Orlando has devastated our nation, now united in grief. For American Muslims, our distress at it is once familiar: the fear that the perpetrator may be Muslim; the heart-sinking realization that he was; and, for the first time, the confrontation with a Muslim’s homosexuality. The Orlando jihadist has let Muslim homophobia out of the closet.
Indisputably, Islam considers same-sex marriages to be invalid, thus determining all homosexual activity as extra-marital. Homosexual activity, specifically referred to in the Qu’ran in two verses concerning male homosexuality is deemed a moral transgression — female homosexuality goes unmentioned.
‘We also sent Lut: He said to his people: “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” Qur’an 7:80-81
“What! Of all creatures do ye come unto the males, and leave the wives your Lord created for you? Nay, but ye are forward folk.” Qur’an 26:165
Yet nowhere in the Quran, the revealed text of Islam, is punishment specified. If an individual is to be accused of extramarital sexual activity (which includes homosexuality as Islam sees it) the accuser must produce four witnesses who can testify to consummation of the sexual act at the point of penetration. Demanding such exacting evidence is a Divine deterrent to malignant hearsay while also shielding a Muslim’s most intimate privacies.
In contrast, in the modern world, Muslim Majority States have institutionalized homophobia and often prescribe lethal punishment including capital sentences often based on false or fabricated evidence. Both legitimate Islamist states including Iran or Saudi Arabia, and the illegitimate so-called Islamic State — have taken these punishments to an extreme.
Iran has executed more than 4,000 homosexuals since 1979 according to Sadakat Kadri’s erudite treatise Heaven on Earth. ISIS throws homosexuals from tall buildings and allows falling buildings to crush homosexuals alive. Is this Islam? Of course not. Yet there are troubling factors that contribute to such inhumane brutality completely antithetical to Islam’s core and they come from an invented Sharia.
After the Quran was revealed extra-Quranic materials were also assembled: the Sunnah — the actions of the Prophet, Arab customs of the time and his conduct as observed by his contemporaries and transmitted first orally and then in written form across the centuries, and the Hadith –– recordings of sayings ascribed by his contemporaries — chains of memory of varying degrees of validity and likely accuracy. Centuries after the Prophet’s death, four major schools of Islamic Law, each named after a particular scholar, emerged with divergent interpretations of the Sharia.
The Hanafite school, the dominant school of Islamic law in India, Pakistan and other Middle East nations other than the Arabian peninsula teaches that no physical punishment is warranted for the offense of homosexuality, in line with the Qu’ran’s silence — despite the fact that these states today impose state sanctioned capital punishments and harsh sentences for homosexualit, laws which have neither basis in the Quran nor the Sharia. In contrast, the harshest expression of Sharia, the Hanbali School of Sharia followed widely in the Arab world including Saudi Arabia teaches severe punishment is warranted, again not based or found in the Qu’ran.
The Quran always supersedes all other scriptural sources in the practice of Islam but neo-fundamentalists, particularly following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, have enthusiastically embraced non Qu’ranic references above the Quran, and often exercise the laws antithetical to both the spirit of Islam and the Word of God. The revivalist neo-fundamentalists of the modern day Islamic State have institutionalized homophobia and its violent and lethal punishments through legislation.
While these laws are claimed as legitimate ‘Sharia’ rulings they are the product of ta’azir — a phenomenon whereby Islamic judges sentence at discretion crimes without prior precedent. Without the checks and balances of the Quran- evidentiary standards of four witnesses — they become freewheeling and pitiless in their punishments. Ta’azir laws, rapidly exploded after the 1979 revolution in Iran, resulting in the most brutal expressions of an ‘invented Sharia’ ever seen in the history of Islam.
These laws, enacted, enforced and prosecuted by Muslims have created not only a climate of lethal intolerance of those with alternative lifestyles but an appetite to hunt down those who refuse to be coerced into monolithic sexuality that Islam prescribes. Worse, these laws create and legitimize a climate of impunity at seeking violent punishments, imprisonment and vigilantism targeting the would-be gay Muslim or the actual gay Muslim.
ISIS and Islamists of its ilk have seized on these biases and entrenched intolerance for Muslim homosexuality to lethal and terrifying impact. Yet just as ISIS does not represent Islam, neither do institutionalized states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran or others: both overlook the Qu’ran’s clear absence of prescribed punishment for homosexuality, clear assertion of a Muslim’s privacy and clear deterrent for accusations of sexual immorality.
Also overlooked is Islam’s centuries-long tradition of valuing the privacy of an individual. Privacy of the Muslim, including his home and lifestyle is sacrosanct. Homosexual lifestyles thereby become the private matter of the people who pursue them-Muslims are not to to be their earthly judges, rather each individual is to be judged for his or her actions by his or her maker, as it is in purported crimes of blasphemy.
Violation of a Muslim’s privacy in the pursuit of combatting wrongdoing perceived or otherwise is considered a violation of the individual’s sanctity and a serious over reach of the Muslim’s duty. Islam very much believes to each believer his home is indeed his or her castle strongly supported by explicit verses in the Quran (Q49:12; Q2:189; Q24:27).
One of the beauties however of America is the tolerance of all forms of diversity — starkly absent in Saudi Arabia — including acceptance of homosexuality. As a physician for 25 years I have been privileged to attend gay American families in all stages of sickness and health. As their physician I can testify to the humanity found in the homosexual community is as moving and complex as in any other group of human beings in our society.
I am not alone in my experience developing as a Muslim through my work as a physician. Pew surveys have shown that more than 40 percent of U.S. Muslims accept same sex marriage, indicating that while the Quran is clear on its disdain for such sexual relations — rather like other biblical traditions — by understanding Islam allows each believer his privacy and the sanctity of his home, it is the fabric of a secular liberal democracy which enables us as Muslims to not only pursue our beliefs as we see them but to actually pursue them with greater humanity and honor for the individual as Islam had intended.
The Orlando jihadist attack affords Muslims during this Ramadan, a chance for introspection and reflection. As we witness and experience the suffering and eloquence of the gay community newly visible because of this calamity, every American Muslim we must consider how our faith is adjudicated in Muslim-majority worlds, how we ourselves have contributed to Islamist lethality towards the homosexuals and how we might recover our own Islamic values of mercy and tolerance, respect for the individual and the free will for him to make his choices in the lives of gay Americans and gay Muslims around the world.
Qanta Ahmed can be found on Twitter here.