Dr. Brown’s fourth position—Rights Affirmation/Common Cause/Islamic Orthodoxy—constitutes the heart of the paper. It is an original idea that utilizes tafṣīl—distinction—distinguishing between theological positions and political strategies. It seeks to negotiate a way by which Muslims can maintain political relevance without forgoing their beliefs. The intent is laudable, and the effort to interact with the larger society is closer to the sunnah than the approach of Aṣḥāb al-Kahf (People of the Cave), which involved a complete withdrawal from society. The portions I take issue with are in bold.
The RACCIO position holds that Muslims in the U.S. should affirm and advocate for many (but not necessarily all) LGBTQ rights not because of a quid pro quo they-stood-by-us-so-we-have-to-stand-by-them logic but rather because Muslims in the U.S. and LGBTQ groups seek protection for the same rights and, ironically, arguably have a common vision for the country’s future…Muslims should advocate for these rights while strenuously affirming that many aspects of LGBTQ lifestyles are indisputably religiously prohibited in Islam.
A vision generally includes an end-result or end-goal. I can see how we might overlap with other groups on specific issues, but I cannot see how an Islamic vision would involve anything LGBTQ, but let us not jump to conclusions and continue reading.
According to the RACCIO position, American Muslims should support the right of gay marriage under U.S. law not because we condone homosexual behaviors...
Herein lies the main drawback of the theory. Any type of advocacy under any political or legal structure involves a form of legislation. Legislation, as is well known, cannot be for anything prohibited. We may not be obligated in certain contexts to advocate for the Sacred Law, but we most definitely are prohibited from advocating anything that contradicts it. “Whosoever does not legislate by what Allah judged, these are the oppressors” (Qur’an 5:45). And we cannot even support such legislation: "Help one another do what is right and good; do not support one another towards sin and rebellion. Be mindful of God, for His punishment is severe" (Qur'an 5:2). And, “The curse of Allah is on whosoever aids a deviant” (Bukhari & Muslim). This is known as īwā’, to support something prohibited.
It would not matter what benefit comes from such legislation or advocacy. And commonsensically, no Muslim disobeys God and His Messenger ﷺ unless they are tempted to by some form of perceived benefit, and clearly there is currently great benefit in alignment with LGBTQ activists (at least on the coasts and urban centers). At this point, Dr. Brown introduces the three ingredients of his proposal, beginning with Common Cause.
The Common Cause Argument
Dr. Brown clarifies the common vision of Muslims and LGBTQ groups by claiming:
Muslims and LGBTQ groups have the same goal, namely a notion of marriage in which laws are not influenced by Western-European/Christian cultural mores.
To begin, I must say that this is quite a stretch. Who amongst Muslims in America is adversely affected by the current marriage laws? Are any of the pillars of a valid nikah outlawed? Do township civil marriages require anything haram? The answer is no. So how exactly are Muslims suffering? The only thing that I can think of is the law against polygamy. But let us see if that is what Dr. Brown intends.
Same-sex marriage is unacceptable to conservative Christianity and Judaism, as it is to Islam. But from the perspective of mainstream, conservative Christian culture, gay marriage and Muslim marriage occupy the same space in that they are both repugnant.
It does not matter what conservative Christians think. What matters is the law of the land, which as it stands, does not obstruct a Muslim from fulfilling the sunnah of marriage according to our precepts. He continues:
Long before Christians were concerned about gay marriage they were busy condemning what was viewed as an inconceivable barbarism: polygamy. Remember, the Republican Party was founded not just to combat slavery, but to end the “twin barbarisms” of slavery and polygamy (specifically Mormon polygamy). And we have to remember that Muslim marriages (i.e., nikahs conducted according to the shariah) were, well into the 20th century, considered reprehensible and legally invalid if conducted in Britain and the U.S. simply because they were “potentially polygamous.”
The key word here is “were.” This is great history, but ultimately irrelevant because this was all in the past. I proudly stand fully by the Sacred Law and against attacks on polygamy. But it’s still history and does not affect me today. So let’s keep reading.
Muslims and their marriages are just as repugnant to many conservative Christians in this country as LGBTQ folk are. Make no mistake about it: we are all monsters in the eyes of many American conservative Christians.
