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Are gays perverts? (MEMRI & Qaradawi) June 27, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Homosexualists, Media, Responses, Shari'ah.

A provocative title, I’m sure you’ll agree. Well this word has been used provocatively by others before me, so no harm in my doing similar. But my intent will be different from that of Pink News, who want you to say “Oh, that nasty man used a nasty word!”

The reference is to the latest (highly edited as usual) transcript from the not-so-esteemed MEMRI, which they summarised in customary fashion with this charming headline:

Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Homosexuals Should Be Punished Like Fornicators But Their Harm Is Less When Not Done in Public

There is a full transcript on the Al-Jazeera site. And if you want to check it (it’s not perfect), you can download and listen to the full 47 minutes by clicking here [about 4MB].

It deserves to be translated in full too, but that’s not my endeavour just now. Before discussing a few points raised by the Sheikh and in response to him, I wish to clarify something about his apparent use of the word “pervert”, pounced upon by some people of perverted intentions.

Contrary to what PhobeWatch’s Arab contact told them, I think there are numerous serious faults in the translation. Most Arab speakers would not even notice this, because they do not understand the distinctions between various terms, especially as applied to this subject that nobody wants to talk about. There are numerous subtleties in the discourse, which, when translated by people with an agenda (or even just without the vigilance we have here), are sure to be lost.

Here I will re-translate the important parts, comparing with MEMRI’s. You can view the edited video here, and feel free to engage in debate with me over any word!

“Kerry, who ran against Bush, was supported by homosexuals and nudists. But it was Bush who won [the elections], because he is Christian, right-wing, tenacious, and unyielding. In other words, the religious overcame the perverted.”

I want to draw attention to the fact that the word Sheikh Qaradawi used (and tends to use), translated as “homosexuals”, was shawaadh, which could be translated literally as “perverts”. Later, the term ahl al-shudhoodh (“people of perversion”) was translated “the perverted”. This is a general term related to deviation from the pure and natural, but can be understood in some contexts as referring specifically to homosexual behaviour.

Hmm, you’re not making a very good case for Qaradawi, I hear you think. Well, let’s consider the concept of perversion (and that of being a pervert) distinct from connotations that are present in our language. We need not call to mind other people who might be called “perverts” – such as paedophiles.

MEMRI have translated two different Arabic verbs as “perversion”: shadhdha (to be anomalous – or “queer”!) and inharafa (to deviate). To say that people engaged in homosexual acts are doing something anomalous (shaadh) is correct. To say that it is a deviant (munharif) behaviour – statistically and morally – is also correct. If people want to use the words “perverted” or “pervert” to convey these meanings, that is justifiable. It may not be the most friendly word, but it is correct as far as religion is concerned.

The Sheikh says in the interview: “No, [homosexual attractions] are absolutely not an innate characteristic (khilqah) – it is against the fitrah (goodly human instinct).”

Now another comparison between MEMRI and the real statements. Look at the question posed by the interviewer (Abdus-Samad Nasir).

“How should a homosexual or a lesbian be punished?”
“What is the punishment of people who practise liwaat (homosexual sodomy) or sihaaq (lesbian acts)?”

The difference between the two is that the correct translation is in terms of people performing or practising particular actions. The interviewer did not use any term at all here for “homosexual” or “lesbian”.

[Later on, Nasir uses the term “Luti”, which I personally find deeply offensive, since it attaches the grievous sin to the name of the pure Prophet Lut (peace be on him). I don’t know how this term emerged, but it shouldn’t be used. The same applies to “liwaat”. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) referred to “one whom you find doing the action of the people of Lut”.]

What was Sheikh Qaradawi’s reply?

“The same punishment as any sexual pervert – the same as the fornicator.”
“The punishment of anyone who deviates sexually – like the punishment of the fornicator/adulterer.”

The bit MEMRI snipped out was his comparison between homosexual acts and sex outside marriage in general, in that both are termed faahishah (abomination) in the Qur’an [e.g. 7:80, 17:32]. Notice, then, that he uses the term inhiraaf – deviation or perversion – to describe not only homosexuality, but all illegitimate sexual activity. So if a homosexual is a pervert, so is a fornicator or adulterer.

Note how I translated the verb as a verb, despite it not sounding quite right in English. The Sheikh did not use the adjective/noun “sexual pervert”, but rather a verb describing the act of perverting one’s sexual nature as a human being.

Al-Qaradawi then goes on to describe very quickly the different schools of thought that have existed over the punishment for homosexual acts. It doesn’t hurt to repeat that these are matters of Islamic law to be applied where Islamic law is properly applied, according to societal establishment and after due process – so Pink News‘s headline of “Muslim cleric backs gay burnings” is doubly inaccurate.

