Published Thursday, 08 December 2011 11:48
In May 2010, Intersections International, an interfaith non-profit based in New York City, opened a one-on-one dialogue about the role the LGBT community has within Islam, with about 50 Muslim theologians, religious practitioners, academics and laypeople from U.S. cities with high populations of Muslims, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dearborn, MI.
Reverend Robert Chase, founding Director of Intersections International, said that the request for the survey came from the Arcus Foundation.
“We wanted to heal the rift between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world,” Chase said. “What role is there for queer Muslims in the wider Muslim world or wider American society?”
Chase explained that one of the reasons that his organization was selected to preform the survey was because they didn’t have a “sectarian axe to grind.”
“The Muslims we reached out to were happy that we weren’t a Sunni, Shiite or secular foundation,” he said. “We were honest brokers looking for a thoughtful conversation. Because we were neutral, many people felt comfortable with us having this conversation.”
Many of those surveyed had more liberal views than expected. Although 65% said that religion was “very important” in their life, 78.9% said that the Qur’an is the word of God, but not everything should be taken literally; 94.9% said there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of Islam; and 54.2% agreed that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society.
Those surveyed also appeared to be somewhat comfortable with the LGBT community: 86.4% knew someone who is gay or lesbian, 40.7% strongly disagreed that homosexuality was a sin, and 49.2% felt that it was very important for the American Muslim community to support gay and lesbian equality.
But at the same time, 44.1% could neither agree nor disagree that sexual orientation can be changed or whether sexual orientation was determined at birth. More than half (54.2%) found it very difficult it to have open discussions about gay and lesbian issues in the Muslim community.
The results matched a recent survey of American Muslims that found only about 45% of Muslims who think homosexuality should be discouraged. Although that number is greater than the general populace, it is more than 15% lower than it was in 2007.
One prevalent view is that the mosque is not a place begin these conversations.
“Mosques don’t open themselves to conversations about LGBT issues,” said one participant from Washington, D.C.
“The mosque is not conducive to the American Muslim community at this point. Youth are developing this discourse outside the mosque,” offered another.
Places where the dialogue could be had are those with a demographically younger audience, such as college campuses, Chase said.
Chase, who co-facilitated five of the six sessions, said he was surprised with the input from one of the first conversations he had.
“The person said there was real stirrings in the Muslim community – they are looking for new paradigms and new ways of thinking,” he recalled. “He said the Muslim community was globally on the brink of a breakthrough.”
Six months later, the Arab Spring began. “It was fascinating to hear about that almost as a prophetic voice,” Chase said.
Another thing that surprised Chase is the openness of the dialogue. He wishes the American public could have been able to experience the conversation.
“The dialogues were so deep, thoughtful, rich and compassionate,” he said. “Even though those involved covered a wide spectrum of thought, everything was said with a compassionate, inclusive view of this issue.”
Chase said he expected more resistance from such an overall conservative group of people. “They had deep empathy for one another and a desire to have a really thoughtful conversation.”
Chase added, “Here is a group that so many in American society wish to demonize and do demonize. What happened at these convenings is exactly the opposite of what those stereotypes are.”
Lastly, Chase said that if society can move from feeling fear to feeling empathy, then ignorance would give way to understanding. “As we get to know each other as human beings, we discover that we have so much more in common that what we do in terms of what separates us,” he said. “If we can honor the differences in one another and really get to know each other – or faith, culture or perspective life experience – than we can forge deeper bonds with one another and move towards a more tolerant world.”By Denise Romano, Aslan Media Columnist