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Discussion on MPACUK forum January 22, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Islam, Media.
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The contents of the MPACUK site and forum don’t usually encourage me to come back for more, but I was really thrilled to read one debate on the upcoming C4 programme. Not because of the typical comments from Muslims, full of righteousness but lacking in understanding or compassion, but from the contributions of someone called Yahya. I reproduce one of his posts:

Ask yourself – what is homosexuality? Is it the act of two people of the same gender having sex? Or is it about generalising a sexual attraction into a lifestyle? Hence, “gayness” becomes about modes of dress, hobbies and interests, fashion and style and a hundred other things besides. Sex is a small part of it. Most importantly, it becomes tangled up with the concept of romantic love (another modern invention), which is seen to be at the heart of marriage.

There is a difference between the physical act of sex between men and “homosexuality” as a concept of identity. The first is about something someone does, the second is about how he feels about it.

The demand for gay rights, which is the subject of this thread, is NOT about who is having sex with who, but how they perceive themselves while doing it. The idea that people are “gay” and as such have rights as “gays” is about identities not acts.

People are today invited to define themselves as “gay” or “straight”, often over personality traits which have relatively little to do with sexuality. If these two categories did not exist, and they did not used to exist, what would be the effect on human sexuality?

The other alternative, which is preferred by gay activists, that our sexualities are predetermined, is far from established by scientific research and would in my opinion reflect a “skewed logic” about the nature of the development of the human mind. We live in a society which invites people to define their own moralities and justify this how they can. Is the promotion of this identity an example of this?

Concepts do not exist without the language to describe them. (Can you name one?) There is NO mention of the idea of homosexuality prior to the 19th century. These societies are not a closed book to us. They write about themselves. Foucault describes this better than me so consult him as a source.

What I can say is that the weakness of the human intellect is its need to perceive reality through categories, language is indeed the ultimate expression of this. (I’m reminded of Allah teaching Adam the “names” of things.) Once those categories are erected, we become their prisoners.

Thus ideas escape from their place and time and occupy historical spaces where they do not belong. Even when we look out from our own society, we simply have our preconceptions confirmed since we “adjust” reality to suit them. Philosophers and social scientists have to make the effort to break out of this in order to come to deeper understandings of the world. Indeed, we all do, it’s what’s meant by “thinking outside the box”.

So, what do you think would happen in a society where the concept of “gay” did not exist? To what extent are our choices conditioned by our expectations? Discuss.

Allahu akbar! This is what Mujahid and I have been writing about for some time (I usually anonymously). It’s really good to see other Muslims catching on, and spreading these ideas. In fact, we had caught onto these realities before even discovering Foucault, but that discovery has made us confident that not only are we onto something, but we can share these realisations with all thinking people, and not just thinking Muslims.

 Yahya continues:

But are people who cannot find people of the same sex physically attractive or who involuntarily are attracted to people of the same sex instead deserve our compassion. The still must avoid what Allah has forbidden, but is it so unreasonable to recognise them as having a mental disorder? Are they to be condemned for what they cannot help? They are no more guilty than those of us who are aroused by looking at people of the opposite sex, despite our efforts to avoid such thoughts and stares.

That is the difference between an Islamic position and Western “homophobia”. We seek to look at the individual as an individual, not as a category. How many people here are “forbidding the wrong” and how many are enjoying the feeling of superiority that comes from looking down on others for their misfortunes?

Here, I agree with the need for compassion, and that is what StraightWay has always advocated and actually provided for many who have come to them for help. But I would avoid the terminology of “mental disorder”: not only because of the offence it may cause, but because it can act as yet another misleading label. The phenomenon of same-sex attraction (SSA) could have any number of causes, including developmental ones. The way of solving the problem (for those who consider it a problem) may well involve psychological processes, but that may not be the best or only solution, depending on the individual.

There is no “gay Islam” as these activists claim, but there are gay Muslims.

I argue that using the latter term is also erroneous, for the very reasons already discussed by Yahya: the concept of “being gay” is a novel and problematic one. Because it clashes with my understanding of the Islamic paradigm, I do not use it in the way it is commonly used, if at all. If I don’t believe in “gay people”, why should I accept that there are “gay Muslims”? I realise I am in huge danger of being misconstrued, so allow me to quote a recent comment by Mujahid:

To clarify: we do not hold that people are sinful (or in any way less worthy) because of who they are, or what they feel. More radically, we assert that sexual feelings should not be used to categorise and define people, either to push them into accepting that they have a certain “orientation”, or to consider them as part of a “community” of like-feeling people – let alone a “minority” that should demand rights according to these definitions. This is a philosophical position we take, and it is the best understanding according to our scriptural interpretation.That is the reason for placing “gay Muslims” in quote marks. It is neither a denial of the empirical reality of Muslims who are same-sex attracted, nor a denial that people who identify as “gay” can be Muslims religiously.

If it’s not clear, I hope it will become so in time.   

 

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Comments»

1. straightway - January 22, 2006

Interestingly, the person called “Imaan” there, who is debating with Yahya and others, seems fairly reasonable. I do have that impression of the group Imaan (formerly called Al-Fatiha UK). No doubt they will be heavily featured and promoted in the C4 programme.

It’s a shame that, when I wrote to the Chair of Imaan (Farzana) back in April 2005 inviting dialogue, she ignored me. When I offered again earlier this month (after the comments made by Iqbal Sacranie), she said that Imaan is not interested in dialogue with StraightWay. I offered the following observations:

“If you want people like Sacranie to end up understanding the value of compassion, perhaps your best starting point is to talk to people like us. We already advocate the same idea that the Muslim community, and its leadership, need to learn about this issue and how to help those who are dealing with the dilemma of being Muslim and being attracted to the same sex. Currently it’s a taboo subject, and those who might mention their feelings risk being ostracised or abused.

“What we differ on is the approach to take in helping these people. I take primarily an Islam-affirming approach, about developing the spiritual awareness and Muslim identity, then knowing how to deal with feelings that are unwanted. (It’s significant but less ‘core’ that I follow the Shari’ah’s clear-cut condemnation of acting on homosexual desires.) You might take more of a gay-affirming approach, which says that being gay is part of identity, and that one should accept this in order to be at harmony with oneself – and then one can understand religion in that light, since that is a matter of choice, not essential identity.

“We might not be as full of “incorrect assumptions” as you think, given that many constituents of my organisation have gone through exactly the same as those of yours, except they have chosen a different way of resolving the dilemma.”

Her response was that they don’t have the resources to turn their attention to such matters, with “bigger battles to fight”. It’s a shame that they don’t prioritise their relations with fellow Muslims, instead preferring their moments in the media. I told her the following:

“We are both Muslims, and we are both heads of Muslim organisations. I have no bigger goal than to please Allah – if you’re not the same, just let me know and I’ll realise we have nothing to talk about. You must surely realise that since you’re calling Muslims to come to you and take on your ideas, shaping their lives (and afterlives), you are assuming a huge responsibility on yourself. Do you feel confident, even without having had these views challenged by someone like myself who is not trying to beat you down?

“And given this responsibility, do you really not have ONE person who is willing to spend the time to ensure that the ideas of the group – including its Islamic knowledge – is developed properly?”  

 


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