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Home / Women - International / The Toll of Muslim Masculinity: How It Is Pondered, Practiced, Perpetuated – and Poisonous

The Toll of Muslim Masculinity: How It Is Pondered, Practiced, Perpetuated – and Poisonous

There is a stand. Maybe it’s marked by a booming black mic, a large maple podium, some tape on the carpet, an etch in the dirt. Perhaps it’s nestled under chandelier tears, framed Arabic verse, low sullen ceilings, or brisk open breeze.


There is a voice. Maybe it’s English, Arabic, a combination, or none of the above. But it’s low, loud; slow, proud. It speaks to what is sees. It sees to what it speaks. You.


There is a world, outside, that demeans, degrades, disdains–you, many, you. But here you are safe, seen, secured. You are promised reward. You are addressed. You are offered the chance to reply. You are validated.

––
Omar Mateen was the foul, fatal concoction of most inhumane circumstances. Dangerous proximity and easy access to guns prove a repeatedly deadly reality in America that we as a nation still can’t seem to address, especially when such weapons so seamlessly and legally wind up with the mentally diseased and evil. Again, we witness the hijacking of religion as a false and cowardly face in the name of senseless terror. And though it stings to so openly criticize Islam at a time our faith is already slammed in all directions by external media, now must additionally be an opportunity to look inwards at a mindset we implicitly perpetuate .

No true Muslim ever instructs, “Go shoot up hundreds of innocent people.” Ever. Let me state that as abundantly clear. But homophobic rhetoric in the Muslim community has certainly instituted itself well past a tragic point–a tragic point clearly conveyed when response to the Orlando shooting was silent on the part of many Muslims who are otherwise among the first to defend Islam and denounce Islamism so vehemently in times of radical attacks. tweet

A fair deal of high-profile Muslim activists have spoken with straightforward solidarity of Orlando and LGBTQ+ communities, though close to all of such figures have demonstrated blunt support in the past. Now is not the the time to applaud from afar the same sliver of leaders who are saying what they’ve been saying for years. It is a chance to look within and reflect on the toxic language that we hear on local levels – in sermons and community conversations covering homophobia and transphobia. What are we personally doing? Or not doing?

Primarily, neglecting this poisonous phenomenon serves as a most demeaning, derogatory act toward Muslim queers. The LGBTQ+ community includes a strong cut of individuals who devotedly practice Islam, despite the dehumanizing vernacular spewed carelessly by many leading and living in our religious communities.

Islamic discussions of homosexuality are far from new, though homophobia substantiated by religious grounds is a relatively recent line of thought. Many scholars, for centuries and into today, have poured over explorations of Islam’s views on homosexuality, including the roots of its contemporary harsh bigotry. Several studies of our generation are turning up with the conclusion that most of the fanatical intolerance is but a manifestation of rather modern occurrences.

That is significant, especially as a talking point for recalling who it is traditionally – and today who translates, interprets, and studies Islamic jurisprudence: For centuries, this has almost always been a certain cut of the given Arab and/or otherwise prominent in-power society, in addition to nearly unanimously male.

Such rounds us to more familiar ground, one that at least half our population will recognize all too easily: The Muslim patriarchy.

The p-word, usually accused to be some stupid term obsessively yelled by screaming women and f-words (feminists) at seemingly any point about any issue. And that is exactly the most patronizing angle from which to paint this portrait.

Islam, as it is pondered, practiced, and perpetuated in even the “progressive”-airing of our communities today, is extremely gendered. Our institutions, which enforce and instate far more culture that religion, in fact, are historically founded upon segregation and thrive upon catering toward the male perspective and serving the male mind. At times it is sympathized from the angle of cultural sensitivity or undisputed confidence in stated tradition, but it is time to call into question at what limits we are willing to preserve disturbingly destructive attitudes.

There is a stand. Maybe it’s marked by a booming black mic, a large maple podium, some tape on the carpet, an etch in the dirt. Perhaps it’s nestled under chandelier tears, framed Arabic verse, low sullen ceilings, or brisk open breeze.


