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Lock, Imaan and Islamophobia December 8, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Homosexualists, Responses.

You may remember the latest OutRage “Imam Backs Shariah Shock” and the interesting developments in terms of the British “gay Muslim” group Imaan (formerly Al-Fatiha UK) calling Peter Tatchell an Islamophobe. I’m of a similar opinion, as I expressed along with others on their forum discussion.

Now Brett Lock has written an opinion piece in the magazine he edits, namely the Gay Humanist Quarterly (full PDF available there – see p.13). Entitled “Submission & Denial”, the article criticises Imaan for complaining about Tatchell & Co. singling out Islam:

If some of Imaan’s leaders feel Islam is being unfairly singled out as “uniquely reactionary”, perhaps they should ask themselves when they last heard a priest or rabbi in Britain defending the death penalty for homosexuality.

This is the point he makes all throughout his article. A point that he seems to have given no thought to is that Islamic law stipulates punishment for various crimes, and the death penalty also applies to adultery and murder. Therefore all Muslim scholars will “justify”, “advocate”, “defend”, “suggest” this ruling exactly as they “support”, “endorse”, “favour”, “back” the rest of the Shari’ah. But of course these words (taken from Lock’s article) don’t represent the true approach to scripture and rulings.

You don’t see Imams trying to flog boys and girls who’ve gone too far, so don’t worry about anyone being thrown off tall buildings for sodomy. Muslim scholars respect the commandments and limits of the religion, but also have a realistic understanding of the societies we are living in. What we won’t accept is that anything has to be “updated”. Yes, we need debate, but that debate has to be faithful to our sources and principles.

Moreover, the rhetoric about “gay people…put to death”, “executing gays”, “execution of gay people”, “killing of gays”, “execution of gays”, “gays…put to death”, “gays…killed” (all these variations present in the article!) misses the subtlety of the question, as Lock well knows. The punishment is not about who people are – but rather, what they do, and are proven to have done.

Not that my words here are going to make Brett a believer, of course.


1. Brian Miller - December 11, 2006

You don’t see Imams trying to flog boys and girls who’ve gone too far, so don’t worry about anyone being thrown off tall buildings for sodomy.

Yes, true. But being hanged, or having a wall toppled over them, or beheaded, or imprisoned. . . that’s rather common.

The punishment is not about who people are – but rather, what they do, and are proven to have done.

A distinction without a difference, really, and one that underlies Brett’s point about the dishonesty of the entire “debate” in question. It’s a bit like arguing that an imaginary totalitarian state that executed Muslims for praying wasn’t executing them because they’re Muslims, but rather because they engage in all that pernicious prayer — i.e. not about what they are (Muslims) but what they do and are proven to have done.

If you wouldn’t accept such a justification as what would come from said hypothetical regime, why is it acceptable when applied to gays when coming from an existing religious regime?

It’s not, and you know it.

2. Rasheed Eldin - December 11, 2006

Of course, I wasn’t trying to prove that Islam is “gay-friendly” by any means. I do, however, believe that Islam teaches us not to abuse people, and I am against what I actually consider homophobic discrimination (even if I’d avoid using that term due to other people’s understanding of it).

And of course I wouldn’t accept that justification for executing Muslims. But I don’t consider the two matters equivalent. I don’t think that some gay people campaigning against Islamophobia obliges me to campaign against homophobia (however those gay campaigners define it). Our moral objection to homosexuality (as a societal phenomenon as opposed to personal experience) is not something hypothetical, and not something random and inexplicable within the detailed worldview and system of life that is Islam.

By no means do I think this is an easy question. It all goes back to debates surrounding how religions can coexist, and how they can live within secular society too. Islam has its own framework for understanding those questions, and not everybody is going to like the answers. But “singling us out” is problematic because that approach will generate hatred towards Muslims, and won’t solve the problem you perceive.

3. Royston Ford - December 15, 2006

Mr. Miller tells us…

“But being hanged, or having a wall toppled over them, or beheaded, or imprisoned. . . that’s rather common.”

Is it? Really? Can he quote examples from the islamic world that prove this is common and in siffucient number that such events might be described as an everyday, regular part of islamic life? And please try to avoid the Western media misinformation and hysteria over the “Mashhad Executions” because I have spent significant amounts of time in Iran and can assure you the Western reporting of these is highly unreliable at best because the victims were in fact convicted (and again on appeals) of the rape of minors.

