Muslims and Progressive Sexual Ethics in America

“As Muslims, therefore, we are obligated to submit to Allah ﷻ and adhere to His commands…the propensity to sin (and sinning itself) is altogether different from denying that sin is sin. The latter amounts to a rejection of Allah’s instruction. Although mitigating factors, such as coercion or ignorance, may pardon such rejection on a situational basis, it is important to note that as a normative matter, denying Allah’s revealed guidance is tantamount to disbelief. A Muslim may commit the sin of drinking wine and still remain a Muslim; he may not, on the other hand, deny the sinfulness of wine drinking and remain a Muslim, even if he has never imbibed so much as a drop of alcohol…

A number of details within Sacred Law fall under those matters that are subject to legal reasoning (ijtihād) and on which the acceptable range of positions may therefore vary. Nonetheless, the essential elements of Islam—that Allah ﷻ is one, that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the last and final messenger of God and that his religion supersedes all previous dispensations, that the Quran is the inerrant word of Allah, and that the Prophet’s Sunnah provides us guidance to be followed—are beyond dispute. Akin to these central tenets is a host of moral instructions that likewise form an indefeasible part of Muslim belief and are thus identified by scholars as belonging to those things that are ‘known of the religion by necessity’ (maʿlūm min al-dīn bi-l-ḍarūra). The prohibition of wine, swine flesh, fornication/adultery (zinā), murder, theft, and much else falls under this designation. Like it, the prohibition of homosexual behavior—and all sexual acts that fall outside specifically delineated legally sanctioned relationships (all of which are necessarily heterosexual)—is also ‘known of the religion by necessity.’”

Thus begins Ustadh Mobeen Vaid’s recent lengthy addition to his work on Islam and the LGBTQ+ movement, Where The Rainbow Ends: American Muslims And LGBT Activism. The rise of the movement in America is now beyond legal marriage equality and seems to still be awaiting its culmination. Left in its trails are Muslims who are perhaps sincere, but unable to adequately ground themselves in line with the deen, awash in the pressure to disregard Islamic morals that are controversial in modern day America. Major community leaders too have not been exempt from this pressure. The waffling around the topic has led to a new generation of Muslims struggling to maintain correct aqīdah (Islamic creed); an independent study found social norms around gender and sexuality to be a a source of doubt in Islam. 

Heterodox groups have preyed on these insecurities and the lack of ‘ilm (knowledge), not just jeopardizing the acceptance of Muslims’ worship, but their normative aqīdah in order to make sense of new gender and sexual mores. Major organizations like the Human Rights Campaign further propagate these fringe positions. They call on Muslims to not simply change their attitudes but deen itself, either by broad-brushing the tradition as homophobic, incorrectly claiming that Islamic law originally made allowances for sodomy, or declaring it to be outdated and needing revision in the 21st century. None of these prescriptions even consider the theology above: that no one is automatically condemned to sin by the existence of propensities alone, but there exist many desires Allah ﷻ asks us to reckon with and overcome in submission to His guidance. 

By viewing modern discourse on gender and sexuality as immutable, despite its continuous change in the past few years, society has concluded that it is religion that must change — not the fallible human. Vaid’s paper clarifies the clear sexual ethics in Islam, the beliefs and morals we are obligated to abide by, and critiques the failures of many Muslim-run organizations in transgressing these bounds. The social and political spheres are further complicated by fears of losing one’s social and economic standing, accusations of bigotry, and attempts to reconcile religion with secular-liberalism. Moving forward, there are three broad areas I believe we need to focus on.

  1. ‘Ilm

Aqīdah is paramount to remaining a Muslim, is part of fard al-ayn (matters obligatory upon every Muslim), and the state of our hearts will be questioned in the grave. Far from living in the realm of the abstract, aqīdah permeates every area of life and forms the basis of our worldview. 

This article further discusses the importance and role of creed especially in a secular world. There are also many credible resources available online. Aqidah Tahawiyyah is a common text starting point of the fundamentals. Shaykh Hamza Wald Maqbul has a video series on it that goes into detail about what words and beliefs constitutes as blasphemy and takes one out of the fold of Islam. We often think the problems of our times are unique to us — in some ways they are, but many issues have already been discussed by scholars of the past. Grounding our beliefs, discourse, knowledge, and ultimately ourselves in the tradition is a must in order to solve the problems of today.

