It boils down to moral values rooted firmly in one’s faith, not in a political ideology — left or right.
We are witnessing a unique and welcome phenomenon: Muslims in the West are at the forefront of a social movement that transcends any one faith or ethnicity. For those following the news, protests led by parents have erupted across the United States and Canada against school boards that wish to teach schoolchildren content about the acceptability of LGBTQ lifestyles.
While parents of all ethnicities and religions are involved, Muslim parents have been playing a central role in all of these cases, both as organisers and protesters, and their highly visible presence is creating waves on social media.
It is understandable for parents to be concerned. In Maryland, for example, a school district has approved books that discuss homosexuality and transgenderism as normal realities for children as young as three years old. This is state-sponsored ideological indoctrination of toddlers who can barely form complete sentences, much less think critically.
Parents have a God-given duty and legal right to provide moral instruction and guidance to their children. This includes the right of parents and their children to reject ideologies that contravene their beliefs.
Yet, supposedly secular institutions like public schools are now dictating that students must accept and affirm LGBTQ ideology, at times with the threat that if they refuse to do so, they “do not belong” in their country, as one teacher in Edmonton, Canada, recently said to a Muslim student.
As Muslims, we refuse to be coerced into believing something our faith categorically condemns. This is not a political stance. It is a moral principle.
A recent statement I helped draft, titled “Navigating Differences: Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam”, has been signed and endorsed by more than 300 Islamic scholars and preachers across North America. In this document, we explicitly and clearly lay out the non-negotiable, normative Islamic position on sexuality and gender ethics.
We believe this statement will allow Muslim parents, educators, students and professionals to establish their right to hold their religious views without fear of legal reprisal. All too often, those who wish to live in accordance with mainstream, family-based morality are accused of being bigoted and “homophobic” if they refuse to endorse LGBTQ events. Many suffer social repercussions for holding such beliefs.
Worse still, children are expected to attend events in which drag shows and other actions deemed immoral by many people of faith are showcased.
This statement seeks to be a reference point to demonstrate to school boards and employers why Muslims must preferably be excused from activities that contradict our religious ideals.The statement is explicitly non-partisan and states that the signatories are “committed to working with individuals of all religious and political affiliations to protect the constitutional right of faith communities to live according to their religious convictions and to uphold justice for all”.
Despite such clear declarations of non-partisanship and though the protesters, from Maryland to Ottawa, have insisted they are asserting moral agency rather than political allegiance, certain groups insist on turning this into a partisan issue.
Those who have committed themselves to a left-wing liberal ideology (including some progressive Muslims) are outraged and ashamed of anything short of the full affirmation and acceptance of all LGBTQ demands. They point to our own experience of oppression as a Muslim minority and say we should thus show reciprocity to other marginalised groups, even as LGBTQ advocates often refuse to show the same sensitivity on issues we hold sacred.
The fact that conservative media outlets have provided a platform for Muslim parents to share their grievances is supposedly conclusive proof that these protesters, and all of us who oppose the teaching of the LGBTQ agenda in schools, are aligning themselves with the far-right, including white supremacists. That is simply not the case.
To be sure, the sudden friendliness of politically-conservative groups and media outlets towards Muslims is indeed tempting some in the community to rush to forge new alliances with the political right after previously flirting with the left. They are making a mistake. Again.
Muslims across North America should firmly root their moral values in their faith, not in a specific political ideology. To understand why this distinction is so critical, we ought to heed a lesson from our recent past.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Islam in North America faced an existential crisis. Muslims were widely portrayed as the enemy. Scholars were deported. Bearded Muslim men and hijabi women were harassed, randomly questioned and detained at airports. Many worshippers avoided praying in masjids and some Muslims even changed their first names. The reality of Muslims in North America in the first decade of this century was one of fear, anxiety and extreme alienation.
The open hostility of the North American political right towards Islam and Muslims sharply contrasted with the comparatively sympathetic left. As a matter of pragmatic political (and in some cases, literal) survival, Muslims flocked to the liberal political parties of Canada and the United States. These left-wing institutions gave Muslims the best chance to survive against anti-Muslim forces largely represented by the conservative right. But embracing the left meant accepting an entire package of causes, some of which aligned ideologically with Islamic ethics (such as combatting racism), while others did not (such as the legalisation of certain drugs).
Many Muslims began approaching politics not as a tool but as an ideology. They felt motivated to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their political commitments and their religious beliefs, even if it meant radically reinterpreting the faith to allow for such accommodation.
Some progressives who identified with Islam began claiming, for the first time in our 14 centuries of scholarship, that the Quran has been misunderstood and that in its correct interpretation, it endorses alternative sexual lifestyles and sanctions same-sex marriages.
To be clear, Islamic law differentiates between a desire, which is in itself not sinful, and the deed, which could be a sin. Those struggling with same-sex desires but wishing to abide by Islamic law are our full brethren in faith and deserve all the love and rights of believers. They stand in contrast to those who flout Islamic law and take pride in disobedience. Muslim politicians and influencers, in particular, should be careful not to make religious claims on behalf of our faith.
In an authentic narration, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says: “believer is not bitten from the same hole twice”. Muslims who are rightly indignant about the moral decay sweeping our society in the name of inclusivity ought to be cautious not to be a pendulum that swings from one extreme to another.
Our politics is not our ideology and our ideology is neither left nor right. Our ideology is centred in our unshakeable faith, grounded in our immutable creed, and firmly rooted in the timeless words of God and the teachings of His final Messenger. We are a “Middle Nation” and, as the Quran says (2:143), our role is to be moral exemplars for mankind.