Homosexuality: It's Time We Reconcile Our Beliefs with Scientific Evidence and 21st Century Values

The Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage here in the United States has caused a stir not just among conservatives and religious fanatics here but in many parts of the Muslim world as well.

It is a good thing we are discussing a topic rarely brought up in Muslim communities.

Many with same-sex preferences in our communities are forced into heterosexual relationships or treated as outcasts and sometimes even driven to suicide, because we have trouble accepting homosexuality.

Let's consider some of the complaints.

1. "Homosexuality is a Western fad, there is no such thing in Muslim societies. It is a despicable lifestyle choice"

It is common knowledge that those with homosexual orientations have been part of societies through much of recorded history. Surely, those of us who believe in the story of Lot, as described in the Quran and the Bible don't believe that the people of Lot were following a 'Western fad' all those years ago? Considering the numerous Hadith on dealing with homosexuals and their behavior , we can safely assume that homosexuality was not something unheard of among Arabs during the time of the prophet as well.

It is a shame that in the 21st century we stigmatize homosexuality calling it a 'despicable lifestyle choice' and treat it as if it is a disease to be cured, based on myths in ancient texts, when plenty of scientific evidence suggests that sexual orientation is just another genetic trait.

It really is not that complicated. Several studies over the past 20 years have identified certain common differences in specific regions of the human genome that can account for a homosexual orientation. This is similar to how various differences in other areas of our genomes account for the variations we observe in traits such as skin color and height. Now even though environmental factors may influence these traits to a certain extent, we accept that these traits are by and large determined genetically, and find abhorrent the idea of people being discriminated against based on inherent traits like these. How is it then acceptable to marginalize homosexuals claiming that homosexuality is a 'despicable lifestyle choice' and urge them to change their behavior?

2. "We can't trust these studies on homosexuality. Scientists are constantly changing their position on these things."

Scientists simply try to explain the natural world through evidence gained from observations and experiments. As knowledge accrues and technology improves over time, we are able to gain better evidence and with that a more nuanced understanding of the phenomena we study. So it's common to re-evaluate previous findings and either strengthen or abandon the original conclusions based on follow up studies. This is all part of the scientific process.

In the case of studies regarding homosexuality, there has been persisting evidence of a genetic link with several follow up studies strengthening and building upon the conclusions of the original study.

Disregarding the well-established scientific evidence and choosing to believe in ancient myths won't do our communities any good.

Imagine if we chose to rely on the medicine prescribed by the prophet, like black cumin (which according to some Hadith is a cure for all ailments) rather than modern medicine to treat various disease, because treatment options are constantly being re-evaluated? So why rely on ancient texts rather than modern science when we consider our positions on social issues?

3. "We can't accept homosexual relationships. We'd have to accept pedophiles abusing children next. Why must gay couples have the right to marry? They can continue their affairs in private if they want to. Surely, they can't have children 'naturally', let alone raise them right."

A romantic relationship between two consenting adults is not even remotely comparable to the sexual abuse of a minor. Homosexual relationships don't infringe upon the rights of those involved the way child abuse by a pedophile does. It is inconceivable how acceptance of the former can lead to the latter.

It is only fair that we extend the rights and privileges that come with marriage to consenting adults seeking to have their love and commitment recognized by law, regardless of their sexual orientation. We certainly don't limit heterosexual marriages to only those capable of producing biological offspring together or those who plan on raising children, so why should it be a consideration when it comes to homosexual marriages?

In any case, homosexual couples have been raising kids in Western societies for awhile now and kids raised by homosexual parents seem to be as happy and healthy as kids raised by heterosexual parents.

4."It is unfair that we are called backward for simply upholding our religious beliefs and obligations"

A majority of us support the application of Sharia based laws, and many Muslim majority countries have adopted aspects of Sharia (derived from the Quran and Hadith), for instance the generally accepted Sharia punishments, death in the case of sodomy, and flogging or stoning in the case of adultery into their penal codes. Since marriage is clearly not an option for homosexuals in these societies, they can easily be charged with either 'crime.'

Is it not backward to support a legal system that includes flogging, stoning and death as forms of punishment for acting upon one's sexual orientation, in the 21st century? More often than not, we find these punishments as unconscionable as anyone else, yet we make excuses and defend these practices in the name of religion. All this talk of hating the 'sin' and not the 'sinner' rings rather hollow when we don't speak out against these laws and do nothing to repeal them. With too many of us reluctant to speak out, things have been moving backward since the 1970's, with a steady increase in the number of Muslim majority countries integrating Sharia into their penal codes, Brunei being the latest example.

It's true some of us have chosen to disregard classical interpretations of the Quran and Hadith and have re-interpreted these texts so they are in line with the times and our own sense of fairness. Still, too many of us have been indoctrinated with religious concepts against homosexuality along with notions that the Quran, Sharia and the prophet's example are all perfect and consider it a religious obligation to maintain these notions.

Unless enough of us speak up and challenge these notions, governments will continue to stone people, in accordance with 'God's perfect laws' and our communities will continue to marginalize those with different sexual orientation, based on rigid interpretations of ancient texts and the example of an imperfect man from the 7th century.

5. "Let the decadent and hedonistic West accept gay rights and gay marriage. We must continue to hold onto the beliefs and practices of the prophet and his companions. Accepting homosexuality will ruin our societies"

We like to talk of the West as decadent and hedonistic, but we admire and enjoy the many advances that result from the scientific and social progress the West continues to make these days. Rarely do we give consideration to the factors driving this kind of progress.

Western societies are far from perfect. Still, can we consider the possibility that the West has made remarkable progress in the past few centuries and continues to do so by choosing scientific evidence over religious dogma, and embracing values like freedom and equality that make communities more inclusive and diverse over time? It is really no surprise, for when science has been valued and communities have been diverse and inclusive, societies have historically made great progress.

Muslim societies flourished in the past, for instance during the Abbasid caliphate, when we valued science and were comparatively more inclusive, in-cooperating elements of various cultures into our societies instead of rigidly following the practices of the time of the prophet.

By firmly holding onto the beliefs and practices of our 7th century ancestors these days, we are now holding our societies back.

It's time we reconcile our beliefs and practices with scientific evidence and 21st century values such as individual freedom and equality, and let go of the beliefs and practices from the 7th century that don't make sense anymore.

Only then will our communities be able to fully accept all those we have pushed aside for being 'different' and benefit from the contributions that each one of us can make when we are free to be ourselves. Rather than ruin our societies it will help our societies flourish once again.