By Junaid Jahangir, New Age Islam
2 October 2020
Lateral violence is a term used to describe how people without much power deflect their discontent towards one another instead of tackling the issue by facing those with power, the ones responsible for oppression in the first place. Such violence arises from a sense of powerlessness and the frustration of not being able to do much. This behaviour perpetuates the status quo as infighting only strengthens the position of the oppressor.
Such behaviour is quite pronounced within the LGBTQ community and this includes LGBTQ Muslims. The reason is simple for many queer people experience frustration and anger at unresolved issues pertaining to self-acceptance, affirmation by family and community and the inability to forge lifelong sincere relationships. All of this informs toxic attitudes that shape a culture of shrieking, which is reflected when queer people start attacking the very people who have contributed most to alleviating their plight.
Consider Imam Daayiee Abdullah, the first openly gay Imam in North America and perhaps the world. He has been involved in gay rights activism since the 1970s. The fact that he has had to endure abuse as a black man and as a gay Imam and that he still continues to bear a warm, compassionate disposition is a testament to his inner strength, character and integrity. However, apart from the usual suspects – white supremacist Islamophobes and conservative Muslim homophobes – he has been scathingly targeted by closeted Muslims.
I recall a time when these Muslims who rejected the labels of “ex-gay” and defined themselves as struggling with same-sex desires, would engage in Gheebah (backbiting) by targeting him specifically on the website “Eye on Gay Muslims.” It was a space where instead of working on their inner insecurities and unaddressed traumas, they would obsessively attack pioneering gay Muslim scholars, thinkers and Imams.
The experience of Scott Kugle, the first Muslim academic, to broach the issue of affirming gay Muslims in Islam, is no different. Ever since he offered his pioneering scholarship, apart from the usual suspects, conservative Muslims who called for banning his books on Sufism, closeted Muslims and other LGBTQ critics also opposed him for one issue or another. It seems many such LGBTQ critics end up defining themselves in opposition to Kugle’s work than by crafting their own independent body of work.
I am now beginning to notice the same with my own body of work. While the scholarship I have crafted with Dr. Hussein Abdullatif is cutting edge and pushes boundaries in Muslim communities across the globe, it is making some closeted folks uncomfortable enough to lash out.
Imam Daayiee eloquently states:
“Many want others to give them the answer, to provide a template so that they have a "perfect" result from their family, friends, and others they are so overwhelmingly concerned with. They refuse to learn the facts, and are afraid of building their own voice, ... When they refuse to face the truth of their own selves and their need to be truthful before the world, they do not step outside the cage's open door -- and they remain in the covered cage, and the song the caged bird sings is one of woe.”
Many closeted Muslims and other LGBTQ Muslims address their sexuality in very unhealthy ways. Some outrightly state they have no interest in an LGBTQ affirming Islam and wish to perpetuate a model where LGBTQ Muslims are shown pity as sinners. It’s as if they feel they are not worthy of affirmation to live as responsible Muslim citizens and only seek toleration for their secret affairs. Similarly, others find the strictures of a legal contract that regulates sexual conduct as suffocating and downplay LGBTQ affirming Islamic scholarship.
It is therefore not surprising that there are not many who lead the discourse in LGBTQ affirming Islamic scholarship and that much of the activism is led in a public secular setting through social justice activism. While this can possibly lead to toleration of LGBTQ Muslims, it does not lead to affirmation specifically in Muslim spaces where Islamic law is of paramount significance.
It is unfortunate that Muslim men who view their lives as a struggle against same-sex desires become the most vociferous critics of LGBTQ affirming scholarship in Islam. They perhaps see it as a purification ritual that helps cleanse themselves from their own private affairs consumed by alcohol, drugs and random sex hookups. Sometimes they mask their behaviour with the language of radical activism or turn to it as a mechanism to cope with their inner issues and hurts.
It is true that they have been hurt by religion to such an extent that either they don’t want anything to do with it or merely exist with a deep-rooted internalized homophobia that is perpetuated with the heritage of homophobic texts.
Such a behaviour of course is not unique to Muslims and is found amongst closeted homosexuals of various religions and ideological affiliations. Regardless, such judgmental attitudes never emerge from a place of piety but from a place of deep-rooted insecurities and unresolved issues and it is time that they are called out as such.
The future lies with the narrative of an affirming Islam, for as Karen Armstrong writes, “human beings cannot endure emptiness and desolation.” They will always look for something to fill the vacuum within. Loud in your face exaggerated activism has its place but it is not sustainable for finding inner peace. Therefore, to this end of sustaining an affirming Islamic discourse, lateral violence must end.
Junaid Jahangir is an Assistant Professor of Economics at MacEwan University. He is the co-author of Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions. With Dr. Hussein Abdullatif, a paediatric endocrinologist in Alabama, he has co-authored several academic papers on the issue of same-sex unions in Islam. He contributed this article to NewAgeIslam.com.
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