Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Thursday, January 05, 2006

South-Asian Attitudes Towards Homosexuality

It seems to me that this issue is only going to get bigger. Was only a matter of time really. The Times has a story here and Sunny had actually pre-empted this on pickled politics a few days earlier.

I think that on the whole Muslims while not agreeing with homosexuality can tolerate it - like most religious Christians or Jews do (bananabrain if I'm wrong please correct me). Where it gets tricky is when it comes to gay Muslims. Johann Hari had this interesting piece a while back which I recommend. I'll post more on this topic later.

More: I think I have an analogy for this. Muslims tend to frown upon sex before marriage. However they can obviously tolerate it otherwise they wouldn't be able to live in any non-Muslim country without going into a frenzied rage. However when Muslims openly have sex before marriage, the whole dynamic changes and you often get horrendous honour killings (I would say this about honour killing though - they are a such a big problem not because of the number of them which happen, but because of the impact they have on those affected). For anyone intereted in the subject, I'd again like to recommend Nadeem Aslam's Maps for Lost Lovers.


Blogger AH said...

Interesting post...Generally speaking, I think if people (South Asian or otherwise) spent more time judging themselves then expending effort on telling others how to live (and feeling self-righteous) about it, the world would be an infinitely better place.

Though, more specific to your post the problem is the same one that Muslims face everywhere i.e. what does it mean to follow Islam and to be a Muslim? History and contemporary reality show that the answers are unlimited, that definitions of each term have changed immensely over time, and taht there is no one, overarching, monolithic conception...

8:27 pm, January 05, 2006  
Blogger Jordan said...

What would really appease the west is for an Islamic country to host a gay-pride parade.

Does anyone else notice that there is a direct relationship between a countries economic success and its attitude towards homosexuality.

Its seems that tolerance makes good financial sense!

2:51 am, January 06, 2006  
Anonymous bananabrain said...

well, like i said in my comments over at pickled politics, the situation is quite complicated and, like so many other things in judaism, you can either be strict or liberal with your priorities and interpretations whilst remaining within the bounds of the Law. so some people are tolerant, but some aren't. and, as a general rule, the further to the right you go the more bothered they are. however, i'd say we definitely have more pressing problems than this (unlike the church of england, apparently)



10:31 am, January 06, 2006  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

AH I definitely agree with your first point. On the second one I've been thinking - to formally become a Muslim the only requirement is to say the Shahadah.

You don't have to go through a period of training where you prove yourself by wearing certain clothes, acting in a certain way etc and are then judged by a panel of scholars. Does this allow one to make the argument that anyone claiming to have faith in Allah can not be denied membership to Islam?

If so then by extension gay people or any other minority can not be denied membership. If you can have gay muslims then that also removes the ability to discriminate against non-muslim gay people.

Do you think that this reasoning is too 'cute' or whether there is anything in it which can appeal to other muslims at a general levle.

1:22 pm, January 06, 2006  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

Bananabrain and Jordan thanks once again for your comments. Would it be wrong for me to suggest that the history of the Jewish people and the widespread nature of anti-semitism has inculcated a sense of tolerance. After all if you are a constantly oppressed minority you are more likely to be in favour of minority rights.

I'd also be interested to know if you think that the balance of tolerant and intolerant people are significantly different in Israel compared to the diaspora.

1:34 pm, January 06, 2006  
Blogger AH said...

As far as the reasoning being cute goes, I do think very few people calling themselves Muslims would go along with it--a minority might in principle, but when it comes down to actual real-life I don't think so...For instance, I do think it is highly unlikely that gay muslims, like gay people anywhere, will be accepted as full participators in the tradition. In fact, they will have even more of a problem, akin to how gays are viewed by the crazy evangelicals in the US--insidious promoters of sin, etc...

A digression: These attitudes--like those towards women, other races, nations, minorities, whatever--are understandable in terms of how social groups have typically formed. It's too bad that we are still struggling with the same problems that have been plaguing humans from the get-go: how to live your life without screwing over someone else. Well, things are better now than before in many respects, so there is always that.

7:35 pm, January 06, 2006  
Blogger Jordan said...

Reformist, I cannot begin to imagine the internal-conflict you have.

You are clearly a sincere believer, but at the same time concerned about the current state of Islam.

You do not make excuses, you do not point figures to foreign countries, you just recognize the facts on the ground.

It must be tough thing to do these days... specially online.

Anyways, regarding Jews having a sense of tolerance... I would like to say yes but due to the backlash against "zionism" (which is any jew who thinks Israel has the right to exists), tolerance isn't as easy of a trait as it was post-wwII.

But, Jews have managed to fight back using the following strategies.

1. Move
- Jews have become nomadic since the recent rise in anti-semitism. There is no reason for a jewish family to stick around in France if their kids are going to get beat up on the way to school.

And to put PC on hold for a sec, it is true that Jews are generally well educated, assimulate quickly, and have wealth. Nations like Canada are happy to take in Jews knowing their net output to society will be positive which make migration easy.

The one exception of course is '67 Israel. Short of nuclear threat, Jews will not move.

