Press Statement: We can’t defeat homophobia with Islamophobia

Imaan is dismayed with the homophobia and Islamophobia on display when London’s LBC Radio host Iain Dale and a caller argued about Islam and homosexuality.

The Muslim caller, “Zainab from East London”, was clearly ignorant about specific Qur’anic injunctions and the history of Islamic jurisprudence. The Qur’an does not call for the death penalty for homosexuals. In fact, a growing number of Muslim leaders and scholars dispute the interpretation of the Qur’anic story of the Prophet Lut as a blanket condemnation of homosexuality.

They regard these passages as contextual and confined to situations of same-sex violence and exploitation. Zainab needs to be exposed to works by people such as Omid Safi and Kecia Ali from the US, Ziauddin Sardar from the UK and Siti Musdah Mulia from Indonesia. Contrary to what Zainab might claim, these scholars are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex (LGBTQI) and they are indeed practising Muslims.  They are not so different from heterosexual Christians and Jews who express inclusive religious views on sexuality.

We are also disappointed with Dale because instead of challenging Zainab’s black-and-white interpretation of Islam, he accepted her claims. He went one step further, asking if she supported Iran’s death sentence for homosexuals and called her “disgusting” when she predictably did.

Zainab’s views are juvenile, harmful and misinformed, but it is still wrong to caricature conservative Muslims as deranged. Would we accuse white English Christians who are uncomfortable with gay rights or multiculturalism as covert supporters of the Islamophobic Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik? Do we dismiss them as closet sympathisers of Britain First or the English Defence League? Yet why do so many people ignore the fact that there is more than one interpretation of Islam?

We are therefore also alarmed at the online media’s reporting of this event, including by LGBTQI outlets. Queerty’s headline read: Muslim Calls Into Progressive Radio Program, Says Gay People Should Be Killed. In effect, it links Muslims with exceptionally homophobic and violent attitudes and singles them out as anti-progressive – a disturbingly Islamophobic image.

As LGBTQI Muslims, we at Imaan know that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are real. We also know that Islamophobia and racism are real. Our experiences are backed by academics such as Sindre Bangstad, who notes a disconcerting rise in Islamophobia across Europe.

Islamophobia and homophobia are both disgusting and can only be cured with intellectual honesty, moral and political courage, and mutual respect throughout society. There are positive instances where this is happening in the UK – for example, BBC3’s well-researched and nuanced documentary How Gay is Pakistan? We need more informative programmes like this and fewer ignorant spats between Islamophobes and homophobes.

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