Present day Homosexuality – What kind of a challenge to a Muslim ?

Mohammed Belal EL-MOGADDEDI

The following does not by any measure claim to constitute a scientific attempt to articulate Islamic viewpoints – based on the Quran and the Sunnah – regarding same-sex-sexuality between two adults, commonly known as gay, lesbian relationships or homosexual relationships.
Furthermore, it is also not a reflection on the different theories, which exist in respect of the nature or causes of human homosexuality that discussions are alive with.
This paper attempts to provide pragmatic responses to Muslims who feel challenged by pro-active advocacy groups calling for what they regard, are the due rights of homosexuals in a modern society.
Muslims have to accept that homosexuality existed since times immemorial and does exist in all societies, including Muslim majority countries; it makes no sense to close one’s eyes before this fact and behave like an ostrich, with a head-in-sand attitude, especially in an environment, where Muslims are in a minority.
However, Muslims should deal with this issue on an individual and a collective level as responsible citizens and participate in the discussions revolving around this topic, because Islam spells out a specific conceptual understanding of human societal development.
Islam views sexual activity not only as an instrument of procreation, but also as an expression of mutual affection and love between two persons, provided they are of different gender; this is one restriction Islam places on the practice of human sexuality! Sexual activity within a classified and defined context is not considered a sin in Islam.
The second restriction Islam puts on sexuality is the framework within which this activity can take place.
Muslims should be frank in stating the following ( tongue-in-cheek, of course):
In Islam sexual activity is forbidden, it is considered “haram”!
This may come as a surprise, but obviously Islam being a religion of respect for and understanding of human nature, there is an exception. Islam permits what it considers “halal” sexual activity within the context of legal, contractual marriage only. According to Islam marriage is a legal contract that only mature persons of different gender can enter into out of their own free will.
This clear and unequivocal demarcation constitutes an Islamological consensus across all schools of Islamic thought and hence leaves no space for homosexuality within the societal concept Islam prescribes, be it gay or lesbian in its expression; these strict parameters rule out illicit heterosexual activities outside a marital contract as well.
However, Islam does not deny the existence of homosexuality but it neither condones, nor legalizes, nor supports homosexual activity.
The position taken by the Catholic Church of Christianity, which considers homosexuality an act, “which cannot be approved under no circumstances” is a statement Muslims can relate to with comfort. Orthodox Judaism is also clear on its stance vis-à-vis homosexuality referring to it in the Thora as an “abomination”.
The discussion could meet its end here, because the norms as laid down by the Quran and the Sunnah, and for the sake of the argument, the other Abrahamitic religions as well, are clear and obvious to the discerning student of this subject.
Nevertheless, we do live in a world of diverse opinion and moral belief. Therefore the question before a Muslim is not, how to go about the sin, but how to go about and how to deal with the sinner practicing homosexuality.
Not only Muslims but any religious person is challenged by the social and legal norms practised and prevalent in his proximate and distant environment.
Active commitment to and practice of a religion in the modern world is all the more a continuous struggle in societies that profess to be secular, supra-religious or laical, because so-called modern societies are trying to banish or at least are trying to push religion from the public into the secluded and tight walls of the private sphere.
At the same time the anything but boundless encouragement of propagating self-realization and self-discovery in the place of and by overcoming self-control, which itself is anchored to traditional values and ethics, is a strong and determining force of change in modern societies. Self-realization and self-discovery are considered natural and essential evolutionary expressions of the human ego, modernity’s new golden calf, whether embodied in a homo- or heterosexual way.
The exclusion of religion from the public sphere of a society, especially in modern societies of the West has considerably reduced the weight religious advisement can carry in a general societal discourse. But there exists no obvious or hidden reason why this state of affairs should not be challenged!
The human intellect and legislation as a result thereof has substituted religion as the point of reference for the assessment and the tackling of the challenges modern individual conduct is posing to society in general with other moral frameworks, which are considered to be more in tune with human and social development in a modern context.
In my view, the following questions arise in the discussion of this context for a Muslim, who lives as a committed citizen in a modern western society:

May a legal norm substitute a moral concept, which an individual internalises based on his religious conviction; a moral concept that stands in clear contradiction to a legal injunction?

