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Compassion Above All

To gather sources for his award-winning Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims (NYU Press), Emory University Associate Professor of South Asian and Islamic Studies Scott Kugle ’91 traveled to five countries. “Some of my subjects are Arabs, some are African-American, some are Berber from North Africa, many are Pakistani or Indian,” he says. “Although I could only highlight 15, all the courageous people I interviewed inspired me.”

Why are these voices important?

They’re not speaking about ideals or texts, but about lived experience growing up in families, communities, mosques. They speak of persecution, fear, violence. Some had to leave their family or their nation to escape threats. 

What did you ask them?

To deeply reflect on the Quran, Islam, and the Prophet Muhammad’s example as relevant to their own lives.

Are Islam and homosexuality reconcilable?

Many say no. But I say the alienation of one identity from the other is based on stereotypes, not on deep reflection. If you ask people who are struggling to live authentically as both, you’ll find the situation more ambiguous. I know from personal experience—I was only able to write this book as a result of my own struggles. 

What’s the takeaway?

After the Orlando shootings, so much reporting on the mass murderer—was it a twisted, violent admission of failure by a gay Muslim?—was so shallow and steeped in stereotypes. I want readers to develop a more informed, compassionate way of understanding and engaging with those who are struggling with this. After all, compassion is at the heart of every religion, but Islam is perhaps even more insistent: To pray, every Muslim must say the name of God as “the compassionate one.”

Recommended Reading...

Scott Kugle ’91 recommends more books that share the spirit of Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims

Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Muslim World: History, Law and Vernacular Knowledge by Vanja Hamzić

It’s an academic book, but I think it’s quite accessible. It’s written by a wonderful young scholar, a Bosnian Muslim who is a Ph.D. in international law and human-rights law and teaches in the U.K. Sexual orientation and gender identity are impacted by human-rights law and U.N. discourse, so this is a great book.

Female Homosexuality in the Middle East and Homosexuality and Islam by Samar Habib

She’s a young Palestinian scholar who was educated in Australia. She comes from a much more secular background, so her books aren’t so much about religion—they’re more about Arab culture, but of course Arab culture and Islam are so tightly interwoven that you can’t talk about one without the other. These are both fascinating books.

When Sun Meets Moon: Gender, Eros, and Ecstasy in Urdu Poetry and Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims by Scott Kugle ’91

Writing books is my primary love, and I am very proud of these. There are many books and research projects being done on all kinds of topics related to sexual orientation and Islam, so it’s going to be a pretty exciting decade in this field. It’s an honor to have been there since the beginning, writing about it in a way that enables other people to write.