Gays and Islam

The conventional point of view in Islam is that homosexuality is a major no-no. Maybe mainstream media will one day attack Muslims for this general POV after they’re done with focusing on terrorism. But for now, conservative Christians are running cover.

One failure of popular contemporary conservative Christianity is that the uproar over homosexuality was not preceded by a similar uproar over modern society’s consumption and distribution of sex in general and our treatment of migrants and those seeking shelter. If the basis of being against homosexuality is rooted in the story of Lot and the destruction of his people, then we’re typically glossing over the rest of the story; the townspeople acting out their sexual desires in public, attempting to take travelers and rape them, and, at least in the Islamic version, there’s also elements of highway robbery in there. Essentially, the picture sounds a bit more Mad Max than just a bunch of happy queers in Provincetown.

This failure opens the doors for accusations of hypocrisy. From the standpoint of Islamic Law, adultery and fornication in general, without regard to sexual orientation, are major sins. If we step out of the context of modern Western society with its available provisions for STD screening and prophylactics (sure I could’ve said condoms), then adultery and fornication can be a death sentence for an entire family all because of one irresponsible person.

For example, in Uganda, where polygamy is an accepted social norm, there were men who instead had girlfriends in addition to their wife. These girlfriends had boyfriends (married or no) who had other girlfriends and wives and so on. At one point the campaign to stop the spread of HIV focused on getting these men to make wives out of their girlfriends. It was referred to as “tying your goat.” This effectively prevented the further spread of the disease by limiting the sexual circle. Unfortunately, when condoms and safe sex became the mantra, this discipline was lost and the disease began to spread again.

I needed to touch on that point because many of us from more prosperous nations are unable to think about the incredible cost to implement certain social programs versus restricting the behavior that leads to certain negative outcomes. This is essentially the difference in conservative and liberal ideology; preventing the behavior versus treating the outcome of certain behavior. Generally, Islamic thought, on this measure, could be categorized as conservative.

I know this all looked like a tangent but the point still is that conservatives should be more in an uproar over society’s defining certain media as “art” instead of “pornography”, or how a prurient interest test may mean that a community’s standards are offset by the looser tastes of a wider community, or even how people dress and carry themselves in public has become more and more loose. In many ways, for many “conservatives”, the last bastion of conservative thought is in being against homosexuality. Otherwise, the social behavior and interests of conservatives versus liberals is not appreciably different.

I can’t help but read back on this and see how prudish this comes off as. It’s difficult to explain an appreciation for sex, sex education, and the importance of making sure there’s plenty of quality amounts of it while also explaining that I, and many like-minded people, don’t care to be “on” all the time via our media, marketing, and general social norms. Like all things, there’s a time and place, but with sex, my major grievance is that there are fewer and fewer times and places without it.

Before going forward, here’s a disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Saudi Arabia, its singular, rigid, interpretation of Islam, and I don’t typically find much to hold as an admirable example of how a society should be. But there is an interesting, seemingly contradictory, reality in Saudi Arabia; there’s a whole lot of gay sex there where homosexuality is officially punishable by death. To be clear, however, adulterous relationships by married people in general is also punishable by death. But how can there be that much gay sex there as well?

While Islam is outwardly conservative, Islamic Law affords a great deal of freedom behind closed doors, including rights to privacy. The standard required for putting someone to death for sexual misconduct is high; four witnesses or admission of guilt three times. Given these inputs, open displays of out-of-marriage sex are discouraged and placed behind closed doors. Once behind closed doors, if a gaggle of guys go inside their home and don’t leave until the next morning, unless you have testifying witnesses or somehow make a public display of whatever transpired, then no one has any reason to think anything of any interest happened.

In Western minds, this may sound hypocritical, or like a suppression of freedom, but in Islam there is a general directive to promote good and denounce bad and there are everlasting notions of public space versus private.  But today, where going out in public in pajamas isn’t given a second look and taking half-nude sefies is OK, many people seem to have lost the distinction between public and private. Now, for a group of people that have abnormal sexual preferences, bringing that out into the public sphere seems logical. Why would we restrict that but not a nude selfie?

For anyone reading this and paying attention, you’ll notice I haven’t said much about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality. I don’t like it, but like many things I don’t like, I can just not partake in it and not promote it. But I do feel like joining in the chrous of people bashing it somehow implies that I am uniquely upset at homosexuality being all around me as opposed to plain old sexuality all around me all the time. I find women going to the offices of a Fortune 500 manufacturing company wearing yoga pants more offensive to my everyday sensibilities than the gay guy that’s in my group. I don’t have to talk to the gay guy about his boyfriend or gay current events if I don’t want to. But I can’t not see the person wearing yoga pants.

Finally, as a Muslim, there is something else to keep in mind. The only unforgivable sin is associating deities and objects of worship with Allah (God, Yahweh, pick a name). And as previously mentioned, I know of nothing that places homosexual adultery or fornication as greater than heterosexual adultery or fornication. To pick on homosexuality is to chase a red herring. Gay people have been around for a long time. What’s newer in recent history is the general social acceptance of the amount of sex available in the public sphere. With that as the social norm, why wouldn’t gay people feel left out?

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