First, this statement is too broad and it paints a false picture. The basic marriage between one Muslim man and one Muslim woman is not repugnant to anyone. Only second, third, and fourth marriages are.
Second, if I am not allowed to marry a second wife, is that oppression? If so, then why did Imam Malik permit women to stipulate in the marriage contract that if their husbands took a second wife, divorce from the first wife occurs automatically. It is a clause that ensures that the man will never be married to her and to another woman simultaneously. If this was an injustice, then it would be an invalid clause and not one Malik would have approved of.
Third, let’s be honest, where is polygamy on the Muslim community’s to-do list? I would think it’s not that high. But even if it was—and people are free to make it a cause if they want to—it should be done in the right way. Partnering with a group who build their identity around an act for which an entire city was destroyed, is not the path of tawfīq. This I can guarantee. “Verily Allah only accepts from the muttaqīn (God-fearing).” The verse means that, whatever you do, Allah will only accept it if you do it right.
Fourth, LGBTQ folks would also view polygamous Muslim marriages as repugnant! In the Obergefell hearings, Justice Samuel Alito went back and forth
with Mary Bonauto, the attorney arguing against the Defense of Marriage Act:
Alito: Suppose we rule in your favor in this case, and then after that a group of two men and two women apply for a marriage license, would there be any ground for denying them?
Bonauto: I believe so, Your Honor…the States would rush in and say that when you’re talking about multiple people joining into a relationship, that that is not the same thing we’ve had in marriage, which is on the mutual support and consent of two people…And I would assume the States would come in and say that there are concerns about consent and coercion.
The current argument against polygamy that can be found on LGBTQ blogs is that same-sex attraction is immutable (you’re born that way); polygamy is not. Nobody is born requiring multiple spouses. As it stands, the LGBTQ position is against polygamy.
I’m afraid many educated Muslims on the East and West Coasts have fallen into the trap that everything non-Christian is our ally. This is not the case. Liberals, including those who identify as LGBTQ, are using Muslims as part of their diversity hammer to crush the white conservative establishment.
The solution is to collectively advocate for a legal understanding of marriage that allows for the maximal flexibility of individuals to enter with one another into those contractual relationships that facilitate sharing property, child-rearing duties, access to insurance, rights of survivorship, etc.
Then establish a generically worded platform that would allow for this. And even that might be problematic as one would still be seeking legislation for what Allah prohibited. If I was banned from selling kufis and topis, then advocated for a new law that removed all restrictions from commercial goods, that would still be unlawful from a sharia standpoint, because “no restriction on any goods” is not the sharia’s position. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited goods. And so to advocate for a redefinition of marriage that has the single requirement of consent and agreement, I would still be advocating a concept that is un-Islamic.
Imagine a hypothetical country in which alcohol and Zamzam water were both illegal. Would you support the right to sell alcohol just so that you can then ride on the coattails of that precedent to get Zamzam legalized too? The path to good cannot be through something bad. “Verily, Allah only accepts from the pious” (Qur'an 5:57), “Allah is pure and does not accept anything except the pure” (Muslim & Ahmad).
Dr. Brown asserts that, “...under shariah rule, Muslim scholars allowed non-Muslim subjects to engage in marital practices that they considered grossly reprehensible when Muslims could easily have put an end to them.” The key word here is “allowed.” That is very different from advocated or legislated. This qiyās is faulty. Muslims also did not destroy Buddha statues, and in Upper Egypt all sorts of pagan idols and shrines. Allowing something does not set a precedent for advocating for that thing.
Dr. Brown argues that Muslims in the West are not “in any position of authority or power to restrict the actions of others.” Nobody is saying restrict! We’re saying don’t advocate! The two are very different! Again, this a faulty qiyās.
He also uses the analogy of being in a lifeboat with a devil-worshipper. First, we are not in a life-or-death situation, and on this account alone, the analogy fails and stands rejected. Second, rowing is halal! Redefining marriage is not! You can work with anyone if the thing you’re doing is halal and good. Perception might be an issue, but technically, the action would be sound and accepted by Allah. But in the current situation, no Muslim’s life is at stake; we are not being oppressed; and the action item being proposed is sinful. RACCIO is not adding up.
