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Posts for February, 2013

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 Coşkun Çörüz.

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

 

Them mooslems int got no relijun

Timothy Kincaid

November 18th, 2010

I ruffled some feathers here (and reaped a heap of accusations) by doubting the wisdom and appropriateness of the methods employed in proposing and planning a mosque that was perceived to be “at Ground Zero”. But – for those who got a bit carried away at that time – there is a difference between concern about the circumstances of a situation and downright bigotry.

An example of the latter category comes to us from Murfreesburo, Tennessee, where some local folk have been trying to block a community of Muslims from expanding their worship and cultural center.

Following a suit filed under the pretenses of concerns about traffic, water quality, and soil contamination, the court case soon devolved into bald bigotry. (AP)

But much of the questioning from plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Brandon Jr. during seven days of testimony since late September was about whether Islam qualified as a religion. He pushed his theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

The argument was founded on the nonsensical assumption that all Muslims adhere to the most conservative and literal interpretations of their text, (LA Times)

At one point, he asked whether Rutherford County Commissioner Gary Farley supported hanging a whip in his house as a warning to his wife and then beating her with it, something Brandon claimed was part of “Shariah religion.”

The commissioner protested that he would never beat his wife.

The ironic part is that the objection to the mosque was funded by those who consider themselves good Christians, the Bible-believing, force-everyone-to-follow-my-doctrine type. It would have been amusing to have various parts of the Bible read allowed and accuse the plaintiffs of practicing slavery and stoning their children. I think it would have been fun to just ask Attorney Brandon whether he holds the Constitution or the Bible in higher regard and watch him squirm.

To their credit, the commissioners stood by their decision and local religious leaders defended the mosque. And, of course, the judge found no merit in the rantings of stereotype and hatred.

But that didn’t stop some politicians from capitalizing on anti-Muslim animus. (CNN)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey publicly criticized the project during a speech in August.

“You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, a cult, whatever you want to call it,” Ramsey, then a candidate for Tennessee governor, said at a rally.

The only valid criticism seems to be that one of the board members had posted pro-Hamas comments to his MySpace page. And that, indeed, does deserve public rebuke.

But at the end of the day, people have the religious and intellectual freedom to support Hamas. That such a view is contrary to decency does not mean that they lose their constitutional rights.

And besides, personally I have a hard time distinguishing between the attitudes of hard-core Muslim extremists who want to impose their religion on others, and their Christian counterparts.

Indonesian gays threatened with imprisonment for blasphemy

Timothy Kincaid

March 30th, 2010

Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world, about 230 million, with about half residing on Java and the rest spread across about 17,500 islands. It is predominantly Muslim (about 86%), but the constitution also allows religious freedom, which is defined as the freedom of worship in Islam and five additional religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The Islam practiced in Indonesia is generally less strident than that practiced in the Middle East. Officially secular (other than in the province of Aceh), the laws do not forbid homosexuality and there is a level of tolerance and even limited visibility. However, there are conservative factions within the nation’s Muslim population who long to remake Indonesia as a Muslim state and to administer Shari’a law.

Additionally, Indonesia has a blasphemy law which prohibits alternative interpretations of the six recognized religions. Although this law is currently being challenged in the Constitutional Court, it is being fiercely defended by the Religion Minister.

This past weekend, the ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) had planned on holding its ILGA Asia conference at Surabaya, the capital of East Java. The conference was to be from Friday, March 26th, through Monday, March 29th, and was to focus on the problems faced by women and by marginalized communities in general.

However, on the 24th, the police refused to permit the event to go on. (AsiaOne)

Indonesian police said Wednesday they will not issue a permit for an international gay and transgender group to convene a regional conference because of fears it could incite unrest.

The unrest cited was a non-subtle threat from Muslim activist groups (Jakarta Globe)

Abdusshomad Buchori, chairman of the East Java chapter of the MUI, said the conference was an attempt “to ruin the people and the young generation.”

