On May 23, 2023, a group of Muslim scholars and preachers based in the United States issued a statement titled "Navigating Differences: Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam." The statement aimed to provide a "collective, non-partisan articulation of Islam's stance on sexual and gender ethics." Signed by over 100 religious figures, the statement emphasized that sexual relations "are permissible only within the bounds of marriage," which is defined as a "union between a man and a woman, as decreed by God."
Citing verses from the Quran to support their position, the statement explicitly rejected attempts by certain Muslim groups to reinterpret Islamic texts in favor of LGBTQ affirmation. It deemed such efforts "theologically indefensible, as sexual ethics are considered immutable tenets that cannot be subject to revision." Addressing the Muslim community, the statement called on Muslim public figures to "to uphold the sanctity of our faith and refrain from making erroneous pronouncements on behalf of Islam." It further stated: "We reject any attempt to attribute positions to Islam concerning sexual and gender ethics that contravene well-established Islamic teachings."
The statement received significant endorsement from Islamist figures and institutions, notably the Qatar-based and funded International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), who praised it as "powerful." In contrast, Salafi hardliners vehemently opposed the statement, accusing its authors of seeking to normalize homosexuality. On the other hand, liberal-minded Muslim commentators downplayed its importance, asserting that it fosters hatred toward the LGBTQ community and highlighting the need for Muslim community leadership to prioritize other pressing issues.
This report will review the reactions to the statement from Muslim public figures and institutions, with a specific focus on the Arab and Muslim world.
Praise And Support For The Statement
Expressing its endorsement of the statement, the website of the Qatar-funded International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) published an article on May 29, written by Kamelia Helmy, who is the head of its Family Committee, under the title "A Powerful Statement By The Preachers In The United States Regarding Islam's Rejection Of Homosexuality." Before publishing an Arabic version of the statement, Helmy noted that the statement was issued to "counter the brutal assault on natural instinct and the alarming spread of sexual deviance to the extent that it is now being included in educational curricula received by children in schools, where it becomes the child's right to choose their gender through the administration of growth inhibitors, which are medications that halt the child's sexual development, so they can choose the preferred gender without the need for parental consent. Moreover, the parents' opposition to this matter may expose them to legal consequences."
Helmy's article includes a link to the IUMS's December 2021 statement in which it proclaimed: "The unanimous consensus among the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) is categorically and completely prohibiting sexual deviance (homosexuality), deeming it contrary to sound nature and the preservation of the human race." IUMS stressed that it "strongly condemns the authoritarian attempts to impose it upon the peoples of the world."
On May 23, 2023, American Islamic preacher Fadel Soliman, the Director of the Bridges Foundation also described the statement as "powerful" in a tweet in Arabic. He wrote: "American scholars and preachers issued a strong statement today, urging Muslims to remain steadfast in their religion and ethics in the face of the wave of normalization with sexual deviance. They called upon authorities to protect the right to freedom of belief."
On May 26, Professor Muhammad Al-Mokhtar Al-Shinqiti, a professor of International Affairs at Qatar University, shared the statement on his Twitter account with over 877,000 followers. He accompanied the statement with a tweet endorsing its significance, stating: "American scholarly and religious leaders issue an important statement on the Islamic stance regarding the obscenity of the people of Lot and other gender-related transgressions, rejecting the adaptation to these transgressions in the West in search of political gains."
On May 27, Feras Marish, a Canadian imam, community activist, and one of the signatories of the statement, took to Facebook to express his enthusiasm. He posted a video in which he described the statement as a "glad tiding that will make a huge difference in our struggle with the issue of homosexuality and the pressure imposed on our children and on our community regarding this issue." Marish highlighted the participation of influential figures and recognized institutions in the statement, including Shaykh Salah Al-Sawy, the Secretary General for the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, Zaytuna College, and the Canadian Council of Imams. He emphasized that the statement would serve as "a reference to all of us as Muslims, which we can use wherever we face pressure on this issue."
On May 28, Al-Jazeera, a Qatari-funded satellite channel, reported on the statement, stating in the opening paragraph that "Muslims in the United States face social pressures that are encountered by many major religious groups within America, concerning the reconciliation between religious teachings and the challenges posed by divergent social phenomena."
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The report further claimed that the United States is "currently experiencing a heated ideological clash between conservative and religious currents closely aligned with the Republican Party, and progressive liberal currents closely aligned with the Democratic Party." The report emphasized that "identity-related disputes have emerged as one of the most significant issues occupying the minds of millions of American families, as both sides advocate for extreme agendas aimed at imposing their views on everyone." According to the report, "American Muslims find themselves in the midst of an ongoing societal battle with no apparent end in the near future."
Opposition To The Statement From Muslim Liberals And Hardliners
Although the statement has garnered significant endorsement and support from Muslim institutions, scholars, preachers, and other public figures, it has also faced criticism from those who view it as a "coded" statement that "normalizes" homosexuality. Critics, particularly liberal-minded Muslims, have expressed concerns that the statement could fuel anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and contribute to intolerance toward LGBTQ individuals. They argue that there are more pressing issues deserving attention from Muslim leadership.
