Outside observers have been quick to criticize any signs of anti-Semitism connected to the new Roxbury mosque. But there has been little or no public comment about the virulent homophobia that can be found within the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) and the Muslim American Society of Boston (MAS-Boston) communities.
BU's Stephen Young surveyed 50 local ISB and MAS-Boston members for a just-published dissertation on the ISB. They were asked on a numerical scale how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement: "Homosexuals are hardly better than criminals and ought to be severely punished." Rather than rejecting this extremist sentiment, the average response fell in the middle. The Arabs among those surveyed were most likely to agree.
"These things are settled in Islam," says Talal Eid, an imam in Quincy who is considered relatively moderate. "No Muslim group is going to say, 'We are going to teach that it is okay for people to be gay and lesbian.' That is not going to happen."
City Councilor Chuck Turner of Roxbury equates the Koranic defense of homophobia to the Biblical interpretations used by Southerners against blacks — "all that Noah and Ham bullshit, that was a thin veil to justify their racism."
Yet Turner and other local leaders strongly supportive of gay rights — including Mayor Thomas Menino and State Senator Dianne Wilkerson — have said little to condemn the astonishing bigotry that's being taught at the Cambridge ISB, and that might well be expected to find its way into the Roxbury mosque.
These pols further back away from criticizing even what they recognize as wrong. "What right do we have to say to a religion, 'Your practices are not appropriate,' " says Turner, adding that political dialogue is where gay rights should be addressed.
But just as Southern churches' "Noah and Ham bullshit" fueled the success of Jim Crow oppression, fundamentalist religions' sermons against homosexuality have underpinned the recent political juggernaut against gays and lesbians.
Perhaps people would speak up more were they aware of the extent of the gay hatred, examples of which can be found on Web sites like islamonline.net. That Web site is one ISB leaders most frequently point members to for advice on Islamic questions, according to Young and others — and it is full of extraordinary, almost obsessive, condemnation of homosexuality.
Until recently, the top navigational button on the left side of the Web site touted "12 fatwas on homosexuality." Earlier in the year, a site visitor posed a question about beheading homosexuals. In response, the director of the Islamic Center of South Plains, in Lubbock, Texas, posited that, given the deaths from HIV/AIDS, "those promoting this sin are in fact committing a crime against humanity." He concluded that beheading and stoning are not called for; rather, the proper response to sodomy is "the lashing of the perpetrator one hundred times in a public place."
Other Web sites popular among local Muslims offer similar fare. The Fatwa Center at islamweb.net advises that the punishment for gay sex "is to execute the one who commits it." The only disagreement remaining is "on how this execution should be carried out." On another site, the consensus of the imams is that it is proper to put a bag over the homosexual's head and throw him from a cliff; they disagree over what to do next should he survive the fall.