There Is No Place for Homophobia in Islam

04/15/2013 12:23 EDT | Updated 06/15/2013 05:12 EDT

In his April 11 show, "The Arab Underground," conservative political activist Ezra Levant interviewed a former Israeli army officer to highlight the imparting of homophobia in the government funded Edmonton Islamic Academy.

He aired a video clip, which showed the Imam of the Al Rashid Mosque expressing his discomfort in associating with queer people and equating them with those suffering from diabetes, cancer or AIDS.

Levant expressed concern on gay-straight alliances being "illegally" forced on Catholic schools and also stated that anti-bullying was "over the top" and that "people should be allowed to have stern religious views."

Where Levant is concerned with Islam-bashing rather than the welfare of gay youth, the Imam emphasizes social ostracism rather than tolerance and as such both seem to have ignored human dignity, a notion central to both Judaism and Islam.

Students of Islamic law are familiar with the limitations of analogical reasoning. Several pious Muslims elders suffer from diabetes and cancer. By imparting the lesson on social ostracism of queer people, does the Imam wish to imply the same for Muslim elders through his analogy?

While, conservative Muslims have the right to abide by norms generated within a classical Muslim framework, there is no place for homophobia in Islam. Conservative Muslim leaders have the right to not bless same-sex couples; however, they cannot impugn Islamic teachings on compassion based on personal feelings of disgust.

Indeed, the Muslim tradition contains numerous instances of recognizing the human dignity of all people including those deemed to have violated the Islamic law. A 9th century Muslim scholar Al Thaqafi related an eschatological anecdote in which the soul of a 'mukhannath -- feminine male' is depicted with heavenly grace given the immense prejudice experienced by him during his earthly life as a male prostitute.

Likewise, even the 18th century founder of the Wahhabi movement had issued a 'fatwa -- religious edict' that notwithstanding any "deviant sexual behaviour," the 'mukhannath' should not be socially ostracized or policed and instead be included as part of the Muslim community.

A narrative attributed to the Prophet emphasizes the distinction between a sinner and a moral prig where the former is met by God's mercy whereas the latter is damned for spiritual stinginess by policing the sinner. A similar narrative depicts two women instead where one is a female prostitute who is showered with mercy for giving water to a thirsty dog.

In a similar spirit, the 20th century Shaikh Taraboulsi had cautioned against judging people by stating that "dishonorable men in times of strife and hardship have stepped into the gaps honourable men deserted in despair."

These examples emphasize that the Islamic tradition favours inclusion instead of exclusion and tolerance instead of judgment. If the Islamic tradition affirms the human dignity of sexually variant individuals as part of the Muslim community then conservative Muslim leaders need to reflect on the values they are imparting to future Muslim citizens of the Canadian society.

Conservative Muslim parents need to be concerned whether their children are being taught values of tolerance or exclusion. Do they want them to be like those Muslim students at Jarvis Collegiate who had allegedly harassed members of the queer community in Toronto or like Ridgemont High School graduate Inshar Khan who denounced homophobia in his slam poem in Ottawa?

Given that contemporary Islamic jurisprudence recognizes minority human sexual orientation, they may also wish to think about the possibility of their own son or daughter struggling with their sexuality or being married to someone else's closeted ward. How long and what would it take for them to rise above their cultural norms to address an issue that impacts many in the community?

Conservative Muslim leaders may want to heed the hallowed sayings of the Prophet, who came as mercy for all mankind and not just the pious. Indeed, the Prophet taught that "keeping good relations with people was better than prayer, fasting and charity" and that "dearest to God are those who treat His children kindly."

Likewise, instead of exploiting the gay issue to create fear-mongering and distrust of Muslims, Levant may want to learn about Ottawa-based Muslims for Progressive Values who provide unstinted support for LGBTQ rights.

Finally, if the Canadian government is concerned about interpretations of Islam that are consistent with Canadian democratic values, they may wish to support Muslims for Progressive Values who affirm equality, diversity, compassion, separation of state and religious authorities, universal human rights, freedom of speech, women's rights and critical analysis and interpretation.

Gay Pride Around The World