“According to Islamic teachings, the same-sex relationships of gays or lesbians as well as bisexuals are condemned by the Almighty,” he said, adding that his organization had sent a formal request to the National Police headquarters and the East Java administration not to permit the conference to go ahead.

Abdusshomad said his organization would not hesitate “to use our own methods” to break up the event should authorities allow it to go forward. “If there are parties that insist on holding the event, we will play hard,” he warned.

Unable to negotiate a resolution, ILGA canceled the conference. But this was inadequate for militant Islamists (Jakarta Globe)

Led by the East Java chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), hardline groups descended on a Surabaya hotel on Friday, intimidating delegates who had planned to attend an international gay conference that was canceled after pressure from Islamic organizations.

“We found 130 people, including foreign participants from 13 countries, who were gathering in the hotel,” said a spokesman for the groups, Arukat Jaswadi, who is also chairman of the Center for Indonesian Community Studies. The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) also took part in the raid.

The radical Islamic groups also demanded that the management of the Oval Hotel ask the guests registered for the event to leave. “How can the hotel management guarantee us that those people are not having a conference in the hotel?” said Arukat.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) was scheduled to hold a conference in Surabaya from Friday to Sunday. The event, hosted by gay rights group Gaya Nusantara, had been expected to attract more than 150 activists.

A minor clash occurred during the raid as hotel guests resisted the checks by FPI members. Arukat said scuffles broke out because the ILGA members did not want to cooperate with them and “always argue with us.”

When the ILGA members planned to hold a news conference after the raid, the FPI members prevented them, leading to another skirmish.

“They are undermining us. It’s clear that we don’t want them to be here for the conference, now they want to hold a press conference,” Arukat said.

The groups said they would “keep an eye on the participants and make sure they leave the hotel on Friday afternoon.”

Local sources report that the militants threatened the lives of the conferees, saying that they would burn them alive.

While it is disappointing that these Muslim groups were able to intimidate police into forcing the cancellation of the conference, it is the most recent development that causes the greatest concern. The government, through its Ministry of Religious Affairs, is not choosing to call into question the bullying tactics and death threats of Muslim radicals. Rather, it is taking a position that threatens the freedom of sexual minorities to meet or advocate for their rights. (Fridae)

The Minister of Religious Affairs, Suryadharma Ali, was quoted as saying that activities such as the conference are against religious and moral order, and an offense to the religious community in Indonesia. He added that homosexual behaviour contradicts the teachings of various religions, including Islam. He added that he is certain other religions in Indonesia do not condone homosexual behaviour.

It is believed that the organisers of the conference – none have been specifically named by the authorities although three members of the ILGA Asia board are Indonesian: Poedjiati Tan of Gaya Nusantara, King Oey of Arus Pelangi and Kamilia of Institut Pelangi Perempuan, Indonesia – may be charged under the country’s Blasphemy Law.

If the local organizers of the conference are found guilty of blaspheming, they could be jailed for up to five years. While the Blasphemy Law has been used to outlaw the organization of minority religious sects, the expansion to include as blasphemy those who simply disagree with specific religious doctrines is a threat to the freedoms of all Indonesians. And it, in effect, criminalizes not only sexual behaviors but any attitude, opinion, or advocacy that disagrees with the dominant religion.

Ugandan Church Leaders Back “Kill Gays” Bill

Jim Burroway

December 9th, 2009

The independent Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor reports on a meeting of 200 religious leaders held in Entebbe this week in which participants encouraged the government to cut diplomatic ties to all countries demanding withdrawal of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that is now before Parliament.

The meeting brought together church leaders representing Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventist churches as well as Muslim kadhis. Participants pledged to actively campaign for the bill in their houses of worship. According to the Monitor:

At their three-day meeting in Entebbe this week, the spiritual leaders came up with several recommendations that are opposed to homosexuals. “Government should cut ties with donor communities and other groups which support ungodly values such as homosexuality and abortion,” one of the resolutions reads.

