In 2016, an American Afghan man shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando. 49 people were killed and 50 were injured. The night of the attack, the aggravator, Omar Mateen, pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Since the shooting, Mateen’s sexuality has been a subject of public discussion, many believing his motivation was complicated by his own repressed homosexuality.
This speculation of Mateen’s sexual orientation leads to the topics of Islam, Love, and Sexuality.
The LGBTQI+ community preaches for love in its attempts to exist safely and publicly. Stark against this, the Orlando Nightclub shooting is ‘proof’ of the intolerance of Islam. Although Mateen never explicitly stated this attack was aimed at the LGBTQI+ community, given the venue of the attack and the ideology to which he pledged, this attack highlights the homophobia common in today’s Islam.
I want to be explicit and state that these aspects of restricted love and homophobia are based on the loudest opinions pushed by both Islam and the West. These will be left as surface statements because my intention is not to focus on the East versus West debate, or to unpack Islamophobia and fundamentalist Islamic scholarship. Instead, I want to explore love and sexuality as presented in Islamic poetry.
Intolerance and homophobia is common in Islam. The orthodox view is that homosexuality is a sin and in some cases is punishable by death. But these prejudices against love and sexuality become confused when you experience the societies and cultures belonging to Islam. In the Islamic world, it is more likely for a male to share tenderness with his male companions than it is for him to share affection with his wife. Men share kisses on the cheeks, walk down the street holding hands, and amorously cuddle. I’ve heard of same-sex intimacies shared behind closed doors, and it would be dishonest of me to omit my knowledge of the Central Asian practice of Bacha Bazi [translates to ‘boy-play’]. These affections are so normalised in Islamic society that it contradicts the homophobic attitudes present in the same communities. Does this contradiction allude to an influence of unrestricted love in Islam?
Islam, as a religious and cultural system, has woven poetry into its aesthetic and devotion. Poetry, respected as an oral tradition since pre-Islamic Arabia, was adapted into the Islam. The poetry specifically inspired by the Islamic mystical sect called Sufism gives insight into the concepts of love and sexuality in Islam. Although the sect itself is undervalued, Islamic culture is influenced by the spirituality and romance of Sufi poetry. Muslims recite Sufi poems like they recite verses from the Qur’an, convert the stanzas into melodies, share its messages like it is a guide to unfurl the meanings of faith, and express an esteem for Sufi poets only similar to that of the Abrahamic prophets. My parents ritualised our mornings to the sound of Sufi devotional music, entwining the morals of spiritualism with every lesson, and inspiring me with tales of Sufi romance. To this day, Sufi poetry is the one thing uniting my family over our differences in politics, religion, and culture.
Sufis aim to attain freedom by complete immersion with the Divine Love. God is universal, is love. With this perspective, the universe has been created in the pure reflection of God’s Grace. Sufi poetry is an expression of the spiritual relationship with God. Love, the grand theme in Sufi poetry, came to its purity by the wisdom of the eighth-century female mystic Rabi’a al-Basri. Basri preached against restricted and dictated love, espousing instead a doctrine of Divine Love, an act of selfless and unconditional devotion. By this doctrine, love flows freely and is not bound by a world of control and fear.
Not confined to the strict dogmas of faith, it is characteristic of Sufi poetry to express a love of a ‘controversial’ nature, that is, ‘love between the unconventional partners, contravening the societal norms, religious norms, traditions, cultures and code of conduct.’ In the practice of the respect for God’s universality, the Sufi concept of love becomes a disruption to the bound practices and perceptions of Islam.
So much from God
That I can no longer
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
a Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself
That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even a pure
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
I, you, he, she, we
In the garden of mystic lovers,
these are not true distinctions.
Bahar Sayed. Born and raised in Whadjuk/Perth and is currently settling in Sydney.
Writer and text-based artist. In an attempt to gather identity, Sayed’s work is attentive to her immersion in contrasting cultures and the conflicted sense of self that this creates.
Her practice enjoys exploring the links between disparate ideas, sometimes threading nuanced comparisons while other times desperately trying to find a connection.
Sayed’s written exploration of place has contributed to the Where are you from? exhibition series, and her essay Cruelty and the Theatre of Jihad, on the acceptance of cruelty through art in comparison to religion, was published in unMagazine 13.1. Her research on the contemporary relationship between drugs, politics, and Islam was arranged into a documentary titled Hashish, trading. Recently, Sayed’s experimental text-based art inspired by her relationship with language and code-switching was published by Heart of Hearts press, under a collection of artist works titled Healing practices.
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