20 Jun 2016

Results of a Preliminary Australian Study on Muslim Attitudes towards Homosexuality and their Religious Orientations Hanan Dover

Results of a Preliminary Australian Study on Muslim Attitudes towards Homosexuality and their Religious Orientations
Hanan Dover
University of Western Sydney - Psychology
[SALAM Magazine, January-February 2002, http://www.famsy.com/salam/]
The title of the study was: Homonegativity, religious orientations, and right-wing authoritarianism amongst Muslims. The motivation for such a study was not to reaffirm the already pervasive prejudicial view on Muslims and their attitudes towards certain issues, nor was the study just to merely add to the lack of data that exists among existing research on Muslim populations. The study was an inherent academic challenge to see how religious people of a conservative nature can adhere to certain moral values but still remain open-minded. However, the first part of this broad study focused on Muslim attitudes towards homosexuality, which has shown some surprising results. The study also measured Muslims on how they weighed up on conservative religious beliefs and right-wing authoritarianism. Eighty-two attendees from various Islamic lectures around Sydney volunteered to participate in the study.

Before such a study could be implemented university Ethics Committee approval was needed. According to the Human Ethics Committee, the study was deemed too ‘inflammatory’ and was rejected several times. After more than nine months of planning and designing it was suggested that an ‘easier topic like drugs or alcohol or resort to changing the whole topic altogether’ be chosen. This was despite the fact that other studies of a similar nature were conducted on Christians and Jewish populations. However, for some unknown reason, conducting this study on Muslims was too hot to handle for the Committee even when presented with Muslim community based support from scholars and community leaders. It was ironic that a study that looked at religion and prejudice was actually prejudiced against. However, after sheer determination, sanity prevailed with the Ethics Committee and the research was allowed to go ahead.

Background to research conducted on religion, prejudice, and homosexuality

Interest in the relationship between religion and prejudice makes up a great deal of the literature in the psychology of religion. One of the most significant and consistent findings is that highly religious individuals are prejudiced toward homosexuals. Considering most orthodox views on homosexuality, these findings may not seem so surprising. However, many psychologists tend to agree with Jackson and Hunsberger (1999) who argue that any negative attitude toward an out-group is considered prejudice no matter what the content of religious belief. However, the issue of prejudice may be more a moral adherence to a particular scripture rather than a prejudice based on faulty generalisation. Although research has been conducted mainly using Judeo-Christian populations, there was a serious shortage of empirical research on this topic among Muslim populations.

Most Muslims would most probably defend their anti-homosexual attitudes on Islamic teachings and contend that these attitudes result from moral judgments and not from faulty or erroneous generalisations that are typical of prejudice. Muslims, like Christians and Jews, consider the religious injunctions against homosexuality as the actual ‘words of God’ and is not open to interpretation. It has been argued that religious people’s negative sentiments that are limited to moral positions, or whose negative attitude toward homosexuality is equal to the other groups ‘condemned’ in religious text (e.g. adulterers, liars) may show less prejudice than those whose negativity is founded on social concerns, generalised attitudes, and negative attitudes in excess towards the other ‘condemned’ groups (Fulton, Gorsuch, Maynard, 1999).

Gorsuch (1993) has argued that the term prejudice, has been somewhat mishandled and misunderstood in the psychology of religion literature. He criticised the way in which the concept of ‘prejudice’ is used in a prejudicial manner in research. With respect to prejudice against homosexuals, he argued that individuals who adhere to values viewing homosexual behaviour to be immoral should not be considered to be any more prejudiced than those who do not. Fulton et al’s (1999) study showed that individuals with a moral position against homosexuality do reject homosexual behaviour to the same degree they reject bigots and gluttons, and where no special reference was made to homosexuality alone.

The problem with existing research is that when psychologists want to measure the amount of prejudice a religious population have against a particular group, attitudes toward homosexuality are always used as the variable to measure prejudice. Other minority groups like the elderly, the mentally ill, or even measuring attitudes towards women are hardly ever used as variables measuring prejudice. Why? That’s simple. The hidden agenda underlying most psychological research is to ascertain that Western values are universal and should be the norm where the world’s population must follow suit in thought and behaviour. Most research in psychology comes from the West and most, if not all, psychology departments around the world teach and practice according to an Americanised curriculum. Muslim countries, too, are passionate followers and admirers of Western psychological conceptualisations. They mistakenly think that employing and adopting their American theories on human behaviour is like importing new technology. Hence, the more psychological research the West conducts, the more their theories can be filtered into institutions around the world. Therefore, American psychological theories become universal ones.

