Islam and LGBT Pride: A Long-Ignored Rift
June 30, 2023
Grappling with uncomfortable truths about religious conservatism and progressivism at the close of Pride Month.

As Muslim-American parents protest “LGBT-inclusive” materials in schools, and with the majority-Muslim council of Hamtramck, Michigan having recently banned the display of the LGBT Pride flag on public buildings, liberals are feeling a “sense of betrayal” that a minority group they have championed throughout the years has come out in opposition to Pride. 

But how can anyone be surprised? 

For years, progressive critics of Islam have been highlighting the clash between Islamic values and egalitarian, liberal ones--but it seems our words fell on deaf ears. The War on Terror and the subsequent xenophobia motivated the formation of a marriage of convenience between the Left and Muslims—one that was always doomed to end as aside from the few points of agreement brought upon by circumstance, the two ideologies couldn’t be more different. 

Now that terror is featured less frequently in headlines, this partnership has begun to unravel. So perhaps now is the time to face up to some uncomfortable truths. 

Uncomfortable Truth 1: Like all Abrahamic faiths, Islam has a strong element of social conservatism.

One of the clearest examples of this is found in the Qur’an’s oft-cited “wife-beating verse,” 4:34, which casts women as subservient to men and empowers husbands to correct “disobedient” behavior with violence, if necessary:

Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. 

These patriarchal gender and sexual norms are a constant in Islamic scripture. Hadiths further subordinating a woman’s freedom to that of her husband—whether in matters of money or sexual autonomy—can be found in every major school of Islamic thought.

It should be no surprise, then, that this religion is hostile to LGBT rights too. By any reasonable interpretation, the Qur’an forbids homosexuality. Certain hadiths furthermore make it explicit that homosexuality should be punished with death, while also condemning “effeminate men” (and, by extension, “women who assume the manners of men” as well).

While verses every bit as intolerant as these can be found in the texts of all Abrahamic religions, many contemporary Christian and Jewish denominations have proven willing to accept allegorical interpretations of these lines—softening their meanings, accepting women as equals, and even sometimes openly welcoming LGBT congregants. Islam, on the other hand, has proven itself especially intolerant to change—a fact expanded upon in a letter on homosexuality signed last month by hundreds of Islamic scholars:  

“...particular principles that are explicitly stated in revelation, known to be necessary elements of Islam, and unanimously agreed upon by qualified scholars are deemed immutable and not open to revision by any person or entity, including the highest religious authorities. As God asserts, “And the word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and justice. None can alter His words, and He is the All-Hearing, the All- Knowing” (Quran, al-An‘ām: 115).”

The manifestation of these beliefs in a public debate increasingly centered on LGBT rights is not only unsurprising—it was inevitable.

Uncomfortable Truth 2: The Left has deliberately downplayed the reality of Muslim beliefs, giving them no reason to liberalize.

This undoubtedly stems from the Left’s conviction to protect the “marginalized”: Muslims are a minority group in the West, and they are subject to real bigotry and prejudice. Attempts to point out the regressive nature of Islamic doctrine were thought to be dangerous—potential fuel to the fire. 

But this impulse to protect Muslims from bigotry leads to excusing (and even defending) illiberal practices. Progressive publications happily amplify voices who cast the hijab as a symbol not of misogynistic repression but of “style and strength.” A 2022 report from the European Network Against Racism, debunking “myths about Muslim women,” posits in a discussion about the hijab:

The pressure in Europe on Muslim women to unveil to “free” themselves is grounded in colonial roots and amounts to telling a woman her body is not hers and needs external approval to be “accepted” in public.

These contradictions are perhaps best encapsulated by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting, where she donned the hijab as a show of solidarity with the Muslim community. This gesture, while well-intentioned, served to reinforce the symbol of the Islamic head covering as something positive, rather than as a manifestation of modesty culture which subjugates and subordinates women.

Where apologism is absent, this progressive tendency to give Islamic conservatism a free pass comes in the form of silence on the matter altogether. While many mainstream left-wing figures were quick to defend Salman Rushdie’s right to free expression in the face of a violent attack, or to commemorate the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, very few have been willing to grapple with the ideological and theological underpinnings behind this violence.

Progressives chose to coddle Islam—squelching the debate on Muslim conservatism before it began. 

But, by the same token, “debate” isn’t a tack modern progressives choose to take much at all. 

Uncomfortable Truth 3: Modern progressivism has given up persuasion, opting for social coercion instead. Rather than airing out disagreements through debate and encouraging others to see the merits of their arguments, too many on the Left prefer instead to cast those they disagree with as “hateful.” This creates conflict when allied groups disagree with the Left’s consensus on an important issue, as is evident in the clash of Pride and Islam.

In addressing the Muslim parents who protested the inclusion of Pride materials in school curricula, Montgomery County Councilmember Kristin Mink attempted to tar the parents with the “bigot by association” brush. “This issue has unfortunately put some, not all, of course, some Muslim families on the same side of an issue as white supremacists and outright bigots,” Mink said at a recent school board meeting. 

The world is not, however, split into “white supremacists” and “anti-racists”—or “good guys” and “bad guys,” for that matter. Whether Muslims are “associating” with the wrong bedfellows should be irrelevant to the debate—but the Council member could not resist, as social stigmatizing has been the progressive modus operandi for far too long. Worst of all, it makes the (already difficult) work of charitable debate and persuasion impossible. Why argue with the irredeemable? A good person can be affected by the power of argument, of appealing to his better angels. But a bad person must be shamed, deplatformed, coerced.

This refusal to engage openly and to be honest about the social conservatism of Islam has led to the present state of affairs. Of course, after acknowledging these uncomfortable truths, the question remains: how do we now grapple with them?

However it unfolds, the way out of this quagmire starts with progressives and leftists being honest with themselves and with their Muslim allies, shedding the easy labels of “hateful” and “bigoted” in favor of a frank dialogue about religious conservatism and LGBT rights. Many Muslims are good people who want the best for their families–just as many progressives are. This, if nothing else, can be a starting point for something today almost unheard-of: a genuinely honest discussion.

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