Islam, Sexual Ethics, and Community Conversations


Sex is described as many things: it can be an act of passion for some, physical gratification for others, a necessity for procreation, an act of worship for people of faith, or some combination thereof. It is also a word and experience that is often loaded with many emotions: joy, love, and all too often, fear, shame, and stigma.

One of the challenges of beginning this conversation is that historically, sex and sexuality have been seen as uncomfortable subjects across most racial, ethnic, and religious communities. In Muslim communities, the strong notions of privacy and modesty are oftenconflated with the shaming of feeling sexual desire, which creates an environment hostile to open discourse, let alone operating outside of religious code. This lack of open, nuanced conversation has long-term consequences: it instills shame and unhealthy attitudes toward sex, which many women carry into their sexual relationships, both within the framework of marriage and outside of it. Islam, like many other faiths, has values around sex and sexuality, and most mainstream scholars would agree that the tradition emphasizes:

  1. Abstinence until marriage
  2. Modesty and privacy around sexual issues
  3. Mutual pleasure between partners, a sexual right that both men and women are granted

It is also noteworthy that Islam as a faith is sex-positive—sex is considered to be a sacred act of worship and the right to mutual pleasure is at the forefront—but cultural baggage and patriarchy has perpetuated attitudes of shame, stigma, and silence about sexuality. So what role does sexuality play in the life of the spirit? The current narrative is that sexuality and faith can be at odds with each other for those who may not operate within the above-mentioned religious code, but do they have to be? Have we created a safe, judgment-free space for all in our communities where individuals can explore values and expectations about sex while still feeling a sense of belonging to the faith community they identify with? Is it possible to have a values-based conversation on sex while still honoring personal agency? How can we reclaim the conversation to one that instills positive, healthy attitudes toward sex, instead of one laden with cultural baggage, patriarchy, and shame?


How Christian entertainment is upending stereotypes about Muslims

Christian comedian Jeremy McLellan, from Charleston, South Carolina has struck a chord with Muslims all over the world but particularly in North America. He has over 100,000 followers on Facebook, and about half are from the United States.

The second highest fan base is from Pakistan, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada and India. McLellan says he knows many of these followers are Muslim through comments and messages he receives.

 McLellan puts social justice at the center of his work and his comedy has turned into an unlikely form of advocacy against Islamophobia.


Christian comedian Jeremy McLellan has struck a chord with Muslims all over the world. His comedy has turned into an unlikely form of advocacy against Islamophobia, and he’s become a staple at Muslim festivals around North America.| Tyler Sawyer

“I didn’t set out to write jokes for Muslims. I tell a lot of jokes about a lot of things — race, immigration, police brutality — all these hot-button topics that I love addressing. But over the past year, a lot of stuff I was saying about Muslims started to go viral, and it actually makes perfect sense. Here is this large demographic, in the United States and around the world who are interested in these exact same issues,” McLellan said.

McLellan, 30, has become a staple at Muslim festivals and events around North America, including the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) annual banquet in Los Angeles, one of the largest CAIR banquets in the country attracting 2,000 people, including prominent American Muslims, interfaith activists and politicians, and the Muslimfest in Toronto, a festival bringing together more than 20,000 people every year to celebrate the best in Muslim art, entertainment and culture.

Dubbing McLellan a rising star, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR Los Angeles, says McLellan is an important ally to the Muslim community. “We need both voices: a Muslim voice is important because it lives, feels and experiences the challenges. But we also need non-Muslim voices that will humanize our community. You never know, a funny message coming from a Caucasian non-Muslim might resonate with someone who may not be open to listening to a Muslim.”


Bridge Building Between Christians and Muslims

This is a lengthier, more involved article than usually appears on these pages, but well worth reading for those who wish to hear a Muslim perspective on Christian-Muslim dialogue.  Dialogue is by its very nature a two-way street.  Knowing each other’s perspective is a crucial part of that.  

This is a piece by Jamal Badawi appearing on Islamicity:

With nearly one billion followers each, Islam and Christianity are major religions that influence the thinking and values of over 40 percent of the World population. While there are theological differences, some of which might be significant, there are nonetheless other important areas of belief that are shared by both communities: belief in Allah, or God; belief in revelation, in prophets, in the Holy Books of Allah; in the life hereafter and in a divinely inspired moral code organizing and regulating human life during our earthly journey to eternity.


