Queerness and Islam

This is an open forum. Please feel free to discuss your opinions, additions to the cases mentioned below, or additional arguments/sources that reflect the idea that queerness and Islam can be harmonious.

A number of cases can be made for the acceptance of queerness in Islam, and specifically the Ismaili tradition:

Case 1: Strategically Ignored

  • Pirs and proponents of the faith would have lost support by bringing up this issue since at the time it was trivial as opposed to the important lessons regarding spirituality and community
  • Firmans also deal with spirituality and societal living/ethical conduct, and so  whether homosexuality is ‘trivial’ or not may be a small piece of the larger, more important picture
    • Hazar Imam addresses these issues by preaching for the importance of pluralism rather for what is ‘accepted and not accepted’
  • Sexuality is probably not the most important aspect of your soul
    • Life conduct and value systems (e.g. compassion, generosity, kindness) are far more important components to spirituality
  • Ismailis are a faith of intellect and spirituality (with an emphasis on the esoteric), not fundamental, unbreakable rules
    • Rules pertaining to issues like homosexuality would polarize the jamat on an issue that is not black and white, leading to disunity

Case 2: Individual Interpretation

  • Ismailism is deep rooted in conscience, with an emphasis on intellectualism and personal development
    • Issues like how to interpret the congruence of homosexuality with our faith are for the individual to decide, based on guidance in the faith as a whole from the Imam
    • The individual’s decision has no bearing on their commitment to their faith, and makes them no less of an Ismaili either way
    • In the name of unity and pluralism, the jamat should support our fellow Ismailis in these difficult decisions rather than judging them negatively

Case 3: Historical Context

  • Quran’s verses on family and marriage were addressed to 6th century Arabian tribal systems
  • These verses were a way to establish some order in civilization and address issues like women’s rights in the family
  • What is conservative today was progressive at the time
  • Quran may only be a starting point for becoming more progressive, and not an end point for discussion on such issues
  • Homoerotic themes were present in poetry and other literature by some Muslims which celebrated male love, and were more common than expressions of attraction to women (Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, MacMillan Reference USA, 2004, p.316)
  • Often any reference to homosexuality targets male-male relations, and ignores female-female
    • This is suggestive of the crime being lust which lead to adultery while males were away in wars or other affairs, rather than the crime of homosexuality
    • Ismailis have a living Quran, the Imam of the Time, who helps us decipher the universally applicable meanings of the Quran as they apply to our ever-changing societies
      • Sultan Mohammed Shah himself said that every verse in the Quran can be interpreted in at least 7 different ways
      • The issue of homosexuality has not been addressed by the Imam at the doctrinal level for reasons that may not be apparent to us at this time, or the jamat may not be ready to hear these issues addressed in doctrine
      • The Sufi tradition of Islam (which parallels our tradition closely) contains many indications of what one could interpret as “homosexual” tendencies. But ask yourself, is it relevant when it comes to spirituality, and in the end does it matter?

Case 4: Story of The People of Lut

For Quranic ayats, see here

  • Condemnation may not have to do with sexual actions but the actions and nature of the people involved, as the people of Lut committed many wrongdoings: inhospitality, robbery, mistreatment of strangers and rape
  • The people of Lut were rejecting the message of the Prophet, and Allah said whoever didn’t follow this message would perish
  • No legal punishment is stated in the Quran for homosexuality
  • No reports of Prophet Muhammad punishing someone for homosexuality exist
  • There is no authentic hadith from the prophet stating a punishment for homosexuality
  • “The Qur’anic description of homosexuality as a fahishah (Arabic for: abomination), which is the same description of zina (Arabic for: adultery or fornication), hints that both sins entail inflicting the same legal punishment” (Threats to Behead Homosexuals: Shari`ah or Politics? by Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, IslamOnline.net)

Case 5: Duty to Procreate

  • Many sects of Christianity emphasize that marriage is a union between man and woman and should result in birth, and that intercourse is strictly for procreation and should not be considered pleasurable
  • In the Quran and hadiths, references are made of men going unto their wives for pleasure and not just procreation
  • In Islam, marriage is a social contract, rather than a sacred bond, in which love and loyalty to your partner are weighted more than the ability to procreate
  • Mowlana Sultan Mohammed Shah states in his memoirs that the relationship of complete devotion to one another is the most beautiful second to that of complete devotion to the love of Allah
  • Islam is not merely functional but also emotional and spiritual

This is an open forum. Please feel free to discuss your opinions, additions to the cases mentioned above, or additional arguments/sources that reflect the idea that queerness and Islam can be harmonious.