Restrictions on Muslims’ rights, constant pressure from the security state, and the long-running and increasingly severe Islamophobia in American society (now ensconced in the White House) seem to me to have resulted in a situation more analogous to being stuck in a lifeboat than anything else. Muslims, LGBTQ activists, Latino American activists, and numerous other minorities find themselves under common attack and in need, once again and perhaps more than ever, of solidarity and coalition.
First, what rights are Muslims in America currently denied? Are there any laws prohibiting us from anything required in our religion? Are Muslims, en masse, being killed or driven from their homes? There are occasional tensions for sure, but have they reached the level that require rendering an otherwise unlawful thing lawful? The harm must be objectively demonstrable at a mass level, but the vast majority of what we see is the opposite of this. In general, Muslim men and women are going about their daily business and returning home without incident.
Second, when we take a dispensation in the Sacred Law, that dispensation must guarantee the alleviation of the hardship. Can it be demonstrated that supporting the LGBTQ lobby in general and gay marriage in specific will stop angry Trump supporters from heckling Muslim women in public places? I think not.
Third, if all of this was the case, and Executive Orders began coming down prohibiting basic needs, then Muslims should enter a coalition for that specific item, not provide wholesale support for a particular group and everything they want.
Even as they partner with and support LGBTQ groups, Muslims should affirm amongst themselves, and explicitly state when asked by others, that Islam prohibits same-sex acts and same-sex nikah (Muslim religious marriage), and places major restrictions on the subjective definition of gender identity.
This position will cause cognitive dissonance in those who adopt it. Beliefs and political stances must be aligned and should not contradict the Sacred Law or else one will internalize this contradiction and never be able to escape the agitation that dissonance causes. Separating what you believe religiously from what you support politically is the very eye of secularism.
Rejectionists have warned for some time that LGBTQ groups will not abide such affirmations of Islamic orthodoxy and will, sooner or later oblige Muslims to morally condone LGBTQ lifestyles. If this is true, then it’s a demand to which Muslims cannot and should not accede.
Correct. And even in the Qur'anic narrative they sought to “remove them from your city”; this verse is repeated twice to emphasize the point (Qur'an 7:82, 27:56). We also should remember the very clear warning that the Qur'an gave to the Muslims in Medina: that compromising on matters of religious belief with the followers of other religions is a slippery slope to adopting their religions (Qur'an 2:120), given the reality that there is always pressure on a societal minority to conform to and assimilate with the norms of the dominant culture. If this reminder from the Qur’an regards assimilation with the People of the Book, what then about people of no scripture at all?
…since when does affirming one another’s rights require affirming the moral or religious validity of their actions or beliefs?
It does not, but if this argument is meant as a justification for Muslims to “partner with and support LGBTQ groups,” it is irrelevant because “affirming their moral validity” was never the accusation. The accusation is that īwā’, the act of supporting what Allah prohibited, is itself prohibited, even if I announce that I don’t believe in it. The Sacred Law only allows the haram to become halal in cases where life or limb (dire need at the physical level) are at stake, and evidence of neither has been presented.
…supporting some things, or some things in certain ways, does not entail supporting all things, or all things in all ways.
I agree. And how will we determine this? When Allah expressly forbids something, the presumption is an absolute prohibition. However, if there is another proof-text (a qarīna) that offers an exception or a dispensation, then we can act upon it. A simple example: we all know that the Quran repudiates the Trinity. And yet, a Muslim man may marry a Christian woman and must allow her to worship. In this sense, the Muslim man is facilitating the continuation of doctrines which the Quran repudiates. He is only allowed to do so because the Sacred Law explicitly states this exception. So I ask: where is the proof-text indicating that I, as a Muslim, can facilitate or legislate something haram in general and same-sex marriage in specific?
From another angle, the sharia does not limit whom we can support; but it does limit what we can support. I would have no problem defending anyone—Jew, Christian, LGBTQ activist, or Satan-worshipper—against injustice or supporting them in claiming their rights, as Allah and His Messenger ﷺ have defined injustices and rights. If a Satan worshipper was being robbed before my eyes, it would be obligatory on me as a Muslim to stop the robbery if possible. If an LGBTQ activist was starving in front of me, it would be obligatory for me to feed him. In these cases, the identity/beliefs/religion of the individual are not relevant. But when I say such things as “support LGBTQ groups,” I have now placed their ideas and their doctrines at the forefront, and that is not legitimate in the sight of Allah.
