Dr. Bilal Philips, an influential Islamic scholar, will be speaking at the Canada Day long weekend conference hosted by the Muslim Council of Calgary. He is wellnoted for his literalist approach in prescribing thedeath penalty for “homosexuals” under Sharia law. However, he is neither God’s spokesperson, nor does he speak for all Muslims.
Early in May, the Islamic Circle of North America, a conservative Muslim organization, expressing fear on the destruction of family, released a press statement against President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage. Around the same time,Muslims for Progressive Values, a dissenting grassroots organization, citing the Islamic emphasis on justice, welcomed the President’s courageous statement. Like dissenting denominations in Judaism and Christianity, Islam is not a monolith.
Conservative Muslims argue that by using variants of the phrase “you approach men lustfully instead of women” in verses 7:81, 26:165-166 and 27:55, the Qur’an condemns same-sex relationships as a transgression. However, dissenting Muslims argue that such a reading fails to appreciate context and linguistics. They also mention how extreme fanatics have bastardized the sacred texts by quoting verses stripped of their context.
Based on a contextual analysis, it becomes clear that the Qur’an is portraying a picture of coercion, exploitation and inhospitality. Specifically, verse 29:29 alludes to highway robbery and verse15:70 refers to Lot’s people prohibiting him from entertaining guests. Secondary Muslim texts, including “The History of Al-Tabari” and “Tales of the Prophets” further elaborate on this context.
Based on a linguistic analysis, Alabama based Dr. Hussein Abdul Latif indicates that the Qur’anic words for male and female connote non-receptive and receptive entities respectively. As such, the prohibitive phrase can be construed as approaching an unwilling partner rather than a willing partner. Thus, even the stand-alone phrase appears to connote exploitation.
Furthermore, based on past authorities, both Dr. Hussein Abdul Latif and Dr. Scott Kugle at Emory University have argued against the authenticity of texts attributed to the Prophet on this issue. This only substantiates how conservative Muslims mask their prejudice behind dubious texts.
Conservative Muslims, however, have tradition by their side. They can easily refer to countless manuals of jurisprudence that did not distinguish between consensual and non-consensual homosexual conduct defined specifically as “male anal intercourse.” However, it is important to understand the context in which the classical jurists formulated their opinions.
Based on texts from 1500 - 1800 CE, Harvard based Dr. Khaled El-Rouayheb, has stated that homosexual expression in the Arab-Muslim world predominately occurred in the context of pederasty or power imbalanced relationships. The active-passive dichotomy wherein the passive partner, usually a beardless boy or a male slave, is a far outcry from contemporary same-sex relationships based on mutual love and respect.
It should, therefore, not surprise us that Muslim jurists, maintained a prohibitive stand on homosexual relationships based on the coercion depicted in the Qur’anic verses and the exploitation inherent in the overwhelming majority of homosexual expressions of their time. Contemporary examples of such conduct include the sexual coercion of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison and the exploitation of the dancing boys of Afghanistan.
In the Classical Muslim period from the 9th to the 12th century, jurists operated in an environment where the influential polymath Ibn Sina set the tone for medical opinion that treated “passive homosexuality” as a nasty psychological phenomenon worthy of punishment. It seems that Ibn Sina’s opinion eclipsed that of Al Razi, another polymath, that “passive homosexuality” resulted from the female sperm overpowering the male sperm during conception.
Rather than accepting sexual orientation, many contemporary conservative Muslim clergy either equate homosexuality with alcoholism or view it as a choice of sexual misconduct. However, Dr. Hashim Kamali, a renowned scholar at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia, has stated that both science and Islamic jurisprudence confirm that sexual orientation is inherent.
Factoring changed social milieu and advanced knowledge of human sexuality, it seems that a renewed Islamic perspective on the issue of same-sex unions is warranted today. Several scholars like the 13th century jurist Imam Qarafi harrowingly critiqued the failure to account for differing conditions and special circumstances in legal rulings.
Conservative Muslims, like their Jewish and Christian counterparts, unwittingly condemn their gay sons and daughters to the closet or cloister. In the false dichotomy between God’s law and human reason, their choice is clear. However, disregarding the need for faith to be reasonable and life-affirming, any religious viewpoint is futile.
American Rabbi Harold Schulweis has clearly stated that he cannot condemn innocent people to a life of misery, pain, torture and anguish. U.S.-based Conservative Judaism and several Christian denominations bless same-sex marriages. Likewise, based on the Prophet’s teachings, progressive Muslims, allude to a higher ethic to support loving same-sex unions.
The Prophet’s teachings paraphrased as “do not harm and accept no harm’, ‘wish for your brother what you wish for yourself” and “facilitate, do not cause difficulties or cause people to detest the law” evoke radical love and are as relevant today as they were 1400 years ago.
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