Questions Researched
These are the questions that guided the first part of this enquiry as part of a postgraduate thesis in psychology:
1. What do Muslims think of homosexuality?
2. How conservative are Muslims in their religious belief?
3. Are Muslim right-wing authoritarian?
4. How do Muslims weigh up with the rest of the world religions and other Muslim populations?
5. How can we interpret these findings from a psychological standpoint?
Muslims Attitudes towards Homosexuality

The questions on the questionnaires as well as the percentages of respondents on how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements are presented in the Table below.

Statement: Homosexuals should not be allowed to work with children Strongly Agree (%) 50 Agree (%) 9.8 Don’t Know (%) 12.2 Disagree (%) 18.3 Strongly Disagree (%) 9.8

Statement: Homosexuality is not a mental disorder
Strongly Agree (%) 34.1 Agree (%) 9.8 Don’t Know (%) 11.0 Disagree (%) 9.8 Strongly Disagree (%) 35.4

Statement: Homosexuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals Strongly Agree (%) 59.8 Agree (%) 12.2 Don’t Know (%) 12.2 Disagree (%) 7.3 Strongly Disagree (%) 6.1

Statement: Homosexuals are immoral Strongly Agree (%) 54.9 Agree (%) 14.6 Don’t Know (%) 8.5 Disagree (%) 12.2 Strongly Disagree (%) 8.5

Statement: People who support homosexual rights are probably homosexual themselves
Strongly Agree (%) 30.5 Agree (%) 13.4 Don’t Know (%) 13.4 Disagree (%) 22.0 Strongly Disagree (%) 19.5

Statement: Homosexuals should be avoided whenever possible Strongly Agree (%) 42.7 Agree (%) 13.4 Don’t Know (%) 11.0 Disagree (%) 23.2 Strongly Disagree (%) 9.8

The results of the questionnaires were quite surprising in the sense that Muslims didn’t generally know how Islam viewed homosexuality and this was clearly reflected in their ratings of the responses. The all-important question on whether ‘homosexuals are immoral’ proved most surprising. While 70 percent of respondents agreed that homosexuals are immoral, 8.5 percent were undecided on the issue and 20.7 percent viewed them as moral. What is more revealing, is that the respondents were selected from amongst the most conservative of Muslims, those who attended Islamic lectures or Islamic classes. Hence, if these are the results obtained from the conservatively religious, imagine what would be the responses from the wider Muslim population.

Also, most of the respondents in the study were in the 18-25 year-old age group. This finding is an indication of how younger Muslims, through socialisation in the schools, universities and the media, have been desensitized into thinking that homosexuality has a hint of normality attached to it. Most Muslims today are not given the correct information, or if any, on the Islamic view of sexuality. A topic often-considered taboo, Islam however, views otherwise as the famous Prophetic saying states "there is no shyness in religion". Muslims need to be educated about morals in sexuality to remove the notion endorsed in Australia’s Temptation Islandcountry where ‘anything goes’.

The results showed that Muslims were not significantly anti-homosexual as was expected. One important note is the question as to why a group of highly conservative religious Muslims could also not score extremely high on anti-homosexual sentiment as homosexuality is clearly in contradiction to the teachings of Islam. This should be a warning to Muslim educators that we need to open up discussion on the issue of homosexuality for the youth to have a firm understanding on the Islamic perspective. Having primarily a Western view only seems to have lessened their disapproval of homosexual behaviour – a clear reflection of how the society’s attitude towards homosexuality is positively reinforced in the minds of Muslims. An Islamic perspective on the issue of sexual perversions outside the realms of the teaching of Islam need to be addressed to equip young Muslims with the right mechanisms needed to filter out what is being taught at schools and by the media.

It must acknowledge that there is no logical, religious or even scientific explanation for the practice of homosexuality. It needs to be understood that homosexuality is an immoral practice that goes against what Allah had ordained. Whether homosexuality is biological in nature is not an issue. Even so, the ‘gay gene’ theory is a dead issue scientifically, as it does not exist under a microscope. There is no scientific evidence claiming that there is either a homosexual or heterosexual gene. If the homosexual gene existed, then we would find an adultery gene, a suicide gene, a heterosexual gene, an alcoholic gene…etc. Then we will remove any notion of free will and conscious choice and take on board the absurd belief that ‘my genes made me do it!’

