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Mehdi Hasan: As a Muslim, I Struggle With the Idea Of Homosexuality – But I Oppose Homophobia

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(h/t: Alfred J.)

As a Muslim, I Struggle With the Idea Of Homosexuality – But I Oppose Homophobia

Via Huffington Post

‘Tis the season of apologies – specifically, grovelling apologies by some of our finest academic brains for homophobic remarks they’ve made in public. The Cambridge University theologian Dr Tim Winter, one of the UK’s leading Islamic scholars, apologised on 2 May after footage emerged showing him calling homosexuality the “ultimate inversion” and an “inexplicable aberration”. “The YouTube clip is at least 15 years old, and does not in any way represent my present views . . . we all have our youthful enthusiasms, and we all move on.”

The Harvard historian Professor Niall Ferguson apologised “unreservedly” on 4 May for “stupid” and “insensitive” comments in which he claimed that the economist John Maynard Keynes hadn’t cared about “the long run” because he was gay and had no intention of having any children.

Dare I add my non-academic, non-intellectual voice to the mix? I want to issue my own apology. Because I’ve made some pretty inappropriate comments in the past, too.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that, as a teenager, I was one of those wannabe-macho kids who crudely deployed “gay” as a mark of abuse; you will probably be shocked to discover that shamefully, even in my twenties, I was still making the odd disparaging remark about homosexuality.

It’s now 2013 and I’m 33 years old. My own “youthful enthusiasm” is thankfully, if belatedly, behind me.

What happened? Well, for a start, I grew up. Bigotry and demonisation of difference are usually the hallmark of immature and childish minds. But, if I’m honest, something else happened, too: I acquired a more nuanced understanding of my Islamic faith, a better appreciation of its morals, values and capacity for tolerance.

Before we go any further, a bit of background – I was attacked heavily a few weeks ago by some of my co-religionists for suggesting in these pages that too many Muslims in this country have a “Jewish problem” and that we blithely “ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in our own backyard”.

I hope I won’t provoke the same shrieks of outrage and denial when I say that many Muslims also have a problem, if not with homosexuals, then with homosexuality. In fact, a 2009 poll by Gallup found that British Muslims have zero tolerance towards homosexuality. “None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable,” the Guardian reported in May that year.

Some more background. Orthodox Islam, like orthodox interpretations of the other Abrahamic faiths, views homosexuality as sinful and usually defines marriage as only ever a heterosexual union.

This isn’t to say that there is no debate on the subject. In April, the Washington Post profiled Daayiee Abdullah, who is believed to be the only publicly gay imam in the west. “[I]f you have any same-sex marriages,” the Post quotes him as saying, “I’m available.” Meanwhile, the gay Muslim scholar Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, who teaches Islamic studies at Emory University in the United States, says that notions such as “gay” or “lesbian” are not mentioned in the Quran. He blames Islam’s hostility towards homosexuality on a misreading of the texts by ultra-conservative mullahs.

And, in his 2011 book Reading the Quran, the British Muslim intellectual and writer Ziauddin Sardar argues that “there is abso­lutely no evidence that the Prophet punished anyone for homosexuality”. Sardar says “the demonisation of homosexuality in Muslim history is based largely on fabricated traditions and the unreconstituted prejudice harboured by most Muslim societies”. He highlights verse 31 of chapter 24 of the Quran, in which “we come across ‘men who have no sexual desire’ who can witness the ‘charms’ of women”. I must add here that Abdullah, Kugle and Sardar are in a tiny minority, as are the members of gay Muslim groups such as Imaan. Most mainstream Muslim scholars – even self-identified progressives and moderates such as Imam Hamza Yusuf in the United States and Professor Tariq Ramadan in the UK – consider homosexuality to be a grave sin. The Quran, after all, explicitly condemns the people of Lot for “approach[ing] males” (26:165) and for “lust[ing] on men in preference to women” (7:81), and describes marriage as an institution that is gender-based and procreative.

What about me? Where do I stand on this? For years I’ve been reluctant to answer questions on the subject. I was afraid of the “homophobe” tag. I didn’t want my gay friends and colleagues to look at me with horror, suspicion or disdain.

So let me be clear: yes, I’m a progressive who supports a secular society in which you don’t impose your faith on others – and in which the government, no matter how big or small, must always stay out of the bedroom. But I am also (to Richard Dawkins’s continuing disappointment) a believing Muslim. And, as a result, I really do struggle with this issue of homosexuality. As a supporter of secularism, I am willing to accept same-sex weddings in a state-sanctioned register office, on grounds of equity. As a believer in Islam, however, I insist that no mosque be forced to hold one against its wishes.

