03/31/2014 05:38 EDT | Updated 06/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Let's Go Forward, Not Backward, on the Issue of Homosexuality in Islam

Recent developments in North America and the U.K. indicate that some neo-conservative Muslim leaders completely sideline the welfare of their LGBT brothers and sisters. They are more concerned about defending their understanding of Islam.

Canadian lawyer and academic, Faisal Kutty, has opined, "Same-sex advocates must accept that others cannot be forced to approve of what they sincerely believe is wrong". Likewise, Dr. Mohammad Naseem, chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque, has asserted, "Nobody should force me to accept something, which is not acceptable".

Such fear mongering is misplaced. In light of societal changes and mutual cooperation between the LGBT and Muslim communities, perhaps, such leaders are afraid that they cannot reasonably justify their religious dogma.

This might explain why some self-styled leaders refuse to acknowledge gay people, employ silly analogies to caricature their lives, and misappropriate the diverse Islamic tradition to put a stranglehold on their lives.

A U.K. based leader has opined, "The Islamic position is that we don't label people by their sexuality ... we don't recognize the term gay ... you should not be saying I must come out of the closet ..." Dr. Naseem has asserted, "A compulsive murderer, gambler, pedophile etc. could present the same logic and ask for accommodation by the society."

Kutty alludes to the prohibitions against "bestiality, anal intercourse (liwaat), masturbation, necrophilia ..." Based on the maqasid (higher objectives) of the Sharia, he argues that "homosexuality" is "unanimously" prohibited as it "threatens" the family institution. However, he qualifies his opinions by asserting that Muslims could support same-sex marriages given the 14th century juristic opinion on tolerating Zoroastrian incest marriages.

Instead of parroting the opinions of past jurists and exegetes, such neo-conservative Muslim leaders can avoid needless defensive posturing by a careful reading of the tradition.

The Islamic legal and literary tradition has classified people on the basis of their sexual expression. These categories include but are not limited to mukhannathun (effeminate males), zarifat (courtly lady lovers) and haba'ib (female beloveds).

The tradition values modesty. While sexual conduct is a private matter, it would be erroneous to conflate that with the 'Don't Ask Don't tell' prescription.

The 11th century jurist Ibn Hazm went so far as to assert, "Love is neither disapproved by Religion, nor prohibited by the Law..." He openly stated of his friend, "... beauty itself was created in his likeness, or fashioned out of the sighs of those who looked upon him: I have never seen his equal in beauty, comeliness, physique ..." It is also noted that the 7th century scholar Al Kisai Al Kufi, who provided one of the seven canonical ways of reading the Qur'an, openly confessed to engaging in same-sex relations.

Those who analogize between compulsive desires and same-sex relationships, view the latter through the lens of addiction, urges and whims instead of intimacy, mawadda (affection) and companionship. Likewise, those who equate bestiality, necrophilia, and pedophilia with same-sex relationships must view that consent is irrelevant for human relationships.

Eliciting the prohibition on same-sex relationships by alluding to the prohibition on anal sex and masturbation is silly. Intimate relationships are not defined by a specific sexual act. Moreover, where Shii authorities contest the prohibition on anal sex, other scholars dispute the prohibition on masturbation.

Even Kutty's view on tolerating same-sex relationships implicitly rests on the analogy with incest, which does not make sense as the critical element of closeness due to blood, semen and milk ties is absent in the case of same-sex relationships.

There is no ijma (consensus) or unanimous position on Muslim same-sex marriage. Among others, Muslim leaders at the el-Tawhid Juma Circle, Muslims for Progressive Values Unity mosques and Universalist Muslims, affirm Muslim same-sex marriages.

Some, but not all, of such community leaders base their convictions on a nuanced reading of the Qur'an and their understanding that the Prophet did not place restrictions on the gender expression of the mukhannathun, who were allowed in his household. Exercising ijtihad (independent reasoning), they incorporate scientific evidence to affirm their position.

How are the maqasid of the Sharia upheld by giving gays and lesbians unnatural options of permanent celibacy or marriage to opposite gender spouses? Kutty's argument that same-sex relationships are prohibited as they threaten the family institution is foreign to the Islamic tradition.

The tradition allows sterile people such as elder women and the khuntha mushkil (intersex people) to get married. Likewise, same-sex marriages do not threaten the family institution unless one believed that straight people would overwhelmingly break off their marriages to pursue same-sex relationships.

If Kutty can selectively parse the tradition to support his viewpoint, then others who uphold the "dynamism and sophistication in Islamic jurisprudence" are also justified in asserting their reading of the tradition.

Some past jurists allowed for sexual conduct with male slaves based on verses 23:6 and 70:30, which refer to milk yamin (legal authority). While the 14th century jurist Ibn Qayyim denounced such an opinion as kufr (disbelief), others like the 19th century jurist Ibn Abidin rejected such a charge.

Regardless, the majority of jurists upheld the immorality of same-sex relationships. They could not countenance a legal same-sex relationship as they viewed same-sex disposition through the lens of ubna and sihaq (diseases that afflicted the private parts).

However, according to Dr. Behnam Sadeghi, jurists change a law when they find it intolerable. He argues that despite changes in social needs and values, if jurists retain the law it means that they find the law tolerable.

It would be a calumny against the life affirming Sharia that upholds haqq (justice) as a cardinal value, to deny intimacy, mawadda (affection) and companionship to a minority of Muslims by recourse to ta'abuddi (obedience) and trial based arguments.

Prescribing gay Muslims to remain in the closet is a bullying tactic that has no basis in the Islamic tradition. Likewise, caricaturing the genuine human need for mawadda as a compulsive desire is a dehumanizing tactic that violates the core Islamic values of human dignity, egalitarianism, compassion and social justice.

This is not the first time neo-conservative Muslim leaders have made such arguments. Unfortunately, it may not be the last. It would be a greatly unfortunate if they reject a reasonable position on their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. However, an even greater misfortune would be if LGBT Muslims allow themselves to be overwhelmed by such silly tactics that have no basis in Islam.


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