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Far-right faith leaders want to exclude LGBTQ+ people. That’s not the Muslim way.

A Muslim community leader from Princeton says she cannot begin to imagine the harm that is inflicted on young people who are growing up in households and communities where they are told that their very existence is a sin.

By Afsheen A. Shamsi
VP of Communications, Union Theological Seminary, NYC

Recently a group of Muslim Americans issued a statement asserting that same-sex relations and being transgender are forbidden in Islam. They claim that there is “universal consensus” on the issue. As a Muslim ally to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to share a different perspective.

Like other Abrahamic traditions, the authors of the statement, called Navigating Differences: Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam, refer to the story of Prophet Lut/Lot to justify their claims. But progressive scholars in these faith traditions have been contending this is a misinterpretation of LGBTQ+ issues. Progressive scholars believe that in the story of Prophet Lut/Lot, God was not condemning same-sex relations but inhospitality and rape.

Photo by Sara Bakhshi from Unsplash.com

As a practicing Muslim and ally of the LGBTQ+ community, I agree with the progressive scholars and align with the inclusive and human-rights-centered interpretation of Islam shared by Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV). Their perspective is consistent with my understanding of the inclusive, compassionate and justice-oriented spirit of Islam.

Muslims believe that the Quran is the divine word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Jibraeel/Gabriel. In chapter 49 of the Quran, God states, “We made you into peoples and tribes so that you may (get to) know one another.” This verse of the Quran establishes for all Muslims the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity. I believe this command of God also extends to the LGBTQ+ community.

I believe that all human beings are God’s creations and that we were intentionally created with differences. Our diversity is intended by God to be understood, appreciated and valued. I certainly don’t believe that God would create us with differences and then condemn some of us to lives of hatred, bullying, persecution, mental and emotional torture, and even death.

The Trevor Project, an organization whose mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ young people reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 and LGBTQ youth are at significantly increased risk. LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.

These are not merely statistics but what’s at stake here are the lives of young people including young Queer Muslims. I cannot begin to imagine the harm that is inflicted on young people who are growing up in households and communities where they are told that their very existence is a sin.

Chapter 5 of the Quran firmly establishes the sanctity of all human life. It states, “Whoever takes a life, it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.” As a community leader who has over the course of my personal and professional career advocated for justice, equity, and the rights of the Muslim, Black, Latinx, Asian American, and immigrant communities, I feel called upon by our Islamic values to advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and especially young Queer people who are at tremendous risk.

The authors of Navigating Differences need to understand that the very rights afforded to the LGBTQ+ community actually protect historically marginalized communities like ours as well. In a pluralistic society like America, it is very dangerous to start to curtail the rights of any community as today if we decide to target the LGBTQ+ community, tomorrow it will be the Muslims and anyone else who is perceived as different.

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As a practicing Muslim, I also refuse to align with the religious right, which stands for everything Islam condemns including white supremacy, hatred, oppression, racism, and centuries of injustice against all historically marginalized communities including the Muslim community.

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad calls upon us to raise our voices against injustice in all its forms and to stand up for the human rights of all and I believe that includes the LGBTQ+ community.

This opinion piece first appeared in NJ.com, and is republished here with consent from the author.

Afsheen A. Shamsi lives in Princeton and is the vice president of communications & marketing of Union Theological Seminary. She wrote this in her personal capacity and not as the representative of any organization.

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