But here is a crucial bit that MEMRI deliberately missed out:

“There is disagreement.” […] “The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.”
“There is disagreement, so it is possible for us to choose from them in our era what is most appropriate, and what is lightest, recognising how widespread the tribulation is: because tribulations and sins being widespread is something in Islamic legal theory that causes things to be lightened. The important thing is to consider/treat this act as a crime.”

ممكن نختار منها ما هو أقرب وما هو أخف في عصرنا مراعاة لعموم البلوة لأن عموم البلوة بالمصائب وبالمعاصي من المخفِّفات في التشريع الإسلامي، إنما المهم تجريم هذا العمل

I confess that I found translating that part difficult, so if any scholarly person can confirm or correct it, please do. I am not very familiar with the Shar’i concept mentioned by the Sheikh here. 

The interviewer goes on to ask why there is a difference between the punishments for homosexual acts and lesbian acts. He makes the mistake of trying to “clarify” his question by referring to “a woman who inclines towards a woman, and man who inclines towards a man”: again, conflating the issues of inclination and action.

Dr. Qaradawi responded thus:

“Lesbianism is not as bad as homosexuality, in practical terms.”
“Lesbian activity is a lighter matter than homosexual sodomy in practical terms”

The perverts (in various ways) over at Harry’s Place snickered at this, but it is perfectly true. Indeed, the Sheikh explained his distinction, in what was snipped by MEMRI.

He recounted a hadith in which Ma’iz ibn Malik came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and confessed to zina (unlawful sex), asking him to enact the prescribed punishment upon him. The Prophet, from his mercy, said “No, perhaps you didn’t touch her, perhaps you only kissed her, perhaps…” – but the man insisted that he had committed the major sin, which is defined and has the prescribed punishment according to that definition. So, Qaradawi says, lesbian activity can be considered like these precursors to fornication, which is distinct from the act of sodomy between men.

Actually, I disagree with the comparison made between SSA in males and in females. Please see my post on L, G, B and T.

I just want to discuss one last point from this interview. Nasir asked:

“Should a man be punished for having homosexual tendencies?”
“Is a man punished for having (sexual) inclination towards a member of his own sex?”

Al-Qaradawi responded in the affirmative, which is surprising. It is clear that people are not punished in this life for anything that is not an overt action. And even in the hereafter, judgement is based on actions (and their associated intentions). The Prophet taught that a person is rewarded for resisting evil temptations and turning back from evil intentions.

My understanding is that Sheikh Qaradawi responded too quickly, not having understood the question properly. He intended to say that someone who commits homosexual acts should be punished for them, no matter what he may say about it being based on his personal inclination. This view is backed up by looking at the Sheikh’s full response:

“He should be punished just like a fornicator. What is fornication? It is a sexual perversion. A perversion cannot possibly be innate.”
“Like the punishment of the fornicator. What is fornication/adultery? It is sexual perversion. It is not possible for deviation/perversion to be according to innate nature (fitrah). I mean, it is not possible that God would prohibit people from something they need. This is a definitive axiom [in Islamic law]…”

He goes on to say: “Does man do everything he is inclined towards? Where is the human freewill?” He then recounts the story of Adam (peace be on him), and the mistake he made and repented from.

So the Sheikh says: “Therefore we don’t lock the doors before the homosexuals. No! They have committed sins, but it is within their ability to repent to God… if they find the intention to change what is in themselves.” He quoted these Qur’anic verses:

 {Those who invoke not, with Allah, any other god, nor slay such life as Allah has made sacred except for just cause, nor commit fornication; – and any that does this (not only) meets punishment.
(But) the Penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to him, and he will dwell therein in ignominy,-
Unless he repents, believes, and works righteous deeds, for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.}

FOLLOW-UP:  MEMRI & Qaradawi: the main point


1. Yousef - June 28, 2006

Sometimes languages get a beating from history. “Slaves” is no longer a proper term to use…but “servant”…same with”shaath” in arabic…the actually meaning is “outside the norm” or “outside what is acceptable”.

2. Al-Fil - July 5, 2006

The section of the al-Jazeera article is still called “اللواط والسحاق بين الإسلام وحقوق الإنسان” which uses the most insulting words possible.

3. Rasheed Eldin - July 5, 2006

Can you explain why they are so insulting?

I think the important thing is that the discourse in Islamic LAW (as opposed to other discussions of the religion) should be focused on actions.

