The truth about Islam

Much has changed since 9-11. But one group we have heard very little from is queer Muslims and how they cope with being queer and dealing with post 9-11 religious profiling in this country.

“Thank you for your questions about this delicate subject, which I know is especially important to you, as it is to many people,” Mary Lahaj, a Qur’an scholar and ally to the LGBTQ community, told me. “First of all, one of the great misconceptions of all time is that all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are Arabs. Most of the Arabs in this country are Christians. Half of the Arabs in Palestine are Christians, Eastern Orthodox. Islamic history is only part of the history of the Arabs.”

Imitiyaz Hussein is not Arab but is a gay Indian Muslim residing in New York City. Shortly after 9-11, Hussein was on a flight where he was engaged in an enjoyable conversation with the woman next to him. When the flight attendant called out his name to give him his meal, the woman jumped. And for a while, he was on the federal government’s no-fly list, but attributes the error to a computer problem.

I asked Lahaj what the Qur’an says about homosexuality. Her reply was, “There is no justification for treating any human being, regardless of their race, gender, or even sexual preference, by discriminating against them or oppressing them in any way. The Qur’anic principles of justice and equity are overwhelming and abundantly unequivocal. Oppression and discrimination … break all the rules of equity and justice. This is supported in the Qur’an throughout.

“The Qur’an addresses every reality of life. And yes, it tells the story of the prophet Lot. This is in the Bible, isn’t it? Lot tries to persuade his town to stop their homosexual activities and take up with the opposite sex. When he fails, God destroys the town.

“Whether human relations are homo or heterosexual, the Qur’an does not endorse people having sex outside of marriage. God forbids what is harmful to humankind. Whatever is the harm in having multiple sexual partners is not permitted. I can think of several harmful consequences off the top of my head. This would suggest that I was pretty lucky to have survived my younger days as a single woman.”

I’m thinking we have both been pretty lucky so far. Al-humdullilah (praise be to God).

And Hussein said that just as there are progressive sects in Judaism and Christianity, so too are there in Islam. His being gay wasn’t a problem because he grew up in a progressive Islamic household.

Many people think of Islam as both fundamentalist and violent, calling devout Muslims to launch “jihad” holy wars. However, the concept of peace is fundamental to Islam. As a matter of fact, the term “Muslim terrorist” is an oxymoron.

The word Islam is derived from the Arabic root that connotes “peace” or “submission.” The proper meaning of Islam is the attainment of peace, both inner and outer, by submission of oneself to the teachings of Allah. The word “Muslim” derives from the Arabic word “salaam,” which means “one who submits to God in peace.”

The concluding words of Muslims’ daily prayers are words of peace, and the daily salutation among Muslims, “Al-salaam alaikum,” is an expression of peace, meaning, “Peace be with you.”

The Qur’an speaks against violence. It states “[I]f anyone slew a person, … it would be as if he slew a whole people.” (5:32)

The prophet Muhammad, Allah’s messenger, also speaks against violence. In Muhammad’s final address in his farewell pilgrimage, he stated in the Hadith, a holy book of sayings, “One who kills a man under covenant will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.”

Islam speaks against religious fanaticism.

“Let there be no compulsion in religion,” Allah (God) states in the Qur’an (2:256). In another Muslim holy book, the Al-Baqarah (2:285), Muslims are warned not to make fanatical or parochial distinctions between prophets.

As a matter of fact, it is Christians we see going door-to-door proselytizing their religious views, not Muslims. De Lacy O’Leary, in “Islam at the Crossroads,” wrote, “History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of a sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”

But anti-Islamic polemical literature based on religious intolerance and ignorance has precluded the possibility of an unbiased and open-minded dialogue and understanding about Islam and Muslims. Anti-Islamic literature has been and continues to be unsympathetic and even hostile to how the faith is seen in its own understanding of scripture and practiced by its adherents.

Not only do religious fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell taint Americans’ views about Islam and Muslims, but so do the media. The movie “The Siege” portrayed Arab Muslims as an irrational and deadly menace to Western society. And during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the news media rushed to judgment, thinking that the bombing was caused by an Arab or Middle Eastern-looking person, therefore, putting every Muslim American at risk, while at the same time legitimizing racial profiling.

It’s difficult to ignore Islamophobic diatribes in light of centuries of polemical Christian Orientalist literature that excoriates Muslims. Viewed as a people of the anti-Christ who are theologically misled, Muslims are seen as a fanatically violent people of faith journeying on the road to Hell.

And, for many Christian preachers, theologians, and writers, Hell is the place where Muslims belong.

One such writer of that view was Dante Alighieri. In his classic text, “The Divine Comedy,” Dante reflects the Christian attitudes and views about Muslims during the Middle Ages. And those views, we find, have not altered that much today. Dante depicts Hell as a hierarchy of evil, consisting of nine circles. With his views of Muslims as the sowers of scandal, schisms and heresy to the Christian faith, Dante places the Prophet Muhammad and his disciple Ali in the eighth circle, just one above Lucifer.

While the fifth anniversary of 9-11 has come and gone, it is my hope that as we recover from this tragedy as a nation, we will also recover from our monolithic view of Islam.

Published in In Newsweekly, September 13, 2006.

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