For instance, American Islamist Daniel Haqiqatjou, based in Texas and known for his YouTube channel "Muslim Skeptic," streamed a lengthy video lasting three hours on May 24, 2023. In his video, he characterized the statement as "coded" and accused its authors of "normalizing" homosexuality. According to Haqiqatjou, the statement "is coded. [The authors] take a lot of things that are unobjectionable and perfectly acceptable Islamically, and they make sure to foreground those things and then they bury the bottle, they bury the poison in such a way that you won't recognize it."
Haqiqatjou ridiculed the title of the statement, "navigating differences," claiming that it implies a lack of clarity between Islam and homosexuality, thus suggesting a need for navigation. He argued that Muslims should go beyond merely acknowledging that homosexuality is impermissible in Islam. He stated that Muslims are expected to react to homosexuality as Prophet Lot did by denouncing it and despising the behavior, noting that "none of that is quoted in this document that is supposedly representing Islamic sexual ethics."
Regarding the statement's recognition of the LGBTQ community's constitutional right to live peacefully and free from abuse, Haqiqatjou remarked: "If you have signed this statement, you are 100% in favor of LGBT rights because the constitution is in favor of LGBT rights."
When evaluating the condemnation of those who signed the statement, Haqiqatjou said, "Almost every single statement in this document is dripping with humiliation, submission, and concession. How could any Muslim sign on to this?"
Offering suggestions on how Muslims should address homosexuality, Haqiqatjou encouraged Muslims to print out verses 7:80 to 7:83 of the Quran, which discuss the story of Prophet Lot and his people. He emphasized that these verses should be the statement, as they highlight the immoral actions of the people and their approach toward men instead of women. He concluded by saying that this Quranic passage provides the necessary guidance for Muslims in addressing the issue of homosexuality.
In addition to the criticism from conservative voices, liberal-minded Muslims and advocates for LGBTQ rights vehemently rejected the statement, arguing that it would contribute to the promotion of hate and bigotry against LGBTQ individuals. American journalist Ahmed Ali Akbar, who has a Twitter following of over 24 thousand, expressed his disapproval of the statement on May 23, in a tweet. He wrote, "Have American shaykhs written an 'Islamic sexual & gender ethics' for their own members? It seems a shame that you have all that scholarly training, only to use it to punch down on marginalized folks. What we need guidance on is sexual abuse & harassment."
On May 26, Wajahat Ali, a prominent Pakistani-American writer for The New York Times, voiced his disappointment regarding the statement through a tweet. Expressing his frustration, he questioned the priorities of American Muslim scholars, stating, "There's rising fascism, Islamophobia, climate change, gun violence, etc. – but American Muslim scholars have decided to unite for... this? Is this really the number one problem affecting our communities? (Nope.) Sigh. Apparently, they can't shop at Target anymore."
On May 24, liberal Moroccan-American novelist Laila Lalami expressed her deep concern and disagreement with the statement through a series of tweets. In her critique, she highlighted several troubling aspects of the statement, questioning its scope and implications.
Lalami found the statement troubling as it presented itself as an articulation not just of the signatories' personal views but as a representation of the entire religion and its various schools of thought on sexual and gender ethics. She raised concerns about the potential exclusion of diverse perspectives within the Muslim community and the lack of space for meaningful debate and dialogue.
She further noted that the statement deemed its views as immutable and not open to revision, which she found limiting and contradictory to the principles of intellectual growth and progress. Lalami pointed out that the statement's assertion that "coexistence does not necessitate acceptance" appeared to be at odds with fostering inclusive and tolerant societies.
Lalami also criticized the warning directed at Muslim public figures, suggesting that it seemed to restrict the freedom of expression and discouraged open discussions or differing viewpoints. She challenged the notion that only statements aligned with the petition should be considered accurate, implying a potential suppression of critical thinking and independent thought.
Soraya Deen, an American Muslim reform activist, strongly criticized the statement, describing it as "suffocating orthodoxy and religious authority." In a May 29 tweet, Deen expressed her concerns, stating that the statement's claim of unity and uniformity of opinion on Islamic sexual and gender ethics is dangerous. She further emphasized that it represents another significant failure for Muslims and Islam in the hands of certain religious actors.
 Iumsonline.org/ar/ContentDetails.aspx?ID=29327#, May 29, 2023.
 Iumsonline.org/ar/ContentDetails.aspx?ID=21737#, December 5, 2021.
 Twitter.com/FadelSoliman/status/1661121799894052866, May 23, 2023.
 Twitter.com/mshinqiti/status/1662089682820247552, May 26, 2023.
 Aljazeera.net/politics/2023/5/28/نشطاء-المسلمين-الأميركيين-يوضحون, May 28, 2023.
 Youtube.com/watch?v=33KzlRF4jtk, May 24, 2023.
 Twitter.com/radbrowndads/status/1661155732107177984, May 23, 2023.
 Twitter.com/WajahatAli/status/1662201293966917632, May 26, 2023.
 Twitter.com/LailaLalami/status/1661533151032913920, May 24, 2023.
 Twitter.com/SoooMD/status/1663074743388631040, May 29, 2023.