There is a voice. Maybe it’s English, Arabic, a combination, or none of the above. But it’s low, loud; slow, proud. It speaks to what is sees. It sees to what it speaks. You.


There is a world, outside, that demeans, degrades, disdains–you, many, you. But here you are safe, seen, secured. You are promised reward. You are addressed. You are offered the chance to reply. You are validated.

You – are a straight-cisgender male in a Muslim setting. (Cisgender refers to when the gender with which you identify is the same sex with which you were born. Hear me out.) You are offered quick haven and immediate address in your mosque or community.

I’m not saying you’ve never felt discomfort in such an environment, but I am saying you’ve never felt as such based off a personal characteristic you cannot control.

You have not been ignored week after week by the sermon.

You have never been cursed in a sermon.

You have never been hushed and silenced and talked over because the pitch of your voice is labelled as “too distracting” to recite even Qur’an – because heaven forbid the biological frequency of your larynx repeating God’s words tarnishes the spiritual concentration of masculine men.

These are the same masculine men who are taught to take control of the entire community – the sermons, the large halls, the leaders of the mosque, the finances; yet the masculine men who supposedly can’t control when to leave a woman alone. That’s also where coverings like the physical hijab or verbal silencing is alleged to help. Magical cloth or aggressive “shut ups” are said to ward away the supposed only weakness of such men.

This hijacks the personal concepts of hijab, of independence, of equality of respect–tethering them all in the concept of the male experience, the male gaze, the male mind.

This is not at all meant to derail the conversation from Muslims’ homophobia and transphobia, but rather to discuss them in a manner that will hopefully contextualize it in a clearer sense: because misogyny and homophobia and transphobia all arise from the same superiority complex that pits traditional notions of masculinity above, well, anything else.

You have not felt the burn of words that pit you as secondary, as ignored, as “will be stoned or punished in the Afterlife.” You have not felt the sting of “it’s a phase,” “it’s not real,” “it’s not natural,” or the scorch of “you’re dirty,” “you’re impure,” “leave the prayer hall.” (i.e. homosexuality or menstruation or anything, again, not authentically male).

Mateen was a crazy man with legal access to American rifles and and a psyche vulnerable to the most evil of human extremism (honestly, not even religious extremism at this point). Those our communities can’t really control. But he was also an asshole homophobe who, by the way, abused his first wife – the latter of which is, for the sake of clarity, not spewed in sermons readily like homophobia, yet is nothing but an extreme byproduct of a strain of male-entitlement.

And as we of course know, Mateen additionally pinned his irrational atrocities on an innocent group marginalized by the identical parties and forces that marginalize Muslims and Islam in the United States today; an innocent group who often rises side-by-side in solidarity and allyship with Islam when we are attacked because they understand the poisonous agents that perpetuate unsubstantiated hate against us; the innocent group who objectively did not receive enough of our verbal or cyber support in wake of the incident.

Why does this matter now?

The deaf response of some Muslim communities, including ones that did mentioned but simply denounce ISIS and extremism without standing with the LGBTQ+ community, validates intolerance.

To reiterate, Mateen’s state of mind, susceptibility toward inhumane radicalism, and accumulation of arms are not our problem: But, his homophobia is one that if we do not claim as a disease to which have grown up at least familiar by earshot and (at times admittedly passive) consumption–even if one with which we don’t personally identify–we’re lying. tweet

Again, abiding Islamic communities have not historically always been so toxically homophobic. And regardless, even if you won’t believe that, there remain milestones throughout history which we prompt serious discussion based on the urgent necessity of contemporary reality. Perhaps the largest shooting in American history might just qualify this time around.

Despite the initial mistake committed via heartbreaking silence in how a great deal of the national community acted toward this atrocity, it is not too late to show support: We must support that both directly validates, encourages, and assists the victims, in addition to spreading the word through our communities, especially to our young children, that we care about the atrocities committed toward other minorities, too. And, we must acknowledge and empower our own LGBTQ+ Muslims.