Finally, I believe the RACCIO position is correct because it doesn't just stress what Muslims in the U.S. are against, but also what we’re for.
What exactly are we for? Anything non-Christian? I would be wary of this because anytime you trade away a known entity for what is unknown, you have no clue what will fill the void. Usually, it’s something bad (case in point: Arab Spring). With Christianity, we at least know what we’re dealing with. We have ample precedent (Abyssinia and many other examples). But this is a moot point because America is already post-Christian; it is just a matter of getting rid of the final remnants. But in such a world, there are no absolute notions of anything. Rights and injustices become arbitrary. Even if Muslims were to gain every single desired right in such a world, is existence amidst moral chaos really what we want? I would rather exist with minor limitations in a more stable world.
Further—and I am sure Dr. Brown did not intend this—I would consider the above line a hit below the belt, because it subtly implies that Rejectionists are merely against things, and have no positive vision of their own. I would first argue that clarifying what one is against takes priority over what one is for. In the starting point of our entire religion, the testimony of faith, we negate false gods, before affirming the one true God. Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “The best dhikr
is stopping where Allah prohibited.”12
Imam Malik, when he was asked who the people of the sunnah
are, replied, “They are those who cannot be accused of being part of any heretical group,” namely they rid themselves of falsehoods, therefore all that remains is the Truth.13
Ibn al-Qayyim has an amazing statement: all people love to do the good; the hypocrites and the sinners do good, but it is only the muttaqīn
who avoid the bad. My point is that when people emphasize limits and push away wrongs, it should be celebrated, and we should not internalize this notion that when a Muslim says “haram” that he is some retrograde character that we roll our eyes at. Again, I am not saying that this was Dr. Brown’s intent, but this statement might be understood that way.
Secondly, we have a vast vision. I have articulated on many occasions a basic philosophy for Muslim action. Our politics is that of the oppressed as Allah and His Messenger ﷺ have defined oppression. Socially, our mission is to establish upright communities—family units that revolve around the mosque—in which the ailments of society—suicide, divorce, racism, drugs, anxiety, loneliness, addiction, harassment, ignorance, joblessness—are noticeably reduced, thereby serving as a living demonstration of what Prophetic Guidance has to offer humanity. I am not even a major proponent of proselytizing. Rather, if we can simply clean up our own house, this by itself has the potential to be a living da’wa that the entire society can see—supported by objective, statistical data that reflects decreases in the aforementioned ills. The integrity of this mission would be completely compromised by advocating something whose prohibition is ma’lum min al-din bil-darura—known in the religion by necessity.
One of the most intense and long-running debates in American history is whether the United States is a White (Protestant) Christian country in which religious and racial minorities are welcome as long as they know their place, or if it’s a country in which there is no ruling racial or religious majority but only a common framework of rights and a vision of equal liberty in which all are welcome provided they affirm the rights and liberties of others. The first vision has never been able to, and still cannot, accept real demographic, religious or moral diversity. The second embraces this diversity and makes it a strength. It’s also a vision not too different from the one that Muslims held for many centuries.
Some people note the freedoms the Ottomans gave to the people they ruled; so long as various groups paid their taxes and didn’t challenge the political order, they could do as they pleased. But this analogy fails on two grounds. Firstly, the Ottomans were ruling. They were not subjects. And secondly, they did not simply establish a world where everyone could do what they wanted as long as they did not hurt anyone else. They used the power of the state to actively promote Islam and the Sacred Law, and many peoples under the Ottomans entered into Islam as a result of these efforts. Thirdly, permitting a thing to be is quite different from promoting it, supporting it, or collaborating with those who support it.
It seems like the vision that Muslim Americans should fight for now.
If it’s worth fighting for, then we need more certainty than this. The facts are the following: that advocating for gay-marriage falls in the category of legislation; that legislation contrary to Divine command is prohibited; and that neither life nor limb are being threatened such that this prohibition would be rendered permissible. Of this, I am certain. “Take what is certain and leave what gives you doubt,” said the Prophet ﷺ.14
He also taught us that “wrong is what irritates the heart, and right is that with which the soul finds comfort.”15