Can Pakistani Psychologists Adopt An Affirming Stance On LGBTQ Concerns?
In its February 2021 issue, a reflection piece by Dr. Naima Siddiqui titled “Genetic Compulsion and Homosexuality” was published in the Renaissance Islamic Magazine, edited by Qur’anic studies scholar Dr. Shehzad Saleem. The credentials of the writer are not mentioned, and neither is it mentioned whether she is practicing her profession as a general physician, psychologist, psychiatrist or an academic. Perhaps doing so could invite professional opprobrium. Additionally, it is not clear if she is based in Pakistan or in the diaspora in places like the U.K and the U.S. Regardless, her piece reflects the conundrum faced by Pakistani professionals on an issue where their profession is seemingly at odds with the understanding of their faith. However, I think, this conundrum should not really exist in the first place, as Islam has always been deemed compatible with science and human nature.
I actually sympathise with Dr. Siddiqui and others in her position. They are caught between the dictates of their profession and the understanding of their faith. This has been true of the professional photographers who felt perturbed by the supposed prohibition on photography in the 80s. It is clear from the article that she references the APA (American Psychological Association) for the definition of sexual orientation instead of classical juristic manuals. As such, she has used the terminology of “homosexual.” Even if this term is not viewed favourably in some activist circles, it still has the connotation of innate constitution instead of the juristic term ma’bun (receptive male partner in intercourse), which alludes to activity rather than orientation. Although, some medieval Arab physicians like Qusta ibn Luqa (d. 912) already had terminology that suggested that some men are yamilu ila (disposed towards) other men.
It is also noteworthy that Dr. Siddiqui does not attempt any engagement in reparative therapy or SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts), as the APA task force, through an exhaustive literature review in 2009, counselled strongly against such quack practices. This position was echoed by LebMASH – the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health – in 2013, when they wrote:
“… the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) urges healthcare providers in Lebanon to refrain from this unethical and potentially harmful practice. We also urge health care organizations to take a strong position against such practices.”
Of course, the classical Muslim juristic and medical literature, such as the Tafsir Nur al Saqlain and the medical writings of al-Razi (d. 925), have offered remedies to the ma’bun through enemas, massages of private parts by maids and even by sitting on a severed hump of a camel. However, Dr. Siddiqui based her article on the consensus amongst professionals through the APA rather than basing it on the medieval Muslim juristic and medical literature. Additionally, by refusing to give credence to SOCE, she upholds the cardinal principle upheld by both the medical profession and Islam – la darar wala dirar (do no harm).
Dr. Siddiqui indicates that no “gay gene” has been discovered yet. While Dr. Qazi Rahman at King’s College London makes a very strong case for the innateness of same-sex sexual orientation, several queer activists would actually agree with Dr. Siddiqui. They argue that if the cause of sexual orientation were to be precisely pinpointed then conservative anti-LGBTQ folks would simply switch their approach to fixing that specific cause. Viewed as such, opponents of the LGBTQ community are not readily assuaged, as they keep shifting their arguments. For instance, Muslim speaker Dr. Bilal Philips has written:
“Early opposition to homosexuality was based on the argument that such behavior was unnatural. … To counter such arguments homosexual researchers scoured the earth until they found supposed homosexual behavior among the animal kingdom.”
Of course, the initial argument that homosexuality was unnatural was then replaced by the argument that we don’t take morality from the animal kingdom. It is the same here. People usually claim that there is no gay gene but if one were to be found they would simply shift their argument. And this is precisely why fixating on the gay gene is an unproductive discourse for both the proponents and opponents of same-sex relationships.
Dr. Siddiqui then draws a distinction between eye colour, height and skin tone with behaviour and choices in the context of sexual orientation. However, sexual orientation is like eye colour, height and skin tone for it is beyond a person’s conscious control. What is under one’s control are behaviour and choice. So, if people choose to wear coloured lenses, take supplements to increase height or use products to affect their skin tone, then all these are behavioural choices. Furthermore, if all these choices are legal then the case to ban same-sex relationships does not arise from this analogy. This means that the case to ban same-sex relationships has to emerge from a different analogy and Dr. Siddiqui briefly attempts that towards the end of her article.
Specifically, Dr. Siddiqui states that predisposition does not lead to compulsion, so that “Alcohol does not cause Alcohol use disorder even if a person has genetic predisposition, if a person doesn’t start drinking Alcohol in the first place.” While she is being very careful in her writing to perhaps avoid professional peer review and scrutiny, I think she is creating the analogy of same-sex relationships with the consumption of alcohol. By doing so she seems to be suggesting that even if one has the disposition, one can avoid alcohol use disorder by avoiding the first sip and therefore one can avoid same-sex relationships by not having them in the first place. This is actually a weak analogy to make.
First, there is no analogy between alcohol consumption and human relationships for we do not view human relationships through the lens of addiction, unless one wants to view gay folks as sex addicts. It is true that several gay men are obsessed with sex just as many straight men are obsessed with intercourse. However, one may also argue that at least straight Muslim men are technically allowed to marry up to four women, but gay folks are not even allowed to have a single relationship. Moreover, many gay men just want a fulfilling life with a partner that includes spiritual, emotional and physical well-being, as it is true in the case of straight folks. Second, consuming alcohol is not a human need but having a relationship is part of the daruriyat or hajat (needs and necessities) of life. For both these reasons, the analogy of alcohol use with same-sex relationships fails. Putting aside advances in medical science on childbirths, a better analogy would be with non-procreative relationships. This would allow us to question that if elderly women who are past the age of childbearing or if couples who cannot have children can marry to obtain the benefits of intimacy, mawadda (affection) and companionship, then on what earthly reason do we deny the same benefits to same-sex couples?
The story of Lut’s people is beyond the scope of this critique, as Dr. Siddiqui never referenced it either. That story raises more questions than it answers. Regardless, Pakistani professionals who are increasingly caught in a conflict between the understanding of their faith and professional ethics may take heart that in classical Islam, jurists can only rule on the zahir (apparent) for the batin (hidden) is left to Allah. So past jurists left matters of innate constitution to the individual and accepted their word on that. For instance, the Hanbali jurist Kharqi opined that only the khuntha mushkil (indeterminate gender) may know of their reality and no one other than them can know of their gender. Therefore, such professionals can avoid unproductive discussions on the gay gene and accept the word of the gay person when they express their truth. Additionally, they can reject SOCE based on the medical and Islamic principle to do no harm. Finally, by avoiding weak analogies, they can ask the better question, that is, when we find no issues with non-procreative relationships, then what earthly reason allows us to deny the benefits of intimacy, affection and companionship to same-sex couples? Hopefully, this would end the dissonance they feel between the requirements of their profession and the understanding of their faith.