by Mahdia Lynn
Beware of the supplication of the oppressed for there is no barrier between it and ALLAH
– Prophet Muhammad.
The following hadith is used as a cornerstone in arguments regarding LGBTQ Muslims:
A mukhannath who had dyed his hands and feet with henna was brought to the Prophet. He asked: What is the matter with this man? He was told: Apostle of Allah! he affects women’s get-up. So he ordered regarding him and he was banished to an-Naqi’. The people said: Apostle of Allah! should we not kill him? He said: I have been prohibited from killing people who pray.
- Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 41, Number 4910: Narrated Abu Hurayrah
The most interesting aspect about this hadith is the way it’s utilized; this short story from the life of the Prophet is used both by LGBTQ Muslims advocating for equality AND by Muslims who mean to exclude gender and sexual minorities from the faith. They are the same words retelling this singular event in our shared history, come to two vastly different conclusions.
One group interprets this hadith as a transgressor banished: this person being sent away clearly teaches us that gender diverse people are not welcome in the Prophet’s community. According to this interpretation, living out the prophetic example today means that excluding gender and sexual diversity from Islam is "right and good."
Another group looks at this story and sees a life saved: it’s clear there was a group of men ready to murder this person and so the Prophet Muhammad saved their life by sending them away (to an-Naqi, a location between Mecca and Medina, which is interpreted to mean “within the bounds of Islam”). Living out prophetic example means not only accepting gender and sexual diversity as a valid part of the ummah, but being called upon to protect LGBTQ Muslims.
By addressing the question of LGBTQ Muslims today, we come to what is basically a fundamental theological disagreement.
The two sides of this disagreement are:
- Gender and sexual diversity is "unIslamic" and incompatible with submission to Allah.
- Gender and sexual diversity is of Allah, and is a LGBTQ Muslims have a right to live wholly as themselves within the ummah.
A significant problem we come across talking about this is that many people are unwilling to accept that there is a disagreement at all.
Rather than seeing two sides of an argument many are only able to consider the issue in terms of right and wrong. Here’s the thing: I (and most LGBTQ Muslims) are willing to accept that there are people who will always consider sexual & gender diversity as unacceptable no-matter-what. I accept this reality in the same way that as a Shi’i Muslim woman, I accept there will always be people who persecute my siblings in faith and would consider me “not really Muslim.” There is an imbalance of power embedded into the conversation - just as in a Sunni-dominated society, Shi’a Muslims are often denied their Muslim identity; in a society so dominated by cis- and hetero-normative narratives, LGBTQIA+ Muslims are denied agency and spiritual identity as Muslims. This imbalance is invisible, because people in power are unwilling to accept the validity of LGBTQ Muslim lived experience.
Not only is one side of this argument asserting incompatibility between Islam and LGBTQ equality — they are unwilling to even accept that LGBTQ Muslims have an agency of our own in how we interpret and practice the faith.
This refusal to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ Muslims has real life consequences. We are kicked out of mosques, even kicked out of families, and subjected to violence just for being who we are. In other parts of the world, we are rounded up, incarcerated and executed. In Chechnya today, journalists are receiving death threats for even bringing up the subject of gay Muslim persecution.
To be an LGBTQ Muslim is to be denied humanity and to be reduced to a singular sex act. Popular religious figures regularly spout homophobic myths and falsehoods without consequence - and our Muslimah feminist icons regularly sit beside them on panels. Gender and sexually diverse Muslims are at best invisible, and at worst a violently persecuted minority.
There is a power dynamic at play here. Consider what that power dynamic means, and what it looks like. Are you willing to listen to LGBTQ Muslims about their experiences? Are you willing to accept LGBTQ Muslims as a valid part of the ummah, just as you might accept the existence of other sects? Are you willing to accept the humanity of LGBTQ Muslims?
Okay. Next step. I want you to consider: are you willing to deny the light of Islam to someone seeking the truth?
Do you believe in Islam? In the truth of the Qur’an, the word of Allah as transcribed by the Prophet Muhammad? Of all the faith traditions and lifestyles in the world, Why Islam? The Prophet Muhammad pbuh said “Whoever Follows a Path in the pursuit of knowledge Allah will make a path to Jannah easy for them” — consider, how can this tradition remain true to itself while enacting bigotry and exclusion at the same time?
Are you so certain that Islam prohibits the existence of sexual and gender diversity that you are unwilling to share the truth of Allah with others?
Here is what I believe: I believe in Islam. I believe in the truth of the Qur’an that says Indeed, Allah is with those who fear him and those who are doers of good. I believe that a person who prays, does good deeds, and remembers Allah will find reward in the next life. I believe that the unjust will face retribution in the end. I believe that no Muslim is perfect but we try our best in less than ideal circumstances. Whether or not you believe in the validity of LGBTQ identity within Islam, when you refuse to even allow LGBTQ Muslims in the door you are shutting out human beings from the truth of a religion that belongs to all of us.
There is the mantra Muslims use every day to defend their faith in the face of atrocities carried out in our name: Islam is not a monolith. There are over 1.6 billion of us in the world, six different Quranic schools of thought and our faith is shaped and personalized by the communities around us. Within those near-infinite facets of Islam, there is a corner of our faith that accept and affirms sexual and gender diversity. It may be bigger than you think.
I would like you to consider, if even for a moment, that LGBTQ Muslims are just like you. That we are imperfect human beings trying to live out the truth of Islam as best we can. That Allah is with those who fear him and who are doers of good - is there no room for sexual and gender diversity in Allah’s plan? Are you so certain?
My vision of Islam is far too great to be denied to anyone. My vision of Islam is a pluralist community where theological disagreements are respected, and difference is celebrated. Where every Muslim is equal, and all are given equal access to the tradition.
What is your vision of Islam?
Mahdia Lynn is a writer, public speaker and community organizer. She is the director of women-centered Masjid al-Rabia and coordinator of a pen pal program for incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims with the Black and Pink Crescent. Mahdia is an advocate for a vision of Islam that centers feminism, disability power, prison abolition and economic & racial justice. A professional chef and educator, Mahdia lives on the stolen & colonized land currently recognized as Chicago.