“Emotional abusers are masters at turning their sins into your wrongs. Your every complaint, disagreement, or expression of concern is now about you not showing them enough love, compassion, or respect. And as soon as they fear that others will see their wrongdoing for what it is, they play victim and accuse you of hurting them in some way. These abusers can be family members, friends, or religious teachers—and they can be sociopolitical activists seeking to sell a sinful lifestyle to the world while blocking even the chance at opposition.”
Here we go again. This was my first thought after a friend inboxed me a video entitled “God Doesn’t Hate Gay People.” In the video, the presenter argues that God doesn’t care whom we marry; and of course, he threw in the one argument that anti-religion, anti-morality people simply cannot resist: that so much violence, hate, and corruption is done in the name of God and religion. In this, it seems these people have absolutely no problem with violence, hate, and corruption so long as it’s done in the name of democracy, nationalism, or any other worldly or political motivation—and most especially if it’s done in the name of rooting out organized religion on earth.
But they claim that they’re doing all of this anti-religion, anti-morality propaganda in the name of “love.”
The Games We Play with Love
We play around with this word love a lot. I remember how apparent this reality became to me when I was asking a professed Muslim what theological proofs she had for the argument that gay and lesbian marriages were allowed in Islam. And what was her response? “Asking for theological proofs is not love.”
Wow. I mean, here was a self-proclaimed “public figure”, blogger, and activist who had effectively made it her life’s mission to change the meaning of Muslim marriage and halaal sexuality in Islam, But she was completely unwilling to bring theological proofs for her theological arguments. Why?
Because apparently, asking for proofs is not love.
I was deeply amused, intrigued, and disturbed all at once. So this is what “love” has come to? A word we can hide behind so that we don’t have to take responsibility for our speech and behavior? I’d already known that “love” was used to justify engaging in any sexual behavior we desire, but I didn’t know it had now evolved to mean you couldn’t even ask someone the evidence for their claims.
I’ve come to call this emotional ideology “the love shield,” as I shared in my book Pain. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah:
“Asking for theological proofs is not love,” she said—while she herself was making theological claims. So the demand for “love” has now become the shield used to protect ourselves from accountability for our speech and behavior—even as we use God’s name to justify both. Thus, this “love shield” allows us to tell endless lies and inflict endless wounds, while hiding behind demands of religious tolerance. Then we cower like an accosted victim in the face of any scrutiny or questioning, which we swiftly label “hate.”
Discussing Love vs. Hate Is a Distraction
When it comes to discussing right and wrong or authentic spirituality and sin, centering any argument around love and hate is a distraction. And most times it’s an intentional one. Whether someone loves or hates another person—or whether God loves or hates a certain group of people—is completely irrelevant in determining whether a particular act or belief is right or wrong, or whether the act is representative of authentic spirituality or sin.
As a general rule, God condemns sinful behavior. He doesn’t condemn every single person who is guilty of that sin. Yes, it is possible for a person to dedicate their hearts and lives to disobedience and rejection of God such that He no longer loves them. However, who specifically is in this category is largely a matter of the unseen and thus cannot be determined based on someone’s sinful behavior alone.
Furthermore, while God definitely loves those who sincerely obey Him and His Messenger (peace be upon him) and who live upon authentic spirituality, we cannot proclaim that we (specifically) are written down amongst these people—unless we have been specifically named as being amongst them in the Qur’an or Sunnah (and we haven’t). Yes, as a group, sincere Muslims and believers in authentic spirituality are mentioned as being the beloved of God, but we have no idea if we as individuals will even have emaan (sincere faith) in our hearts when we die.
For this reason, it’s a complete waste of time to discuss whom God loves or hates when discussing right or wrong lifestyles and behavior. Yes, it’s definitely valid to argue that God hates sin. But since He also loves those who constantly repent (i.e. He loves sinful people who are sincerely and consistently striving to change their sinful ways), we don’t always know who is in which category (the condemned or the beloved). And frankly, given our basic purpose on earth—worshipping God alone and striving to meet Him with emaan in our hearts—it shouldn’t really matter.
Is a Gay Orientation “Natural”?