If you’re gay, that doesn’t mean I want to discriminate against you, belittle or bully you, abuse or offend you. Not at all. I don’t want to go back to the dark days of criminalisation and the imprisonment of gay men and women; of Section 28 and legalised discrimination. I’m disgusted by the violent repression and persecution of gay people across the Muslim-majority world.

I cringe as I watch footage of the buffoonish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals . . . we do not have this phenomenon.” I feel sick to my stomach when I read accounts of how, in the late 1990s, the Taliban in Afghanistan buried gay men alive and then toppled brick walls on top of them.

Nor is this an issue only in the Middle East and south Asia. In March, a Muslim caller to a radio station in New York stunned the host after suggesting, live on air, that gay Americans should be beheaded in line with “sharia law”. Here in the UK, in February, Muslim MPs who voted in favour of the same-sex marriage bill – such as the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan – faced death threats and accusations of apostasy from a handful of Muslim extremists. And last year, a homophobic campaign launched by puffed-up Islamist gangs in east London featured ludicrous and offensive stickers declaring the area a “gay-free zone”.

I know it might be hard to believe, but Islam is not a religion of violence, hate or intolerance – despite the best efforts of a minority of reactionaries and radicals to argue (and behave) otherwise. Out of the 114 chapters of the Quran, 113 begin by introducing the God of Islam as a God of mercy and compassion. The Prophet Muhammad himself is referred to as “a mercy for all creation”. This mercy applies to everyone, whether heterosexual or homosexual. As Tariq Ramadan has put it: “I may disagree with what you are doing because it’s not in accordance with my belief but I respect who are you are.” He rightly notes that this is “a question of respect and mutual understanding”.

I should also point out here that most British Muslims oppose the persecution of homosexuals. A 2011 poll for the think tank Demos found that fewer than one in four British Muslims disagreed with the statement “I am proud of how Britain treats gay people”.

There is much to be proud of, but still much to be done. Homophobic bullying is rife in our schools. Nine out of ten gay or lesbian teenagers report being bullied at school over their sexual orientation. LGBT teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Despite the recent slight fall in “sexual orientation hate crimes”, in 2012 there were still 4,252 such crimes in England and Wales, four out of every five of which involved “violence against the person”. In March, for instance, a man was jailed for killing a gay teenager by setting him on fire; the killer scrawled homophobic insults across 18-year-old Steven Simpson’s face, forearm and stomach.

Regular readers will know that I spend much of my time speaking out against Islamophobic bigotry: from the crude stereotyping of Muslims in the media and discrimi­nation against Muslims in the workplace to attacks on Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship.

The truth is that Islamophobia and homophobia have much in common: they are both, in the words of the (gay) journalist Patrick Strudwick, “at least partly fuelled by fear. Fear of the unknown . . .” Muslims and gay people alike are victims of this fear – especially when it translates into hate speech or physical attacks. We need to stand side by side against the bigots and hate-mongers, whether of the Islamist or the far-right variety, rather than turn on one another or allow ourselves to be pitted against each other, “Muslims v gays”.

We must avoid stereotyping and demonising each other at all costs. “The biggest question we have as a society,” says a Muslim MP who prefers to remain anonymous, “is how we accommodate difference.”

Remember also that negative attitudes to homosexuality are not the exclusive preserve of Muslims. In 2010, the British Social Attitudes survey showed that 36 per cent of the public regarded same-sex relations as “always” or “mostly wrong”.

A Muslim MP who voted in favour of the same-sex marriage bill tells me that most of the letters of protest that they received in response were from evangelical Christians, not Muslims. And, of course, it wasn’t a Muslim who took the life of poor Steven Simpson.

Yet ultimately I didn’t set out to write this piece to try to bridge the gap between Islam and homosexuality. I am not a theo­logian. Nor am I writing this in response to the ongoing parliamentary debate about the pros and cons of same-sex marriage. I am not a politician.

I am writing this because I want to live in a society in which all minorities – Jews, Muslims, gay people and others – are protected from violence and abuse, from demonisation and discrimination. And because I want to apologise for any hurt or offence that I may have caused to my gay brothers and lesbian sisters.

And yes, whatever our differences – straight or gay, religious or atheist, male or female – we are all brothers and sisters. As the great Muslim leader of the 7th century and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib, once declared: “Remember that people are of two kinds; they are either your brothers in religion or your brothers in mankind.”

