In 2005 I knew that LGBT stood for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and I knew people who identified with the label. I understood their hardships because I was raised in a progressive and religious environment; but I think anyone would have been shocked with a photograph depicting two boys with ropes around their necks, awaiting hanging.
They had been found guilty of active homosexuality. The incident leading to their hanging was enveloped in stories, but the image said simply that the boys were being killed because their sexual orientation differed from the norm. Their executioners justified the act on behalf of Islamic ideals.
After I saw the picture I began to search the web for literature on Islam and LGBT rights. I found that most Islamic nations persecuted LGBT people. Those found guilty of homosexuality inevitably faced incarceration or death. I soon understood that unjust regimes were also using sexuality to silence political dissidents.
The central issue did not appear to be one of governments trying to defend religious principles against homosexuality. Rather, officials seemed to be using sexuality to persecute and punish people who felt and behaved differently—whether sexually, socially or politically. Specifically, they were using homophobia and gender bias for political gain.
My brief research taught me that in some countries people felt justified in raping LGBT people, as a means to correct their sexual orientation or gender identity (the term used is “corrective rape”). It pained me to realize that in the 21st century people still suffered abuse and were deprived of the basic right to exist peacefully.
In my formative years I was lucky to be surrounded by Islamist activists (not the stereotypical sort one sees on TV) who advocated liberty and justice for all people. We supported religious freedom for socialist and Christian activists in Latin America just as much as we supported the rights of Muslims in Kashmir and Palestine. So how could I have missed the atrocities against LGBT people taking place in our world?
Soon after learning all this I began to identify myself as a Muslim supporter of LGBT rights. Close friends promptly asked: "How can you be Muslim and support LGBT people?” The question puzzled me. I saw nothing un-Islamic about believing that all human beings deserve to exist safe from harm. I felt—and still feel—that since God created all human beings, and LGBT people are human beings, they should enjoy the same rights as everybody else.
At that point I had yet to consider the possible harmony between Islam and homosexuality. Still, I felt that my opinion was irrelevant because LGBT are people and all people have human rights. As someone who believes in justice, I felt morally obliged to support LGBT people.
I know people who eat pork—which is against Islamic practice—but I do not dispute their right to eat what they want, and if someone tried to deny them this right, I would defend them. As a Muslim I must stand against oppression. This means that I must stand on the side of justice even when a person's sexuality or identity does not follow a popular model.
Being Muslim does not force one to believe that LGBT people are sinful by way of existence. I find it healthy to support consensual love that is respectful and kind, and people who need medical help to transition into the body that suits them. Nonetheless, I do not force my view on all Muslims; people have the right to form opinion. I do, however, believe that there is a fine line between opinion and murder. LGBT people should not be killed because they are a different minority.
The greatest sin in Islam is kufr (disbelief). Most Muslims believe in equal rights for non-believers and are against their oppression. Following this reasoning, would it not be hypocritical to exclude LGBT people from this humane rule?
Human rights should not have to stop before religion and polity. Denying a person human rights is not about honoring God or vindicating policy, it is cruel and hateful. As a global people, we can only evolve when we prevent governments from tormenting and killing innocent people.
Kubra Guven prepared this text with assistance from e-feminist staff.