Additionally, grounding oneself in the basics of Islamic law and hermeneutics is increasingly necessary. Many arguments calling the haram, halal misuse legal tools, build on distorted premises, and stem from general ignorance. For example, in a previous short piece I discuss how fiqhi (jurisprudential) allowances for a specific group within the intersex population is incorrectly extended to transgender individuals by analogizing ultimately different premises i.e. clarifying the sex (in intersex persons) with changing it (transgender persons).

It’s clear that Vaid’s work occupies an incredibly niche space in the English-speaking world, further obscured by increasing numbers of secular-liberal voices purporting to represent Islam. The links at the bottom serve as a starting place to familiarize oneself with the American political arena, social realm, and rebuttals to incorrect claims regarding Islamic law. InshaAllah (God-willing) such work continues to grow.

  1. Community Resources/Social Outreach

A growing number of parents and teachers are struggling to address these issues to the youth on both a broad level and when children express that they identify as LGBTQ+. 

On a communal level, there is a need to create avenues for discussion and help that is grounded in Islamic teachings. Individuals struggling with same-sex attraction are left to either seek dominant “affirmation” attitudes that normalize sinning, or to completely reject seeking help. There is valid criticism of the vile treatment towards Muslims who express these struggles, and we currently offer little resources. In this regard, the work and community-building of people like Waheed Jensen, the pseudonym of a gay Muslim man who strives to remain true to Islam and finds meaning in his steadfastness, is vital.

We also need skilled da’wah efforts. A common reaction by the most qualified is to avoid these issues, as it ranks low on day-to-day community needs or is too contentious to explicitly engage. But infrastructure for it must begin sooner rather than later. Most Muslims engaging with members of the LGBTQ+ community currently, either socially or politically, are coming from a dishonest apologetics or a secular-liberal perspective. Qualified and upright individuals must seek to represent Muslims and call others to what is good as our Prophet ﷺ did. While condemning immorality, we know that Allah ﷻ guides whom He wills and we must start with sincere du’a.

  1. Political Engagement

Related to the first point, Vaid discusses the increasing number of Muslim organizations adopting positions that are un-Islamic. His paper traces and rebuts common political rationales to support the advocacy of the LGBTQ+ movement and concludes that the logic of intersectional advocacy is insufficient to transgress our morals.

As such, there is a need for astute Muslims in the legal profession to research and work to maintain religious rights. A number of Muslim lawyers have noticed the problems that can confront unaware parents, such as in the case of a hospital that determined that a Muslim child’s issues were rooted in gender dysphoria and were about to initiate “gender-affirming care” without parental consent. Writers of other faiths have also caught on to the relegation of religion to identity politics, even by Muslims themselves, as shown in the opposing positions of amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court in response to the issue of redefining sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation in Title VIII protections.

Many are unable to foresee long-term legal changes and sacrifices that will have to be made, especially by Muslim women, by penalizing religious institutions for acting in accordance with their faith: from hiring practices to teaching Islamic sexual ethics to women-only spaces. As a community, we need to actualize principled political engagement while developing a comprehensive way to live alongside the LGBTQ+ community in a manner that does not compromise our beliefs.

May Allah ﷻ guide us all and keep us steadfast.

Further Readings:

Photo by guy stevens on Unsplash

About the Author: Farhana K. is based out of North America. She is interested in the Islamic sciences and medical ethics.

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

Farhana Khan

Farhana Khan is based out of North America. She is interested in the Islamic sciences and medical ethics.

2 thoughts on “Muslims and Progressive Sexual Ethics in America

  1. I think true allies in religious freedom are found on the right but not easy to find e.g. Robert P. George. More Muslim-conservative coalitions, esp. at school board level, are necessary

  2. I appreciate this article a lot, though I wish the author went more in depth about how we know same sex relations are wrong the reads from Mobeen Vaid are honestly enough. Anyone trying to push back on a matter of clear ayat, tafsir, and ‘ijma should do a thorough reading of his work.

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