countries but there is no transnational, universal Muslim “essence,” only Islams as they exist in different contexts. Christians in the United States and Europe cannot be compared with Christians in Uganda or Russia. These Christianities have been influenced by their cultures. The same is true with Islam.

There are reformers in Islam and they have a hard road to hoe just like liberal Catholic theologians and liberal evangelicals.

Adam k.

February 11th, 2013

There are two Muslims in the House. André
Carson, whose record I have no doubt matches Rep. Ellison’s, is also Muslim.

Lord_Byron

February 11th, 2013

I know it’s random, but Shadow Justice Secretary sounds like a kind of cool super hero name.

Lucrece

February 11th, 2013

Jessamine, the word does not belong to the US. It is used in international English, and in the UK and Australia it’s pretty accepted.

It was also used in context toward a MAN, and considering some people will use Queer and nobody rallies to the sheer offensiveness of the word among LGBT orgs, maybe you should examine the point that to some people words are offensive while to others they are not.

Jessamine

February 12th, 2013

Lucrece

So your answer is yes, but it’s done deliberately. Thank you for clarifying.

Donny D.

February 15th, 2013

Lucrece wrote,

Jessamine, the word does not belong to the US. It is used in international English, and in the UK and Australia it’s pretty accepted.

Yeah, tell the dumb Americans where they’re going wrong. That’ll win you a lot of friends.

By the way, i DO NOT ACCEPT your claim that the c-word is “pretty accepted” in the UK and Australia. I know it’s used casually in Britain, though about Australia i DON’T know that. But I also know that in both countries, there are many contexts in which it is NOT used. Clearly it’s considered offensive enough that one doesn’t see it in British or Aussie journalistic writing, or in the things that politicians are quoted saying. So no, I don’t believe you when you said it’s “pretty accepted” in either place. On the street and maybe when getting wasted at the pub, but while people here say f*ck and sh*t casually, these word are unacceptable in many other circumstances.

Instead of trying to defend your use of the c-word, ask yourself if it’s acceptable here on Box Turtle Bulletin. You’ll find that it mostly ISN’T, and you don’t get to unilaterally change that to make your social screwup okay after the fact.

No matter how “accepted” the c-word is in SOME circumstances in Britain, the use of the word in the way you did is STILL misogynist.

Priya Lynn

February 15th, 2013

Up until now I thought Lucrece was a woman. I think less of him now after he’s used that word and haughtily defended using it.

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