This title mentions what I have translated above as “homosexual sodomy” and “lesbian activity”. These are valid topics for discussion, whereas the faulty MEMRI translation of “How should a homosexual or a lesbian be punished?” cannot lead to a direct answer from a mufti: he would have to start by defining those terms.

But as I mentioned in the post, I don’t like the term “liwaat” at all – probably not for the same reasons as yours.

Also: remember to distinguish between what some editor with Al-Jazeera wrote, and what Sh. al-Qaradawi said.

4. Rasheed Eldin - September 3, 2006
5. CB - April 8, 2007

I read the jazeera transcript. Not all living creatures are made male/female, some reproduce asexually. Not everything is made in pairs, photons have none. Not all people have a built in belief in a deity, some lack this belief. In the same vein not all gays willingly change their nature but they grow up to a different nature in their feelings.

I am sure the scholars would not care less if what they say agrees to what science observes. some schoalrs could not take science seriously and the result is relgious dogma that not everyone can take seriously because science builds into us a yearn for reasoning that is so difficult to overcome. moreover just being rigid and forceful does not make you right.

6. Taleb Haqq - April 9, 2007

You may follow this link
to answer some of those questions. As for your assertion that not everyone has an inborn believe in a “deity”. Islam says humans are born on a natural inclination to worship and obey God…our proof of this is in the Qur’an, where is your proof, is there a book that says otherwise? Did science observe your claim? Can science explain the natural phenomena that is explained in the Qur’an that was unknown to the people of the time of the Prophet? [see surat alRahman] or this link
I pray that we all get guided.

7. CB - April 9, 2007

Taleb Haqq the article you linked has more inaccurate science and in fact I saw it previously and that was partly the reason why I said what I said in my last entry. But the other link you gave looks very good and thank you for it. I am not sure why you bring up the scientific quran proofs as I never questioned the issue but thanks again anyway.

I think someone else pointed it out to you that you can not say that a book is right because the book says it is right. That is the reason why God gives us signs and other proofs in the first place so we may verify that his book is true independently. Do you agree?

Science has nothing to do with faith issues. My proof is that millions of people are atheist or Zen Buddhism followers who do not believe in a personal deity. You may say they are confused/liars but this would invite all sorts of counter allegation. Peace

8. Taleb Haqq - April 10, 2007

Yours is not proof at all, it is simply an observation. Islam says people are born with the natural inclination to worship their Lord, it doesn’t mean that everyone will be as such when they grow older. Depending on the choices they make after that…and depending on how that person is raised, that will shape his belief afterwards.

Since I believe that the Qur’an contains proofs that could not have been known to people at the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, then I believe it to be the word of God. I also believe in the entirety of the Qur’an so, for me, it is I can say that it is right because it says it is right.


9. CB - April 10, 2007

I find it very interesting that while the language of the Quran is that of reason and challenge you also find the language of the followers is that of stubborn dogmatism. The book is so full of reasonable dialogue it makes it difficult for me to understand how most of us seem to miss the point that God was making all along: to use our brains and not sentiment to reach faith as a conclusion not so much as a presuppositon from which we derive our view of the world.

I still get your message though, but I wish people could see it is that specifically unquestioning faith that has led so many people to follow hundreds of different false religions. So we criticize something while we practise the same thing.

Please clarify something for me. If the upbringing of children and their choice (free will which was given to them by God) is sufficient to turn their heads round the natural inclinations to believe then it makes that inclination a bit useless as it is so liable to change. What is the point of making such a statement? Moreover since babies can not communicate their beliefs it makes it a claim no one can test and no one can verify and, given that it has little impact on the person’s life (compared to social factors) then we might as well not mention it at all!!!

Also many atheists that I know personally or heard on the media have had religious upbringing. Not all say we believe God does not exist (aka positive atheism) they say we lack the belief in God. As if spirituality is a sense that they are born without. Some even struggle to understand how people believe in the supernatural at all.

Peace and please continue the interesting discussion.

10. Taleb Haqq - April 11, 2007

The point of saying it, in my opinion, is to reassure people that deep down inside, it is in all of us that we have this capability of worshiping our Lord. I believe it is also there to refute the idea of “original sin”.

Your observation about atheists: I obviously cannot speak for all the different cases but, speaking from an Islamic perspective, it might be that these people have followed their desires and Satan so much in their disobedience of God’s commandments that, as the Qur’an describes it, their “hearts become covered” and they no longer accept the proofs of their Lord or the calls to His guidance. The topic of “diseases of the heart” is really a huge one in Islam that I lack the time (and knowledge) to fully explain.

Peace be onto you.

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