2. Humour
- I cannot stress the importance of being able to mock everything that is important in life.

In an interview, John Stewart was asked why he dropped his original last name, "Liebowitz". He responded "it sounded too Hollywood".

That pretty sums it up :)

3. Secular work culture

Jews are netoriously secular, which is necessary for economic success. "You shall meditate over the Torah all day and all night" has been abondened for "try to show up for Yom Kippor on time"

My biggest critism of Islam is its ability to encourage "literlism", which like Communism, devistates societies.

But I am encouraged that because of 9/11, there has been an awakening in the Islamic world for reform... unfortinately, it has also awakened the fundementalist.

I hope you win!

5:07 am, January 08, 2006  
Anonymous bananabrain said...

RM - the problem with minimalist conversion requirements is that you end up with people who don't really understand everything that's involved, or the implications, or who are selective about what they've chosen to sign up to. in fact, even in maximalist conversion situations people can simply be badly taught!

obviously, someone who is muslim (or jewish) by birth can turn out to be gay, in which case they either have to come to terms with it somehow or compromise on one or the other. i understand that there are a plethora of different coping strategies that are used. i personally would say that you'd have to find other reasons than gay muslims (an essentially chauvinistic approach - "we'd like to discriminate, but we can't because we'd affect muslims") - how about a stronger reading of the texts in the Qur'an which exhort the believer towards compassion, social justice and tolerance? i know there are ways to reconcile two apparently contradictory texts in judaism and i am equally sure the same mechanisms exist within islam.

it is interesting that you also highlight jewish people's support of minority rights - of course, as a minority ourselves, this is not entirely disinterested, but we do have a particular text that is relevant - "love the stranger, for you were strangers in egypt."

i don't think that there's a big difference between israel and the diaspora as far as tolerance goes; after all, who picked a transvestite to win eurovision? i think it's more that the divisions in israel are stark and the discourse aggressive and confrontational. those same divisions exist in the diaspora, but the discourse is far less public and savage.

jordan - jews have been "nomadic", as you put it, since the get-go and certainly for the last 2000 years. i'd disagree that "most jews are secular" - perhaps most you know, but not most i know.



3:34 pm, January 09, 2006  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

Interesting as always bananabrain. The post I've linked to above suggests that Indian Muslims need to inherit the intellectual leadership of the Islamic world.

Apart from the rich heritage, I've suggested and libertarian seems to agree with me that Indian muslims being a minority have an edge over their counterparts in other parts of the world. There may be a parralel there.

Apart from that do you thing references such as the one you've given have a large influence on the average practictioner?

Everytime a Muslim begins his daily prayers or recitation of the Quran he or she is supposed to recite,
'In the name of Allah the most Merciful the most Kind.'so I'm not sure if the problem is simply textual.

Incidentally did you manage to catch the Dawkins documentary tonight? Unfortunately I missed it.

9:17 pm, January 09, 2006  
Anonymous bananabrain said...

RM - that's a really interesting idea about indian muslims. why couldn't that be equally true of british and american muslims though? perhaps what the muslims really need to learn is how to live as a minority, in a "diaspora".

don't quite understand the point about the "average practitioner" - do you mean that the average muslim doesn't understand the relative importance of, say, social justice as opposed to, say, homosexuality or environmental awareness? if so, then i would say i'd agree. actually, i'd say the same of jews. we are both under-educated about our own religious traditions and the solution is education. i refer you to probably the best informal education organisation in the jewish community, limmud ( which is a grass-roots, non-denominational, volunteer-led effort which attracts 1500 people to its annual "festival of jewish learning" held over the christmas break. there are a small number of dialogue-involved muslims who attend, incidentally, but this is an approach that could definitely assist the muslim community.

i missed the dawkins documentary, i'm afraid - didn't hear about it till i read johann hari's blog today. incidentally, hari's comment about douglas adam's lightswitch issue probably relates to a religious friend of mine who used to work for him (adams, not hari) anyway, i'm afraid dawkins is just as much of a fundamentalist in some of his positions (e.g. religion is evil) as the people who make him into a bogeyman. i much prefer the position of robert winston, who is also a friend of dawkins' and is hardly less scientifically credible, whilst still remaining a religiously observant jew.



2:51 pm, January 10, 2006  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

Thanks for the link bananabrain - very interesting to see how the organisation has developed over the years. I agree with your comments on the average practitioner.

As for why British or American Muslims can not fulfill the leadership task, I think a lot of it has to do with history and heritage.

They do not tend to relate to the culture and civilisation of the subcontinent and either integrate completely or try and go back to a 'pure' form of Islam.

This is often found in those even moderate people who try and distance themselves from some of the negative elements of their parents roots e.g honour killings by saying that these things are not condoned by Islam but are cultural.

While this may be true, it also means ignoring the rich cultural heritage of the sub-continent.

Now I don't think that integration is necessarily a bad thing but if you're looking for leadership then such people aren't the best equipped to do so.

I still have no clue as to how the original post will be translated into practical change but I think there's something to it which I certainly identify with.

5:19 pm, January 11, 2006  

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