May the state or advocacy groups force a citizen to sacrifice his moral convictions on the altar of political expediency and substitute his religious ethics with a set of state-approved legislation, a specific moral lead-culture, which is in conflict with the teachings of all Abrahamitc religions?

Is a moral code, ingrained in religion inferior to a state-aided, -approved and state–controlled set of legislation or moral indexes?

May the inner measure of a believer, as enunciated by his religion and practised on an individual and/or collective level be subjected to constitutional sanctioning?

In short: May the state define a binding morality for its citizens?

The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (UDHR) is a modern, not necessarily mono-religious human effort to formulate a set of principles of human conduct that attempts to transgress religious, ideological and political divides.
Therefore the UDHR has been employed by some homosexual rights advocacy groups and their supporters as the ultimate litmus-test, verifying an individual’s ability to be in tune with their understanding and definition of modern ethics, actually modernity in general.
This test is applied particularly to men of religion and therefore to Muslims as well, in order to gauge a religious person’s ability or for that matter a Muslim’s ability to come to terms with specific forms of human behaviour in what some modernists may call a post-religious modernity or a superior form of social interaction and cohabitation subject to the Will of Men rather than the Will of the Creator.
The issue of homosexuality is introduced into the public discourse as a matter of Human Rights and it is for this reason that Muslims, especially those living in societies of the West, have to reflect on the current debate on the legal demands made by homosexual individuals and their advocacy groups in western societies, all the more as they attempt to introduce homosexuality to society in general as an alternative lifestyle to what they consider the “dominant norm”, i.e. heterosexuality.
From a religious-moral standpoint Muslims will reject homosexuality as an alternative to the individual and collective lifestyles as prescribed by Islam to mankind.
But this is not where the story ends. In modern societies where the expression of individualism in all its forms has become part and parcel of daily life and defines identity, frictions are bound to erupt between the proponents of self-fulfilment and those who object to this ultimate reign of the human ego that may express itself also in the pursuit of a sexual desire that Islam declares “haram”.
Open expressions of sexuality – both heterosexual and homosexual – are pervading the public sphere to an extent that was unknown until the late 1960ies, including the so-called “western” societies. The expression of one’s sexuality and sexual orientation in the public sphere has turned out to be an important cornerstone, if not one of the central cornerstones, of self-determination in modern, western societies.
As a matter of fact, we do live in a totally sexualized environment, drastically exemplified by the world of advertisement where, if one is to believe commercials, the innocent purchase of a car-tire, a pack of margarine or an anti-perspirant turns into an erotic/sexual adventure.
The boundaries between the public and the private sphere are blurred as far as sexual preferences, orientations, practices, and activities, hetero- or homosexual in nature, are concerned. Individual sexuality is acted out in the public sphere, whereas interestingly enough living out a religious conviction in the public sphere is subjected to limitations, as the at times hysteric and on-going discussion in certain European countries regarding the head-scarves worn by Muslim women and the frenzy around the construction of mosques and minarets demonstrates.
It is to be doubted whether homosexuality could have gained the attention it receives on a social, legal and intellectual level, had it not been for the development of what one may call “public viewing of physical intimacy” in the past four decades, a culture of “coming out” by professing and demonstrating one’s sexual desire and penchant in public.
In an over-sexualized enviroment, a Muslim´s stance towards homosexuality becomes, in the eyes of people who call themselves enlightened, all the more the key-tolerance-test of his degree of liberality and tolerance, i.e. of his compatibility with secular modernity, where religion has been superseded.
No doubt, advocacy groups for homosexual rights have been and are in the forefront in the fight against racism, including Islamophobia and they have been strong in the support of Muslims in their struggle for the recognition of their due rights as citizens.
But politics has always been and is a tit-for-tat game and it may seem fair enough, if homosexual rights advocacy groups ask for Muslim support in return in the fight for what they claim to be their due rights in a modern society.
But how far can a Muslim go in his support for activists of homosexual rights, without betraying one of the central teachings of Islam, which is “to invite towards the good, and appeal for the approved and dissuade from the disapproved” (“amr bil maruf wa nahy an al munkar”) and without being accused to be an unreliable political opportunist only?
In order to find a way out of the above dilemma it is necessary to know, what some of the central demands of activists of homosexual rights are. The “International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission” has formulated its core demands under the following headings in direct reference to the UDHR, as follows (excerpts are given) :

“Discrimination and Equality
…we work to eliminate discrimination and to foster laws and policies promoting the equality of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

The Right to Privacy and Family
… we work to hold governments accountable for violations of the right to privacy for people whose sexual orientation, gender identity or expression differs from dominant norms.

