Mehdi Hasan has written about his youthful homophobia and how by embracing secularism he resolves the private belief that homosexuality is wrong (New Statesman).
The mood music of the piece has been applauded while I wonder if they noticed the lyrics which demand attention. Ignore them and you miss that his secularism is for those of us who as non Muslim can enjoy the gay life; just leave us alone to make a Muslim being gay potentially difficult.
Let us start with what homophobic behaviour at school is like, something which effeminate boys like myself went through. I had a whole class of male 11 year olds chanting over and over “Bend over for Jehovah!” for a full five minutes only stopping when the arts teacher decided to finally come to her lesson. Part of my bullying, which once involved me being on the floor praying to God to forgive them as the shit was kicked out of me, was the decision that I must be gay because I had the look of a pretty boy and read books. That I was studying with an anti-gay religion is one of the biggest ironies of my life and I hold my head up now that I did not try to play that card with them.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that, as a teenager, I was one of those wannabe-macho kids who crudely deployed “gay” as a mark of abuse; you will probably be shocked to discover that shamefully, even in my twenties, I was still making the odd disparaging remark about homosexuality.
Yes Hasan, that behaviour gives the cover for the very things that happen in school. You may repudiate your younger self. It took you till your 30s. This is no cause for applause. About bloody time for a man of your education. Shame on you for taking so long should be the cry, not good on you.
So let me be clear: yes, I’m a progressive who supports a secular society in which you don’t impose your faith on others – and in which the government, no matter how big or small, must always stay out of the bedroom. But I am also (to Richard Dawkins’s continuing disappointment) a believing Muslim. And, as a result, I really do struggle with this issue of homosexuality. As a supporter of secularism, I am willing to accept same-sex weddings in a state-sanctioned register office, on grounds of equity. As a believer in Islam, however, I insist that no mosque be forced to hold one against its wishes.
If you’re gay, that doesn’t mean I want to discriminate against you, belittle or bully you, abuse or offend you. Not at all. I don’t want to go back to the dark days of criminalisation and the imprisonment of gay men and women; of Section 28 and legalised discrimination. I’m disgusted by the violent repression and persecution of gay people across the Muslim-majority world.
I am pleased Hasan you will not impose your faith on those outside it, as you are a secularist. My concern is you are quite willing to allow anti-gay feelings and belief to prevent Gay Muslims marrying in a mosque. You do not even attempt in the article to suggest how to address these tendencies in the Muslim community as you wrestle with your own beliefs. Beyond saying stoning or killing gay people of whatever religious persuasion is not on. I would like to think we could take your thinking on that as a given.
You mention the problem is men lusting after other men’s procreative genitalia as something to be considered wrong (the same for women too). For equity gay people should be able to get married. But the thought of consenting same sex people having orgasims with each other, without any chance of a baby, is something you have an issue with as a believer. If not, then I wonder why Islam’s view on homosexuality is a concern for you that it clearly seems to be. Faith and state have to get out of the bedroom.
I am writing this because I want to live in a society in which all minorities – Jews, Muslims, gay people and others – are protected from violence and abuse, from demonisation and discrimination. And because I want to apologise for any hurt or offence that I may have caused to my gay brothers and lesbian sisters.
And yes, whatever our differences – straight or gay, religious or atheist, male or female – we are all brothers and sisters. As the great Muslim leader of the 7th century and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib, once declared: “Remember that people are of two kinds; they are either your brothers in religion or your brothers in mankind.”
It is not clear what rights and privileges Gay Muslims should enjoy with their gay non Muslim brethren in Hasan’s article. Under the belief of secularism we are to respect these differences as religious freedom not discrimination. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There is no detail by Hasan beyond what we know: homophobia is an issue in society. The word “rights” is not even mentioned in the article. Nor for that matter is the word “equality” by Hasan.
Does this not tell you all you need to know?
No one should get a round of applause for just saying homophobia is wrong and religious bigotry should not be imposed on non believers. That is the minimum to be taken seriously in public discourse, not grounds for a standing ovation.
If he had written not only should gay Muslims not be subjected to hatred by the community but also we should work hard to give gay Muslims the same rights and privileges that gay non Muslims have – then I would be cheering him from the rafters. Notice he never says that. Tolerance and mutual respect yes. That though empowers no one the way rights do, and the way equality enshrines as one law for all.
Speak up for gay Muslims who live in terror of being outed, where leaving the faith as an apostate to have their secular rights can be made unbearable by the community and even their own family. Do not give plaudits to someone that contains their own bigotry as a constant conflict. I know where my sympathies are.
Ladies and gentlemen please remain in your seats.
UPDATE 13 June: LGBT Muslim retreat article Washington Post
Related blogs: Oh for the wings of a horse … Dawkins and Hasan
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog