The first Muslim LGBTQ+ workshop by The Healing Circle.sg was held as a private event on 10th December 2017. The two main points of discussion was a sharing of learning points from a recent Muslim LGBTQ+ conference in Canada, and a presentation on a neurological perspective on homosexuality and gender non-conforming individuals. The mood was not entirely formal, with personal sharings of personal histories, opinions, and discussions happening during the course of the workshop as well.
The Muslim LGBTQ+ conference in Canada was a valuable experience for the presenters who shared their thoughts during the workshop session. It was the first ever conference on LGBTQ+ Muslims and the lineup of academics was similarly comprised of scholars who broke ground in a more sexuality- and gender-sensitive understanding of Islam (whether in the historical, social, or theological traditions) and the Qur’an. One of the topics discussed was a re-visit into the Story of Lot, which is the story in the Qur’an that is most frequently cited as an example of Islam’s unfavourable, even hostile, position against homosexuality. A thorough and more nuanced look into the verses, its context, and viewing it contextually within the Qur’an reveals that the story of Lot is more about the punishment of a people who rejected Lot’s prophethood, and most of all, who showed extreme inhospitality to guests by even raping them. This act of rape and power they committed against the male guests therefore cannot be simplistically be understood as consensual sex. Furthermore, the men who committed these acts of rape were straight in orientation, being married with wives.
The focus on the Story of Lot is interesting. This story which is so foundational to the justification of hostility to same-sex pairings is in fact focused solely on the “unnatural” pairing of men. In the Islamic tradition, not much is said about female same-sex pairings, or gender non-confirming individuals. Much of hostility directed against individuals under the umbrella of LGBTQ+ therefore, seems to hinge on a body of scholarship that almost exclusively only deals with the unacceptability of male homosexual relations.
For the scholars, their research has led them to conclude that the Islamic tradition remains largely indifferent to an individual’s orientation and gender-identity. The sin does not lie in one’s identity or orientation, it seems, but actually the act of sex before marriage. Whether the person is straight or not, sex before marriage is considered “zina”.
One of the presenters shared how she had asked some of the speakers about how to deal with homophobic individuals that queer Muslims and queer Muslim activists will inevitably face. The scholars shared that one of the ways that would minimize personal frustration is to understand that each person has the right to their own opinions, regardless of how offensive we might find those opinions. Each person might also have their own limitations in terms of personal and intellectual understanding. Understanding this means one would be able to detect when continuing to argue would only be pointless, and it would save both parties frustration, and especially emotional exhaustion for the one bearing homophobic one continuing to argue or reason in a way that they cannot understand.
Someone had also brought up the question of how to deal with the tension and difficulties that queer individuals face with family members. The advice given was to try and understand that parents go through a period of grieve and loss, in a sense, because they had held on to an ideal of their child, one where they were expecting their child to grow up, get married, have children, and the general trajectory of participating and fitting in with heteronormative society. Of course, no person should have to suffer from their parents’ belief in such an ideal in the first place, but perhaps understanding that they go through a period of grief and loss for this version of a child that they have to “let go” of might help individuals better understand the way their parents react to them. In the future, let us hope that children can be loved and accepted and not have this care withheld or made difficult because they do not fit into a prescriptive way of being.
The next presentation was on neurological understandings of homosexuality. The presentation sought to debunk the trivialising idea that sexual orientation was just a choice that an individual makes, implying that it thus can simply be done away with. The presentation however showed the neurological differences that were found in the brains of straight individuals as compared to gay men, women, and trans gender individuals. The development of the brain begins in the womb and continues on until young adulthood. The differences that are observed in the brains of straight individuals as compared to gay and gender non-conforming individuals are crucially made during the development of the brain while the baby is in the womb. During this process, whether certain chemical processes happen or not, or the way they occur, can result in the differences that subsequently affect the individual’s sexual and romantic orientation. The presenter does acknowledge that of course there is a demographic of queer individuals who may choose queer sexual and romantic relations, and this is fine. However, the scientific findings she shared nevertheless gives strong evidence to prove that for many queer individuals, it is simply not a choice. It is their very biology, and it cannot simply be wished or casted away.
The final presenter clarified the difference between Islam and Islamic traditions. He had said: “There is no such thing as “Islam says that..” Islam is not a person, it does not wake up in the morning, brush its teeth, go to work. It is Muslims who speak.” And Muslims who speak do so from their own understanding of Islam, drawing from a multitude of Islamic traditions. Islam cannot be understood in a monolithic manner.
He also mentioned that as long as a certain issue is debated, it cannot be taken as a categorical truth within the Islamic tradition. Only a few things stand as uncontested by scholars of Islam, such six basic beliefs. Nobody debates that the God is not one, and we can thus assume this to be a categorical fact in the Islamic faith.
He goes on to mention that the Qur’an does make mention throughout the text non-heteronormative individuals. These mentions are done in passing, such as referring to “men who are not in need of women”, and they are done in a non-judgmental manner. The Qur’an thus acknowledges the existence of individuals who do not align with heteronormativity, and passes no judgement on such people.
The presenter also clarified the difference between (1) biological sex (2) Sexual orientation (3) sexual act (4) gender identity. He noted that most discourse against homosexuality focuses on the third point – the sexual act. He stated the reason that it is perhaps because the sexual act is the point where an act is being committed, and therefore the thing that can be judged as wrong or not. The other factors are not things that can be considered as “wrong” in the sense that people do not necessarily “act” upon those things.
He clarified however that these four things are not well understood, and that people often do not understand the many “combos” they can come in. The sexual act in itself does not necessarily imply anything about a person’s sexual orientation. One’s biological sex may not align with one’s gender identity. These may be obvious to those who are more educated on gender studies, but not so much in mainstream understanding.
(The above is a post-event review written by one of the participants attended the workshop.)
A Special Thanks to the writer ♡