28 responses

7 03 2010

I think that if Allah created you the way you are, then he can not condemn you for living your life true to your conscience.

14 03 2010

Saida … u said it just right !!!

11 06 2010

I think the main problem here is that the Aga Khan is remaining silent on this issue. His silence is breaking up families and is increasing suicide rates among Ismiali Queer Youth. Though it is not his responsibility to parent the community, homophobia is prevelant and is tearing our community apart.

17 01 2017

if the Hazir Imam’s responsibility is not to parent the community why is he then called ‘Mowla Bapa’?

30 01 2017
Benjamin Giesbrecht

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought his best friend and his husband to the Aga Khans Bahamas island for New Years. I would assume the Aga Khan does not have an issue hanging out with gay people!!

1 03 2011
saddle fitting

When will you post again ? Been looking forward to this !

18 04 2011
30 03 2012

I would disagree and say sexuality plays a big role in being part of faith. Intimacy with another human being is a reflection of one’s union with the Divine. And when it comes to sexual orientation, this answer is achieved when we look at the spirituality related to intimacy and love. When the two principles of masculinity and femininity come together, which can be embodied in either male or female sexes, we are unifying and coming to understand the oneness and reality of God. Therefore, two men, two women, a man and a woman, is not the focus. Or for that matter orientation is not the focus, instead, the goal of love between two human beings who have deep sense of faith wish to make their intimacy focus on going beyond the flesh and ascending into a higher love, and ultimate love with the Divine.

9 07 2012

I’m so touched by the fact that your community is growing. This is the second queer moslim empowerment movement I know. Keep doing those things. You’re helpen a lot of people with this. I dream of a world where we can be part of the society without exclusion, a world where queer moslims are free of mentol torture. I know a few who succombed under that pressure

9 07 2012

I’m so touched by the fact that your community is growing. This is the second queer moslim empowerment movement I know. Keep doing those things. You’re helpen a lot of people with this. I dream of a world where we can be part of the society without exclusion, a world where queer moslims are free of mentol torture. I know a few who succombed under that pressure

2 07 2013

Are you guys doing anything to support the families who are not educated enough to accept their kids being homosexuals. How are they being helped to understand and accept this while being part of the community

2 07 2013

Hi Sana,

That is the long-term goal of building a community – to show support and provide families with others they can connect with about this issue. If people who have recently come out want to contact us, we would most definitely be able to connect them with someone who may be able to help them through their issues, as many of us have dealt with the same conflict in our own families. Marching in the Pride parade has provided visibility and incredible support for our community, from many jamati members. The word of mouth from our allies to those in the jamat who are conflicted parents and family members also has a huge impact. Hope that helps and thanks for bringing up a great idea!

The Queer Ismaili

14 07 2013

I am an Ismaili immigration attorney in the USA and am happy to help any same sex couple who plan to marry in the USA to sponsor the spouse for permanent residence or temporary visa. You can email me at americandreamlaw@gmail.com.

6 01 2014

In case you are not aware, Mawlana Hazar Imam made the following statement in 2001, during an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation:

“In fact marriage is not sacred in Islam. In reality it is a contract between a man and a woman.”
Source: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/6073/

Furthermore, the document newly weds signed under the Nikka ceremony introduced recently (circa 2008-2010) approved by Hazar Imam in accordance with our Tariqah specifically states that the bride is an Ismaili female and the groom an Ismaili male.

I think, therefore, that contrary to your statements that “the Imam has not expressed any guidance in this regard” and that there is “acceptance of queerness in Islam, and specifically the Ismaili tradition” the Imam’s position would seem quite clear on the issue, both to the public at large and to the community specifically.

