As a result of several different social, political, and religious factors, we are witnessing a number of shifts in the way people view certain ideas, concepts, values, morals, ethics, and accepted religious tenets and practices within the Muslim community. One of those shifts is how people navigate LGBT+ issues.
A powerful reason for these changes is that as Muslims we live torn between two distinct worldviews, value systems, and ways of life: that of Islam and that of the contemporary, secularized, and liberal world created by the modern West. Although we believe in and practice Islam, we live in the midst of an alternative – and very powerful – intellectual, social, and moral paradigm that constantly imposes itself on us and seeks to mold our views, judgments, and personalities in its own image.
Within the past couple decades there has been a very radical and drastic change in people’s attitudes towards homosexuality and engaging in homosexual behavior. Something that society considered indecent, immoral, unnatural, sinful, and taboo over the years has become absolutely normal. The shift in attitude has been so radical that if anyone holds or expresses an opinion that contradicts that current paradigm they are automatically labeled a bigot and homophobic. According to the dominant liberal paradigm, homosexuality is something that is natural, moral, and is used as an identity marker. This particular understanding of morality and identity is based on human philosophies and ideologies; it is mostly rooted in liberalism, secularism, and scientism. As a result, it is full of contradictions, double-standards, biases, prejudice, flaws, and is constantly changing and evolving. What is considered to be perfectly moral and normal today was considered to be absolutely strange, immoral, and evil 20 years ago. And the standards keep shifting and changing.
As Muslims, as a community of believers, it is very important for us to have a proper and holistic understanding of how our way of life views homosexuality and more particularly acting upon it. our morality is rooted in Divine revelation in the form of the Quran and Sunnah. Our understanding of what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical, permissible and impermissible comes from Divine revelation.
1. Acting upon homosexual desires is absolutely unlawful
The unlawful nature of acting upon homosexual desires is something that is unequivocally established and proven through the Quran, Sunnah, and Scholarly Consensus. As a matter of fact, all sexual behavior between unmarried men and women is impermissible. Anyone who argues otherwise is either willfully ignorant, academically dishonest, or is engaging in some amazing exegetical and interpretive gymnastics. It is unconscionable that a Muslim or Islamic organization could support or promote a lifestyle that is condemned by God while being true to their beliefs, morals, values, and principles.
It is very important to understand that just because someone believes that homosexual activity is immoral and unlawful doesn’t automatically make them homophobic or a bigot. This is a false equivalency and a way of shutting down any type of open and civil discourse on the topic. Believing an act is immoral and sinful does not mean that somehow that person believes that whoever engages in that act can be discriminated against or harassed verbally or physically. That is absolutely ridiculous.
2. Nature vs. Nurture
The role of biological factors in the development of sexual orientation is a widely debated topic. Even in today’s discourse there is no clarity if homosexuality is a direct result of nature or nurture, although the dominant paradigm would like us to believe that it is totally natural. There is no conclusive scientific research proving the existence of the so called “gay gene”. Some argue that homosexuality is innate – people are born that way, others say it is a product of environmental/social factors, and others argue that it is a combination of both.
Interestingly, when it comes to the Islamic legal perspective regarding acting upon homosexual urges, the discussion of nature vs. nurture is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter if a person’s SSA is a product of nature or a product of their environment, it is still unlawful to act upon it. The permissibility of an act does not revolve around the desire or urge to engage in it being natural. Islam recognizes that we as human beings have natural innate urges and desires. As a matter of fact, Allah ﷻ tells us that the love for these worldly desires had been made attractive to us as human beings. But as people of faith we are required to control, regulate, and moderate these urges and desires and fulfill them within certain boundaries and limits. For example, a man may have the natural urge to sleep with a very attractive woman to whom he is not married. A person may have a natural urge to steal, lie, injure someone, or burn property; that doesn’t make acting upon it permissible. However, having these urges, feelings, and desires is not sinful in and of itself; acting upon them is. That brings me to the next point:
3. We are not held accountable for our desires, urges, feelings, and emotions
It is from the infinite and limitless mercy of Allah ﷻ that we are not held accountable for our thoughts, feelings, and desires. We may only be held accountable for acting upon them. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Verily Allah the Most High has recorded the good deeds and the evil deeds, and then explained it [by saying]: ‘Whosoever intended to perform a good deed, but did not do it, then Allah writes it down with Himself as a complete good deed. And if he intended to perform it and then did perform it, then Allah writes it down with Himself as from ten good deeds up to seven hundred times, up to many times multiplied. And if he intended to perform an evil deed, but did not do it, then Allah writes it down with Himself as a complete good deed. And if he intended it [i.e., the evil deed] and then performed it, then Allah writes it down as one evil deed.’” (Bukhāri) We also learn from this hadith that a person who struggles against their desires, urges, and thoughts and is able to control and regulate them will be rewarded. A person can be struggling with SSA – just like someone may be struggling with the opposite gender, controlling their eyes and thoughts, the urge to drink and get high – and it is their responsibility to control those desires. That struggle is a means of bringing them close to Allah ﷻ. The Prophet ﷺ taught us, “The real warrior is the one who struggles against himself in the obedience of Allah ﷻ.”
Allah’s ﷻ mercy, forgiveness, and grace is infinite and limitless. No matter how much we’ve sinned before, no matter what we’ve done in the past, no matter how bad or ugly our actions were, we can still earn forgiveness from Allah ﷻ, the Most Merciful of those who are merciful. Allah ﷻ says, “Say (on My behalf), “O servants of Mine who have acted recklessly against their own selves, do not despair of Allah’s mercy. Surely, Allah will forgive all sins. Surely, He is the One who is the Most-Forgiving, the Very-Merciful.” (39:53)
5. Denying and Rejecting Something that is Necessarily Known to be Part of Islam
This is a very delicate theological issue that should be discussed by those trained in theology. Anyone who consciously and knowingly rejects or denies a definitive and undeniable belief or practice of Islam has committed an act of disbelief and this could potentially take them out of the fold of Islam. For example, if a person denies the obligation of praying five times a day, fasting in Ramadan, or the prohibition of dealing with riba.
These are just some initial and quick thoughts on how to approach the topic of LGBT+. If time permits, I will produce a more detailed articled explaining each of these points in depth inshAllah.