In addition to discussing “love” instead of spiritual truth, another intentional distraction is the question of whether or not a person’s gay feelings are “natural.” I address this issue in my book Let’s Talk About Sex and Muslim Love in the chapter entitled “Gay and Muslim?” Here is an excerpt:
In her email, the lesbian blogger argued, “God created us perfectly, irrespective of orientation.” She also said that “a person’s sexual orientation is not a mistake, sinful, or something to feel ashamed about nor hidden or suppressed.”
In other words, Islam’s requirement to avoid acting on our underlying sinful desires (homosexual or otherwise) and the perpetual existence of our underlying sinful desires are somehow mutually exclusive to each other… Or they are evidence that no Islamic law exists to prevent us from acting on our sinful desires as long as we can convince ourselves that our sinful desires stem from a static “orientation” that is part of our “perfect nature.”
Put simply, if we can blame Allah for our ongoing struggles and desires in this world, we are allegedly absolved of any responsibility for following His laws in the process.
This is an interesting argument given that not a single one of us controls the tests we are handed, only how we respond.
Sexual Orientation Argument Debunked
In my book Let’s Talk About Sex and Muslim Love, I go on to explain the inherent faultiness of the sexual orientation argument:
If we use the blogger’s definition of orientation (an underlying consistent sexual desire that the person himself/herself did not choose), then we have to recognize that there are people who have an underlying “orientation” toward animals, inanimate objects, and even children—orientations that they too did not choose. Thus, if we remove acts of homosexuality from the category of sin based on the consistency of the underlying sexual desire beyond one’s control, then we must accept that a host of sexual desires can be acted on without falling into sin.
Though the modern Western world typically uses the “consenting adults” argument to dismiss the validity of acting on sexual desires toward children, the “consenting adults” argument is inherently flawed when approving homosexual acts.
In other words, if you believe homosexual acts are not sinful but you apply the condition of “consenting adults,” then you are agreeing to the same principle that rules homosexual acts as sinful in the first place—that, ultimately, morality trumps desire. The only question is: What is your definition of “morality”?
Muslims, like Jews and Christians, recognize only one ultimate authority in defining morality: God. Thus, any underlying “nature” is irrelevant in discussions of sexual morality. Although many Muslims (as well as Jews and Christians), argue that homosexuality is “unnatural,” this is really a moot point as far as the religious concepts of sin and obedience are concerned.
Islam, as a general rule, is most concerned with sinful acts, not with the underlying desire itself, irrespective of whether or not the desire is rooted in nature (i.e. a man and a woman sexually desiring each other) or a perversion of nature (i.e. a person desiring sexual relations with an animal).
However, viewing certain desires as unnatural (as some desires certainly are) is helpful for those seeking to understand and subsequently root out their unwanted desires. But, in the context of religious morality, the categorization of the sexual desire as natural or unnatural is irrelevant when discussing sinful behaviors.
In other words, in Islam, we are not held accountable for desiring something sinful. We are held accountable only for acting on something sinful.
Is Religious Orientation Also Not a Choice?
In my book Pain. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah, I discuss the underlying sexual orientation argument further by highlighting that underlying spiritual orientations are also real:
If you believe a person’s sexual orientation isn’t a choice, then you must also accept that a person’s religious orientation is also not a choice. We are not merely sexual beings. We are spiritual beings as well. And our spirituality and belief in God are often manifested in childhood (even when our environment is anti- or non-religious), the same time that people argue that sexuality is manifested.
Thus, if we believe people cannot control their sexual inclinations, then we must also accept that people cannot control their religious inclinations—though whether or not they act upon these religious inclinations remains a matter of choice, as it is with any internal feeling, sexual or otherwise.
In Islam, we are taught that each person is born upon the fitrah, the natural inborn inclination to believe in God and worship Him alone. It is our parents or environments that compel us to either embrace or disregard our spiritual nature.
Thus, to blame or criticize someone for ultimately submitting to their inborn nature by making the choice to do what their heart and soul have been compelling them toward all along—even as they may have tried to fight it for fear of being mistreated, slandered, or discriminated against—isn’t too much different from what you say “homophobes” are doing.
Why should your orientation be treated as natural and uncontrollable, while others’ orientations are treated as “right” or “wrong” human choices?
Or are you admitting that your lifestyle, like a person’s religion, can be right or wrong—even as your original inclination toward it was out of your control?
‘They Can’t Help Who They Are!’
Discussing someone’s uncontrollable feelings and desires in the context of right or wrong is an obvious distraction from the issues of spiritual truth and moral behavior. Why?
Firstly, as I just discussed: God is not at all concerned with underlying struggles and desires. He’s concerned with how we respond to them. In other words, feelings and desires are not sin. It is what we believe about these feelings and desires, and how we live in response to them that determine spiritual guidance or sinfulness.
Secondly, no one controls their struggles, desires, and tests in life. We all have difficult tests that we have to pass if we are to meet God and find that He is pleased with us.
“But being gay is definitely harder though!” some people argue. In fact, this is what one reader told me in response to the article “We Are All Being Tested” which is featured in my book Let’s Talk About Sex and Muslim Love. And here is my response, which is also found in the book:
I agree with you 100% that the test of being gay is definitely harder than not being gay, if we are looking at the lens of life through sexuality alone. However, life is much more nuanced than this. If we pick any trial and look at life through that lens alone, then whoever has the obviously more difficult challenge will have the harder test. Sexuality is not a small matter, but neither is hearing, seeing, communicating, having good health, not living in poverty, living in a war-free region, not being physically tortured everyday, not being imprisoned, and the list goes on.
The point of my post was to point out that the trials of life touch everyone, and the extent that those trials try that person to the very core is a matter of the ghayb (unseen) about which only Allah knows. Yes, being gay is technically a harder trial than not being gay. However, this doesn’t mean that every gay person has a more difficult life than every non-gay person.
The Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, taught us that those with the most difficult trials are the prophets and messengers, then those with the most emaan accordingly. Thus, can anyone argue that a gay person today has a harder life than Allah’s prophets, or the Companions, and the most faithful of the believers?
I definitely believe the suicide rate amongst gays and their rate of leaving Islam points to a very trying test. However, the truth is, it is the minority of all of humankind who will die as believers. So the trial of holding on to one’s faith, like the trials of life itself, is not merely about sexuality. In fact, some trials are so severe that some people lose their appetite for physical pleasures altogether.
The goal of anyone who is striving with any personal trial should not be to question Allah, but to focus on the Hereafter, as Allah decrees trials in ways we do not understand. [From the Qur’an] in Surah Al-Baqarah (2:102), Allah tells us about the Angels Harut and Marut who taught the people sihr (magic): “But neither of these two [angels] taught anyone [such things] till they had said [to them]: ‘We are only for trial, so disbelieve not [by learning magic from us]…”
Why send these angels with something that would only cause people to disbelieve? we might ask. Yet Allah says, “He (Allah) cannot be questioned as to what He does, while they (humans) will be questioned” (21:23).
Thus, for any of us to go astray or commit suicide due to frustration with the tests Allah has given us is something we’ll be questioned about, and if this is combined with disbelief, we will not be pardoned or forgiven for it. In light of the severity of life itself, it is of little benefit to argue whose test is harder, as we already know that emaan comes with the greatest trials, regardless of any other trial that comes along with it.
Find a Better Argument
If the only argument you can find to defend a certain behavior or lifestyle is that God doesn’t hate the people involved in that behavior or lifestyle, then it’s time you got a mental and spiritual upgrade. Love and hate are completely irrelevant to the concepts of right and wrong. Many parents claim to love their children unconditionally, but these same parents punish bad behavior and thus don’t unconditionally approve of everything their beloved children do. Likewise, many people claim to love their spouses unconditionally, but they routinely get angry with each other when they feel the other has wronged them in some way. Thus, even those who are “in love” with each other don’t unconditionally approve of everything their loved ones do.
Some people even argue that God Himself unconditionally loves everyone while making no distinction based on lifestyle, behavior, or even religion. Yet these same people would never argue that every single behavior that these “beloved humans” engage in is completely right and good before God. Moreover, there are people who say God commands us to love our enemies. So again, love has nothing whatsoever to do with right and wrong. Otherwise, what criteria are we using to call someone our “enemies” in the first place” such that loving them even needs to be taught?
So yes, we can be on opposite sides of an issue while completely disagreeing with each other, and still feel (or at least claim) love for each other in our hearts. And this love (whether real or imagined) in no way contradicts our basic human right to believe that someone’s life choices are wrong or sinful.
In other words, you can love someone and still have a moral compass.
So if your goal is to change God’s definition of sexual morality, find a better argument.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the self-help book for Muslim survivors of abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You. Her latest novel His Other Wife is now a short film.
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