Obama comes out (no pun intended)

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I’ve always heard people going on and on about finding themselves in college, discovering who they really are and their purpose in life, and exploring their options, and always thought it was complete and utter bull.

Then came freshman year, and that’s exactly what I found happening to me.

I know it’s been only two semesters, but I have a knack of figuring things out quick, and my freshman year saw me figuring out myself further not only academically and career-wise, but also realizing things about my past and who I am and why. It’s been an interesting why and it scares/excites me to see what’s going to happen in the next three years. Stay tuned; I have a strong feeling we’ll be seeing some life-changing events.

But since I’m no celebrity (yet), my life is not of much interest, so let’s move on. Today became one of the biggest news days of the year, and most probably history, with President Obama coming out (no pun intended) with his support for same-sex marriage.

Like President Obama, I guess you could say I’ve been evolving on the issue too.  I’ve had friends who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and I’ve always hated when they’ve been met with ridicule or cruelty.  It’s never once turned me away from them or made me think of them any differently… Unless, of course, they did something that I wouldn’t like to see coming from a heterosexual friend either.

But at the same time, I am a practicing Muslim.  To me, no matter how anyone spins it, homosexuality is forbidden in Islam… But as my uncle reminded me the other day, it is the act that is forbidden, not the preference itself. In Islam, we are taught to learn to discipline ourselves and obey God no matter what.  In my own interpretation, homosexuality seems to be a challenge for people and is something for them to figure out, between themselves and God if they believe in Him.

But that brings us back to the fact that the United States of America was founded as a secular nation.  As a practicing Muslim, I cannot condone homosexuality and say that gay marriage is okay.  But (as my uncle again pointed out) as a Muslim in the U.S., I am bound by the laws of my country and its Constitution.  The Constitution clearly states that all people are to be given equal rights and that religion shall not play a factor in our country’s governance.

One thing I have to say, however, is that I feel that on both sides of the argument, there has been quite a bit of disrespect.  My moral and religious upbringing has also taught me tolerance.  Not only am I disgusted at those who call homosexuals names and treat them as subhuman or criminals, but I also cannot help but be disappointed at the lack of respect many people in our society have come to have for religion.  Yes, it is wrong for someone to persecute another just because of their sexual orientation, but if they are not doing so, I think it is equally wrong for someone to disparage someone else for the simple belief that something is wrong due to their religion.  While I see the similarities this has to interracial marriage and rights for women, blacks and immigrants, I still also see the difference.  Many religions, including the most prevalent ones in our society, teach us that homosexuality is a sin.  The fact is undeniable, and far too many times, I see people simplifying the issue.  Just because someone believes in a set of religious teachings, it does not mean they are a bigot.  And just because someone doesn’t, it does not mean they are immoral.

In the end, same-sex marriage is an inevitability for the United States.  But I don’t see why this has to be such a disaster for those who are religious.  As a friend of mine pointed out to me a few weeks back, same-sex marriage has been legal for years in Europe, because state marriage and religious marriage are kept completely separate.  Much of the battle in the U.S. is because here, the priest, rabbi, imam or whomever has to sign the legal document when they marry a couple.  While Americans need to respect the rights of all citizens, the government needs to respect the rights of religious institutions.  If a religious leader or institution does not wish to perform same-sex marriages, they should not be forced to do so.  While we are protected from becoming a religious nation, our religions are also protected from becoming secular institutions.

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil

Side note: Yesterday, author Maurice Sendak passed away at age 83.  I still haven’t seen the movie for Where the Wild Things Are but I bought my little brother the book around the time it came out, and I absolutely love it as well as the novelization of the screenplay by Dave Eggers.  You can find his 2-part interview with Stephen Colbert earlier this year on the Colbert Report here and here.  Worth watching.

“Oh, please don’t go– we’ll eat you up– we love you so!” –Where the Wild Things Are
R.I.P.

–S.

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11 responses »

  1. haha first of all great name for the title. Anyways, i loved how you addressed the issue of gay marriage, even though i support it, its definitely not a “black and white manner.” You did an excellent job of portraying the view on gay marriage from a muslim-american standpoint. You’re absolutely right though, people do oversimplify the issue of homosexuality. Its becoming something that is social and religious issue, there is really no win win situation. But like you said America protects our rights to practice and preach what ever we want, hopefully it will lead to a outcome that we can all live with. Anyways, great article and keep them coming Ashraf!

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  2. Hilarious title. Homosexuality is a very complex issue and honestly were I in Obama’s position I think I would have to agree with him in supporting the United States’s values and all of its citizens despite my strong personal preference for heterosexuals. Is this a religious issue? Not entirely. Is it only secular? No. The fact of the matter remains that marriage is in its origins a religious institution and so I have no problem with civil unions. However, I agree that you cannot force a religious institution to condone a gay marriage any more than you can force the government to consider religion in policy making. The last line of the blog sells it very nicely.

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  3. I think the fundamental issue in the conflict you face lies in the fact that *your* religious beliefs should not have an impact on anyone else but you. You may believe–or Islam may teach–that this behavior or that is wrong, but what does that have to do with someone who believes differently? Is there a compelling reason why religious belief should trump civil rights?

    In other words, does the purported right of a group of people to avoid some mental discomfort outweigh the real and legitimate rights of individuals to live as they choose?

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    • That’s exactly what I’m saying. According the United States Constitution, it does not. Yet on the same token, religious institutions also have the right to NOT support something… And in the U.S., church and state are kept separate, so a gay couple can (or should be able to) get married through a state marriage without needing a religious one.

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      • Right on. I don’t think anyone would ever take issue with any religious group’s right to disagree or not to support something.

        But frequently, “not supporting” turns into “actively working against.” Of course, they do have that right. But having a right and being moral are very different things. Most religions profess the latter; it’s important then to hold them to their word when they’re only doing lip-service to morality to hold to ancient and outdated beliefs and avoid that state of mental discomfort that comes with change, or accepting new ideas.

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      • Has anyone actually proposed forcing religious institutions who disagree with gay marriage or homosexuality in general to perform gay marriages / gay civil unions?

        Not trolling. Genuinely curious; I haven’t.

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      • Again, if you read the post you’ll see that I mentioned how in the U.S. religious leaders or what have you that marry the couple have to sign the legal document… So here, marriages aren’t as separate as in Europe where everyone just gets married by the state and the religious ceremony is COMPLETELY separate. It’s because of that that they really don’t have this argument over there. Here in America, because of the way our marriage process is set up, it puts pressure on those religious institutions.

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  4. congrads syjil on writing such a brilliant article and conveying the true views of a muslim on this subject. Yes I agree, This is a personal preference and should remain like that. Why does it have to be a topic of discussion on every turn in life?.

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  5. congradulations Syjil Ashraf, Youu have done a brilliant job , This will be appreciated in the world of Media, You are also representing young scholar’s persepective on the subject.

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  6. Syj I love you. You are so talented and amazing at writing. Not only did you cover important points, but you added in you’re religious perspectives and out looks. I wish you the best of luck (even though you don’t need it at this point) (: Stay in touch!

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