This publication of Halal This Way, LLC is based on my thesis to the Divinity School’s Ministry Master’s program at the University of Chicago. It will be published in a book format with the title Halal This Way: Towards a Viable Queering in Sunni Islam. The book discusses the ways in which queer issues in Sunni Arab spaces are handled at this moment in time. While the work is formatted as a book, it is published as an academic thesis, for it provides a theoretical framework and engages the academy on complex and audacious matters. However, the book is also heavily footnoted with explanations to make the work accessible to a broader audience interested in the topic. This stems from my conviction that “theory” is important, for it provides the basis upon which something is built, and just as critical is the transformation of theory into practice, which is the only way it would stand to bear some fruits.
My thesis was the work of a lifetime. The unique way in which it has developed and presented in the upcoming publication is reflective of the time I spent at the University of Chicago. I would like to share behind the scenes context through which this work was developed.
First, when I came to the University of Chicago in 2016, I knew based on previous and continuing research that same-sex sexuality could be accommodated within the tradition of Sunni Islam in a way that operates from within the traditional framework. I originally wanted to elucidate how such a process could be made possible. That was the original plan for my thesis.
Second, based on some of the readings I have done and exposure to some activist circles dealing with the topic of same-sexuality in Islam in the West, I felt that the way in which the topic has been approached in those spaces was problematic. I felt it was doing injustice to the tradition I knew and the representation of Islamic scholars and Muslims were not fair, often inaccurate, and even abusive.
Third, I was aware of the political entanglements involved in scapegoating Muslims as the epitome of homophobia, which have been contributing to the violence committed against Islam and Muslims. I was not comfortable with the universalization of what it means to have justice. I asked, what is injustice and could we universalize its solutions? I was not comfortable with someone’s dominant truth as being the only truth or the only relevant truth. This is especially pertinent to international identity political discourses in which certain ways of being are privileged above all else, where powerful and violent interventions against certain groups of people could be justified in the name of gay rights, human rights, and the likes. This pushed me to think about pluralism and to acknowledge that we are not all exactly the same (because we develop uniquely in response to our own varying contexts in time and space). If that’s the case, that we as human-collectives are not exactly the same, then how could we think about dialogue in a way that is true to those various ways of being human?
Fourth, being Muslim, Arab, queer and Palestinian, I was often invited to “inter-faith” and “inter-communal” dialogues. Being in the ministry program has pushed me to think a lot more about those spaces too, which eventually led me to develop a thesis that was more reflective of my time at the Divinity School. I had trouble with these “inter” spaces. They were lacking in their ability to speak truth from the perspectives of the most marginalized. To me, they seemed to privilege a space that was more concerned with political correctness than with authenticity and existential experiences and realities. Naturally I wanted to think about ways in which we could “do” these “inter” spaces better (which would include how we approach the queer-predicaments in places that are not “Western”).
Fifth, I was also not comfortable with labels such as the East and West (while I will still use them sometimes for simplification), or blaming entire racial categories such as “white people” about something they could not have chosen (like their skin color). While I concede that there has been a problematic “whiteness” in our most recent historical memory where acts of violence and destructions have been predominantly committed by white people against people of color, that does not excuse unconditionally implicating an entire racial category with violence and destruction. It especially does not make sense today for a few reasons, which I address in my thesis. One example is the fact that the boundaries of concrete racial categories and geographies are ever more changing in this globalized and neoliberalized juncture, and that those who abuse power at the contemporary moment are certainly not limited to a certain skin color.
Finally, I was also not satisfied with much of the state of what we refer to as the de-colonial movement. My perception is that it appears to be more involved with reactionary cultural and racial wars, being on the defense (either being apologetic or accusatory), and is less critically concerned with root-causes themselves. With that said, while not without its flaws, this de-colonial work is necessary and critical, but I was yearning for something more.
Eventually, thinking through those concerns led me to think about power structures, which lead me to certain conclusions about what I believe to be the proper diagnosis of the problem and some of the ways in which we could approach solutions. It pushed me to think of the Sunni Arab queer predicament not as a clash between geographies, or races, and not between white people and brown people, or East and West, as much as it is a clash between two specific ways of being or orientations: a secular one called Neoliberalism (the capitalist socioeconomic and political power-structure that dominates the organization of the world today), and a religious one called Sunni Islam.
Overall, I believe my thesis constitutes a critical first step in a series of other works (including a complement to it in Arabic) that would further uplift and progress the conversation. I am currently finishing the editing process, working on the cover and typesetting, and discussing my printing options with a local printer near Chicago. The book is tentatively set to be published towards the end of summer of 2021. I am looking forward to sharing this work with you all. It could not have been made possible without a lot of sacrifices, and the conversation beyond it cannot continue viably without a lot of support. It will be available to purchase towards the end of this summer, and a version of it will be offered online for free as part of the founding mission of Halal This Way, LLC (as a social enterprise). Please consider investing in me, the book, and in Halal This Way, LLC. Thank you!