Hope the above helps fellow Ismailis wondering where the Imam’s thoughts lie on the matter.

6 01 2014

YAM Anonymous,

Thank you for your respectful and insightful viewpoints. We acknowledge that due to the time and the climate of today’s society, a forward-thinking leader cannot directly support or oppose such a controversial matter. Marriage in Islam is an altogether different topic than queerness in Islam. When we refer to guidance, MHI has not expressed specific guidance for the queer population of the jamat but his guidance on pluralism and acceptance over tolerance speak volumes for our values. To broach the issue of marriage (even subtly) would be making a great and divisive gesture to the rest of the Muslim ummah, and we respect that.

That being said, there have been anecdotal stories where the Tariqah has left this decision to Mukhi/Kamadias who have decided to wed some Ismaili couples in North America – but we have no direct evidence for this beyond anecdotes. Finally, MHI has been informed of the queer population and their struggles and concerns in the jamat on several occasions since the development of this site and the improved visibility of our community – and to our knowledge, has expressed nothing other than a genuine sentiment to assist our community and build resources for inclusivity.

17 01 2017

does that therefore not then mean that his own daughter’s marriage is not permissible, as she is married to a non-Muslim?

6 01 2014

Or perhaps the Imam does not want to be branded as a homo-phobe, as would also be the case due “to the time and the climate of today’s society”, as you put it. That argument cuts both ways and so is of little value, one way or the other.

The Imam himself said several times in December 1973 that we must not follow unsubstantiated anecdotes or rumours about what his advice to the Jamat is or is not and made clear that he will only send advice to the Jamat with evidence satisfactory to him and the Jamat.

But, as you have admitted, you have no evidence that the Imam accepts your values and is just humouring the Jamat and the Ummah because neither is ready to hear him say what he really thinks. Instead all you have are rumours, unsubstantiated anecdotes (leaving aside Mukhi/Kamdias can not have discretion since it is laid down explicitly in the Nikka document for our Tariqah that the marriage they preside over must be between a male and female), and a self-serving, extrapolative interpretation about what you think the Imam means by pluralism, i.e. an interpretation that can be used by any group and any value that the Imam “includes” them and accepts their views because of “pluralism”.

In contrast to such unsubstantiated anecdotes and rumours, the other hand, he has recently given us direct and irrefutable evidence (in the new Nikka documents and in the 2001 interview) making clear in no uncertain terms his views about what constitutes valid marriage in Islam and in Ismailism. If he was just humouring the Jamat or Ummah, he could have simply said in Islam marriage is a contract and left it at that rather than stating a falsehood (i.e. if Islam and Ismailism really accept same-sex marriages). He was not pressed to elaborate on the matter in the interview so didn’t have to volunteer any additional clarifications (or falsehoods if we take your position). Similarly with the Nikka document, he did not have to make it explicitly state the bride is a female and the groom is a male, he could have just left it unsaid rather than cementing a false ethic in a document and ceremony that will probably not be revised now for several decades again (as such changes are not made willy nilly as even this change came only after many, many decades). Surely he has such tact and discretion to avoid stating falsehoods to the world and the Jamat when not pressed to say anything and could have just kept silent.

Should not the Jamat follow what we have solid evidence of (as he himself has asked to us to do), rather than unsubstantiated rumours and anecdotes?

6 01 2014

No indeed, we should not follow unsubstantiated rumours, and that is not our goal here – we are simply presenting information that is out there and being honest that it is not to be taken at face value. This is in light of the fact that we have little to no solid evidence to go on. Hopefully this website will serve as a forum for those with firsthand knowledge on these issues to cross paths and either verify or discredit these anecdotes.

Again the issues of marriage are completely different as that is a contract that crosses many different faith traditions and has been defined as between a man and woman for centuries in our tradition. To change or challenge that would be a major undertaking. While for committed relationships, this may eventually become an issue and is worth debating at some point, that is not our argument at the time.

