In October, I attended a panel discussion at George Washington University entitled Islam & Homosexuality: Muslim Perspectives. The room was packed, standing room only. There were four Muslim speakers and each approached the topic from a unique perspective, I found the discussion illuminating.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik’s portion of the discussion: (24:16)
Dr. Amal Amireh of George Mason University: Began the discussion by introducing the idea that “talking about homosexuality is risky, but not talking about these issues is even riskier.” She stated that we cannot talk about Islam and homosexuality without being islamophobic, because framing the discussion in this manner treats Islam with undue exceptionalism for the discussion would be similar even if the talk had been titled more generally as Religion and Homosexuality or Christianity and Homosexuality.
Trying to create categories of Islamic homophobia or Islamofascism is troubling, no other religion is treated in this exceptional manner. We do not see anyone using the terms Christian fascism or Judeofascism, etc.
A side note: Dr Amireh mentioned that Jerusalem, which is a divided city, amongst the three major monotheistic faiths was united by hatred against the annual gay pride parade.
Imam Daayiee Abdullah of Al-Fatiha Foundation: The most bizarre and unorthodox set of comments came from Daaiyee Abdullah.
Daayiee Abdullah interprets the story of Lot as a story about heterosexual men using rape as a tool of power. He explained that he views hadeeth as stories to guide us, not to be taken literally, certainly not to harm people, especially since there are fabricated or inaccurate hadeeth.
He mentioned that “LGBTQ Muslims need to work towards justice for all, not just us.” He mentioned three prominent Muslim thinkers that he believes are performing cutting-edge work today by reinterpreting Islamic texts: Amina Wadud, Khaled Abou Fadl, and Scott Kugle.
During the question and answer session, Daaiyee Abdullah, had an emotional outburst which received the largest applause of the night by the mostly non-Muslim crowd. Daaiyee Abdullah took exception to the framing of the discussion in terms of the prevailing heterosexual prism and how anything outside of that prism is presented as wrong. And that homosexuality is always presented as a test to be overcome, and so he asked, “if it is a test, what does a passing score look like?”
As a side note: Daaiyee Abdullah believes muta (short contract marriages) are permissible.
Dr. Hisham Mahmoud of Princeton University: Dr. Mahmoud presented the orthodox view of homosexuality primarily utilizing verses from the Quran and hadeeth. The verses in the Quran mention “three strikes against the people of Lot”:
1. They came to men with lust
2. They cut off the highways
3.They committed these acts in public gatherings
Lot offered his own daughters to the men of the town by saying that they were purer for them. There is a scholarly difference of opinion over what is meant by the word “daughters”, Dr. Mahmoud said the majority of the scholars believe this word refers more generally to the believing women of the town and not his biological daughters. But the men refused this heterosexual marriage/pairing in preference for homosexual ones.
He mentioned that homosexuality was not unknown or ignored in the works of classical Muslim authors but even so it was not condoned. Dr. Mahmoud mentioned one story from a scholar from Al-Andalus, Ibn Hazm’s (died 456AH) work The Ring of the Dove. Ibn Hazm, once attended a party where he saw two men clearly infatuated with each other so Ibn Hazm tried to alert the host through subtle lines of poetry but his host was unmoved. So Ibn Hazm tried again with blunter prose:
I have no doubt, of all mankind
You have the least suspicious mind,
Secure, as all good Muslims ought
To be, in faith, intention, thought.
Wake from your daydreams! Don’t you know
This very evening So-and-so,
A guest whom you invited in,
Committed a most grievous sin?
I think you ought to be aware
Men bend for other things than prayer,
And you have certainly taught me,
Not every one with eyes can see!
As for the punishment, Dr. Mahmoud said this is left to jurists to decide and that some consider homosexuality like fornication and/or adultery. He concluded by saying that homosexuality is a test to strive and struggle against for a Muslim.
Imam Johari AbdulMalik of Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center: The most robust talk of the night was given by Imam Johari. I admit that I always like to hear Imam Johari speak, his knowledge, manner, and style of speaking is always clear, concise, and lively.
Imam Johari began by saying that a Muslim is one that submits his or her will to the best of one’s ability to the one who created us. He mentioned the hadeeth that “actions are [known] by intentions” and that we as Muslims must get our priorities straight. The priorities for a believer should be to seek that which is pleasing to Allah by an authentic understanding of scriptures. And that our primary relationship with everyone should be in relation to our creator and not in relation to a person’s race or sexual orientation.
A few more hadeeth were mentioned: The hadeeth of Aisha radiyAllahu anha: that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam first called the people to belief in Allah, if he had begun by forbidding fornication, drinking alcohol, etc. no one would have followed him.
Hadeeth of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam: Three things lead to destruction: Thinking you know better than everyone else, following your desires, and miserliness.
Imam Johari used the analogy of pork and how he knew from the days before his Islam that pork “tastes sweet” and that no one raised as a Muslim that has never eaten it can tell you that “pork is nasty” and in a similar fashion, if a someone says, “gay sex is nasty,” just ask them, “how do you know?” Otherwise, the are speaking without knowledge.
Sexuality is intended to be a private affair, sexual transgressions like adultery, fornication, and homosexuality require four witness, meaning there had to be a level of openness like PDAs (public displays of affection). Imam Johari does not believe that the Quran sanctions violence against gays.
Imam Johari knows many Muslims that are living with sexually transmitted diseases particularly HIV, who are afraid to seek help or assistance in the Muslim community due to the stigma attached to HIV as a “gay disease.” He mentioned that, “It’s time to get past our homophobia to help human beings.”
David Katana, a gay DC council member was called a “faggot” by a Muslim man. Amazingly, Katana said that he did not feel minimized nor degraded by the comment because he knew from Imam Johari that that kind of behavior is not Islam.
From the Storehouse:
Imam Johari: Preparation and Words
Imam Joahri: On NPR