Last week, in an historic and long-overdue move, the United Nations passed a resolution recognizing the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people around the world. With South Africa leading the charge, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted in favor of the resolution by a narrow margin of 23 to 19, with three abstentions. The new declaration holds that no one should be subject to discrimination or violence based on her or his sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sounds like common sense to me, something that ought to go without saying, but unfortunately, it cannot go without saying. According to Amnesty International, 76 countries around the world continue to criminalize consensual same-sex relations, and whether as a result of discriminatory legal systems or hate crimes or suicide, one thing is certain: gays, lesbians and transgender individuals are being killed, tortured and victimized all over the world, simply for being who they are.
If that isn’t the very definition of a human rights violation, I’m not sure what is. The LGBT community represents the most vulnerable and marginalized sector of nearly every society worldwide, and as such, it’s vital that international bodies like the U.N. speak up in support of LGBT rights. Likewise, because it is so often religion that is abused and misused to justify the assault, murder and harassment of gays, lesbians and transgender people, it is equally important for religious individuals, groups and organizations to stand up in defense of the LGBT community.
As a Muslim, it is my moral obligation to speak out and stand up whenever I see an injustice being carried out, and if I see any particular group that is especially vulnerable or marginalized, it is my moral duty to rush to that community’s aid. So, it’s especially painful for me to see Muslim majority countries and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) voting against this historic U.N. resolution. If it was, as I suspect, some alleged affinity for Islam that led Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan, Senegal or other OIC countries to oppose this resolution, I have some words of caution and advice for the OIC.
First, as Muslims, I’m sure you know that it is your religious duty to pursue peace and justice and that there is no sin worse than oppressing another human being. So, no matter your personal theological opinion or your interpretation of the Biblical story of Lot, it is incumbent upon you to resist oppression, and in doing so, to protect those who happen to be most vulnerable to it in any given time or place.
Second, if we, as Muslims, expect our rights to be respected around the world, then we too must respect the rights of other minority groups. This includes the LGBT community. As Muslims, we know what it’s like to live in a world that can be hostile and discriminatory. Therefore, we have an even greater obligation to create the least hostile and discriminatory planet we can.
Let’s face it, my dear OIC member states, there are alarmingly large numbers of people out there who are convinced that Islam is the devil incarnate, that we Muslims are out to conquer and destroy the world, and that Islam is both “wrong” and “immoral.” I know that these people exist because they love sending me emails. That said, I vehemently disagree with all of them, and I thank God that their hatred and bigotry hold no weight in any American court of law. So too, your intolerance and homophobia should hold no more legal weight than any of my pen pals’ vicious Islamophobia.
Finally, the LGBT Muslim community, along with their many heterosexual allies such as myself, will not let bigots and homophobes define our religion for us or for the rest of the world. We have scholars and imams in our ranks, and we refuse to be considered “less Muslim” because of our sexual orientation, gender identity or our choice to acknowledge that such distinctions are in fact God-given.
Thus, the OIC member states that chose to oppose the recent U.N. LGBT rights resolution have not spoken for Muslims worldwide, and this is one Muslim who isn’t about to let them try.