Our argument is for queerness in Ismaili Islam, the acceptance of those who have a different sexuality, and the ability for such individuals to reconcile their faith with their physical being. We serve to support our community rather than alienate anyone, to alleviate the internal conflict that many of us have struggled with and successfully managed. Your definition of pluralism and ours may be different, but ours is such: If there are good people out there who are generous, kind, humble, helping others and living within the values of our faith, we celebrate them. If they are different from us, all the better, we celebrate their diversity and use that diversity as a strength and a learning tool to progress our understanding of humanity. For no reason should we look upon anyone different (whether those differences are ethnic, sexuality or gender-based, ideological, etc.) as not belonging to our community, as love is universal.

7 01 2014

Well I have no desire nor intent to convince you nor engage in lengthy debate on the matter. My purpose was simply to bring some solid, substantiated, significant information on the matter for studied reflection over its not insignificant meaning and ramifications.

As to your latest response and points, I would simply restate what I have already said, However, with respect to the distinction between gay values and gay marriage, the distinction is thin because if the values are valid, the ethical conclusion is gay marriage is valid; for to accept the former without the latter would be a denial of rights (irrespective of the societal readiness) and hence to take a false position on the ethics of the latter (if not pressed and silence would suffice in the interim) is uncalled for and unnecessary. Conversely, and consequently, a position on the latter subsumes the former and precludes an alternative position on the former.

Notwithstanding our disagreement, thank you for allowing the information to be shared so others are aware of it and can make of it what they wish.

7 01 2014

I would just like to make one last comment with respect to your methodology, where you say: “Hopefully this website will serve as a forum for those with firsthand knowledge on these issues to cross paths and either verify or discredit these anecdotes.”

With respect, but this is intellectually dishonest. Since you don’t know if the anecdotes are true or not, then they may well not be. In which case it is impossible to discredit them because proving a negative is impossible. Therefore you do no valid service by posting unsubstantiated rumours under the seemingly reasonable position that perhaps they will be verified when that may well be an impossibility. On the contrary, posting them simply encourages more rumours while trying to absolve yourself spreading rumours with your disclaimer that “we said they were unsubstantiated”. Nevertheless, now that these unsubstantiated anecdotes have been public for so long and are still unsubstantiated – simply because to date not one single person has come forward and said “yes we were married by so and so Mukhi in such and such city” – then that in and of itself should be a warning that something is amiss and perhaps you should stop no longer continue posting rumours.

8 01 2014

Thank you for your perspective. We do agree that rumours should not be spread but would also request that anyone that may have further information be able to provide further insight using this site as a forum to clarify what may be a widely believed rumour. While we cannot substantiate that people were actually married, some of our admin have been privy to conversations that have taken place to validate the claims we made regarding MHI’s internal support for our community.

As for the evidence, here is what we know so far:
1. There are many queer people who work for the Imam – some in council and leaders of specific portfolios, teachers of his children and grandchildren, coordinators of youth summer programs, IIS and STEP teachers, etc. The Imam’s (now deceased) nephew was also gay. One can infer that if those who work so closely with the Imam also identify with the queer community, that this may not in fact be the issue we make it out to be.

2. There have been many Mukhi/Kamadias who have belonged to the queer community as well (some openly so), some of our admin included. This means that not only are queer people involved with the Imam’s secular organizations, but also hold positions of religious guidance. This in and of itself is a huge statement that speaks volumes, effectively rendering the issue of queerness in the Ismaili faith a non-issue.

3. Formal discussions of inclusivity from the queer Ismaili community in Canada have been held with the President of the Council for Canada and members, and efforts are being made to provide the resources this community needs to prevent being marginalized.

4. Research is underway at the IIS investigating homophobia in Islam in an effort to shed some light on the issue.

5. The Imam has not spoken out directly about many controversial issues – whether it be suicide, abortion, LGBTQ issues, etc. The only harsh stance he has taken to date is on drugs and alcohol. We must remember that the Imam is a political figure as well as a religious one, who is trying to bridge relationships with many Muslim sects and other religious factions. Many of these sects already think we aren’t true Muslims and to add fuel to the fire would not help our cause. If people in our own community are struggling with reconciling their identity, we cannot expect those outside of our community not to have strong opinions on the matter.

