The hatred on our doorstep

Homosexuality is considered taboo in the Muslim community. But no one can expect tolerance if he himself makes a habit of excluding others. Those demanding solidarity must first set an example. By Busra Delikaya

Essay by Büşra Delikaya

Homophobia is a widespread reality that is deeply rooted in Muslim cultures. It is not something people ever talk about. Only now, after the killings in Orlando, are questions finally being raised. But aversions that have long been part of everyday life for Muslims are still only being addressed marginally.

And they will probably only be a focus of attention for a very short time. The truth is that there has never really been an extended debate about the homophobic leanings of Muslim communities – even within such communities themselves – let alone any long-term conclusions. Homosexuality has only ever been discussed in theological terms. The social injustices faced by gay Muslims have never been cause for concern, nor has the matter-of-fact undermining of their acceptance by society. And, it′s true, we Muslims have indeed systematically avoided any confrontation with this subject.

And yet, we are all responsible: if society is to change for the better, if problems are to be brought out into the daylight and grappled with, each one of us has to begin on his own doorstep. It has taken an atrocity of devastating magnitude to rouse us from our lethargy and launch a serious discussion.

Often, when injustices occur, Muslims are expected to take a stand, whether or not they can identify with the person in the role of victim – or with the perpetrator, his deeds and actions. But the same holds true for everyone: no one has the right to treat another individual badly based on sexual orientation or even to exclude them from social circles – regardless of one′s own opinion.

It is ultimately a matter of peaceable, tolerant coexistence, which is the foundation of any intact community. And this maxim is particularly important in religious communities that follow the model of a prophet who was the very personification of tolerance and kindness.

Fraught with contempt

When a dialogue is fraught with contempt from the outset, no one can expect the other side to take a step forward to close the gap. Since homosexuality in Muslim cultures is still a major taboo, why are people so surprised when Muslim homosexuals leave mosque communities and ultimately turn away from their faith? It is hardly surprising, therefore, that non-Muslim homosexuals feel an insurmountable distance, if not inner ill will, toward Muslims in general.

Grieving the victims of Orlando (photo: Getty Images/AFP/M. Ngan)
Grieving the victims of Orlando: following the massacre of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Florida, German politicans, such as the Green MP Cem Ozdemir, have called for open debate on the subject of homophobia among Muslims – regardless of whether the attack turns out to have been an act of terrorism or not. Islam associations and Muslim communities need to get involved, says Ozdemir. Yet it is also necessary to defend Muslims against blanket accusations

At the same time, solidarity is considered to be an essential virtue in Islam. The Islamic faith is predicated on respect for others. It is open and accessible to all and ascribes to every individual an autonomous self-determination, free from externally imposed constraints. According to Islamic principles, the decision to live as one sees fit as long as it does not conflict with anyone else's rights, is up to the individual alone. No one is entitled to condemn the personal decisions of others.

Nevertheless, a high degree of homophobia can still be observed in Muslim circles. This hatred is not always evident on the surface – and that's exactly the problem. It is frequently concealed behind curt statements, the inconspicuous emphasis placed on certain words – or simply in basic attitudes that seem to be so entrenched that they are no longer questioned.

Defamation has become slang

Muslim youth in particular urgently need to be made aware of this problem. We can't just ignore it when a YouTuber of Turkish origin, well known among his peers, uploads a "prank" to the video platform consisting of a false outing, just to film his father's reaction. And, moreover, that this father, beside himself with rage, nearly hits him and the boy tries to appease him by saying it was just a joke, is greeted with laughter rather than the requisite concern.

Young Muslims frequently call things they don't like "gay" or "homo". Defamation has become slang. It all seems okay; no one speaks about it and certainly not against it, until it has become normal parlance. A legitimate discourse is then written off as quibbling. If anyone raises the issue, his own basic understanding of Islam and personal faith is often called into question. That is fatal.

Busra Delikaya (photo: private)
"We can't keep talking exclusively about Islamophobia, while homophobia, antisemitism, antiziganism and cultural racism keep erupting among us. Because Muslims are not the only minority that suffers from daily exclusion – and not every instance of animosity revolves around Islam," writes Busra Delikaya

It is noticeable that Muslim men in particular seem to harbour a pronounced distaste against gays, which is probably all part of a masculinity complex. Not infrequently, things that might be considered the slightest bit feminine are derogatorily dubbed "gay". The degree of masculinity is then measured by the absence of any even categorised femininity and this is then absurdly correlated with one's feeling of self-worth as a man. It is hence not unreasonable to claim that homophobic and patriarchal traits overlap at certain points.

Others are also excluded

Rarely are Muslims to be found working against hate movements that do not concern themselves. But we can't only stand up for causes that directly involve our own rights and interests and only raise our voices to defend those from our own ranks. Anyone demanding solidarity has to set a good example. And anyone who incites hostility himself has to be able to take it when it comes from others.

We can't keep talking exclusively about Islamophobia, while homophobia, antisemitism, antiziganism and cultural racism keep erupting among us. Because Muslims are not the only minority that suffers from daily exclusion – and not every instance of animosity revolves around Islam.

Only when we stop trying to weigh solidarity against sympathy and decide to deem prejudice contemptible in any context, can equality emerge outside of our community as well. Because those who repeat the very behaviour they think they're combatting have simply not understood what the struggle is all about.

Busra Delikaya

© 2016

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor