“Can Pamela Geller work with straight and queer Muslims?”

Can Pamela Geller work with straight and queer Muslims?

Dr. Junaid Jahangir

Recently, San Francisco public officials and queer community leaders expressed concerns that the anti-gay bus ads backed by Pamela Geller would denigrate the city’s Muslim community. Indeed, by emphasizing the outrageous comments of controversial Muslim leaders, these ads incite fear and demonize an entire minority.

Instead of stereotyping and generalizing, can the likes of Pamela Geller recognize the immense work being done by both straight and queer Muslims? Instead of creating divisiveness, can they work with Muslims towards affecting positive change?

The ads include the controversial opinions of President Ahmedinejad — ‘In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals’ and of the influential Sheik Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood — ‘the punishment for homosexuality is death’.

However, such selective references provide a misguided view of the current Muslim position on queer rights issues. By putting the spotlight on President Ahmedinejad, Geller’s ad ignores the work of queer Iranian activists like Arsham Parsi  and developments like the Iranian Gay Pride that took place in Turkey in 2011.

Geller’s ad also does not account for the academic work by Iranian Professor Arash Naraghi, who has argued that it is possible to be a devoted Muslim and believe that homosexuality is morally permissible.

It does not seem reasonable to quote Sheik Qaradawi without mentioning that over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries not only called for an international treaty to counter such clerics but also for a tribunal set by the United Nations Security Council to put them on trial for inciting violence.

It is also noteworthy that Muslim Professor Scott Kugle argued in an academic article how Sheik Qaradawi churns out his homophobia as part of ‘an agenda to reinforce perceived threats to Muslim masculinity’.

Cherry picking quotes from homophobic Muslim leaders and projecting on the entire Muslim community is akin to stereotyping the entire Christian community by referencing equally influential evangelical leaders who believe gays should be put to death and the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose links with American fundamentalist Christian groups has led to the immense persecution of the Ugandan queer community.

It is also noteworthy that instead of referencing Muslim leaders from the United States, Geller’s ads make use of quotes from fanatical Muslim leaders who are living through upheavals in Egypt and economic difficulties in Iran.

Both American political and religious Muslim leaders have very different views on queer rights than what the Geller ads would have us believe. In 2009, the Council on American-Islamic Relations supported the hate crime bill that sought to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity.

Among Muslim political leaders, Geller may quote Ako Abdul Samad, the Iowa State representative from the 66th district, as saying ‘if standing up for equal protection under the law is a sin, then all of us in this room are sinners’.

Geller can also reference the first Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, representative of the 5th district in Minnesota, as stating, ‘I am proud to be vice-chair of the Congressional Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Caucus’.

He can also be quoted as saying, ‘It is not your place to judge and condemn others’ and ‘If the person you happen to love and want to be with happens to be the same-sex and gender as you then I say God Bless you and try to be as happy as you can in this very difficult world’.

Likewise, Geller can reference the second Muslim Congressman Andre Carson, representative of the 7th district in Indiana, as stating, ‘As a proud member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, I am committed to the Caucus’ mission to “achieve the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well-being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression”’.

Among Muslim religious leaders, Geller can quote Imam Johari Malik, director of Outreach at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Centre in Northern Virginia, as stating, ‘If someone says, “gay sex is nasty”, just ask them, “how do you know?” … “It’s time to get past our homophobia to help human beings”’.

Likewise, Geller can also reference Imam Suhaib Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest mosque in the New England area, as stating, ‘If someone who’s a homosexual comes to the mosque, wants to pray, wants to worship, be part of the community, I have no issue with that,’ and ‘Ultimately, people who have whatever inclinations in their life, no one has a right to bar them from their experience with God.’

It would be academic dishonesty and intellectual sloth to quote classical Muslim texts to represent the current conservative Muslim opinion. Just as the Jewish halacha changes with new knowledge and moral sensibilities so does the Muslim Sharia.

Even conservative leaders like Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Orange County in California, one of the largest mosques in the U.S., who had earlier proscribed queer people and stated that ‘no one is born a homosexual’, have slightly shifted their view point on the issue.

 In a recent interview, he mentioned, ‘many Muslim jurists today are inclined to accept on the basis of modern research that it is quite possible that people may be born with this [orientation]’ and that ‘we all have to learn and understand things more, so we do change our minds on the basis of understanding the human situation’.

Indeed, by accepting same-sex orientation but prescribing permanent celibacy for queer people, the conservative Muslim opinion is somewhat similar to the Vatican ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ position.

However, Islam is not a monolith. While, acknowledging the classical Islamic position, Professor of Islamic Law, Dr. Mohammad Fadel mentioned in the context of the 2012 U.S. Elections, ‘I think one can certainly take the view, and I know a lot of Muslims might find this to be controversial, that we can support the idea of same-sex marriage because what we want is to make sure that all citizens have access to the same kinds of public benefits that other people do’.

