Guest Post by Junaid Jahangir
“One of the most successful ways of controlling a population, says Dr Samar Habib, “is to convince them that they have neither the authority or the knowledge or the skill to be able to interpret scripture themselves. And you then create a monopoly of knowledge that resides in a particular religious leader.”
Conservative Muslim groups prop up celebrity preachers with puritan indoctrination and foreign funding. For them, Islam is less about exploring spirituality and more about identity politics. An easy way to play such politics is by riling against homosexuality. As such, LGBT Muslims not only face anti-Muslim bigotry in the current climate but also homophobia and transphobia from their own faith communities.
They are blatantly silenced with Quranic verses like 7:81, 26:165-166 or 27:55, which condemn approaching men with desire instead of women. Sometimes, various Hadith are quoted to prescribe the death penalty for homosexuals. Two of these texts read as follows.
Do you indeed approach men with desire instead of women? Rather, you are a people behaving ignorantly. (27:55)
The Prophet said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done. (Sunan Abu-Dawood – Book 38 Hadith 4447)
Conservative Muslims insist that since these texts are clear enough, any human interpretation merely serves to flame personal desires. They also try to silence those with dissenting opinions through charges of apostasy. Naturally, Muslim LGBT youth find themselves buried under the weight of this tradition.
Even some Muslim LGBT activists feel hopeless about a conversation on the issue. Some of them also find the institution of marriage too heteronormative and so focus their attention on other issues including white privilege and culture appropriation.
However, Muslim LGBT activists must understand that religion is too powerful a tool to be left to the hands of hateful ideologues. Since hetero-sexist opinions are justified under the guise of freedom of religious expression, it is important to address the intersection of Islamic law and same-sex unions.
A possible dialogue with conservative Muslims could start with verses like 5:51 and 2:216, which read as follows.
O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends … (5:51)
Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you … (2:216)
Like the texts on homosexuality, these verses are also clear enough. There also exist texts on the massacre of the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza, slavery and concubinage. Conservative interlocutors may respond by alluding to the translation of words and the need to look at all relevant texts collectively.
Indeed, they may claim that plucking stand-alone verses out of their historical context is a strategy employed by terrorist groups like ISIS. However, it is here conservative Muslims have to be reminded to consistently apply the same rigorous approach to the texts on homosexuality.
Conservative Muslims may find it easy to avoid simplistic readings of verses on concubinage and warfare because of apriori values they bring to the reading of the Qur’an. As the 11th century theologian al-Ghazali confirmed, no one can escape social conditioning, which informs how we decide the good and the bad in this world.
Since conservative Muslims largely view the consensus among professional psychologists and psychiatrists on homosexuality with skepticism, their conditioning does not allow them to take a reasonable opinion on the issue. In short, it is deep-rooted hetero-sexism that allows them to read the texts on homosexuality simplistically and acontextually.
While the bias of LGBT Muslims is clear as they wish for a life based on intimacy, affection and companionship, it is even more important for conservative Muslims to check their hetero-sexism, which manifests through clichés of separating “the act” from “desires.”
Once this hurdle is surmounted, conservative Muslims may note how puritanism allows them to uphold the Hadith texts on the death punishment for homosexuality, which were deemed weak by the classical Hadith experts.
The relevant Qur’anic verses are addressed to readers, a majority of whom may experience situational same-sex desire, but are not constitutionally defined as exclusive sexual minorities. The language treats males as insertive entities and as such non-receptive or “straight”. The male readers are therefore reasonably cautioned against pursuing other straight men and instead directed towards women.
However, gay men cannot reasonably be assumed to have desire that is oriented towards women, which is a clear indication that the verses hold generally while allowing for exceptions. In other words, the texts are silent on sexual minorities.
Viewing the word “males” as non-receptive or straight should not be novel, for classical discussions also contest whether the word “daughters” literally referred to Lot’s daughters or the women of the city. As such, a reading based on nuance and subtlety is warranted.
It is unreasonable to view Lot’s people as gay couples, as that would ridiculously imply that all the men in a town would commit highway robbery and evil deeds in public assemblies and then come home to their male partners to say, “Honey, I’m home.” Indeed, a simplistic reading leads towards unreasonable conclusions.
It would be absurd to expect the Quran to allow same-sex legal contracts explicitly, as the Qur’an cannot be reduced to a legal compendium. Rather, it offers universal principles to guide our morality. Just as we have grown averse to slavery and have adopted a more nuanced interpretation of Islamic texts on this subject, we should also be mature enough to facilitate consensual same-sex unions.