Should Muslims Support LGTBQ?

This essay is dedicated to my friends: Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Trevor Boffone, and Josh Inocencio and to all the comrades in the LGTBQ Community. I also dedicate this essay to my Brothers and Sisters in Islam. Also it should go without saying, that this dedication extends as well as to those in the Muslim community who identify as Queer/Trans those who have come out and those who are too afraid to come out.  Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh.

Should Muslims support Gays/Lesbians/Transgenders? Let’s get right into it; to answer this question in a few words, of course! This may come as a shock to some people but Gay/Lesbian/Trans people, like Muslims, are normal people. I should know cause I am Muslim. I’m not Gay, but I am Pro-LGTBQ rights. Most people freak out when they meet someone gay, lesbian, or trans, but there’s not really anything foreign about them except the obvious. In fact, I met a gay couple that had been together for more than 20 years and it blew my mind; but not for the reason why you’d think that. Considering that most marriages among heterosexual couples keep falling apart, it was surprising to hear a couple that actually valued their relationship. When I asked them for advice on marriage or relationships, they gave the exact same advice you’d get from any other straight couple: communication, trust, remember why you fell in love in the first place, and don’t have kids, cause they ruin everything (just kidding!) (I’m not kidding)  But based on that, it brings me to the point that, how are you gonna say that marriage is supposed to be only for a man and woman when men and women can’t even get their shit together? But moreover, why can’t Gay people just have rights?! Like basic Human rights. I have only had one bad experience with a gay person, and that was cause he was an asshole, not cause he was gay. He doesn’t deserve rights. (okay that one, I’m kidding) 

There’s a misconception among individuals who don’t understand, nor wish to, the struggles that Muslims share with the Gays. As a matter of fact, there are even Muslims that identify within the LGTBQ community, and I had no idea. I know that’s naive to say but it’s just one of those things you don’t think about but as soon as I heard it, I was like, “Oh, well, of course. Why wouldn’t there be?”

Since the origin of Islam, Muslims were a class of people that were outcast from society and the fact that members of the LGTBQ community would identify with Islam, is not very surprising. Despite the verses in the Qur’an that state Homosexuality is wrong or an abomination, as well as Conservative Muslims have been very vocal against same-sex marriage (as have Conservative Christians; especially Conservative Christians) there are still Muslims out there that are Queer and or Muslims. And while you have all those things, luckily there are Muslims out there that are extremely tolerant of this because it doesn’t matter.

And that’s where my take comes from; a friend of mine, Josh Inocencio, is currently writing an article for OutSmart Magazine, a Houston as well as LGTBQ Based magazine, about Gays and Lesbians supporting Muslims. I’ll be sure to include the link once it’s been published and everything. He asked to interview me as a Muslim born and raised in the United States, and someone who pretty much stopped practicing for 2-3 years but has been again since 2015 (but more on that another blog). Not to mention that I’m a fellow Writer/Student-Activist/Philosopher and Historian-in-the-Making 😉  Members of the LGTBQ community in support of Muslims is in my view, heartwarming. In fact, even before the implementation of the epic Muslim Ban, the hashtag #illwalkwithyou was especially being vocalized by members of the LGTBQ community.

Now fast-forward to a few months later, the Trump administration pushes through a Muslim ban, something “no one” (sarcastic quotes) saw coming that affected members of the LGTBQ community as well that identify as Muslim.  Now, if you’re Queer, you’re already putting yourself in a vulnerable position and then to accept a religious belief; and Islam, at such an epoch of heightened Islamophobia, you’re just asking for trouble. But in my eyes, they’re a Brother and/or Sister in Islam and Asalamualaikum.

The crux here is that beliefs are personal: we don’t need to be able to fully comprehend what the other’s beliefs are. I take the cultural relativist approach here and contend that you can think something is strange, sure but that’s all. The thing is, concepts that are foreign to people tend to be believed to be wrong. It’s juvenile when you really get down to it, the idea that: “I don’t understand it, so it must be wrong!” Who are we to tell others that because they are that Gay, they are an abomination because they follow Islam, Christianity, things they just hold dear; simple beliefs, are wrong! When we humans are imperfect ourselves.