…The Secretary General of the Inter-religious Council of Uganda, Mr Joshua Kitakule, told Daily Monitor yesterday that development partners should not  interfere in the process of legislation in Uganda.

“Those countries should respect our spiritual values. They shouldn’t interfere,” he said. “All senior religious leaders have been given copies of the Bill to read and educate people in the churches and mosques,” he added. Mr Kitakule said the Bill, which was tabled last month by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, has not been understood by human rights activists and homosexuals. “The Bill is ok. But it has been misunderstood. We need to educate people on this proposed law,” he said.

Member of Parliament David Bahati, who introduced the bill into Parliament, was also at the conference and spoke in favor of the legislation. Echoing Richard CohenDon Schmierer, Scott Lively and other American ex-gay advocates, Bahati said:

“It is a learned behaviour and can be unlearned. You can’t tell me that people are born gays.   It is foreign influence that is on work,” he said.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Indonesian Moderate Muslims Accept Gays

Timothy Kincaid

November 13th, 2009

A Muslim conference in Jakarta, Indonesia concluded that homosexuality is permissible. (Jakarta Post)

Moderate Muslim scholars said there were no reasons to reject homosexuals under Islam, and that the condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality by mainstream ulema and many other Muslims was based on narrow-minded interpretations of Islamic teachings.

Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace cited the Koran’s al-Hujurat (49:3) that one of the blessings for human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation.

“There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety,” she told the discussion organized by nongovernmental organization Arus Pelangi.

It is difficult to know to the extent that these moderate scholars influence Muslim thinking in that nation. But as we hear so very little of encouragement from the Muslim World, this is very good news indeed. This may be the first time that I’ve become aware that any segment Islam is accepting of gay people.

Muslims and Gays United

Jim Burroway

March 14th, 2008

What a topsy-turvy world we live in. Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern’s anti-gay tirade has managed to unite Tulsa-area gays and Muslims.

See also:
Sally Kern Is a Little Confused
Sally Kern’s Economic Fallout
Sally Kern’s Meeting with PFLAG on Tape
Exodus’ Local Ministry Aligns with Sally Kern
Certified Cameronite: Sally Kern
Kern Speaks to College Republicans
Sally Kern: Out of Context? The Complete Transcript
We Be Jammin’
Muslims and Gays United
OK State Rep. Sally Kern’s Son is “Straight and Not Gay”
Sally Kern Exaggerates Death Threats
A Letter to Sally Kern
LaBarbera Award: Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern

Are Some Islamic Leaders Becoming Less Homophobic?

Timothy Kincaid

December 3rd, 2007

suhail_abualsameed.gifWe seldom cover Islamic issues here at Box Turtle Bulletin, mostly because we have little familiarity with Islam and because it seldom is a significant social force in the United States. But the general impression is that those who are most devout in this faith, as well as those geographic regions most under its sway, are harshly homophobic and supportive of extreme punitive responses including execution.

However, a report out of South Africa (via ukgaynews) gives us some small hope for change.

The International Consultation on Islam and HIV/AIDS had spent several days denouncing the evils of homosexuality. An outsider might find this an unusual tactic for approaching “HIV prevention among hard-to-reach vulnerable groups like sex workers, street children, injecting drug users, and men who have sex with men.” But for religious Muslims in the third world, this seemed the only acceptable approach.

Then Suhail AbualSameed stood to speak.

“As a gay Muslim, I feel unsafe, unloved and unrespected in this space,” he said.

“Were I to become HIV-positive, the first thing I would lose is my Muslim community. I couldn’t come to you guys for support.”

After his speech, AbualSameed was surprised to hear apologies and words of support from many who sported the beards or the veils of the very religious. He was more surprised to hear an official response from organization.

Conference spokesperson and IRW head of policy Willem van Eekelen read their collective statement, saying that although Islam does not accept homosexuality, Islamic leaders would try to help create an environment in which gay people could approach social workers and find help against AIDS without feeling unsafe.

While I doubt that executions will diminish or that Islam will soon open its arms to its gay children, I am happy to report any steps of progress.