Fadel’s opinion is not novel in this regard, for the late Imam Zaki Badawi had expressed in the context of U.K. civil partnerships that queer Muslims could take advantage of such relationships provided they were not sexually active.

Similarly, Dr. Omid Safi recently weighed in on same-sex marriage in the U.S. He has clearly stated ‘Love is love. Family is family, though they come in different shapes. My children have gay and lesbian friends.  They belong a social club at school that is an alliance of straight, gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual students’.

Referencing the Prophet’s saying ‘Do not do onto others what you dislike for yourself’, he has come out in full support of marriage equality by stating ‘Live and let live. If it’s important to you to be married and have your love recognized by the state, recognize that it is important to others’.

The strongest support for queer Muslims in the U.S. comes from the community Muslims for Progressive Values, which has chapters and gender and queer inclusive mosques  in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Salt Lake City and Columbus, Ohio. Their Board of Directors includes Imam Daayiee Abdullah, who leads the Mosque for Enlightenment and Reform and who has worked for the queer Muslim community for over two decades.

Where the Geller ads fail to recognize this diversity of positions amongst Muslims in the U.S., some commenters on the news articles on the Geller ads, exhibit a lack of nuance in their understanding of the queer Muslim situation.

Instead of obtaining information from queer Muslim groups both in the U.S. and abroad,  commenters on the Geller ads news articles expressed alarm on the “emergency” situation for queer people in places like Saudi Arabia, mentioned the stoning of a Somali gay man and referenced the Prophet’s saying that prescribes the death penalty for ‘homosexuals’.

However, unlike the emergency situation in Uganda, Nadya Labi depicted in her article ‘The Kingdom in the closet’ how gay life flourishes in a place with religious and cultural taboos.  Likewise, it is noteworthy that Muhammad Aslam Khaki, a lawyer who specializes in Islamic law, assisted the Pakistani transgender and inter-sexed community – the Hijras, at the Supreme Court, which eventually recognized their equal rights as citizens of Pakistan.

Referring to the execution of the Somali gay man, queer Muslim activist Afdhere Jama has stated that queer Somalis ‘have all agreed this story is fake’.  Likewise, even conservative Muslim religious leaders like Imam Muzammil Siddiqi have expressed that the Prophet’s saying that prescribes the death penalty for ‘homosexuals’ is inauthentic.

Instead of being a Debbie Downer, and instead of showing half-baked concerns for the queer Muslim community, Geller and the commenters can show genuine concern by talking to queer Muslims, who despite facing both Islamophobia and homophobia, continue  their work with dignity.

Indeed, Geller and the commenters will find that tactics that include cultural imperialism, which include the June 2012 Pride celebration held by the American Embassy in Pakistan only imperil the queer Muslim community living in places whose laws were shaped by the Victorian morality of their colonial masters.

Geller and the commenters will also find that if they are genuinely interested in helping queer Muslims, they would listen to queer Palestinian activists like Haneen Maikey, who has expressed on the Israeli occupation, ‘Stop speaking in my name and using me for a cause you never supported in the first place … stop bombing my friends, end your occupation, and leave me to rebuild my community’.

Geller and the commenters can also help queer Muslims causes by supporting the Iranian railroad for queer refugees, U.A.E. based queer Muslims with their concerns with the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, or the closer to home 2013 Philadelphia LGBTQ Muslim retreat.

In short, instead of creating fear mongering and divisiveness, will Geller and the commenters overcome their limitations to work with Muslims, both straight and queer, towards affecting positive change?

Dr. Junaid Jahangir is a Lecturer of Economics at MacEwan University.

 An earlier version of this article was published on March 28 in the Huffington Post.

For a different perspective on Islam and Homosexuality, check out Gareth Bryant’s piece in Altmuslim

15 thoughts on ““Can Pamela Geller work with straight and queer Muslims?”

  1. I’ve made my submissions on these issues on Dr Omid’s post and rest my case there. However, can I point a “factual” inaccuracy on this post. You state: “…new knowledge and moral sensibilities” change with the Muslim Sharia. Actually they don’t because the can’t! The Shari’ah is well preserved in the Quran and it cannot be changed by anyone! People can accept it or not, come up with different interpretations to suit them but the Shari’ah as stated in the Quran is the law. Period!

    • Sharia was developed over centuries. It is based on Qur’an and Sunnah, however many aspects of Sharia are not mentioned, per se, in either source due to the nature of its development – i.e. Sharia includes matters not specified in either Qur’an or Sunnah.

      There are two agreed upon derived sources of Sharia as well: scholarly consensus (ijma) and legal analogy (qiyas). Legal analogy is necessary to derive rulings for new matters.

