Not even 7000 years of joy can justify seven days of repression ~ Hafez
After Orlando, instead of perpetuating the discourse of obscene tastes, calamitous diseases and protecting children, mainstream Muslim leaders have begun reaching out to LGBT brothers and sisters. However, when it comes to LGBT Muslims, conservative Muslim discourse continues to depict homosexuality as a test from Allah.
Many conservative Muslim leaders construe homosexuality as anal intercourse between males and consider the act a major sin. It is viewed as the emblematic crime of Lot's people. Paradoxically, it is argued that, "trials are harder for those with strong faiths but they are lighter for those with weaker faith." This necessitates the question that when did the abomination become a test?
Contemporary scholars like Hamza Yusuf superimpose the medieval category of ma'buns (receptive partners), viewed as evil-doers, onto gay men. Other scholars like Sherman Jackson assert that, "it is futile and perhaps even anti-religious to try to stamp out (sin)." This necessitates the question that when did evil-doers become so exalted so as to be severely tested?
There do seem to be some opinions in Muslim legal manuals that view homosexuality as a test. However, instead of mindless imitation, such opinions warrant a careful scrutiny. Often such opinions emerge from the Saudi sponsored Hanbali school of jurisprudence and can be traced back to the 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyyah.
Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned in his exegetical work that while people generally tilt towards women, some would also be tested in their tilt toward beardless boys. However, this is not a test of lifelong celibacy, for the desire towards boys was deemed superfluous. It was construed as the same desire channeled to women.
Such scholars understood sexuality based on the medical knowledge available to them. Ibn Taymiyyah asserted that it is the insertive partner who has the desire for sex, whereas the receptive partner has no sexual desire except for disease or affliction, financial reasons or other aims.
Al-Ruḥaybani believed that the insertive partner' semen poisons the receptive partner's body such that he does not remain deserving of any good. Ibn Qayyim opined that the receptive partner is dealt a death through penetration after which no life can be wished. Likewise, Ibn Kathir felt that such a person has nothing beneficial for creation. No wonder, Ibn Qudama stated that the male is not an entity for receptive intercourse.
Should such opinions continue to inform rulings in Islamic jurisprudence? Or should such extra-textual information be updated by contemporary consensus amongst professional psychological and psychiatric bodies?
It is important to highlight that contemporary Muslim scholars have picked some opinions from the tradition and sidelined others. This indicates that the tradition as presented by contemporary conservative scholars is skewed by their whims and personal prejudices.
Not many contemporary Muslim scholars support Ibn Taymiyyah's opinion on the ijma (consensus) for the death penalty for liwat (anal intercourse between males). However, they support his opinion that denying the prohibition of liwat constitutes grounds for excommunication. To uphold excommunication, they have to suppress Ibn Abidin's dissenting opinion and exaggerate liwat to the level of the six articles of faith and the five pillars.
Claims of an immutable tradition are exaggerated. In upholding the test argument, contemporary Muslim scholars sideline the opinions of Ibn Qayyim and Al-Ruḥaybani that the receptive partner is beyond reform and is better off being killed. Indeed, the test argument seems more of a contemporary development than a traditional position.
The opinion that homosexuality is a test from Allah is based on mindless submission. The argument is often made that believers must submit even if they do not know the reason behind the ruling. This viewpoint is bolstered by verses that mention that believers do not have a choice in a matter ruled by Allah and the Prophet (33:36) for their response should be "we hear and obey" (24:51).
For conservative Muslims, aql (reason) based arguments are irrelevant as Muslim norms are determined by the text instead of pure reason. However, it is also true that the Qur'an describes those who do not reason as the vilest of creatures (8:22) and condemns them (10:100). The Qur'an is a book for people who reflect and Allah's law is both reasonable and known through appeal to reason.
Challenging unreasonable prescriptions is difficult as they usually rest on unthinking dogma. Yet, it is worthwhile to repeatedly emphasize that needless suffering is abth (useless), self-imposed hardship is not piety and that the law does not cause oppression.
Repression sold in the guise of tests and heavenly reward is zulm (oppression), which must be warded off based on the cardinal legal maxim - raf al harj (repel harm).
Indeed, the Prophet is reported to have admonished against invoking trials and driving people away from the sanctuary. He is also attributed with the saying, "do not harm and accept no harm," on the basis of which a whole school of jurisprudence was even formed.
It is true that not everyone may find companionship in a materialistic world that prizes the superficial and instant gratification. However, this does not mean that homosexuality is a test. Instead, the test is that no matter how bleak the situations get, one retains inner joy and radiates happiness. In short, the test is to live with love, relentless, radical, everlasting love.
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