For the Muslim, constructive dialogue is not only permitted, it is commendable. In the Qur’an we read, ‘Say, ‘O people of the book’ (a term which particularly refers to Jews and Christians) ‘come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him (in His powers and divine attributes); that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah.’ If then they turn back say you ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.’ (Bowing) to the will of God.” (al-i-Imran;3:64)

The methodology of that dialogue is also explained in the Qur’an; “Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation, and argue with them in ways that are best.’ (al-Nahl; 16,125) A prerequisite for any constructive dialogue is that both communities should not learn about each other through sources that are unsympathetic, critical, or even hostile: they should rather try to formulate an honest idea as to how the other faith is seen in its own authentic scriptures and as practiced by those who are truly committed to it. This need is even more significant in the case of the Muslim-Christian dialogue. The average Christian has heard of or has read about Islam mostly through writers who have had colonial or missionary motives, which might have given a certain slant to their interpretation of Islam to the western mind. While I admit that my own practice of Islam is far from perfect, I at least speak from the vantage point of someone who wants to think of himself as a committed, practicing Muslim. Now I’d like to share with you five basic areas, consideration of which is imperative in any Christian-Muslim understanding: the meaning of the term “Islam”; the meaning of the term “Allah”; the nature of the human; the relationship between the human and Allah; the question of accountability, and finally, some conclusions pertaining to bridgebudding between Muslims and Christians.


The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity — Then Lost Her Job

16mag-16hawkins-t_ca1-superjumboThree days after Larycia Hawkins agreed to step down from her job at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Wheaton, Ill., she joined her former colleagues and students for what was billed as a private service of reconciliation. It was a frigid Tuesday evening last February, and attendance was optional, but Wheaton’s largest chapel was nearly full by the time the event began. A large cross had been placed on the stage, surrounded by tea lights that snaked across the blond floorboards in glowing trails.

“We break, we hurt, we wound, we lament,” the school’s chaplain began. He led a prayer from the Book of Psalms, and the crowd sang a somber hymn to the tune of “Amazing Grace”:

God raised me from a miry pit,
from mud and sinking sand,
and set my feet upon a rock
where I can firmly stand.

Philip Ryken, the college’s president of six years, spoke next. His father had been an English professor at Wheaton for 44 years, and he grew up in town, receiving his undergraduate degree from the college. “I believe in our fundamental unity in Jesus Christ, even in a time of profound difficulty that is dividing us and threatening to destroy us,” he told the crowd. “These recent weeks have been, I think, the saddest days of my life.” It was the night before the first day of Lent, the 40-day season of repentance in the Christian calendar.

Wheaton had spent the previous two months embroiled in what was arguably the most public and contentious trial of its 156-year history. In December, Hawkins wrote a theologically complex Facebook postannouncing her intention to wear a hijab during Advent, in solidarity with Muslims; the college placed her on leave within days and soon moved to fire her. Jesse Jackson had compared Hawkins with Rosa Parks, while Franklin Graham, an evangelist and Billy Graham’s son, declared, “Shame on her!” Students protested, fasted and tweeted. Donors, parents and alumni were in an uproar. On this winter evening, the first black female professor to achieve tenure at the country’s most prominent evangelical college was now unemployed and preparing to address the community to which she had devoted the past nine years of her life. As a Wheaton anthropology professor, Brian Howell, wrote in January, the episode had become “something of a Rorschach test for those wondering about the state of Wheaton College, evangelicalism and even U.S. Christianity.”


No, American Muslims Are Not Security Agents


At the playground of a local Chick-fil-A in California, my 6-year-old daughter made friends with a cute blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl about the same age. After running up and down the indoor play space for 10 minutes, my daughter came back to finish eating her chicken burger.

The blond-haired girl followed and sat down at our table, too. As she sat down, she stared at me, probably looking at my headscarf tightly wrapped around my head. Without missing a beat, she asked, “Are you Muslim?”

I was almost surprised that a young girl could be this self aware. My daughter turned to me, covering her mouth with her hand, and whispered, “Mom, can I tell her that I’m Muslim?”

The moment was surreal in so many ways. As mothers, we do all we can to protect our young, but also wish for them to be confident in who they are. And yet in that moment, all I could think was why a young girl, my own daughter, has to question her identity and ask permission to reveal who she is.

She made me realize just how much American Muslims have internalized the minority, and perhaps even inferiority status that has been projected on to us by politicians and the right-wing media.

Perhaps one thing that the second presidential debate underscored was the fact that the issue of Muslims continues to be one of the most contentious of this presidential campaign. Donald Trump and the alt-right’s bullying rhetoric toward Muslims have had a devastating effect on Muslims, especially children, in this country, including my own.

Just last week, a 7-year-old boy in North Carolina was beaten on a school bus by five other boys shouting anti-Muslim slurs. The bullying of children has gotten so bad that the state of California, where I live, passed a Safe Place to Learn Act, which helps monitor and protect Muslim, Sikh and other South Asian students from harassment and bullying.

According to a 2015 Council on American Islamic Relations report, 55% of Muslim students have reported being subjected to bullying based on their religious identity. That’s 55% too many.


Christian Muslim Dialogue

This is a more scholarly article than usually appears here, laying out the nature of a phenomenon which is often highlighted in this page – Christian-Muslim dialogue.  This gives the history and nature of that dialogue stressing its critical importance as a means of of countering the impact of dis and mis-information on neighborly relations between people of different faiths. 