Mehdi Hasan is political director of the Huffington Post UK and a contributing writer for the New Statesman, where this article is crossposted

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  • Jekyll


  • Hyde

    Well, hello there missy…I guess I am not being obnoxious now, am I? (LOL!)

    “Cultural hegemony”, a Marxist garmacian term. But yeah Democracy works by shoving it down people’s throat…what if you do not want democracy? It the only option for mankind? Democracy by nature is not very democratic. The Jirga system is Swat Valley works for them, then let them be!!!

    We are all Americans (Rammstein song) and this cultural dominates the world. Why do people in Tibet know about Brad Pitt? Why? Do you know any Chinese celebrities, Asian shows, etc., etc. ? Why are the Afghan considered backwards? Because they are all born terrorist, misogynists, rapists, etc.?

    “…tiresome…” I hardly think it is just happenstance that Western culture and form of system predominates the world. There is something deliberate, something occultism in nature. I love the west, from Wagner to Pound to good ole Daniel Boone…but forced why they can’t be like us is alarming.

    Look at this way, and I am not trying to be patronizing, if I were to go Washington Park across from NYU and say “ I am a Muslim and I support gay marriage”, I would probably get a round of applause, yet one can imagine what
    would happen, If I said the opposite. Conservatives in this country are piles
    of crap since they have ruined religion and common sense for everybody (i.e. Westborough Baptist church), yet the liberals, progressives, etc. only too accept what they only agree with. And this toxic culture goes down the gutter to people who don’t have anything to with them…i.e. Muslim “world”.

    For example, excuse the impropriety, there is literally no one living in today’s times in the West, who has not seen a naked woman by the times they are in their 20’s. I find it very difficult to believe the opposite.
    Weather it is relationships, pornography, one night stands, whatever. When they
    showed hardcore pornographic images to prisoners at Gitmo, some of the young
    men from rural places in Afghanistan cringed, because they had never seen such stuff. Yet the affect was passé for the punks they picked up from anywhere
    else. Now if Muslim countries were to say pornography is illegal, would the
    West support that, knowing full well that being a pornographic actor is a full
    legal right for somebody in the West?

    The West has human rights, the Muslims have Divine rights…I really would like to see a re-interruption or re-reading of Huntington’s essay…

    ay, there’s the rub [Hamlet]

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Modern notions of truth are malleable and can change over time. I understand the Orthodox argument that they rather stick to tradition in the face of an unpredictable modernity that may very well revert to its view on a certain matter in the future.

    I find however that this issue highlights on the meta level that there is an epistemological problem or even crisis possibly for Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy if it is unable to incorporate and synthesize new knowledge or understandings into its universes. In the past jurists and scholars were very good at this however there have been problems in modernity. For instance so many problems and questions arise in a societal and theological perspective from the fact that God created individuals with this natural inclination and then he would punish them for acting on it?

    I oppose the West imposing anything on other cultures but there is a healthy debate to be had. I was unaware the 20th anniversary of Huntington’s article is coming soon, thanks for the tip, will definitely consider an article.

  • Hyde

    Thanks for answering back a three month article.

    What is one’s heart is one thing and no can should be punished for that (“should”, could is a different story).

    Modern science will one day probably say incest is a biological function as well…theoretically speaking it is right ?

    Sexual politics maybe foreign in discussion outside of the West, but the West as usual forces everybody to follow their dictum. And what annoys me more than anything is not homosexuals or whatever, but when people use scriptures to defend their individualistic “nafsi” desires.

    I recently read a article by lesbian on patheos saying all Muslim countries should sign the UN declaration of human right including for lgb…people. I find that offensive. Western “cultural hegemony”. (Then again I find the UN offensive).

    I think it is the 20th anniversary of Huntington’s clash of civilization essay in FA. Would be interested in reading a post on it, if you have the time.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Should homosexuals be punished for being homosexuals Hyde?

    Do you accept what modern medicine and psychology have stated regarding human sexuality, having long ago ceased to classify homosexuality as abnormal or perverse?

    God clearly created some people with a strong inclination to the same sex, would you agree?

  • 1DrM

    Seems like my reply got caught in spam. Doesn’t matter since you’re just repeating yourself like a broken record, munafiq.

  • El Cid

    “As a Christian…”

    As a Christian which Bible are you reading? KJV, Mark 12:3 reads as follows:
    [Mark12:3] “And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.”