The point Rasheed makes about “what they do and are proven to have done” is that in the hytpothetical Islamic state which is so feared and demonised, a person could only be punished for consenting sexual “crimes” if they confess or are witnessed by four other people. These laws, to the extent they exist – which is limited – do not constitute a prurient witch hunt through the bedrooms of the Islamic world seeking gays to throw to lynch mobs. I rather feel that the Daily Mail, Sun and News of the World (UK tabloid papers) are rather more effective at that than any “Islamic State”

Tatchell, Lock and Co. have every right in a free society to challenge those who seek actively to denigrate or harm other individuals. I consider that all right-minded people should feel the same way.

But on this occasion they only had the objective of working to find a Muslim leader they could trap into saying something homophobic to which they could respond in outrage.

In fact they failed. The Imam had not one word of condemnation against homosexuals and all he would say, when pressed on the subject of Sharia punishments, was that on the strict letter of the law sex outside marriage might be punishable by death.

This is not new information, it is not specifically homophobic nor any other form of phobia. The Imam was not preaching hate or condemnation, he was asked for a religious opinion and gave a calm, measured, scholarly answer.

The subsequent press release simply added to the climate of rampant islamaphobia which has eveloped Europe since the London and Madrid bombings and has been taken up with glee by right wing fringe groups (who hate Tatchell on every other day of the week) in order to stir up further fear and hatred.

All this pointless hysteria and real damage to the human rights of innocent muslims in England and for what? Nothing was exposed, nothing was learned, no homophobia was found or challenged. A calm and sensible Imam who was happy to engage with Tatchell, et al, has been pilloried and may with justification never engage with anyone again on these subjects. Nice Job folks.

4. Rasheed Eldin - December 18, 2006

Thanks for your interesting contribution, Royston. Do you know if Imaan has anything to say about it officially?

5. Royston Ford - December 21, 2006

I can’t speak for or on behalf of Imaan because I am not a member, let alone a trustee of the group but I offer assistance on a voluntary basis. I have been an activist in the areas of anti-racist / anti-fascist campaigning which is why the current social phenomenon of European Society’s sleep-walking into a rampant islamophobia is so concerning to me.

My personal experience of Imaan is that it is not a campaigning group. This is why it elected some years ago to take the name “Imaan” with everything the word stands for. It’s purpose is to provide a faith-based space for LGBT or questioning Muslims by operating meetings for prayer, study, debate or purely social events. It also links with other faith groups and Islamic Circle groups in the UK. It also interacts with political campaigns primarily with racial and social equality agendas.

A number of meetings with Peter Tatchell and Outrage have taken place but it has evidently not been possible to persuade them of the extremely negative effects of some of their campaigning on issues around Muslims and Islam.

The interests of the Muslim community (as a whole) in the UK would not be well served by initiating media arguments with a group like Outrage or the “Humanists” because their arguments have become an unassailable dogma (in their terms of reference) to at least the same extent as the religions they seek to challenge.

Muslims in the UK are coming round to the realisation that they can exercise their own influence over the media (through the excellent work of groups like MPAC – Muslim Public Affairs Committee) and so I hope that 2007 will see a range of Muslim images, opinion and comment making it into the mass media in order to redress the currently poor balance of reporting. And without hysteria or argument.

I am sure that Imaan will be one of the many groups playing its part in this process in the future.

6. Robert - January 26, 2007

Thank you, Royston Ford, for reassuring me that the execution of gay
people under sharia law is due to their practising sex while unmarried rather than their being gay. That really helps me, as a gay person, accept Islam a lot more easily. One question, though: if sharia law is ever imposed in Britain, as some hope and pray, will I be allowed to marry my boyfriend and get round the law that way, as a woman would?

7. Rasheed Eldin - January 29, 2007

“…the execution of gay people under sharia law is due to their practising sex while unmarried…”

This is incorrect, and I don’t think it’s what Royston said or meant. The punishment (exact nature disputed) for sodomy is because of its being a prohibited act. By definition it will always be outside marriage, but that is not the essential point.