That’s why we need to quit trying to focus on these little details and focus on the big issue. We are struggling together and we need to overcome, together. Still however, many communities of faith: there is a serious question of homophobia that needs to be confronted. And of course, the Muslim community, like most communities, have a gay community and some are hidden some are not. But we hope that one day, all faith will be able to move past that.

Perhaps it’s the utilitarian in me but it’s just that those that approach religion and their beliefs usually distinguish their beliefs from the sect they follow or their upbringing, they are happy with what they regard as the truth even though all religion is based on faith and not necessarily fact. By saying that, I may get in trouble because I’m implying that all religion is capable of being wrong but there’s certain things that religion cannot prove, they’re miracles. I’m not going to say I don’t believe in miracles, it’s just that there’s no way to prove it that cannot be true. Historically and scientifically, the stories don’t make sense.

Again, I identify as a Muslim. Non-Denominational. A practicing Muslim as well. The ring I wear on my index finger is not just words in Arabic, these words are the pledge one takes when they declare themselves a Muslim. I don’t believe in tattoos, so this is the next best thing for me. My beliefs are very personal and dear to me, and as a result, I don’t see the need to impose them on others, but this does not change Islam from becoming one of the fastest growing religions in the country; the only reason for that, I imagine is because it’s the only religion that tends to make sense (or at least it does for me).

The five basic pillars in Islam are set in stone: Pledge your belief that there is only one God, perform pilgrimage, fast on the days of Ramadan, five daily prayers, and give a very small portion of your paycheck to charity. I follow all five of the pillars in Islam (but I haven’t gone on Pilgrimage yet) The rest of the teachings in Islam, I cherry-pick here and there what works for me; I do consult Imams and whatnot to make sure I’m not doing anything that is too taboo. That being said I don’t drink, eat pork, smoke cigarettes, do drugs, etc. But it is because I won’t follow EVERYTHING that certain sects will acknowledge, that I won’t say I’m a very religious person. I most definitely and unhesitatingly, will take the side of my Muslim brothers and sisters in distress over in Syria, Aleppo, Palestine, and Kashmir.

When asked why I say non-denominational, it’s because in my experience, different sects have argued about religion for centuries and even condemned one another (like the most recent sect, Ahmadiyya) by stating “they’re not real Muslims.” One of my favorite things an Imam has stated during the Friday prayer khutbas (sermons) was how he abhorred how other Muslims will disrespectfully attempt to correct the behavior in how certain Muslims pray or stand or kneel (because they’re not doing it “correctly”) and the Imam encouraged us to, when faced with such a dilemma: “Our brothers and sisters in Islam are dying in Syria and Aleppo, and you’re worried about me?!”

I digress and conclude that there have been a long tradition of Muslims and Gays working together on progressive issues (that have to do with minorities and ensuring that we don’t get any infringement on our rights) when there was a Muslim ban, the LGTBQ community got involved,  so when there is an assault against LGTBQ the Muslims should be aware and educated so they can support them. Progressive Muslims need to be more vocal and active in their participation and I am not trying to impose my progressive beliefs, but I do implore conservative Muslims or Muslims in general, to open their hearts and their minds to understanding the struggles of our Queer brothers and sisters. The saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend; please acknowledge that the LGTBQ community is far from our enemy, and it’s time we realize it. Our time seems limited with each day that passes and rather than bicker or find fault with one another based on who people love or what religion they practice, we need to find common ground. The main common feature we share, is that we are civilized human beings; so let’s act like it.

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 22nd of March, 2017 at 1:45 P.M. 

Click here for more information on organizations that support LGTBQ & Muslim

Lazy Aesthetics: Examining Nature at Rest

For Dr. Cynthia Freeland.

