Reconciling Asexuality with Belonging to a Muslim Community
Note: This was originally published at The Asexual Agenda
Over a series of recent posts, I analyzed how Muslim scholars have constructed a sex-normative discourse around marriage in Islam, argued that the consequences of this discourse can be profoundly harmful to asexual Muslims who are unable to provide sex, and offered a simple proposal for an ace-positive framework for marriage in Islam instead.
One of the things my analysis pointed up is how many alternative interpretations and special arrangements an asexual Muslim would need to employ in order to secure their right to a celibate marriage under the current framework. In a response post, Marriage, Islam, Orthodoxy, elainexe brought up an important question: What happens when your alternative interpretations and special arrangements are too unorthodox for your religious community?
This is an important factor in my decision not to marry. I feel that it is possible - in theory - to construct a celibate marriage arrangement for myself. But I would need to find not only a husband who would agree to it (presumably an asexual Muslim man), but also an agent (wali) to manage the marriage contract (and having the right clauses in this contract is absolutely critical to the plan) and, just to be safe, potential arbitrators and in some circumstances a judge who would respect my situation and my wishes in the event that the marriage and its special arrangements go wrong. As a convert, I don't have a Muslim father or brother who could serve as the wali and the standard procedure in this case is for the local imam (the prayer leader in the mosque) to either serve as the wali himself or to designate a man within the community who is both knowledgeable about Islamic jurisprudence relating to marriage and respected for his piety to be the wali.
The necessity of having all of these men involved (and, yes, they do have to be men) is largely due to patriarchal interpretations of Islam that give men freedom of action while leaving women dependent on the good-will of men to secure their rights. My situation as a convert also means that I would have to rely on the very men who are the establishment of orthodoxy in the community to support my very unorthodox approach to marriage.
Quite frankly, I find patriarchy and often outright misogyny to be far too common in Muslim communities, especially among religious authorities, for this to be a viable option for me.
There are several organizations such as Muslims for Progressive Values (in the U.S.) and Inclusive Mosque (in the UK) that are welcoming to queer Muslims and that are attempting to create alternative communities and mosques to provide community and leadership support. However, neither of these organizations has a branch in my area, let alone a mosque. The same may be true for many asexual Muslims. God willing, these groups may be able to expand over time to support more Muslims. For now, however, this may not be a viable option for me either.
One might ask, why not just have a civil marriage (and divorce, if needed) and not worry about the religious side of things? As elainexe notes in her post, forgoing the requirements of a religious marriage or divorce could create significant issues of legitimacy for the marriage, or for a couple subsequent to a divorce, within the community (something, it should be noted, that usually results in significantly more stigma for the woman than the man).
More than this, however, community is an important part of Islam. And I say this as someone who has gone through periods of huge isolation from Muslim communities since converting and who is currently unmosqued and primarily connects with other Muslims online. The ideal Muslim is not one who is cloistered in worship by themselves, but one who is involved in, and who serves, their family and their community.
Not only that, but many asexual Muslims may believe that the orthodox rules represent the most correct interpretation of Islam and thus should be followed as much as possible, even where this creates significant difficulties for them.
It often seems odd to a primarily secular/atheist queer and asexual movement, but for many queer Muslims (including me), faith is a very important part of our lives. Besides Islamophobia, failure to understand the importance of faith is one of the struggles many queer Muslims have with mainstream LGBTQ communities in the West. (Indeed, I am far from the only queer Muslim who feels caught between worlds; for many, the queer Muslim community may be the first or only place they can feel whole in themselves.)
Beyond this, and depending on the particular background and situation, the "orthodox" Muslim community may be the context in which one interacts with family, friends, or neighbors, or that represents an important link to one's heritage. A particular queer Muslim may be actively involved in social justice work within their own community on any number of issues. For many queer Muslims, then, cutting themselves off from the community is not a viable option either.
At some point, you realize there are no viable options for obtaining an unorthodox marriage and for maintaining ties with the community that supports your faith. All too often, this is the dilemma of the asexual Muslim, as it is for so many other queer Muslims.