Taboo Day: Homosexuality in Islam – A Pro-Argument
The Boston Globe has a review about the new documentary “A Jihad For Love”. An excerpt:
“A Jihad for Love” claims to be the first feature documentary to address the subject of homosexuality in Islam, and it makes an invaluable contribution by recording the names, faces, and stories of gay men and women struggling to reconcile their religion with their sexuality. But the documentary’s greatest strength – its intimate portraits of individual lives – is also its greatest weakness, since it provides the viewer with meager context for those lives. Our only information about the treatment of homosexuals in Islamic countries comes from the film’s subjects and occasional subtitles. This isn’t meant to question the film’s veracity, but merely its methods. A more informative documentary would have gone beyond personal vignettes to explain the history, theology, and sociology behind Islamic attitudes to homosexuality.
We should, of course, sympathize with victims of intolerance, but sympathy by itself will not change anything. We need unflinching accounts of the origins, development, and current condition of anti-homosexual attitudes. “A Jihad for Love” fails to provide that account.”
Unfortunately, the movie won’t be screened in Chicago so I won’t be able to watch it (although for those of you interested there will be underground screenings in Malaysia, Pakistan and Iran). I have a feeling that some will be quick to condemn this movie as an attempt to vilify Islam (hmmmm where do I come up with these thoughts?) without ever having seen it but the reality is that homosexuals face the very same patriarchal challenges that women in Islam face. This is not to say that Islam is patriarchal – this is to say that patriarchy will always find a way to slither it’s stubby hairy little fingers through religious texts to concoct some sort of in-organic, chemically derived specialty which then goes on to be shoved down our throats for centuries. I think of it as a wannabe delicacy – patriarchal foie gras.
So, if you’re still with me, let’s take a look at an excerpt about how the A Jihad For Love’s site describes the movie:
As a result, many gay and lesbian Muslims end up renouncing their religion completely. But the real-life characters of A “Jihad for Love” aren’t willing to abandon a faith they cherish and that sustains them. Instead, they struggle to reconcile their ardent belief with the innate reality of their being. The international chorus of gay and lesbian Muslims brought together by “A Jihad for Love” doesn’t seek to vilify or reject Islam, but rather negotiate a new relationship to it. In doing so, the film’s extraordinary characters attempt to point the way for all Muslims to move beyond the hostile, war-torn present, toward a more hopeful future. As one can imagine, it was a difficult decision for the subjects to participate in the film due to the violence they could face. It took the filmmaker six years to finish this film and he like those who have stepped forward to tell their stories feel that they are Islam’s most unlikely storytellers. All of them feel that this film is too important for over a billion Muslims-and all the non-Muslims in the world-for them to say no. They are willing to take the risk in their quest to lay equal claim to their profoundly held faith.
A Jihad for Love’s characters each have vastly different personal takes on Islam, some observing a rigorously orthodox regimen, others leading highly secular lifestyles while remaining spiritually devout. As the camera attentively captures their stories, the film’s gay and lesbian characters emerge in all their human complexity, giving the viewer an honest rendering of their lives while complicating our assumptions about a monolithic Muslim community. Crucially, this film speaks with a Muslim voice, unlike other documentaries about sexual politics in Islam made by Western directors. In the hope of opening a dialogue that has been mostly non-existent in Islam’s recent history, and defining jihad as a “struggle” rather than a “war,” the film presents the struggle for love.
For me, I find the LGBT movement in the Islamic world quite fascinating, it’s very much like the feminist movement except lacking the vast network of mainstream Muslim support. While so many of us are quick to point out the latest injustices being inflicted upon Muslim women or the most recent pro-women fatwas (whether they be or not be) we’re very short on any LGBT posts besides maybe a quick fyi which isn’t going to make us pro or anti anything. Although, I do have to admit that I rarely get out of these self imposed blue (or fill in whatever color scheme my blog is taking on while you are reading) pages of meandering thoughts, so if you have a post feel free to post it in my comments section of this post (which is currently being moderated).
Sometime back I read an essay in Omid Safi’s Progressive Muslims on Justice, Gender and Pluralism that addressed the issue of homosexuality and Islam in quite some detail. Quite honestly, the issue of intolerance of homosexuality in Islam seemed, at least to me, far more simple than the whole equality of the sexes in Islam issue. The essay is written Scott Siraj Al-Haqq Kugle – and for those of you that are going to be posting all sorts of condemnations of the author – please take the time to read this post and possibly his essay in the book and refute the points brought up instead of resorting to attack on the author and me – for this post.
For example, while the author acknowledges that the Qur’an assumes a heterosexual norm amongst its listeners he also goes on to point out that that this does not necessarilly mean that the Quran prohits or condemns homosexuality. Instead, the author argues that the Qur’an addresses the desires between man and woman to be the norm and therefore addressing and regulating this desire is the basis for establishing a moral society while pointing out that every historical society documented has shown evidence of homosexual desire and activities.
Now, also take into consideration that there is no word in the Quran that translates to “homosexual”, the closest reference is “men who are not in need of women” – if I remember correctly this appears in the verse which states to whom a woman may appear uncovered in front of. However, currently in some countries and amongst some schools of thought homosexuality is considered a crime whose prescribed punishment is the hadd punishment for adultery (zina), for more information on the zina punishment – go here. Hanafi jurists argue that it is an immoral act and leaves the punishment of the act to government but also has given a strong case against the Maliki, Shafi’i, Hannbali’s and the Shi’i Ja’feri schools by accusing anyone applying a hadd penalty for an act that was not defined in the Qur’an as a hadd, has commited a grave injustice. These hadd punishments are either stoning to death or lashings. As a note, not all Muslim countries treat homosexuality as a crime – see this wiki entry for a chart on homosexuality laws in Muslim countries (towards the bottom).
The reasoning of homosexuality being a hadd crime stems from these two verses:
We also (sent) Lut,
He said to his people:
“Do ye commit lewdness
Such as no people
In creation (ever) committed
For ye practise your lusts
On men in preference
To women: Ye are indeed
A people transgressing
Qurtubi, for one, argues that his approach is a literal reading of the first verse, however, he had to replace the word lewdness or transgression [a ta’tuna al-fahishata] with the words “sexually entering males” [idkhal al-rijal] and then retort back to the word [fahisha] to refer to the zina verse. In other words where there is an absence of hadd reference in the Quran as well as the lack of an example of the Prophet Muhammed applying a hadd punishment in such case, Qurtubi had to provide a substitute definition and then an anology. That seems like stretching it to me.
While the second verse does mention the preference for practicing lust on men instead of women the argument exists that lust and love are not the same thing. If we take into consideration that men were practicing these acts through unnatural inclinations and that the Qur’an does view the male-female relationship as a societal norm then one is likely to have a different view of the verse.
Additionally, Amreen Jamel’s analysis of Lut’s people notes that Lut’s people were destroyed after some men had “threatened to assualt Lut’s male guests sexually”. The question then remains if this particular lust (after being offered Lut’s daughters – not Lut’s real daughters but rather a term for single women of their community) was a sexually orientated lust or a lust of these male guests for another purpose. Understanding that rape is about exerting power and control over another helps put this into greater perspective.
Well, that’s it. I found it all to be quite an interesting essay and thought I’d sum it up here as well as adding some of my own thoughts. Feel free to discuss (politely, please!).