In January, I had a short assignment for my Aesthetics’ class where I had to talk about a photo I took that I considered beautiful in Nature. I posted the essay on my blog because I loved the picture that much and wanted to share what I wrote with my readers. For my mid-term assignment, I had the opportunity to revise as well as expand on my essay. Again, I enjoyed what I wrote so much that I decided to re-publish what I wrote as well as giving my essay a proper title. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and most of all, I hope my professor likes it.

Ordinarily when one thinks of squirrels, they often picture a little furry animal that runs up and down trees or away from people that get too close. Or perhaps more morbidly, dead furry little animals lying on the highway. Strangely, I was leaving the University of Houston campus early on October of 2016 and stumbled across this one squirrel that, literally, stopped me in my tracks. Seeing squirrels on campus is not unusual; students must encounter at least two or three as they walk to their classes. One of the fascinating traits about this squirrel for me however, was that it was just lying down, not doing anything. Unlike most of the squirrels we see on campus or even off campus, it was not eating anything, running, nor was it dead (despite its appearance). Disregarding this, readers may still find fault with my picture or my attraction to this lounging squirrel. As a result, I will attempt to make the argument, throughout this paper, that such an image of this squirrel fits the criteria of what philosophers consider aesthetic in nature. Moreover, by drawing upon the works of certain philosophers and aestheticians, I will be able to confirm my assertions and simultaneously, make the reader more cognizant of the true beauty of the photo.

            Prior to taking my photo, I gazed at this squirrel for longer than I’d like to admit and did my best to make sure I did nothing to disturb it at the risk of any sudden movement that would cause the squirrel to be startled and leave the scene. Graciously though, I managed to get a photo of the little guy and when I went home, the photo resonated with me for a while but only humorously. That evening, thoughts were running through my head of pure satire, “what is this squirrel tired from? It’s not as if he has midterms or has little to no money in his checking account.”  I then sardonically pondered as to what he may be thinking about: “He looks so depressed, he probably found his squirrel girlfriend taking acorns from someone else and is gradually contemplating suicide.” After the laughter died down, I began to wonder if I had made a wise decision by photographing the event and simultaneously, questioned the very nature of my initial appreciation i.e., was the image I selected and emphasized on what I considered “aesthetic in nature”, actually so or had I gotten carried away with something that amused me?[1]

            In order to properly answer that question, one would have to look deeper into what is aesthetic, i.e., what makes something aesthetic. Eugene Hargrove argues that there are three categories (Beautiful, Picturesque and the Sublime)[2] that are served to define something as Aesthetic and thereby, measure their levels of attractiveness and differentiate that which is awe-inspiring and uninspiring. Among those three, we could argue that my photo would be considered “picturesque” because clearly, it was not something I could ignore. Although, because what makes the image of this squirrel picturesque is that to me, it was interesting and in Hargrove’s view, just because something is interesting, traditionally has never considered an object beautiful.[3]

            From Hargrove’s view, I am able to understand how things considered “interesting” may not merit the same qualities as something considered beautiful or even picturesque for that matter. I choose to reject that notion, however, because I believe there can be a way to appreciate something so simple as a squirrel lying down, in how it can be approached. Such a view is taken by Allen Carlson who contends in approaching aesthetics from a perspective that appreciates nature in a positive manner.[4] Carlson goes on to explain that the most appropriate way to appreciate nature is scientific knowledge; a good point indeed, however arguably in this case, scientific knowledge seems to be irrelevant in examining this photo since there does not seem to be anything of scientific value of a motionless squirrel. If anything, I argue that it must be appreciated by its simplicity in nature. This appeal is introduced to by Ralph Waldo Emerson who defines Nature as divinely created (not altered by human contact) and therefore, unconditionally beautiful.[5]