For future reference, given the digital age in which we live, media matters. Given the human minds we’ve always had, what we hear matters. It impacts our hearts and thoughts. And tolerance and faiths. And, given the human minds others have always had, what they hear from us matters. It impacts their hearts and thoughts – tolerance and beliefs.

As prominent figures Reza Aslan and Hasan Minhaj penned in “An Open Letter to American Muslims on Same-Sex Marriage” following the Supreme Court decision in July 2015:

“When you are an underrepresented minority—whether Muslim, African American, female, etc.—democracy is an all or nothing business. You fight for everyone’s rights (and the operative word here is “fight”), or you get none for yourself. Democracy isn’t a buffet. You can’t pick and choose which civil liberties apply to which people. Either we are all equal, or the whole thing is just a sham.” tweet

To repeat a line that may render an extra level of meaning this Holy Month of fasting: Democracy isn’t a buffet.

Democracy is not peering at your plate from the community iftaar and only chowing your pakoras, simply nibbling the crunchy corners of your samosas, totally ignoring the cholay, and possibly taking a sip of your lassi if you happen to feel like it.
No, assert my South Asian hunger pangs. Absolutely not.

There are clear ugly, repulsive systems that plague the cultures of our faith. And still, there is so much beauty, too, which is why we bother at all in the first place, diving into a messy muddle of tradition, accusation, culture, fear, and, yes, patriarchy.

This isn’t a diagnosis of straight-cisgender Muslim men as inherently evil. But just as it is a recognition of mistakes and appeal for better behavior by us all who have also passively allowed homophobia and transphobia to boil and brew in our communities, it is a special request for straight-cisgender Muslim men to acknowledge feelings they have never had to feel.

Do not run, dismiss, or hide. That simply insults and invalidates all the pain and mistreatment anyone who fails the test of Muslim masculinity has to bitterly swallow and yet so delicately verbalize for you to see even some sketch of the picture. So are you supposed to feel some discomfort and shame now? For once, yeah, welcome to the club.

I can’t speak for Muslim queers. But I can speak as a Muslim who is not male and/or does not abide by the traditional or sought notions of Muslim masculinity. And I can offer an extra special plea to Muslim woman who can’t not acknowledge the patriarchal presence that has surely plagued our lives in one way or another: On that even more intimate level, we cannot oppress people by literally the same forces that we battle and fight on a daily basis just by living in our communities.

This is simply the same logic – even for Muslim men – that Aslan and Minhaj employ, following a pretty rational stream of thought for all Muslims in regards to the not just tolerating but celebrating LGBTQ+ community.

You – the one who finds quick haven and immediate address in the community, from the cold, callous external world, can no longer accept such comfort that comes at the sloppy sacrifice of and predicates itself on internally re-demeaning others who suffer with you on the outside. You may pray in front of us, or in plain view as we are tucked away in a basement or attic, and you may listen without having to apply the filters of your identity: Your gender, your sex, your sexuality, your anything natural that goes against the community installed notion of Muslim masculinity.

So this time, feel it.

The factors that perpetuate our hate and intolerance (or even passive tolerance, which doesn’t nothing but implicitly reinforce bigotry) are not religious. Fire at me with verse, but I remain planted at Surah 5, Verse 8:

“Believers, stand firm for God, be witnesses for justice. Never allow the hatred of people to prevent you from being just. Be just, for this is closest to righteousness.” tweet

And that trumps the rest for me because this is not a war of who can spit the most quotes. It’s a matter of human decency and acknowledging God’s love and tolerance above pain and wrath.

There is a stand. Maybe it’s marked by a booming black mic, a large maple podium, some tape on the carpet, an etch in the dirt. Perhaps it’s nestled under chandelier tears, framed Arabic verse, low sullen ceilings, or brisk open breeze.


There is a voice. Maybe it’s English, Arabic, a combination, or none of the above. But it’s low, loud; slow, proud. It speaks to what is sees. It sees to what it speaks. You.


There is a world, outside, that demeans, degrades, disdains–you, many, you. But here you are safe, seen, secured. You are promised reward. You are addressed. You are offered the chance to reply. You are validated.

But at the cost of whom?

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Help the victims of the Orlando tragedy here.

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