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Homosexuality within religion can be a controversial subject because it is supposedly condemned in religious texts such as the Bible and the Quran. While reading both “I Don’t Want to Taint the Name of Islam: The Influence of Religion on the Lives of Muslim Lesbians” by Asifa Siraj and “Outlaws or In-Laws? Queer Theory, LGBT Studies, and Religious Studies” by Melissa M. Wilcox, the true extent of this controversy was revealed. Throughout this essay I will analyze Siraj’s work in light of the lens methodology written by Wilcox.
Wilcox explores the theme of “queer theory” in relation to religious texts, and how, throughout history, LGBT authors have “focused on excavating evidence of homoeroticism and gender-crossing in traditional religions to argue for the acceptance of LGBT people in contemporary religious groups”l, but I consider this to be a lens approach to the homosexuality in religion issue, because she barely mentions Islam in her essay. Siraj focuses in on the Muslim lesbian community and how they are condemned by their religion, forcing them to keep their sexual feelings to themselves.
While Sirja’s essay explores homosexuality in Islam, Wilcox chooses to hone in on mostly Christianity and Judaism, due to the large community of homosexuals that identify with theses religions. While queer theory in regards to Christianity and Judaism has been widely explored as stated in “Outlaws or In-Laws”, Muslim lesbians feel even more isolated due to the fact that not only is their sexual orientation frowned upon, but not written about or researched in any way, as stated in “I Don’t Want to Taint the Name of Islam”.
Literature and publicized research has a way of pacifying people who relate with the studies, but due to the lack of both of these, Muslim lesbians feel extremely outcasted by not only fellow Muslims, but also society at large.
“I Don’t Want to Taint the Name of Islam”: The Influence of Religion on the Lives of Muslim Lesbians by Asifa Siraj delves deep into the widespread lack of support, research, literature, and anything else for that matter involving Muslim lesbians, due to homosexuality being illegal in Muslim places, and due to homosexuality being forbidden by the faith. “Despite calls for future research to take into account the diversity within this population (Herbert 1996), there continues to be a lack of scholarly focus on the cultural, racial, and religious context that informs the lives of lesbians’ of faith and color”. Siraj anonymously interviewed a group of Muslim lesbians and concluded that the continued opposition toward homosexuality by the Islamic faith creates conflict within them, due to the difficulty of identifying as both Muslim and lesbian. Even though this struggle was relevant, they wanted to continue their Islamic faith, so they “used religious discourse to reformulate their thinking. They achieved this by advocating that they too were the “creation of Allah’s will”; that they were “born gay,” and lastly, that their sexuality represented their “struggle” as it was a “test from Allah”.
It intrigued me how Siraj explored the idea that nowhere in the Quran does it state that women should not be with women, it only states that sexual engagement outside of marriage is wrong, and due to gay marriage not being legal in Muslim countries, Muslims consider those who act on homosexual feelings in public to be sinners. “In any case, since homosexual feelings and desires are not sinful but the public act of intercourse is, lesbian women can enter into a romantic relationship as long as they avoid sexual acts in public” (Shahrur 2009, 204)”. This is where the conflict for Muslim lesbians comes in. They experience “an acute psychological strain from inhabiting two contradictory worlds”. Something I found admirable about most people in this predicament, is that instead of denouncing either their religion or their sexuality, they “were able to connect the two together through a re-reading of the Qur’an, but also by emphasizing the concepts of love, compassion and mercy in Islam”. They choose to stop focusing on the morality debate involved with homosexuality in Islam, and start focusing on the positive aspects of Islam, and therefore they are able to continue their solid connection with Allah without compromising who they are as a person. Despite these positive personal journeys, however, there is still a huge lack of homosexual Muslim research and literature, as well as things like support groups, which was shown in the lack of discussion about this topic in “Outlaws or In-Laws?”
“Outlaws or In-Laws? Queer Theory, LGBT Studies, and Religious Studies” discusses the prominence of LGBT religious literature, but I couldn’t help but notice that this essay focused almost fully on homosexuality in Christianity and Judaism, and not very much on lesbianism. This is due to the fact that there is not much out there when it comes to Islamic homosexuality, and the little that there is explores men, not women. “In general, LGBT religious history has focused on excavating evidence of homoeroticism and gender crossing in traditional religions to argue for the acceptance of LGBT people in contemporary religious groups”, but this essay fails to include any discussion about arguing for acceptance of lesbians in Islam. Siraj’s work describes the emergence of IMAAN, a website that provides virtual, anonymous safety and support for Muslim homosexuals. While they are not necessarily starting a forceful rebellion by any means, I do believe that this group should have been mentioned by Wilcox to show how homosexual Muslims are coming together to argue for acceptance. There is, however, a similarity between members of IMAAN and Christian homosexual authors, because neither group ever really meets up in person to converse about the issues. “The result is that while there have been a number of advances in the field, they appear for the most part as isolated fragments with little attempt made to compare findings or develop comparative or theoretical perspectives.
When it comes to Hinduism and Buddhism, they seem to be a bit more progressive in their ideas on homosexuality, “it appears that among these three religions, Muslims are more likely to argue against a basis for homophobia in Islam, while Hindus and Buddhists have expended more effort in arguing for the presence of homoeroticism and gender crossing in their traditions”. The difference between Muslim lesbians and Christian lesbians is that homosexual acts are illegal in most Islam dominated countries, making it a double whammy for Muslim lesbians who not only have an internal struggle, but a huge, looming external struggle too. However, Siraj researched Muslim lesbians in Britain, where homosexuality is not illegal, and they still wanted to remain anonymous. Another similarity between the two essays is called “sifting”. Both essays mentioned that believers “sifted” out things that they believe in from their religion and left behind things that discriminated against gays. “Jewish feminists in one study maintained their ties to both Judaism and feminism”10 this way, just like Muslim lesbians. When people hear the word “lesbian” many automatically divert to visualizing a white lady, when in fact homosexuality is, of course, much broader. “Indeed, the use of the term “lesbian” is often used to embody the experience of White women, and White lesbian feminists have been criticized for their failure to attend to the diversity of lesbians and the multiple discriminations faced by lesbians of color” (Anwar 2000)”. It saddens me that lesbian women of color, particularly Muslims, have to take on such a heavy burden within them, and placed upon them by the very people that claim to be their community.
In conclusion, religion provides a multitude of things for human beings such as sense of community, moral code, and cohesion based on values, along with much more. Unfortunately, not all members of certain religions get to fully immerse themselves in these benefits due to discrimination from other people of their faith. “Both homosexuals and heterosexuals experience the same spiritual needs and seek to gather with others who share a similar spiritual worldview”. This minority includes homosexuals, and to narrow it down even more, lesbians. Homosexuality is especially frowned upon in Islam, and this essay compared the differences between homosexuality in Islam and in Christianity based on two essays, one by Asifa Siraj, and the other by Melissa M. Wilcox. Siraj aimed at doing something that has scarcely been done before, researching Muslim lesbians, and Wilcox reported on the pretty wide array of homosexual literature written by Christians and Jews, leaving out many mentions of Islam, mainly due to the fact that there has not been much research done on them. The Muslim lesbian women that Siraj contacted were very reluctant to be researched, and avidly requested anonymity. It is my hope that though organizations like IMAAN, heterosexual members of their faith will soon accept and support them, and that in the future, Wilcox will be able to write an essay about homosexual literature in regards to Muslim women.
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