            Nevertheless, when I examine the photo it of course, still makes me laugh. But moreover, it makes me ponder at the fact that for this one brief moment, nature was at rest. This is not to say that people are not fully aware that animals are capable of sleeping; simply stated, one just never usually sees an animal at rest. This is excluding animals at the zoo, of course, because animals there are trapped and miserable. But here, out in the open fields and fake green grass on the University of Houston campus, nature needs a break.  Often times, when we watch nature documentaries or the like, it’s rare that we see an animal that is not doing anything at all. We are accustomed to seeing our pets asleep but the idea of any other animal just resting is arguably eerie. One could even make the criticism of my photo that, because it defies the tradition of ordinary squirrels in motion, it is not aesthetically good.[6]  Although Yuriko Saito will bring up the example of a rotting carcass and state that such an act is nature in balance, but because its appearance is shuddering, some would not regard it as aesthetic.[7] Saito goes on to echo such a feeling when we discuss cockroaches, fleas, and mosquitoes that present a challenge to us to find attractive.[8] My problem with that however, is that it is not difficult to contest the appearance of a squirrel and compare it to how one views a cockroach; they are too different and only the latter could cause the most masculine individual to stand up on a chair to avoid contact.

            That being said, I argue that finding an appeal in this photo serves as part of the “revolution” in traditional aesthetics.[9] We could find this assertion in close examination of Sheila Linnot’s view in how aesthetic tastes may differ overtime.[10] While her claims are more focused in terms of approaching an aesthetic appeal in an ecologically friendly manner, we can still relate this claim to the motionless squirrel. Specifically, in how easily avoidable it is for most people to walk past a squirrel, unfazed, regardless of its movement or lack thereof. A reason for this could be because squirrels run rampant at the University campus or encounter them so much in our daily lives that they have lost their luster. At the same time however, I would dismiss that by mentioning how anytime one witnesses a dog (either poking their head out of a car window or walking around a neighborhood) a great deal of attention is placed by people who may even have one waiting for them at home.

            It is for reasons such as that and more, that I emphasize why my photo should be regarded as aesthetic in nature and respectfully dismiss any notions to state otherwise. Granted, my photo is unable to rival against other picturesque photos that some would perhaps view with a more artful eye. Nevertheless, it seems incomprehensible if one were to regard something as ugly in nature. Taking a lesson from Aldo Leopold, human judgement of nature is purely based on how it makes us feel; “it does not flow naturally from nature itself; it is not directly oriented to nature on nature’s own terms; nor is it well informed by the ecological and evolutionary revolutions in natural history.”[11] Therefore, any judgement or in this case, criticism of an image in nature is deemed trivial as nature’s purpose, is not to serve us in any way.

A similar connection can be made in concluding my defense of this squirrel photo.  Prior to my arrival and taking this photo of the squirrel, its existence and objectives in life carried out were not given by me. My curiosity peaked at the sight because of my love for nature (in the words of Emerson) “I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty…I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages.”[12] The ultimate intention of my photo is to be Avant-garde i.e., beautiful in an idiosyncratic function. A squirrel at rest is meant to bare the same manifestation like that of a sad clown. Of course we are aware that just because the person dressed as a clown, who is meant to symbolize fun and excitement, is a human being underneath all the makeup and puffy clothing; capable of emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion. Because such a sight is seldom seen, it is therefore, inconsiderable. And when one does encounter something that is perceived as original or unusual, it is understandably charming and in a very outlandish sort of way, aesthetic.  

-Ahmed H. Sharma  

Originally  Written on the 17th of March, 2017 at  5:38 P.M. 

 

Works Cited:

Carlson, Allen, Sheila Lintott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Yuriko Saito, and Eugene Hargrove. Nature, Aesthetics, and Environmentalism: From Beauty to Duty. New York: Columbia UP, 2008. Print.