As we have seen with Christianity in the USA, while many may ‘accept’ the existence of queer people, bridging the discussion of queer marriage is an even more (often violently) heated discussion. So we must move incrementally – while you are correct that accepting the premise should also include marriage, it is also a very different discussion at the same time. Addressing these issues, whether subtly or directly, is a very complex matter and one currently best left to personal interpretation within the context of the ethics of our faith.

It is also a matter of geography. While Canada might be ready for public discussion on the issue, Ismailis in Central Asia may be far from this discussion. So the Imam may not be able to make any comment for such a global issue unless the entire jamat is ready.

6. In the end, this is not a matter of evidence, but rather a matter of faith. Evidence can help enlighten faith and provide an intellectual basis for our beliefs. But only through one’s personal relationship with the divine can one reconcile the physical and the spiritual. That is between you and the divine and anything anyone else has to say is effectively irrelevant to that relationship. We are simply here to open the forum of discussion, provide whatever evidence we can and support those who are going through a difficult time by creating community.

Thank you again for inspiring meaningful discussion.

The Queer Ismaili

8 01 2014

As to your remark:

“We do agree that rumours should not be spread but would also request that anyone that may have further information be able to provide further insight using this site as a forum to clarify what may be a widely believed rumour”

this seemingly reasonable position is, as I explained earlier, disingenuous and intellectually dishonest because it is impossible to prove a negative. It is, frankly, a clever way to propagate rumours and other unsubstantiated anecdotes – despite trying to absolve yourself and claim innocence – because no one knows if they are even true anecdotes. And if a rumour is false there can be no further insight into it because no one can speak to it and therefore the rumour stays permanently propagated by yourself under the guise of always claiming that maybe someone will verify it, when that can never happen.

With respect, I respectfully disagree about your “evidence” as evidence of anything of relevance.

As to your points 1 & 2, there are many Ismailis who also drink and who work for the Imam and/or appointed to institutional or jamati leadership positions by the Imam. Does that mean drinking is “endorsed” as a valid value of Ismailism? No of course not and the Imam still says don’t drink because those are our values, not what people choose to do. So the fact that some of the leadership or scholars or or teachers or mukhishaibs are gay doesn’t “speak volumes”, on the contrary it says nothing.

As to your point 3, formal discussions also mean nothing until there is a directive. There many engaged in “formal discussions” with the leadership on many issues facing the community – lobbying their position – and until a directive is given, that is all they are: discussions and nothing more. Similarly research by IIS is meaningless. I’m sure many have researched alcohol consumption around the Ummah – perhaps even among Ismailis – as well, to better understand where it is greater and where it is lesser and why, and doing such research doesn’t mean alcohol becomes permissible or speak to the values that are valid or not.

As to your point 5, although you repeat that Imam has not spoken to the issue, this is not correct. Repeating a false statement – as this particular one seems to be over and over, not just by yourselves – doesn’t make it true. As I pointed out, in the interview cited above the Imam has clearly and unambiguously said in Islam marriage is between a man and woman and our Nikka stipulates that Ismaili marriage must be between a man and a woman. At the risk of repetition, if those are truly not our valid values and ethics, and the Imam is merely humouring the Jamat and the Ummah – because in reality the real ethics allow gay marriages but the Jamat and Ummah are not ready to accept that – then the Imam could have remained silent – as he has been for decades – instead of making a false statement about our values and ethics at the very time when the value is being accepted.I think he has the tact and discretion enough to avoid making false statements and giving false practices and rituals when silence would suffice. For surely now, if anything, is not the time to make a statement contrary to gay values and marriage, if Ismailis true position is that gay values and marriage are acceptable. On the contrary, it would be more prudent to simply continue to remain silent on the issue – as he had been for decades – in anticipation of a world moving towards our “true” ethics and values. However, instead, the Imam chose not to remain silent any longer and, rather, felt it important to clarify a matter that he *had* been silent on for decades because now it has become an issue that needed clarification and so he volunteered these clarifications even though he wasn’t pressed to make them.

