Silence as ISNA Kicks Out Gay Muslims From Conference

(Photo: From Muslims for Progressive Voices website)
(Photo: From Muslims for Progressive Voices website)

If you go into a bomb shelter, close the door and put on headphones, you’ll hear the sound of progressives reacting to how a top Muslim-American group discriminated against pro-LGBT Muslims: Total silence.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) shockingly kicked out a pro-LGBT Muslim group named Muslims for Progressive Values from its table at an event in early July. It is now mid-August and not a word about it has been heard.

What should be even more embarrassing for supporters of gay rights is that the Muslim group’s table was jointly reserved by Muslims for Progressive Values and Human Rights Campaign. The latter group describes itself as “the largest LGBT equality-rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States” with over one million members and supporters.

This isn’t a small incident at a small event with little-known players. All the elements are there for a major story and progressive rallying cry.

The most powerful Muslim-American organization—at the biggest Muslim-American event of the year with over 15,000 attendees—kicked out pro-gay Muslims sharing a table with the largest LGBT advocacy group in the country.

Where are the progressive condemnations, petitions and protesters?

Where are the calls to donate to the afflicted group and other progressive Muslims?

Why haven’t the liberal bloggers and investigative reporters been spurred into action, researching other Islamist groups guilty of demonizing homosexuals?

ISNA hasn’t even been forced to address the incident. Its website has no statement. It did not reply to requests for comments from the few reporters who covered it.

Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) told reporter Andy Ngo that their table offered pamphlets advocating for equality for women and LGBT when an attendee who was clearly Salafist confronted them.

The table was managed by Frank Parmir, a member of MPV’s Columbus chapter and a representative of the Human Rights Campaign. The Salafist told Parmir that anyone who says homosexuality isn’t a sin cannot be a “real Muslim” — essentially accusing him of apostasy, an offense that qualifies for the death penalty under the theocratic sharia (Islamic) law that Salafists want to create.

At this point, ISNA had a choice: Cater to the intolerant Salafist or embrace freedom of speech and diversity like it claims to believe in. It chose the former.

MPV was then approached by “an invasion of suits.” They were ISNA staff members, including the director of ISNA Conventions, Conferences and Special Projects, Bashara Saleem.

MPV and Human Rights Campaign were then told to leave. The two MPV and Human Rights Campaign representatives met with Saleem and ISNA board director Farhan Syed to make their case.

Parmir summarized the conversation in the following Facebook post:

It soon became apparent that their concern was for MPV’s presence, not HRC. They are glad to affirm HRC’s advocacy of legal rights for sexual minorities. But they are very uncomfortable with MPV’s advocacy of gender equality and LGBTQ inclusion. They were very clear that they are a religious organization. Their value structure has women as secondary to men…at least in ritual leadership. They are not in the least open to MPV’s call for gender equality. And their religious values do not allow any suggestion that members of the LGBTQ community can be Muslim if they are not repentant. They are adamantly opposed to the notion that there is any room in Islam for a conversation about the possibility of any equality of legitimacy between heterosexual intimacy and homosexual intimacy.

I think if HRC had not partnered with MPV, the booth would have been ok. But the dike that divides homophobic Islam from progressive Islam must not be breached. The Dyke dike must remain unpenetrated.

The ISNA officials told Parmir that the pamphlets at the table were “stressful” and “upsetting.”

According to the account given to reporter Andy Ngo by Parmir, ISNA board director Farhan Syed tried to distance himself from appearing anti-gay by claiming that he has homosexual friends who come to his home for dinner—but with one exception: “They’re not Muslim.” For this ISNA official, Muslims shouldn’t even sit down and share a meal and conversation with a self-proclaimed Muslim who is homosexual.

MPV says the ISNA officials explained that its national conference is “a religious, private and family-oriented event” and “we don’t fit in.”

