Imam Saleem Seedat: Tackling Homophobia and Islamophobia: A Way Forward

Imam Saleem has experience of working in the Corporate Division of the NHS for more than five years and has been involved in many voluntary community initiatives in Blackburn. He was the Mayor’s Chaplain for the Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council last year. Currently he is a College Chaplain and is also a lecturer of Islamic Studies at a local seminary: Jamiat-ul-Ilm Wal Huda

Recently, a story has been highlighted around a group of mums launching a protest and petition against their school: Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, for “introducing a curriculum supporting homosexuality.”

The view put forward by one of the mothers, Fatima Shah, was that “children are being told it’s okay to be gay, yet 98 per cent of children at this school are Muslim.”

Furthermore, the mum-of-three added: “We believe in fundamental British values and believe gay people should be treated with mutual respect and without prejudice or discrimination just like any other human being.

“We respect the Equality Act and believe it can be implemented without the promotion of homosexuality.

“Children have a naive and innocent picture of sexual relationships.

“At this age it is inappropriate to teach them what is a gay or straight relationship.

“Some Christian and some Muslim parents have told me they don’t want their children learning that it’s OK to be gay.”

There have been mixed reactions regarding this story with many parents, from diverse backgrounds, sympathising with the concerns raised, based upon their religious beliefs and socially conservative values.  However, others have sought to support the stance of the school, including some marginal Muslim voices arguing that: “it is perverse in the extreme to believe that all Muslims object to socially liberal values and that all Muslims in her local area would object to a school’s project that challenges bigotry.”

Moreover, the author asserts that: “There is a moral bankruptcy in cheerleading courses that tackle Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hate and objecting to courses that tackle homophobia.”

 

Therefore, one could take that the central argument of the author quoted is two-fold: that there is no consensus on LGBT+ issues among Muslims and you cannot speak about hate targeting Muslims without also addressing hate against gay people.

 

However, both of these arguments fail to articulate the nuance necessary to address this conflict between deeply held religious values and LGBT education.

 

Firstly, invoking the diversity that exists, undoubtedly, within the Muslim community, overlooks the reality that there is a core set of beliefs and values that are uncontested within mainstream Islam.  So, for example, it would be preposterous to cite the diversity within Muslim thought and practice to undermine the deeply held belief of the obligation of the five pillars of Islam. Similarly, it would be disingenuous to rely on the notion of Muslim diversity to give the impression that there is no mainstream Islamic view on the practice of homosexuality.

 

Secondly, to argue there is “a moral bankruptcy” in supporting courses that tackle Islamophobia whilst objecting to education addressing homophobia, assumes that one is morally obliged to make a choice between supporting efforts to tackle all forms of hate or to support none; an argument which is evidently misleading.

 

And even if, one argued that there needed to be some consistency on the issue of tackling hate, that would not necessitate that one must support all kinds of efforts, regardless of how misguided the methods maybe, in tackling Islamophobia and homophobia.

 

So, in effect, it would be absolutely consistent to support particular efforts of tackling Islamophobia yet not be comfortable with others, as some of these efforts may not respectful to other communities.  Likewise, it would be equally acceptable, to be concerned about prejudice and discrimination against gay people, as even suggested by some of the mothers protesting, yet express discomfort about particular forms of education surrounding Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic (HBT) education, in light of some aspects of the content and delivery not being sensitive and sufficiently respectful to the values held by the community receiving the education.

 

In light of this, how can we move forward?  Can the Muslim community, morally, support any effort against homophobia? Similarly, can the LGBT+ community support any effort against Islamophobia?

 

Here is where the following can be proposed:

  1. All people, regardless of their beliefs, adopt a zero tolerance policy towards any form of hate towards others, in particular homophobia and Islamophobia.
  2. When tackling Islamophobia, there is no requirement or expectation for one to agree with or validate Islamic beliefs or values.  So, one can be against any form of hate against Muslims yet personally believe and say that they do not agree with and share the same beliefs and values as Muslims.  Similarly, in tackling homophobia, there should be no requirement or expectation for one to agree with or validate socially liberal values.  So, one can be against any form of hate against the LGBT+ community yet personally believe and say that they do not agree with and share the same beliefs and values as those in the LGBT+ community.
  3. If Muslims and other people of faith wish to impose their beliefs and values on the LGBT+ community, then indeed this should be called out as homophobia and not tolerated in a liberal democracy.  Similarly, if the LGBT+ community and others who hold socially liberal values were to impose their beliefs and values on the Muslim community and other faith communities who hold socially conservative values, then this also should be called out as Islamophobic and anti-religious and not tolerated in a liberal democracy.  A similar approach could be taken when addressing other associated strands.

Based upon the aforementioned principles, if schools could develop a course which addressed both HBT and Islamophobic bullying, then potentially we could overcome this clash that we find between religious and non-religious values and work towards tackling HBT and Islamophobic bullying more effectively.  However, if both religious and humanist people remain intolerant towards the right of the other to hold beliefs and values and live as they see fit, then that would indeed be a great disservice to the cause of tackling HBT and Islamophobic discrimination.

To conclude with the words of the British born Ghanian-American gay philosopher: Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah:

“In truth, identities without demands would be lifeless. Identities work only because, once they get their grip on us, they command us, speaking to us as an inner voice; and because others, seeing who they think we are, call on us, too. If you do not care for the shapes your identities have taken, you have to work with others inside and outside the labelled group in order to reframe them so they fit you better; and you can do that collective work only if you recognise that the results must serve others as well.”

Get to know Imam Saleem Seedat 

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