Orlando, homosexuality and Islam

Orlando, homosexuality and Islam

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — I was packing for a trip to Grand Rapids, this pleasant city in northern United States, when I heard the horrible news in Orlando: A young Muslim man had massacred 49 people in an LGBT club and injured many people. When I arrived at my destination and headed to Acton University, this refined institution that has brought to me here to lecture on “Islam 101,” some people naturally asked what I think about what just happened. 

Of course I am appalled and disgusted, I told them. The first reason was the some 50 innocent people were ruthlessly killed. The second reason was that this was done in the name of the so-called “Islamic State” which supposedly acts in the name of my faith.

That is why my prayers go for the Orlando victims. I offer my condolences to their traumatized families. I also join the hundreds of American Muslim leaders – imams, theologians, academics – who signed a joint statement which reads: “Such an act of hate-fueled violence has no place in any faith, including Islam. As people of faith, we believe that all human beings have the right to safety and security and that each and every human life is inviolable.”

However, there is also something troubling that we Muslims should face. While the vigilante execution of non-Muslim gays such as in Orlando cannot be justified according to any traditional school of Islam, most of those traditional schools of Islam still have pretty harsh measures against homosexuality. In fact, the death penalty is the punishment decreed for the “crime” of homosexuality in some of the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence. 

That is why today in shariah-imposing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan or Sudan, gays, if caught, can be flogged or chemically castrated if they are lucky, or be simply executed. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) does the same thing only in a more graphic fashion, by throwing gays from rooftops, and exposing this cruel execution proudly online. 

So, if we Muslims want to be consistent when we say, “all human beings have the right to safety and security,” we have to confront this problem. We need that much-asked yet much-refused concept: “Reform.” Just like we need reform in other harsh measures within the shariah, such as the execution of apostates, blasphemers or adulterers.

As I have argued elsewhere, a reform on these issues is actually not that difficult, if we are ready to make a distinction between the Qur’an, which is the only undisputed Muslim text, and the post-Qur’anic sources. The clear injunctions for execution (of gays, blasphemers, apostates or adulterers) come not from the Qur’an but the post-Qur’anic sources. Questioning the latter, or putting it in its historical context, should not be a heretical idea. 

None of this means that Muslims cannot have any moral judgment about homosexuality. Like many conservative Christians, most Muslims think that God created us to be man and wife, and that heterosexuality is the only divinely ordained form of human sexuality. That is fine. Religions have the right to have their notions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, permissible and sinful. 

The burning question is what to do when other people openly do something that you deem inappropriate. Many medieval scholars thought that you should punish them – for their own good or for the good of the society. But we live in a different world now with very different conditions and values. And we need to question some of our traditional rules and attitudes.