(RNS) — Are North American Muslims politically on the right or left? Conservative or liberal? Democrats or Republicans?
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently visited the Muslim community in Calgary, where parents asked his help in making sure Muslim beliefs were respected in schools, particularly about sexuality. In recent months, Muslims in Canada and the United States have protested the mandatory inclusion of newly developed LGBTQ content in school curriculums as well as the general representation of same-sex attraction in school events and academic teachings. The school system, Muslims argue, should be impartial and not force children to learn subject matter against their parents’ consent.
Yet Trudeau’s response to the parents in Calgary, captured on video, was to blame social media propaganda from “the American right wing” for spreading “untruths” about school curriculums that concern Christian and Muslim parents alike. Trudeau cited a principle of philosophical liberalism, saying that Canadian society’s protection for LGBTQ citizens “gives you all the protections and protects all minorities as well.”
Muslims in Canada and the United States include some of the most educated families in their respective nations. We are engaged in society, politically aware and involved in the fabric of both countries. We understand from our own experience what is happening in our schools and don’t need to be prompted by far right rhetoric in order to express our own worldviews.
Indeed, Muslims are well aware of how the right tries to capitalize on our beliefs to garner support. In 2022, concerned parents (Muslim and otherwise) in Dearborn, Michigan, protested at a school board meeting against sexually explicit content in school libraries, including books that explicitly described same-sex practices. Local Republicans took note and jumped at the opportunity to offer their support after the fact. But their support was not the catalyst for Muslim parents’ frustrations; it was material that they considered inappropriate for public schools.
But some Democratic politicians at the city and state levels nonetheless condemned Muslims for “cooperating” with the far right and claimed that it was the far right who were responsible for riling parents up and dividing the community. At the same time, the left has accused Muslims of bigotry or intolerance for not wanting their religious beliefs violated.
When politicians blame the other side for Muslims’ genuinely held religious convictions, they imply that Muslims are being brainwashed — apparently, we can’t think for ourselves. This alienates us from all politicians and their Muslim constituents. Trudeau should know better than to tell Muslims that their resistance to the sexual ethics and identity politics in their children’s schools stems from modern-day political parties, rather than timeless principles extracted from the Quran.
Muslims do not owe our loyalty to the spectrum of politicians and political parties in either nation. Our beliefs may at times align with one politician or another, and our strategies, with the guidance of qualified scholars and councils, may require us to pursue different paths at different times. Our loyalty is to the truth of Islam.
In previous elections, some Muslims have sided overwhelmingly with one party in the hopes of preserving their rights. Donald Trump’s bigoted and Islamophobic campaign rhetoric convinced many Muslims to vote for Democrats in the 2016 and 2020 election cycles. In Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s well-documented anti-Muslim rhetoric cost the Conservatives many votes. An unfortunate consequence of such an intense shift to liberal candidates is the confusion among younger generations of Muslims, who conflated political strategy with approval of all that political liberalism entails.
Moments like Trudeau’s encounter in Calgary have prompted Muslims to clarify for politicians on the campaign trail and teachers in the classroom what we believe about sexual ethics. And such moments have prompted major Muslim institutions and leaders to make sure these issues are no longer brushed under the rug. More than 300 Muslim scholars recently signed a document titled “Navigating Differences: Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam” that should serve as a guide to those making decisions on curriculums and those making policy.
It is by no means a comprehensive solution or perfect, but one of many small steps in what is clearly a long-term cultural struggle in this era.
To conclude his dismissive remarks to the Muslims who engaged him, Trudeau — as though oblivious to the Islamic worldview — said: “I will stand up for the rights of LGBT kids, including if they’re LGBT Muslim kids.”
There’s no exploitation from the “far right” prompting us here, Trudeau, as we believe in an intellectually justified system of values, grounded in a timeless revelation of God, and we will continue to be involved in advocating for what we believe to be moral and true.
(Suleiman Hani is director of academic affairs at AlMaghrib Institute in Houston. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service or AlMaghrib Institute.)