 

[1] “The problem [in Aesthetics’ of nature] is what and how to select, emphasize and group and what and how to compose for appropriate appreciation.” Allen Carlson, Nature, Aesthetics and Environmentalism, P.119

[2] Carlson (Eugene Hargrove), P. 33

[3] “Traditionally, it has been held that interest is subservient to beauty, an element which has to be present in a beautiful object, but which is never considered an aesthetic category in its own right.” Ibid, P.35

[4] “Appropriate aesthetic appreciation is that appreciation of an object that reveals what aesthetic qualities and value it has.” (Carlson) P.225

[5] Carlson (Ralph Waldo Emerson) P.49-53

[6] Carlson, P.229-231

[7] Carlson (Yuriko Saito) P.242-243

[8] Ibid P.245

[9] “Revolution in the aesthetics of nature often takes place when people start appreciating the parts of nature formerly regarded as aesthetically negative.” Ibid P.238

[10] Carlson (Sheila Linott) P.386-389

[11] Carlson (Aldo Leopold), P. 109

[12] Carlson (Emerson) P.50

“Three Parts to a Hug” (Short-Film Review)

The following review may contain spoilers. Regardless, I encourage my readers to watch the film and hug their loved ones. 😉 

Who knew there were different meanings to hugs? Writer/Director, Alvaro D. Ruiz sure did. In his short film released in 2012 entitled, La Trilogia del Abrazo (Three Parts to a Hug), Ruiz demonstrates through vivid emotion, levels of adoration that can only be summed up by an embrace.

The three parts to a hug, which I will further explain in detail shortly, are as follows:

1.”Un abrazo no un beso.” (A Hug, Not a Kiss) 2. Un abrazo casi un beso.” (A Hug, almost a Kiss)  3. Un abrazo como un beso.(A Hug, as a Kiss)

The first hug shows a man knocking on the door that opens up to a young lady who is nothing short of bemused and agitated to see him as she makes it clear in her first words to him that she has repeatedly told the gentleman to leave her alone. When the camera pans to the gentleman waiting by the door, no words are able to be uttered and the ones that are spoken are stammered. A closer look upon the man shows the affliction in his eyes that can only be understood by men who have been in his shoes once or twice before; heartbroken individuals that have knocked on the doors of their former lovers that attempt to spill their heart out, only to realize that doing so would be effortless and find themselves standing dumbfounded in front of someone who just wants you to leave.

Finally before the gentleman leaves, the woman opens the door one last time to offer a sympathetic hug before she closes the door again, for good. She holds him tightly, wrapping both arms around him, while he stands there, visibly still in shock; perhaps at the thought that as soon as she lets go, it will be the last hug he will ever receive from her ever again. One can make the assumption that to make the moment last, the man would try to go for a kiss, but because this was a break up that was in dire need of ending, such an attempt would be fruitless. When the two former lovers finally go their separate ways, the woman is viewed wiping her face, leaving a streak of blood across her cheek while the man is staring at the steering wheel of his car with blood all over his shirt. Here, the imagery captured by Ruiz is just exquisite; the relationship finally being over, takes a toll on one another in different ways for the man, his heart has been ripped out (in this case, physically and emotionally) and the woman, although glad the message has finally reached the man, she can’t help but live with the possible guilt of hurting him (and thus, has blood on her hands).

The second part of the film, “A Hug, almost a Kiss) is a definite palate cleanser i.e., a much happier tone to put the audience in a good mood after the tears they’ve shed for the first one. Like the first part, a door is knocked but a man is the one opening the door to a woman holding what subsequently turns out to be his dog. This dog had gone missing for quite some time and finally was returned to his owner and much to the owner’s surprise, he found a potential new romance. The dialogue exchange between the two characters in this scene is extremely well performed because the chemistry demonstrated by both actors give off these pheromones that would make the viewers think the actors were an item in real life. The embrace between these two only attest such assumptions; the eyes closed, both arms nestled tightly against one another as though they didn’t even know they were meant for each other and now that they did, what would be the purpose in letting go? Such a beautiful hug would deserved of a kiss but because that would be awkward, they are forced to let go and leave one another. Not before the woman calls the owner to let the man know, she’ll “see [him] around.” So all is not lost in the end and there will definitely be another chance for that hug to potentially turn into a kiss.

