Q. Do gay and lesbian Muslims have a right to be happy? Do they have a right to join a masjid, to join a community? What about if a person who suffers horrendous tragedies or major depressive disorder and is in terrible pain decides to end his / her life, does the soul go to a terrible place, and do you think Allah will punish such a person for suicide? I realize that if I ask a dozen Muslims, I might get a dozen different answers, so I would like to know your thoughts on this.

A. Thanks for such interesting questions. Gay and lesbian Muslims are God's creation, and suffer from the misconceptions that the ignorant have taken as scientific fact and God's decree. Some Muslims, based upon warped readings of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, condemn such people. If I may illustrate the situation by a simple example: I am left-handed. When I was in elementary school, based upon the reasoning of the time, many teachers tried to force me to use my right hand, not realizing that it was not a matter of choice, but rather one of cerebral programming (we elaborate upon this later in this response). The same sort of error exists today regarding gays and lesbians. We feel that their sexual persuasion may not be of their choice, and that we have to understand the world of the Qur'an to put the matter into perspective. The Qur'an is a heteronormative document, catering to a society that had a different idea of sexuality than the modern world. From the early Islamic literature, we know that there were gays and lesbians. The scripture does not speak about them because it would seem that their behavior was not one that was seen as an issue. The oft-used Qur'anic verse when Lot asks his people: "Do you approach men instead of women..." is addressed to those who were using homosexual rape as a means of denigrating travelers. It has nothing to do with consensual same-sex love.

Should they join mosques or communities? Why not? God says: "Indeed your umma is one umma and I am your Lord so fear me."(Q23:52) Anyone who seeks to ostracize / banish someone from the community because of sexual identity is transgressing God's command, and also setting a situation wherein one is forced to ask: "What other criteria, built upon foundations of ignorance, will be used to create rancor and discord?" I know of mosques (and other places of worship) where people of certain ethnicities are not welcome, or where they feel unwanted. This is one of the most terrible aspects of using religion to make God into a cosmic bigot.

This is where understanding the concept of "taklif" comes in, taklif being the idea of responsibility. The Qur'an says: "God does not take a being to task except for that which is within its ability." The muhadithun have supplied us with several traditions that explain the concept. Among such as: "The pen is raised from three people -- a sleeping person until that person awakes, a child until maturity, and an insane person until the regaining of sanity." Another tradition states: "My community is forgiven for three things: error, forgetfulness, and what is done by coercion."

In all of the above, we see certain concepts that have evolved in time: our idea of "insanity" -- no longer a term I like using -- covers every aspect of mental challenges, which includes depression and a gamut of disorders that only psychiatrists can discuss. The idea of coercion, formerly conjuring up ideas of someone holding a sword to your neck, now also includes economic, emotional, etc. in addition to that concept. The notion of suicide in and of itself is often treated by jurists as if the person about to commit such is in full control of all the mental faculties. Given the grave nature of suicide, I personally have a hard time seeing the matter as such. The idea of God not taking a being to task for that which is beyond its ability means that we are not allowed to issue judgments on such matters. And if we feel that we must, then we look at God's understanding, kindness, and forgiveness as criteria of consideration rather than from the narrow path of "right or wrong."

When it comes to pain (be it physical or emotional): should a person live in agony? In today's America, that may entail putting an economic burden on the family or upon the estate. Is a person in such a situation required to think of "God does not want suicide" or to think of doing that which is economically better for the family? These are questions which most of us do not consider -- and that is the problem with the matter: we take it upon ourselves too often to render verdicts, forgetting that only God knows the circumstances of any individual's situation. I am not seeking to justify suicide; only to let us understand that a person who resorts to such is probably seeing life as beyond his / her ability to cope with. Such a person deserves our prayers and compassion rather than our condemnatory judgment. After all, we begin by acknowledging God as the Creator described by Beneficence and Mercy.

Posted June 29, 2019