      Legal analogy enables Muslim jurists to understand the underlying reasons and causes for the rulings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is for assistance when dealing with ever-changing human situations and allows for new rulings to be applied consistently.

  2. Homosexuality is a sin in Islam. It’s a shame how individuals these days try to change the religion in order to suit their desires of the nafs. “Oh lets take this very black and white issue and change it to make it seem like a grey area” or “That was a long time ago, that doesn’t apply to us now.” It’s strange how people continue to do this. Every Muslim sins, but a Muslim shouldn’t try to justify his sins. Homosexuality is a prime example of this phenomenon. Sooner or later you’ll find Muslims who say alcohol is allowed, adultery is allowed, or pork is allowed. Here are the four verses of Surat Al- Araf which prohibit homosexuality, and two from Surat Ash Shu’ara.

    (7:80) And remember when We sent Lot [as a Messenger] to his people and he said to them: ‘Do you realize you practise an indecency of which no other people in the world were guilty of before you?
    (7:81) You approach men lustfully in place of women. You are a people who exceed all bounds.’
    (7:82) Their only answer was: ‘Banish them from your town. They are a people who pretend to be pure.
    (7:83) Then We delivered Lot and his household save his wife who stayed behind,
    (7:84) and We let loose a shower [of stones] upon them, Observe, then, the end of the evil-doers.
    (26.165-166) “Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!”

    • First it than homosexual man of woman rape than child of rape than other person then it is than crime. In Pakistan than man who was bisexual rape over 100 boys and girls was sentence to dead as he murder then also. Pam and her supporter Robert Spencer are hard to take action against as U-tude will close your account if you tag they hate video.

    • Excellent post. Homosexuality is indeed a sin in Islam, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Muslims live their lives to please Allah(swt) not white western secular zealots and their cultural carnal rubbish.

  3. I am not a fan of Pamela Geller. After listening to her for years, I find her to be a racist and will dig out any perspective as long as it appears as anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. I seriously doubt she has any real concern for gay Muslims although she presents herself as such.

    The following is a quote from the Southern Poverty Law Center in the USA:

    “Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead. She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam and makes preposterous claims, such as that President Obama is the “love child” of Malcolm X. She makes no pretense of being learned in Islamic studies, leaving the argumentative heavy lifting to her Stop Islamization of America partner Robert Spencer. Geller has mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists, spoken favorably of South African racists, defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps. She has taken a strong pro-Israel stance to the point of being sharply critical of Jewish liberals.”

    Be careful when addressing any “issues” brought forth by Gellar as her underlying message is the problem (anti-Islam) and her “issues” only serve her purpose to highlight her cause.

    The criminal mistreatment of homosexual Muslims is a serious problem and must be addressed. However, Geller has no good intent re: Muslims of any sort. Her public history confirms this and we need to recognize it as such.

  4. Why do some Muslims fail to understand that gay rights is one of legal rights. We do not contest that the Qur’an and Bible denounces homosexual behavior. This is a separate issue of allowing access to full rights under the law (at least in the US) regardless of sexual orientation. Rights include spousal benefits, next-of-kin status, property rights, access to pensions, custody etc.

    It is the same struggle for rights that allows Muslims to build mosques and hold prayers freely here. This comes under Freedom of Religion – which is governed under Federal law. The right to marry whomever we wish – regardless of race – was another right won. Previously inter-racial marriages resulted in life imprisonment. The fact that we can marry any person of any background/race here is not some “automatic” right we take for granted. It was hard fought and won.

    It’s the same fight for rights which established individual cannot be discriminated against for jobs, housing, education etc (or at least attempt to). It also extended to birth control when in the not too distant past, contraception was illegal even for married couples. Even planning our families was a legal issue.

    People with darker skin had no choice of where they sat on a bus – being forced to sit in the back – by law (to 1960s). Failure to do so resulted in police arrest.

    Let us please not use these same tactics to discriminate against gay individuals. Disapproving of their “lifestyle” is no reason to deny them the same legal rights heterosexuals benefit from. There are many non-Muslims who harshly condemn our beliefs and lifestyle – yet we are protected and can exercise them within the scope of the law. Especially under attack is the issue of Muslim women – a combined result of misunderstanding and actual fact of mistreatment.

    That Islam has a moral code is not denied. Advocating for gay rights does not mean we suddenly deny what Islam has stated. It is accepting the equality of everyone under the law here. Imagine what our condition would be if we lived under a system where only a certain religion’s (not Islam) beliefs was accepted and those of us who were outside of this were somehow “condemned”? The fact is we have no fear of this as we know full well are rights are protected – under a secular system. Yet many will not extend these rights to gays.

    There are Muslims who may be secretly committing adultery or fornication with girlfriends/boyfriends (haram) or are polygamous or may have sex with “those our right hands possess” (halal) or celebate or monogamous within marriage – whatever our “moral dilemma” may be – should think twice about attempting to reduce another individual’s access to legal rights per their sexual orientation. The two are not connected.