Torture, Violence and Abuse
We work with our partners around the world to hold governments accountable for torture, violence or abuse to people whose sexual orientation, gender identity or expression differs from dominant norms.

Decriminalization
We believe that eliminating sodomy laws is fundamental for advancing a universal vision of human rights and work alongside other activists to decriminalize homosexuality.

Human Rights Defenders
..,those who stand up for sexual rights are at particular risk of retaliation given the stigma that often accompanies sexual or gender nonconformity. We believe that unless human rights defenders receive protection, then progress toward a more just world will be stymied. We work with our local partners throughout the world to support human rights defenders and enhance their safety.

Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association
…all too often, governments compromise the rights of those who challenge sexual or gender norms; they close down organizations, censor or confiscate materials, and prohibit demonstrations—especially pride marches, which are central to the ability to organize and be publicly visible. We work with our local partners throughout the world to hold governments accountable for the violation of these rights and to foster laws and policies promoting the freedom of speech, assembly and association of all people.

Gender Identity and Expression
Recognizing that social norms requiring conformity to gender roles underlie many discriminatory practices, we work with our local partners to push for laws and policies that protect gender identity and expression, and hold governments accountable for their enforcement.

Health and Human Rights
Stigma-based discrimination is particularly evident in efforts to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS, and also affects the sexual and reproductive healthcare available to sexual and gender non-conforming people. Together with our local partners around the world, we work to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect in healthcare settings and to hold governments accountable for violations of the right to health.”

