Co-authored by Dr. Hussein Abdullatif
Recently, Dr. Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre in Toronto, obliged us with a very generous and kind review of our book "Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions."
His review and our great respect for him indicate how difference of opinion on hotly contested issues can be reasonably entertained. We are extremely grateful that he took out the time to read the book, provide dispassionate thoughts and invite others to read as well. He mentions:
"It is an excellent, academic work. It needs to be read by Muslim scholars and by academic scholars as well. It may prove to be a difficult reading for most average people. It is not a light reading, but definitely it is packed with a lot of information - historical, psychological and exegetical ..."
However, as with any work that goes against the classical grain, critical reception has to be expected. Dr. Ally raises several important concerns, which we hope to address as follows.
1. The traditional understanding is not the word of Allah
Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the word of Allah. However, they also understand that any understanding of Allah's word is a human endeavour. This is why Muslim scholars often end their writings with the phrase "Allah knows best."
Our book delves into how the classical scholars understood Allah's word on the issue of homosexuality. We claim that any ruling on the matter is derived from the analogy between Lut's people and Muslim gays and lesbians.
For an analogy to hold there must be crucial common elements between two cases and crucial differences should not render it void.
Resting the analogy between Muslim gays and lesbians and Lut's people on a single sexual act is problematic on many grounds.
Those who argue that the verses on Lut's people prohibit same-sex unions sideline the context of inhospitality (15:71), ambushing travellers and evil deeds in public assemblies. They pluck the phrase atatoona rijjala shahwatan (approaching men with desire) out of its context, define it as anal intercourse between males, and consider it as the emblematic crime of Lut's people.
However, resting the analogy between Muslim gays and lesbians and Lut's people on a single sexual act is problematic on many grounds.
First, same-sex relationships rest on intimacy, affection and companionship beyond a single sexual act. Second, the context of inhospitality, ambushing travellers, and coercing Lut to relinquish his guests does not apply to Muslim gays and lesbians and makes the analogy void.
Third, eliciting the prohibition of marital relationships based on similar illustrations of sexual violence such as that of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19, or the Abu Ghraib prison in contemporary times is unreasonable.
Is surrounding Lut's house to demand access to his guests indicative of a pursuit of same-sex relationships? Is it reasonable to superimpose a ruling derived from the conduct of a lunatic fringe of humanity onto our Muslim gay and lesbian youth?
In essence, Muslims submit to Allah's wisdom, but it is also true that this submission is not mindless. It rests on a reasonable understanding of His word. Those who sustain the traditional understanding conflate that viewpoint with Allah's word, which is unwarranted.
2. The phrase "approaching men with desire" is not about same-sex unions
Verses 7:81, 26:165-166 and 27:55 indicate that Lut's people "approached men with desire." Muslims believe that the Qur'an should be understood on the basis of the Qur'an. Therefore, in our book, we delve into the etymological roots of the phrase to understand if it is referring to the conduct of gay men.
Dr. Ally argues that it would be an etymological fallacy to construe the phrase "approaching men with desire" as "approaching non-receptive entities." He feels that the Qur'anic condemnation is general and that the phrase in the context of 7th century Arabia simply refers to "approaching males" without force.
However, a plain reading of the verses necessitates the question that how did a people, and not just the minority of constitutional homosexuals, approach other men. Understanding the Qur'an by the Qur'an provides us with an answer.
The Qur'an illustrates their approach as one of demanding access to Lut's guests. Men in general are not receptive to the advances of other men and females in general are partial to the overtures of men. The Qur'an operates with this notion of implied consent and therefore deems the approach of Lut's people as coercive.
In essence, the Qur'an itself illustrates how the approach of Lut's people was imbued with force. Therefore, making these texts about gay men and same-sex unions amounts to unwarranted speculation.
3) Procedural issues can be addressed after affirming same-sex unions
Once Muslim scholars affirm a principle, the procedural issues are easily addressed. For instance, while past jurists accepted the marriage of the khuntha mushkil (intersex person) in principle, they debated on procedural issues. Where some restricted the intersex person to one gender, others allowed them either based on their inner constitution.
Similarly, once the principle of Muslim same-sex unions is affirmed, procedural issues related to the marriage of bisexuals, polygamy, and distinguishing between constitutional gays and those who act out of superfluous desire can all be addressed.
Since the marriage contract is part of muamalaat (social transactions), stipulations can restrict the marriage to one partner, as in the case of the Tunisian family reforms. The marriage of bisexuals can be addressed based on how past jurists dealt with the non-binary in the case of the marriage of intersex persons. Finally, those who pursue superfluous desires are already doing so and the question of a marriage contract is moot.
However, other Muslims may have a different opinion. This is to be expected as in the case of issues like women leading prayers and interfaith marriages. Therefore, instead of putting each other down, Muslims should nurture spaces that accommodate people of all theological persuasions.
Muslims often mention of the rich tradition of active debate and dissent in Islamic scholarship. Dr. Ally's review shows how such a tradition is still alive and for that we are extremely grateful.
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