Muslims on Conservative Religious Belief and Right-Wing Authoritarianism

An important and pleasant finding was that the Muslim participants were very conservative in their religious belief. The respondents were so conservative, that their scores outweighed all previous research conducted around the world with different religious populations. This is a promising finding considering that despite living in a Western, non-Muslim society, Muslims are still able to hold firmly to their religious beliefs and worldview. The Muslim participants in this Australian study were reportedly more conservative in their religious belief than Muslims in Ghana and Canada (these two populations are the only two previous studies conducted on Muslims).

However, the results of this study may be attributed to sampling choice where the previous studies had chosen Muslim people at random whereas in this study the participants were taken from Islamic lectures that would tend to skew the conservative factor positively.

But is it a bad finding? Definitely not where Islam is concerned. While conservatism will raise a smile from an Islamic viewpoint, it is frowned upon in this secular world. In the psychology literature, the more conservative or "fundamentalist" some like to call it, the more rigid and closed-minded you are. Even psychology has taken on board the word fundamentalist and tried to conceptualise the term in a psychological framework. In current psychology, being a fundamentalist is not a good attribute. The term fundamentalist has been taken out of context and made to denote a negative stereotype among the religious.

We must understand the deception used in terminology conveyed to elicit a negative stance against religion. Anyone who believes in anything, being it an ideology or religion, is essentially a fundamentalist by definition. If you are a scientist, you believe in the fundamental principles of science and you are therefore a scientific fundamentalist. If you are an atheist, then you would believe in the fundamental principles of atheism (hence, atheist fundamentalist). If you are a person who believes in the fundamental principles of democracy, well you are a democratic fundamentalist too. But the big question lies in understanding why the term ‘fundamentalist’ is only attributed to religious belief. Moreover, why is being a religious fundamentalist more negative to being an atheist fundamentalist, or a scientific fundamentalist? This is obviously intended by Western secular psychologists to promote their secular values as right, and anything that contradicts their ideology is essentially wrong. If one were to read the psychological literature on fundamentalism among the religious, nothing short of prejudice against religion in general is found.

As for right-wing authoritarianism, the participants in the study were once again so authoritarian in their thinking that they outscored any other study ever conducted around the world. However, one needs to understand that the scales themselves are riddled with secular bias designed to include questions that would automatically put the religious population in the unpopular end of the scale. This is an example of a consensual bias amongst researchers that religion is a narrow-minded and closed form of thinking. Every researcher has their own philosophical bias, and their studies tend to reflect just that. The problem arises when no one challenges their biased conceptualisations and then they gain a certain following amongst researchers which only gives rise to their narrow-minded theories.

A Muslim person, or any religious person for that matter needs to take no longer than a glance at the questions of these supposed open-minded or right-wing authoritarian questionnaires and realise that it is the supporting of immoral values that gets the points for open-mindedness. The questionnaires measure authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conservatism, all of which correspond with certain religious values. Hence, the less conservative, less submissive to authority, and less aggressive in terms of authority, the more open-minded you are. What the researchers have not realised which until today seems mind boggling is the fact that this line of questioning for open-mindedness certainly does not go beyond morality or religious issues. Are there no other issues, which these researchers could have asked in regards to open-mindedness, like the stance on technology or education which could have al least broadened this narrow-minded focus of theirs? But, moving outside morality as a case for open-mindedness would probably not tie into their prejudicial theories, which they are so desperate to hold on to.

So what do we do about this? Do we hop onto their bandwagon of closed-mindedness or do we strive to revise their way of thinking? Certainly the latter is essential, as the whole conceptualisation of secular psychology needs a total shake up. This inshaAllah is what is intended in the next major part of this ongoing study that will hopefully challenge previous traditional notions of what constitutes open-mindedness. An Islamic Open-mindedness scale is in the making that will be the backbone to guide the study and challenge previous conceptualisations of religious people and their ‘supposed’ closed minded mentality.

Just a final note on homosexuality… There is a logical reason for everything and homosexuality defies both logic and reason.
Anyone wishing to take part or has an interest in the study can email me at:
   SALAM Magazine, http://www.famsy.com/salam/