Human Rights

Love & Hate: A Muslim community’s response to a gay wedding

Islam in North America is increasingly finding itself in deep “intersectional identity” quicksand. Recently, we have seen religious conservatives like Linda Sarsour simultaneously lauding theocratic law while selling the world on “Muslim Feminism”. Oxymoronic as that may seem, it is nothing compared to the cultural chasm that has opened up in response to gay weddings.

Earlier this month a young Muslim man, Ali, belonging to the Shi’a Ithna-Asheri (Khoja) sect got married to his partner Paul in Vancouver. His family accepted, supported and celebrated their wedding. Immediately following the wedding, customary congratulations poured in, and positive news of the marriage even went viral.

“Ali expressed many times, that if he could flick a switch and not be Gay, he would do it in a heartbeat. If Ali was your son, what would you do?”

Unfortunately, the bliss at the nuptials was to be short-lived. The joyous outpouring of support immediately drew the ire of both officials and the community at large. Condemnations rolled in from around the world, major centers of the sect in Dar Es Salaam and Madagascar issued public condemnations. Others like the London based World Federation put pressure privately on the North American leadership, which was followed by a petition demanding the resignation of anyone involved in condoning the wedding:

“It is indisputable that the Secretary General, Mrs. Siddika, took part in the same-sex wedding of her son. The wedding was celebrated openly and proudly, with #AliandPaul2017 hashtag on social media. While we believe it is not necessary to extensively or deeply examine the personal lives of the members of NASIMCO, this incident cannot be dismissed as “the personal lives of the family.” Traditionally, a wedding is a public demonstration of a relationship. This sin was not done in private, but rather was publicly celebrated and promoted.”

What is even more damning is this petition was produced by younger members of the community and not some older, out-of-touch conservatives.

“This action of accommodating the wedding ceremony of a haram union between two mature men has left an impact on youths all over the world. It means this action might make another innocent shia take the stand.”

The Africa Federation (Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats of Africa) also declared their outrage at the love and support this couple received on their wedding day. They stated, “Shockingly, this event was ostentatiously and brazenly publicized with the family members and their friends seen participating and celebrating the event without any qualm, feeling of guilt or sense of respect for the broad community’s sensitivities and respect for Islam and the lofty ideals and values it stands for.”

They continued to state the religious basis for their condemnation: “The Africa Federation, the Territorial Councils of Madagascar and Reunion along with its constituent member Jamaats vehemently condemn this despicable act which goes against the tenets of Islam. Allah (s.w.t.) in the Holy Qur’an has condemned the act of homosexuality while recounting the tale of the people of Loot culminating in the destruction of the people and their nation through the wrath of Allah (s.w.t.).”

As a consequence, the groom’s mother Siddika was forced to resign from her leadership position at NASIMCO (North American Shia governing body) due to her acceptance of her son. While religious communities always try to coerce obedience amongst members, only in highly orthodox conservative ones do parents suffer for the sin of accepting their children.

In her heart-breaking resignation letter, Siddika – the groom’s mother, describes her own journey to accepting her son’s homosexuality and her path to supporting him. She notes that in her “moments of darkness, I realized that the only way for Ali to live an authentic life and not have to hide and fear rejection was to give him space to reach his human potential as God’s creation.” Her religious faith was central to her journey to accepting her child and loving him exactly as he was. She notes Ali’s struggle as well: “Ali expressed many times, “that if he could flick a switch and not be Gay, he would do it in a heartbeat”. She ends with the plea “If Ali was your son, what would you do?”

The liberal minority within this Khoja Shi’a community are reeling from the reaction to a couple’s love, even as they are disturbed at their own association with such deeply held homophobia by their families and friends. Some have sent Ali personal messages of support while attempting to speak to family members with varying degrees of success.

A young member notes: “I’ve had heated debates with my cousins and siblings and was attacked left, right and center. To the point, I had to stop because I was only giving them reasons to continue shunning Ali.”

Every mother wants to celebrate her child’s wedding, and if Allah made him that way, they should have the right to celebrate like everyone else does”

One commenter from the community (Fatima) noted, “My mom and I had a very productive conversation about the situation, and I was able to reach her. She went from a position of “I accept that people are probably born gay so they can’t help it, but they shouldn’t act on it” to “well yes, every mother wants to celebrate her child’s wedding, and if Allah made him that way, they should have the right to celebrate like everyone else does.”

Other responses from the community, on furiously typed WhatsApp chats, have not been as charitable, but are sadly representative of the majority view on this event. One woman starts with an objection to the very first paragraph of the resignation letter where Siddika has stated that her son’s right to marry is legal in Canada. The commenter then goes to ask the most damning question of them all: “But is it legalized in the Holy Quran?” Much of the reasoning follows in this vein: “This action of accommodating the wedding ceremony of a haram union between two mature men has left an impact on youths all over the world. It means this action might make another innocent shia take the stand.” She then accommodatingly quotes the following passage, which is important enough to quote in its entirely and evidently relevant to this discussion.

ISLAMIC VIEW OF HOMOSEXUALITY (SODOMY – SEX BETWEEN MEN)

From the book: Greater Sins, vol 1

by Shahid e Mehraab Ayatullah-ul-Uzma Sayed Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi (r.a.)

The eleventh sin that is classified as a Greater sin is sodomy or homosexuality. This is verified from the sayings of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) and Imam ar-Reza (a.s.). In fact it is a sin greater than adultery. Its retribution and punishment are more severe than for adultery. 

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) says,

“A person who commits sodomy with a boy will acquire such a Janabat (impurity) that even all the water of this world cannot remove it. Allah will be wrathful at him and curse him. (That is He will take away His Mercy from him and will award Hell for him.) What a dreadful place it is! Then the Heavens shudder of it. And the person who allows another to mount him from behind to commit sodomy, then Allah puts him on the fringe of Hell (in extreme heat) and keeps him there till He completes the reckoning of all the people. Then He orders him to be put into Hell. One by one he is made to suffer all then punishments of Hell till he reaches the lowest stage. Then he never comes out from there.

As liberal values have begun making inroads into Muslim communities, the backlash by religious conservative will only increase. The interconnected nature of the modern world also allows the rapid flow of intolerance and influence from one part of the world to another. This is not going to be the first time, and it will only get worse as the rest of the world continues Islamizing rapidly.

The pressure brought to bear on the North American community by the World Federation forced Siddika’s resignation and normalized the condemnation she and her family have faced from her own community in Canada.

For most Muslims, homosexuality is a bridge too far and the response – from all sides – will help set the battle lines of this debate. Muslim communities that are now starting to mouth the words “progressive” are going to have to walk the walk. In turn, Progressives who embrace the Muslim cause must learn to navigate this fault line in a manner that allows them to remain true to their principles. The paying of mere lip service should no longer suffice, and allowing special protection for ‘religious sentiment’ over the rights of a human being, cannot be tolerated.

There will be many such wake up calls to come, many such injustices to be responded to with solidarity, respect and above all, with love. We stand in solidarity with this community, Ali and Paul, Siddika and all those who love and support you.

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