Parmir ends his post with a powerful conclusion:

“Perhaps the great fault in all this is in ISNA’s name. It is not The Islamic Society of North America. It is The Salafi Society of North America. ISNA is not, as its name implies, an umbrella organization for all Islamic communities. It serves only the ones they in their bigotry approve of,” he wrote.

He’s correct. According to the Justice Department, ISNA is an “entity” of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. It also designated ISNA as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, another Brotherhood entity that was shut down for financing Hamas. The Holy Land Foundation “operated from within ISNA.”

The president of MPV said, “We’re really sick and tired of the hypocrisy of them (ISNA) claiming to be LGBT allies. They’re only allies when the camera is on.”

MPV also issued a blistering public statement. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the past, ISNA has declared itself to be a proponent of women’s and LGBTQ rights, and in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando by a self-hating gay Muslim man indoctrinated with homophobic teachings, many ISNA member mosques claimed to be “supportive of LGBTQ rights.” This incident not only puts the spotlight on ISNA and its member mosques’ true policy toward LGBTQ Muslims but also their discriminatory and intolerant version of Islam as a whole.

Without acknowledging the absolute rights of women and LGBTQ Muslims and of the diversity of Muslims, ISNA cannot continue to claim to represent North American Muslims. When misogynistic and homophobic teachings in Islam are often used to demonize Muslims and Islam, ISNA’s policy and theology of intolerance only adds fodder to our adversaries.”

Parmir’s Facebook post was positively received by some Muslim readers. One Muslim provided links to articles documenting Saudi financing of ISNA. Another wrote (lightly edited to fix grammatical issues):

“ISNA are pure orthodox Salafi, although they hide themselves as being mainstream Sunni, which they are not. Their funding sources don’t allow them to welcome MPV or be close to them. My personal experience at this location confirms that their ideology of Shariah is pretty orthodox and close to the Saudi ideology of Shariah which I oppose.”

The Muslim author wrote that his personal experience with ISNA was from 2003-2004. Another commentator with direct experience in dealing with ISNA wrote:

“I’m also conflicted. I joined the ACLU and ISNA the day after 45 [Trump] was elected. That was about legal protection for myself and others. ISNA represents themselves as agreeing with U.S. civil rights laws but…clearly they aren’t interested in that process happening within Islam.”

The contradiction between ISNA’s public presentation and substantive actions is also apparent when you look at who they give a platform to. Its events have a long list of speakers but none from MPV or, for that matter, groups like the Muslim Reform Movement.

ISNA cannot hide behind the excuse that MPV is too small to be featured. Its last annual report shows that it is very active. Politicon, known as the Comic-Con for political nerds, found them to be prominent enough to be featured on a panel.

Although some of the resources recommended by MPV are concerning (like Tariq Ramadan), the organization is still acknowledging and tackling the issue of sharia law. It has a lecture series that “seeks to dismantle the religious justification for homophobia in Muslim communities with medical, social and religious history.”

Instead of at least including MPV’s voice, ISNA’s July convention had radical speakers like Muzammil Siddiqi, who said in 2001 that he supports the execution of homosexuals by governments based on sharia law (but opposes attacks on gays by individuals).

Siddiqi was the president of ISNA from 1996 to 2000, remains on ISNA’s Majilis Ash-Shura council and is the chairman of the extremist Fiqh Council of North America.

He got his Islamic credentials at a Saudi university and remains a member of the Supreme Council of Mosques in Mecca and an executive board member of the International Assembly of the Council of Ulama in Mecca. He’s part of the Saudi Salafist/Wahhabist infrastructure. And it shows in his comments on executing gays.

Instead of speaking out against ISNA, many progressive commentators on these issues are acting as pitbulls for ISNA and similar groups by labeling their detractors as bigoted “Islamophobes.” They are defending groups like Muslims of America and its “Islamberg” headquarters who demonize the LGBT community.

So, again, where are the progressives? It’s time for genuine, consistent progressives to get involved and call out the Regressive Left that abandons progressive values in order to whitewash Islamists.


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