You are mistaken to talk about “execution of gay people”. An Islamic judge won’t care what labels people attach to themselves, nor will he be concerned over what those people happen to feel or prefer. The only issue judged by law is actions performed.

If you are sincere, you will be able to accept Islam easily. Watering it down is not the solution.

Let’s put aside your thing about Shari’ah being “imposed in Britain”, and answer the question about “marrying” your boyfriend according to Shari’ah. So-called “gay marriage” has no compatibility in Islamic law, and thus has no meaning. It is not a valid contract, and will not be accepted in any way.

8. ben scaro - January 14, 2008

I was recently considering Islam and being gay, joined the Imaan discussion forum. It does not vary from Brett Lock’s findings.

The forum, such as it is – there are only three or four posters on ‘serious’ issues- tolerates strong pro-Hamas views; its reasoning for saying nothing about gay victims of Palestinian policies is little more than homophobic ranting about gays in ‘tight white t-shirts’ ‘flaunting’ themselves at ‘pride parades’; as though gay Palestinians were prone to doing such things!. Its moderator’s response to serious questions on these ‘incongruities’ in its views (the gentleman ‘Royston’ above) was to post a ‘we know where you live’ type threat on the forum.

Not an enlightening experience; it caused me to thoroughly reassess my views on Islam.

I would pass this one by.

Ben Scaro

9. Rasheed Eldin - January 14, 2008

Dear Ben,

If by considering Islam you mean researching the faith and way of life to find if your heart and mind accept it, then I would recommend neither the Imaan forum nor this site. On any forum you’re likely to come across all sorts of people with a variety of (perhaps aberrent: and in that case highly likely to be so) views, and this site though coming from a mainstream Islamic perspective, is focusing on a particular issue which should by no means be considered central to the truth (or otherwise) of Islam.

However, as someone who identifies as gay, no doubt there are specific questions that you want(ed) answered. You can feel free to raise those here, and my personal commitment is to answer as honestly and frankly as possible (as you see above) while also trying to provide an understanding of why we believe and say as we do.

10. Ben Scaro - January 15, 2008

Thank you for your encouraging words.

I did tend to get the impression that ‘Imaan’, or at least its forum, had largely been subverted by a very few people with rather extreme views. One of them seemed to be a Stalinist apologist of some kind and I really was scratching my head to see what on earth his motives were. I rather got the sense he was looking for a forum where he could be relevant, Stalinism not being very many people’s cup of tea these days.

Again, I also did not see why such malignant views on the Palestinian situation were necessary in order to become Muslim. Nor such self loathing about homosexuality!

I would advise anyone in the same situation to be careful of the forum, however I have no direct experience of the organisation itself.

11. Rasheed Eldin - January 15, 2008

Well, thank God, it’s allowed in Islam to have your own views about many things. However, for every matter, whether sexual or political (as the examples which have come up in our conversation), we refer its questions back to the sources, i.e. the revealed Qur’an and inspired example of the Prophet. Things are not always (indeed rarely) obvious and simple, but there are means to investigate what is most appropriate considering the sources PLUS the realities we live in.

With that theoretical introduction, let me say that what is essential for a Muslim is to believe in the oneness of God, and in the truth of His last Prophet, and therefore all that he taught, including of course the Qur’an – and by implication, this means to accept all the previous prophets and revealed books too, as we affirm them as they came.

You’re free to believe whatever you want about the future for Palestine, and that doesn’t affect your being Muslim. What Islam does lead us to is honouring Jerusalem as a holy place, and venerating the status of its Mosque. Islam also urges us to advocate and struggle for justice, and not to accept oppression. However you decide to understand these matters, nobody can say it makes you less Muslim.

About homosexuality, well I don’t believe that “self loathing” is what Islam teaches. Islam came to take humans out of the pit of self-worship or idol-worship or world-worship… into the freedom and light of serving only the True God. An implication of this is to submit ourselves to what He commands and prohibits. And a further implication is that we should take care that the way we label ourselves is in tune with living this kind of life. Again, you can understand this in various ways, but be a Muslim regardless.

In short: try to focus on what is essential to being Muslim, and other things follow from there. These other issues are subject to disagreement (though I don’t say that all opinions are equally correct), and shouldn’t get in the way of the central matters.

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