The third and final part of the film has a mixed tone; melancholy but alleviating. A man is seen staring at himself in the mirror of a dressing room and like the first two parts, a door is knocked. He opens it to find a woman who is dressed in a short, but tight dress. The conversation between the two is a bit hard to follow because it seems as though the man has done something to betray her although it is not specified. The man seems to display emotions of remorse for whatever it was that he has done to her and the woman, although still perhaps feeling a hint of anger towards him, manages to find it in her heart to forgive him and request a hug. This hug is almost identical to the second hug in that strong feelings are being displayed in the hug but like the first hug, this is going to be the final hug between the two and because both parties are participating in the embrace, it’s as though they are feeling reluctant in their relationship ending, even though they both know it’s the right thing to do. As it soon turns out, the man is in his car and is on the phone with another woman (unseen audience but believed to be his wife) moreover, is not the woman he embraced in the scene and tells her he is coming home.

This film although only 10 minutes long, tells a lot about the importance of an embrace. Most people would not consider a hug to be that important as they are deemed with the same commodity as a handshake. Ruiz tackles this successfully by showing that emotions, raw emotions, expressed by a hug, say the words we’d like to say to one another. And by being able to utilize emotions so well, to the point where the viewer forgets they are watching a film, is what makes his work so artistic. Words such as, “Please don’t go”, “Please don’t let go”, and “Let me go” are only as good as they can be, but the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. And in this case, the hug is most deafening.

-Mr. Writer

Written at 7:56 P.M. on March 17, 2017 

 

Career & Hobbies

I write this entry now after so much delay. For the longest, I was worried about what to write because I often try to write anything I can in an academic tone as well as doing more research to include footnotes and whatnot. I recently remembered that I started this blog to write “personal thoughts.” I guess I got caught up in my academic career as an undergraduate student/ historian-in-the-making that I forgot what it was like to just write whatever came to my mind.

A lot has changed since I entered the power house (UH) and the changes are, I’d like to believe, positive; which I’ll elaborate on more later. In the meantime, let me proceed with my initial objective. Lately, the future career I am aspiring has caused me to worry. There’s a lot of PhD’s that don’t end up getting their desired jobs. I’m not a PhD, nor am I remotely close, but I always worry because I have constantly been advised by others to sway away from being a Historian to avoid such an issue.

That was until I received a number of support by my professors as well as friends who are PhD’s that are serving as my inspiration to keep on going and follow my passion. I say passion because I believe that there really is nothing else I can picture myself doing except writing and researching History. My love for studying history, according to some, borders on obsessive and as a result, I believe that I’ve fully understood my desire to be a Historian as opposed to simply being a History Buff.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me; all I know is I want to do something with writing and research for History. The future is unwritten and therefore, I shouldn’t be afraid of what MIGHT happen. I write this entry then, as a source of inspiration and motivation to my readers and close followers of this blog, that there should be nothing wrong with doing what makes you happy. For me, I enjoy engaging in conversations about History, the things I’ve researched, studied, what other people have studied. There’s something fascinating to me about certain events of the past; why have certain things happened? What made them so bad? Were precautions taken to improve conditions or lessen the number of casualties in wars or revolutions?

I could go on and on, but I’d probably bore the reader so I digress. Maybe it’s the utilitarian in me, but I feel like there are people who grow up to do the jobs they eventually abhor and regret not following their passion. Simultaneously, I see that there are people who work hard to achieve their goals, but something happens where they just stop, replay the events in their life, try to figure out what went wrong and start over. I constantly have that fear that the latter will happen to me, but then I get reminded by so many people like my professors and even a wonderful poem by a motivational speaker I still speak with occasionally to pursue my passion.

Again, I have no idea what the future has in store for me. A lot of the events that happened in my life, even recently, I never expected to happen. That being said, I am enjoying the ride towards the future. I just hope this road leads to the path I hope it will be. Either way, it’ll be the path I’m meant to be on in the end.

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 27th of March, 2017 at 12:05 A.M.