(RNS) — Days before Pride month 2023 began, more than 150 prominent, mostly American Muslim religious leaders declared in a signed statement that LGBTQ+ rights and beliefs are incompatible with the Muslim faith. They suggest that their conclusion has ijma — a matter of infallible agreement — within the Muslim community and that any dissent is “theologically indefensible.”
It’s hard to overstate how harmful this is. The Muslim community rarely reaches ijma on interpretations of Scripture. For example, scholars still disagree about whether women are required to be fully covered, wear a hijab or none of the above. To suggest complete agreement on LGBTQ+ issues is both deeply inaccurate and wildly dangerous.
It’s galling when far-right religious “scholars” take it upon themselves to define Islam for the rest of us. For one, these signatories blatantly disregard teachings of the Quran, the Hadith and the Sunnah, as well as long traditions of sexual and gender diversity across Islamic civilizations. The Prophet Muhammad consistently called on Muslims to stand up against the oppression of the most vulnerable. He never punished anyone for being gay despite there being plenty of evidence that queer people existed in his time. There is also no punishment for being homosexual in the Quran.
Indeed, the “mukhannath,” or gender-variant people, are mentioned multiple times in the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). The Quran also refers to “men who do not desire women” — mentioned without an iota of hate or prejudice. Muslim societies throughout the ages even had inheritance laws for hermaphrodites.
The omission of all these rich facts by these religious leaders is misleading. They falsify the true teachings of the Quran and the long presence that queer Muslims have had in Islamic societies.
Moreover, the Muslim world did not commonly have laws barring homosexuality prior to colonization. It was European colonizers who introduced institutionalized and systemic homophobia and transphobia to these societies, often in the form of penal codes. In 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom apologized for Britain’s anti-gay laws and for their impact on human rights.
While dozens of religious leaders may have recently proclaimed anti-LGBTQ+ views, their views are far out of step with modern Muslim Americans. The Pew Research Center found in 2017 that 52% of American Muslims believe homosexuality should be accepted by society. Among Muslim American millennials, that jumped to 60%.
It’s particularly disheartening that Muslim religious leaders would release such a statement when Muslims themselves have suffered discrimination so acutely. Since 9/11, Muslims in America are often unjustly treated simply for being Muslim. The signatories of the statement, in perhaps their only accurate observation, acknowledge the bigotry and exclusion that Muslims have faced across the Western world.
Yet these religious leaders, who have no doubt spoken up numerous times against Islamophobic exclusion and their constitutional right to be protected and feel safe, have the impudence to demand acceptance and reject all forms of criticism for their intolerance of a minority population.
Yes, the statement does claim that the LGBTQ+ community has a right to live free from abuse. But the declaration will likely give its readers exactly the opposite message. One cannot simply say that a way of life is morally wrong and then expect that those who live it will avoid ridicule, shame, hate and harm. The signatories are simply trying to feel absolved of the violence they will fuel.
No one had to tell people to abuse Muslims after 9/11 explicitly. But that’s exactly the message rhetoric at the time conveyed, and it’s what happened.
Over and over again, the world’s religious right — regardless of religious affiliation or nationality — have used queer folks as a common target for demonization and dehumanization. We cannot allow these sentiments to become the norm in the Muslim community. At its core, the Muslim faith is all about love and care for the vulnerable. That includes the LGBTQ+ community.
(Ani Zonneveld is founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)