Intentional, structured encounters between Muslims and Christians are generally termed “Muslim-Christian dialogue.” Interfaith dialogue is a conversation in which two or more parties seek to express their views accurately and to listen respectfully to their counterparts. Since the second half of the twentieth century, organized dialogue meetings have proliferated at the local, regional, and international levels. The meetings vary significantly in their organization, focus, and venue, as well as in the composition of participants.

Several motives have propelled the contemporary dialogue movement. These include desires to foster understanding, to stimulate communication, to correct stereotypes, to work on specific problems of mutual concern, to explore similarities and differences, and to facilitate means of witness and cooperation. The pragmatic need for better understanding and cooperation among adherents in the world’s two largest communities of faith—Christianity and Islam—is particularly acute. Together Christians and Muslims comprise almost half the world’s population, so the way in which they relate is bound to have profound consequences for both communities and for the world.

The dynamics of interfaiThencounter between Muslims and Hindus, Muslims and Jews, and Muslims and Christians differ. Their historic relationships as well as their major theological, social, and political concerns vary markedly. Contemporary initiatives in Muslim-Christian dialogue can be understood best in the larger context which can be established by a brief overview of dominant themes in Muslim-Christian encounter.

Historical Background.

Muslim-Christian dialogue dates back to the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Rooted as both traditions are in the monotheism of the patriarch Abraham, Muslims and Christians share a common heritage. For more than fourteen centuries these communities of faith have been linked by their theological understandings and by geographical proximity. The history of Muslim-Christian interaction includes periods of great tension, hostility, and open war as well as times of uneasy toleration, peaceful coexistence, and cooperation.

Islamic self-understanding incorporates an awareness of and direct link with the biblical tradition. Muḥammad, his companions, and subsequent generations of Muslims have been guided by the Qurʿān, which they have understood as a continuation and completion of God’s revelations to humankind. The Qurʿān speaks of many prophets (anbiyāʿ, singular nabī) and messengers (rusul, sg. rasūl) who functioned as agents of God’s revelation. Particular emphasis is laid on the revelations through Moses (the Torah) and Jesus (the Gospel) and their respective communities of faith or “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitāb). See PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.

The Qurʿān includes positive affirmations for the People of the Book, including the promise that Jews and Christians who have faith, trust in God and the Last Day, and do what is righteous “shall have their reward” (2:62 and 5:69). The different religious communities are explained as a part of God’s plan; if God had so willed, the Qurʿān asserts, humankind would be one community. Diversity among the communities provides a test for people of faith: “Compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you (the truth) about that which you have been disputing” (5:48).

The Qurʿān states that “there shall be no compulsion in religious matters” (2:256). Peaceful coexistence is affirmed (106:1–6). At the same time, the People of the Book are urged to “come to a common word” on the understanding of the unity of God (tawhīd) and proper worship (e.g.,3:64, 4:171, 5:82, and 29:46). Christians, in particular, are chided for having distorted the revelation of God. Traditional Christian doctrines of the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity are depicted as compromising the unity and transcendence of God (e.g., 5:72–75, 5:117, and 112:3). There are also verses urging Muslims to fight, under certain circumstances, those who have been given a book but “practice not the religion of truth” (9:29).

While the Qurʿān provides a framework for Muslims’ understanding of Christians and Christianity, particular political, economic, and social considerations have shaped the encounter in each setting. Circumstances and relationships between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, for example, cannot be equated casually with those in Lebanon over the same centuries. Relationships in Egypt, a religious and intellectual center of the Islamic world, were subject to distinctive dynamics not found elsewhere. Cairo, known as the “city of a thousand minarets,” is home to al-Azhar, the mosque and university, which has been a bastion of Sunnī orthodoxy through much of Islamic history. The Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt comprise the largest Christian community in the Arabic speaking world. As an Oriental Orthodox church, the Copts have been completely independent of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern (Greek, Russian, and Serbian) Orthodox churches since the middle of the fifth century.

By contrast, the mountains of Lebanon provided safe haven for a wide range of religious groups—numerous Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians, various Sunnī and Shīʿī Muslims, and the Druze—for more than a thousand years. As minority communities threatened by Christian crusaders or Muslim conquerors or more recent colonial powers, inhabitants of Lebanon have coexisted, cooperated and clashed, in many ways. An examination of Muslim-Christian relations in Spain or the former Yugoslavia or contemporary Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, further illustrates the need for careful, contextual analysis.




Muslim Americans Express Disappointment Over Debate Rhetoric Tying Muslims to Terrorism

During Sunday night’s presidential debate, Gorbah Hamed, a Muslim woman who was part of the debate’s night’s “uncommitted” audience, asked both presidential candidates how they would help Muslim Americans deal with the rise of Islamophobia.

“There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and I’m one of them,” Hamed said, addressing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations, but with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?”


Trump began his response by acknowledging Islamophobia, calling it “a shame,” and argued that Muslims must do better to “report when they see something going on.”

“When they see hatred going on, they have to report it. As an example, in San Bernardino, many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people. Horribly wounded. They’ll never be the same. Muslims have to report the problems when they see them,” Trump said.