    Perhaps it was a typo and you meant [Mark 12:31], or [Matthew22:39] “Love they neighbor as thyself.” Where Jesus, a Jew, not a Christian, quotes from the Book he upheld [Leviticus 19:18] and states that the second greatest commandment is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. These neighbors are Hebrew Tribes, Moses Blood Jews, not any others as is clear from the rest of the verse.

    The first and greatest commandment being, Jesus said: “Hear O’ Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord”[Mark12:29].[King James Bible “Authorized Version”, Cambridge Edition].

    Obviously, according to Mark, Jesus had a God. One God. As is also fundamental to Muhammad’s teaching, and One God, ALLAH, of Islam [The Glorious Qur’an: Sura112]: “Say (O’ Muhammad) He is ALLAH, The One, Eternal…”

    Nevertheless the rest of your post is way off mark, no pun intended. For example you state: “…”love our neighbors as ourselves” and that is not followed by qualifiers, but is to apply to everyone, Christian and non-Christian – whoever- alike”.

    NOT so. NOT True. Please note that your statement is not backed by the Holy Bible. For The Holy Bible, OT and NT, has qualifiers. And these are absolute. And the Westboro Baptist Church can only play second fiddle at best, to the Pauline Christian Church and the Christian Bible in bigotry. Westboro Church is only a nuisance. The Bible Command is ‘Total Kill’. To kill ALL others, including babies and your dearest blood kin, as follows:

    KILL THEM ALL: Old Testament [Deuteronomy 13:6-10]“If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you … Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die.”

    ALSO: Search and destroy…kill, ravage, despoil all inhabitants, including cattle of the city that does not believe like you do [Deut13:14-16].

    OSTRACIZE and SHUN ALL others: New Testament [2Corinthians 6:14-18] “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?…Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate from them, touch not the unclean, saith the Lord.”

    AND those who do not receive you in their city, or hear your words (in the Evangelical sense) then that city shall have worse fate than “Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment”[Matthew10:14-15].

    AND The Holy Bible, but NOT the Noble Qur’an, tells you that Jesus was the ultimate racist. It also commands that if you see a biracial couple making love: Spear them from the back of the male into the belly of the female and Lord God will love you, protect you and forgive you.

    I leave that for you to read and verify for yourself…unless you want a reference, in context, for that too.

    No thoughtful person can remain true to oneself and be a Christian after reading the Holy Bible. It makes its god, and prophets, including Jesus…vile.

    Your comment is not backed by the Holy Bible, OT or NT. It is either based on ignorance of the unread innocent, or the droppings of deliberate falsehood of the deceitful self righteous evangelist. Your comment is repudiated as false.

    [El Cid]

  • El Cid

    Who is Laurence Krauss? What line? You shound have explained a bit more for us.

    However, the one whose work I am familier with is Lawrence Maxwell Krauss. He is an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist who is a professor of physics, Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and director of Arizona State University’s Origins Project. An Atheist.
    If this is him, how does he fit here? You may have made a mistake.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I don’t make my judgements based on anything any individual or group has to say. You are are the one jumping the gun here, I never said Islam says you can receive spiritual or moral guidance from your vague reference to “cultural practice.”

    Mehdi’s article isn’t even a defense of sodomy or homosexuality from the perspective of theology. So why make the claim it is? Mehdi is saying he struggles with the concept and that clearly the Quran references it as sinful to engage in BUT he notes that does not mean one should be homophobic.

    To have any claim to want to fight bigotry against one’s own group you have to at least be consistent across the board.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I wouldn’t fancy telling anyone who identifies strongly with a particular identity that they are just reacting to some sort of export either. The historical and contextual perspective however is very important to the discussion and can’t be dismissed easily.

    You may be reading what I wrote and drawing false conclusions. For instance some assume that the meaning of the influence of the West was that it led to a “liberalizing” of Muslim majority countries but this a type of conceit, in fact in many ways they pushed Victorian norms onto society. Also I think it is a fair point to make that current discourse about homosexual identity is dominated by the Western gay rights movement and in our globalized world this is especially the case.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Good books to start reading on this topic is the important treatment by Khaled el-Rouayheb in his “Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World,” as well as “Desiring Arabs” by Joseph Massad.

    Detailed discussions on how homoerotic love was viewed and discussed for centuries in the Muslim majority world and shows that homosexuality did not exist as a concept in the culture.

    Massad talks about how the concept of homosexuality has evolved in Arab societies largely as a reaction to colonialism, the Western gay rights movement and the exporting of sexual identity politics.

  • You get tax benefits for being married. The government has to be in that business.

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