And, by speaking to marriage, he has spoken to the gay values, as I explained and you agree. Therefore, by speaking to the logical conclusion of gay values, i.e. gay marriage, he made further comment on gay values redundant and unnecessary. What a community is ready for has no bearing on what are the values we follow. Drinking is prohibited and that does not change because the community or society around us is accepting of alcohol. Similarly if the Imam has said both to the public (via the interview) and to the Jamat (via the recently introduced Nikka ceremony) that marriage in Islam and in Ismailism, in secular terms (i.e. it is a contract) and religious terms (i.e. Mukhisahib performs the Nikka ceremony) is between a man and a woman, then it matters little if a community or society around us would accept gay marriage.

As to your point 6, that is merely your opinion and speculation as to what constitutes faith and what does not and can be used to justify any value on any position. For Ismailis it is the Imam sets down those guidelines for us.

I trust the above will be helpful for those who may not have realized the difficulties in your arguments and “evidence” to validate your position.

8 01 2014

Everyone has the right to their own opinions – you may interpret the information we present differently, and that is fine. We respectfully choose to disagree and appreciate your insight. We hope that regardless of the evidence or lack thereof, that you are able to welcome queer people in your heart, and that every queer Ismaili can find faith and peace in their hearts and minds and be free of internal conflict on this matter.

The Queer Ismaili

10 11 2014

First of all, I want to salute the civility of your debate this debate and urge to always keep your hearts and minds open to each other. Also just wanted to add my modest contribution.

My understanding is that the purpose of this website is to create a safe space for a constructive dialogue inspired by MHI appreciation for diversity, and not to spread rumors; the fact that we are all missing clear directives is the very point why such a space is needed.

Also, with all due respect from a guy who is not a specialist on the matter, I don’t beleive limiting the discussion by trying to find rigidity in statement is very constructive and does not agree with my understanding of Ismaili faith; a faith and system of values based on knowledge and logique. Because from what I read the Tariquah definition of Nikah could not have defined the groom as a female or the bride as a male, those are simple linguistic barriers. The point could simply be to indicate that both parties should be Ismailis. Also in the interview MHI’s point could also be to stress on the fact marriage is a social contract not a sacred one, therefore defined by society, that incidentally defines it today as a contact between a man and a woman.

You see, my point is, the whole goal here should be to really think about this issue and bring an intellectual insight to it and, even if we don’t agree we should try to understand each other. Sexual orientation is an issue that affect the very foundation of a human being; if a person gets to the point where he/she is ready to end his/her life just to free himself/herself from the weight imposed by sexual orientation, then it is surely an issue that deserves our most serious and considerate attention.

For what it is worth, I don’t think anything in this world is more precious and valuable then God, and He created all of us different out of His love that’s why MHI tries to explain to humanity how important is to appreciate our diversity. It makes us closer to really appreciate the Unity: we all carry It in us no matter our skin color, culture, gender, or sexual orientation. Again, in my opinion, when you get to love the person different from you as much as you love youself you get closer to the Allmighty!

What about we start our thoughts by that and see where it goes?!

6 04 2016

You guys are doing a good job, keep up the good work. I hope that the whole Nizari Ismaili community adopts a particular stand over lgbt rights, reform is the key to move forward and progress in this era.

Cheers [ From a Sufi Muslim ]

18 06 2016

I think lust and greed is not only a problem discussed by religions but can be analysed via secular thought & philosophy.

Often the religions take a key idea which is universal and part of any wisdom.Excessive lust can be addictive, in some cases even pathological. Excessive lust can end up treating people as sex objects rather than developing deeper more fulfilling relationships which maybe more fulfilling that spending months downloading porn or visiting prostitutes.

I am merely sharing psychological insights from many secular philosophers & psychologists from the humanistic psychology of Erich Fromm (escape from freedom, love of life) to Epicurus, Aristotle and many psychiatrists today helping people overcome addictions (lust being one of them like gambling or drugs)

The problem with lust is it can be overwhelmingly distracting causing people to delay more gratifying goals for immediate gratification which may not bring lasting happiness (pretty much like drugs)

Lust in any religion seen as very negative and addictive as its kind of disease.Same with excessive eating causing obesity or drug abuse.

18 10 2016

Hi my name is Peter.
Are u located in Ottawa. I would like to speak to someone there.

30 06 2017
Sam Sussman

What a progressive religion the Ismailis have
God bless

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