Source

If one looks closely at the demands put forward by the IGLHRC the central theme, the “leitmotif”, turns out to be discrimination. Indeed, nobody wants to suffer from discrimination and rightly so.
However, for the sake of differentiation and clarification in the discussion there is one important aspect to take notice of , which is Article 2 of the UDHR; it states as follows:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The point to ponder about is the fact that despite the numerous references the IGLHRC makes to the UDHR, the UDHR never speaks of sexual orientation, but of “sex” only, when it comes to the issue of discrimination. (There are attempts to change this perception as a strong push of 50 countries which “call for an end to rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity” as stated recently by the UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay during a a World Congress on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, held at the National Assembly in Paris in France, demonstrates- but future will tell.)
In this writer´s view under the caption “Anti-Discrimination” Homosexual rights advocacy groups do push for much more than what may be recognized by people of Abrahamitic religions in general and Muslims in particular as rightful demands. They push for the acceptance of their lifestyle as an alternative to and on equal legal footing with traditional lifestyles or as it is called, the “dominant norm”.
Anyone can accept the demand of homosexual rights advocacy groups for physical integrity and free access to health care, this is not the issue.
However, a Muslim should draw a red-line regarding the legitimization of Sexual orientation, when it is portrayed as” Gender Identity” or as an aspect of “human diversity” in the public sphere in the name of Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association, and as a direct consequence thereof the promotion of Homosexuality as an alternative to traditional norms and finally the demand to the founding of a family with all legal rights and duties at par with what Islam considers “halal” heterosexual relationships.
One may ask: Do Muslims have to draw the red line?
The answer is simple and it is “Yes”. A red line has to be drawn because a homosexual lifestyle is in direct contravention to the lifestyle that Islam has prescribed for human societies. Muslims even go one step further; they reject heterosexual practices, which are not in line with Islamic prescriptions as outlined above, as well.
A Muslim cannot support a lifestyle or a sexual practice that contravenes basic Islamic teachings. For a Muslim there is no room within the context of Islamic Ethics for an affirmative action, that attempts to accommodate homo- or heterosexual practices, which are not in alignment with the Islamic concept of permissible physical relationships between two human beings in society.
Now, this is by no means a call for the prosecution of homosexual or illicit heterosexual behaviours but a call to reject heterosexual variations and, in this particular context, homosexuality as well as options and additional alternatives of relationships to human society, and Muslims should not be ashamed for the standpoint taken, be it in public or in private.
This reflection on homosexuality is a call to Muslims to object to the general exhibitionist “lust” that comes with the effort to constantly drag the intimate into the public, to force people to come out into the open on their private life and shed light on their sexual practices in an alleged process of liberal self-determination. From a Muslim’s point of view intimate relations and sexuality in partnership in general should be protected by the domain and boundaries privacy.
From my point of view the Islamic understanding of “zina” is not only a rejection of fornication, but it is in its consequential demand for the provision of four witnesses to prove an act of “zina” also a stern appeal to Muslims to perform any kind of sexuality within the closed domain of privacy; it goes without saying that privacy does not exonerate a human being of any kind of “haram” activity be it private of public, but it is in effect narrowed down to a matter of one´s own responsibility, which on this particular issue becomes a matter between the creature and the creator. In an era when the state tries to intrude and usurp and invade every nook and corner of the private lives of its citizens, it is hypocritical indeed calling the push for physical privacy into question. The “Don´t ask, don´t tell”-rule of the US-Army, which has been brought down recently, was in fact a gutsy, though uncomfortable to some, defence of an individual´s right to privacy. Whether the recent changes in this regard will prove to be a gain for society at large in the USA, only time will tell.
The strong contemporary tendency to profess sexuality in the public sphere is the important issue that should be brought to the centre-stage of societal discussions by those who do not subject their moral and ethical convictions to the ever present force and ever-changing nature of “zeitgeist”.
From a Muslim perspective the current discussion on homosexuality is too limited in scope and does not really serve any purpose. It is somewhat reminiscent of the current discussions that centre on the legality of drugs as cannabis in western societies, while at the same time the popular drug alcohol is made so easily available that it has turned into an integral part of non-Islamic social culture.
How can one destructive drug be termed illegal, while another destructive drug is consumed without any let and hindrance?
In the same manner how can homosexuality be excluded from public life in a society, while all kinds of other intimacies and sexual activities are exercised in the public sphere?
Discussing the weight and impact of varying degrees that “public intimacy” has on modern societies ought to be the central topic. In reality the issue of homosexuality constitutes a side-show only in a much broader discussion that not only “western” societies need to conduct.
Muslims should argue and stand for the privatisation and against the propagation of physical intimacies between the sexes, any kind of intimacies. “Sexing-up” one’s identity in public on the base of a sexual preference or orientation is one form of modernity’s (mis-)understandings of the concept of self-realization that Muslims should call into question.
No doubt this is an up-hill struggle and this view may be called conservative, reactionary, it may even be called hypocritical, so be it.
But for this writer it is hard to understand that in modern societies where the level of data protection and protection of the private sphere from the hungry intrusions by the state constitute the foundation of a responsible and respectful state-citizen-relationship, the call for the preservation of intimacy in the private sphere should be considered hypocritical?
Is a human being really in need of total, i.e. naked exposure and the sanction of his sexual practices by the state and the moral acceptance thereof by the society he lives in, in order to discover himself or to define his identity?
Shouldn’t be there a space of privacy, where the creature is judged in his doings of “haram” or “halal” only by his creator?
Is there really a dire need for Muslims living in modern societies of the West to support a “haram” lifestyle, which is effectively rejected by all Abrahamtic religions, and which is proclaimed with a high degree of pride as a sexual orientation and as an alternative lifestyle against the prescriptions of Islam, in order to attain a moderate political gain with relative ease?
These final questions will meet the disapproval of those favouring new alliances. Nonetheless, they are put forward, in order to provoke deep reflections, in order to put into question modern perceptions of civilising and/or rightful legal transformations and in order to incite a re-assessment of the factors that characterize the identity of a modern human being.

And Allah knows best.
M.Belal el-Mogaddedi
25.01.2011

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