Columnist Terry Mattingly: ‘Navigating differences’ — Islamic debates on sexuality
In terms of Islamic doctrine, alcohol is “haram,” or forbidden, and the Quran is blunt: “O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork.”
But it isn’t hard to find Muslims who have never boarded that bandwagon.
“There are Muslims who drink and get drunk. That’s a fact, but that doesn’t mean they can change what Islam teaches,” said Yasir Qadhi, dean of the Islamic Seminary of America near Dallas. “That’s a sin. We all sin. But we cannot change our faith to fit the new norms in society.”
Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be controversial for Islamic leaders to affirm that their faith teaches absolute, unchanging truths about moral issues — including subjects linked to sexuality, marriage and family life.
But Muslims in America never expected to be called “ignorant and intolerant” because they want public school leaders to allow children to opt out of academic work that clashes with their faith. That’s what is happening, said Qadhi, in Montgomery County, Maryland, and a few other parts of the U.S. and Canada, where Muslim parents have been accused of cooperating with the cultural right.
“That is so painful. ... Truth is, we are not aligning with the political left or right,” he added. “You cannot put Islam into a two-party world, where you have to choose the Democrats or the Republicans and that is that.”
On the legal front, a Maryland district court recently ruled that parents do not have “a fundamental right” to avoid school activities that challenge their faith. The legal team for a coalition of Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, evangelicals and others quickly asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the Mahmoud v. McKnight decision.
At the same time, Muslim leaders are debating a May 23 statement — “Navigating Differences: Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam” — signed by more than 200 Muslim leaders and scholars representing a variety of Islamic traditions. Qadhi was one of the first 60 to sign the document. Among the claimed points of theological agreement, it noted:
• “By a decree from God, sexual relations are permitted within the bounds of marriage, and marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. In the Quran, God explicitly condemns sexual relations with the same sex.”
• “Islam strictly prohibits medical procedures intended to change the sex of healthy individuals, regardless of whether such procedures are termed gender ‘affirming’ or ‘confirming.’”
• “Islam distinguishes between feelings, actions, and identity. God holds individuals accountable for their words and actions, not for their involuntary thoughts and feelings. ... the stance of Islam on illicit sexual relations goes hand in hand with its protection and promotion of the individual’s right to privacy.”
• “We recognize that our moral code conflicts with the goals of LGBTQ proponents. We also acknowledge their constitutional right to live in peace and free from abuse. Nevertheless, we emphasize our God-given and constitutional rights to hold, live by, and promote our religious beliefs. ... Peaceful coexistence does not necessitate agreement, acceptance, affirmation, promotion, or celebration.”
Among those rejecting the document, Afsheen A. Shamsi of Union Theological Seminary in New York City noted: “In a pluralistic society like America, it is very dangerous to start to curtail the rights of any community as today if we decide to target the LGBTQ community, tomorrow it will be the Muslims and anyone else who is perceived as different.”
In this statement published in multiple publications, Shamsi said she refuses to “align with the Religious Right, which stands for everything Islam condemns, including white supremacy, hatred, oppression, racism, and centuries of injustice against all historically marginalized communities including the Muslim community.”
While these debates continue, Qadhi said Muslims will have to get used to criticism by extreme voices on both sides.
“The Religious Left can be just as intolerant as the Religious Right. We are now hearing people on the modern left shouting, ‘Go back to where you came from. You do not belong here,’” he said. “But they are shouting that for different reasons than some on the right. When they say, ‘Our values,’ they have a new set of moral values that they want us to accept, and mere tolerance is not an option. The script has been flipped.”