    Muslims living under a democratic legal system are benefitting greatly from decades long fights for legal rights. The Qur’an also speaks of the evil of greed, materialism, exploitation, injustices in distribution of food, wealth concerning the poor, mistreatment of spouses, parents and so many other valid points. Looking at the condition of the exploited poor, children and women in a number of countries where Muslims are in the majority leaves much to be desired. These are serious situations and overwhelming (for a number of reasons).

    Meanwhile much energy is spent on trying to deny or disenfranchise others based on their sexual orientation. God will ultimately judge all of us flawed heterosexuals and homosexuals. Let us deal in fairness with each other until that Day comes.

    A child dies every three seconds somewhere in the world due to malnutrition, illness and abuse. Addressing more serious issues would be the “moral” thing to do.

  5. One the best responses to the Geller ads I’ve come across so far! It’s great that you provide evidence of different thinking among Muslim communities. I’ve not seen anyone else do this quite so well yet, and most people seem to just get stuck on Islamophobia/stoking community tensions.

    Zachariah, quotes taken out of context. We were never meant to fixate on a few lines of the Quran ignoring the greater message it contains. Even those lines don’t condemn all male homosexuals, and certainly says nothing about lesbians. And what of bisexuality? And the questions could go on…

  6. I agree with Sarah:

    “Be careful when addressing any “issues” brought forth by Gellar as her underlying message is the problem (anti-Islam) and her “issues” only serve her purpose to highlight her cause.”

    Of course, this is not to take away from what your post discusses – very important and worthwhile to support. Gellar’s primary foe is Islam and it’s pretty transparent, at least to me, that she is hitching a ride on the serious matter of gay rights. If these words were to have come from the head of state of one of our allies, you can be sure she would not highlight it.

  7. Due to all the “bad press” (understatement) since 9/11 – it is truly unfortunate that when Muslims attempt to provide a more fair or inclusive perspective – they are often disregarded (as by Geller) and the most extreme positions are brought forth to justify the so-called “Islamic” position on negative matters. This is a combination of ignorance and/or agenda, which is definitely the case with Geller.

    With the recent bombing tragedy in Boston, it is reported that a prominent Boston Imam refused to perform the funeral (janaza) on the dead suspect, as his killing of innocent people was absolutely not acceptable and condemned. Many other Muslims support this as well. This position was not greeted in a positive manner by much of the general public (per rather nasty comments left on blogs about this issue).

    Instead, those Muslims who strongly condemned the bombing were accused of being “moderate” Muslims and somehow not the representatives of “real” Islam according to many comments. This horrific act in Boston was quickly deduced by many as reflective of beliefs in Islam – which is grossly wrong.

    Most do not even know the basics of Islam and outwardly state they don’t care to know and base their opinions on the acts of extremists. I’m sure they would not appreciate being judged as a society based on the destructive acts of American foreign policy and its devastating and deadly outcome to others (including millions of Muslims) for decades. Many are unaware of the basics of such policy but decide to comment on Islam.

    Muslims must continue to present balanced positions without being apologists. The article in this post is positive and indicative of the need to articulate issues, as there are many Geller-types who will continue to voice their ignorance and fuel their agenda.

    An important read is a book by Nathan Lean entitled: “The Islamophobia Industry – How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims”. The forward is written by scholar John Esposito.

    Per comments related to this book:

    Who are the captains of the Islamophobia industry?

    There are several. But two in particular have had more influence than other, at least as of late: Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. These are two American bloggers who prey on Muslims and who use the power of the internet to drum up hate.

    Spencer and Geller are the leaders of the Park51 protest (so-called “ground zero mosque” in New York – which is actually a community centre open to all faiths). Their metro ads in New York and California were met with backlash, and now we know that they are both connected to the filmmaker and producer of the anti-Muslim video Innocence of Muslims that set off protests in the Middle East. Both Spencer and Geller were listed as inspirations by Anders Breivik, the Norway killer who, in July of 2010, murdered 77 youth that he blamed for the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe.

    How profitable is their industry?

    The Islamophobia industry is very profitable. We know, thanks to the Center for American Progress, that over the past decade, seven different organisations have funnelled US $42 million to groups that support the work of these Islamophobes. It goes on to cite other major donors.

    Awareness of who is writing what and the reasons behind well orchestrated attempts against Islam and Muslims here – should be addressed from the perspective of these people’s (i.e. Geller) blatant agendas.

  8. It is hideous to see how Muslims find the most ludicrous excuses to defend sodmy. I really am not going to write a long comment, since I have exhausted myself on Imam Webb’s website. As far as Geller goes, she is quite useless, as most of the Islamophobes tend to be. I find, especially in the very near future, Muslim liberals and apologists more prone to sectarian.

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