Friday, February 15, 2008

Orthodox Muslim Scholar Also Calls for ‘A Jihad for Love.’

From Egypt Today

A Daa'y Responds

Orthodox Muslim Scholar also calls for 'A Jihad for Love.'

In Islam, the consensus from all orthodox scholars is that the Qur'an and hadith (Prophet's sayings) condemn homosexual activity. A Jihad for Love has polarized the discussion of homosexuality among Muslims. Critics argue that Sharma portrays homosexual activity as permissible in Islam, while they contend that it clearly isn't. They also accuse Sharma of bias: As a gay Muslim man, they argue that he began the project with prejudices and a predefined position on homosexuality.

There are two main arguments Sharma and those featured in his documentary use to defend the way they live their lives. Presenting the opposing views is Moez Masoud, a young Egyptian daa'y (caller to Islam) and media expert who has studied under traditional scholars (including the Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa). Masoud aired an episode in his 2007 Ramadan program The Right Way that was unprecedented in the history of religious TV programs: It was filmed in front of a gay cinema in London's Soho district and openly discussed homosexuality.

Argument one: Homosexual inclinations are not a choice, but rather they are biologically driven. In an online article, Sharma wrote that "homosexuality, a 'condition' as natural as heterosexuality, has thrived as long as Islam has, and has often spread rapidly through Islamic lands with the blessings of rulers, artists, poets, musicians, Sufi mystics and many others." Sharma then reasons that since it is an innate disposition, homosexuality cannot be a sin.

In his The Right Way episode, Masoud noted that the existence of a 'gay gene' remains an unproven theory, and there are other explanations behind homosexual inclinations – a widespread, though largely unjustified, example is sexual abuse. Many Muslim scholars agree that even if the 'gay gene' does exist, Islam stresses that humans are only responsible for actions they do voluntarily; inclinations, therefore, are not a sin, only the act.

"The argument is as follows: if the inclination is gene-related, then it is 'not bad' and can be followed," says Masoud. He points out that even if specific behavioral tendencies are wired into you, "that doesn't [...]make these behaviors good, nor should it lead society to allow and 'accept' them."

The reason Masoud believes a societymight accept homosexual activity, although it definitely wouldn't hesitate to arrest and punish a mugger with biologically explainable aggressivetendencies, is that this type of society "is based on a philosophical acceptance of materialism and a denial of the existence of the spirit [] and so is only able to see material losses but not spiritual harms."

A human being, according to Masoud, is made up of body, self and spirit, and therefore has a physical, psychological, and spiritual dimension to him. So even if there is shown to be a 'gay gene,' orthodox Muslim scholars will see it as God giving these men and women both a tribulation which they have to combat and an immense opportunity to draw closer to their spirituality.

"In that sense," he continues, "they will then truly be mujahideen (those involved in jihad). The [documentary] is correct in its use of the term of jihad but defines it incorrectly. When people who have homoerotic desires struggle against their inclinations, they are struggling against an act that satisfies their physical body [] but is against their spiritual self.

"The word sex is now assumed to be anything to do with pleasure and anything orgasmic. But sex is the unison of pairs, of male and female. The word 'know' in the Bible occasionally means sex. 'He knew her' means he slept with her, which means he got to know his other half, and acknowledged the 'other.' Sex cannot be devoid of acknowledgment of the other, so when it's two similar and not two opposites there is no knowing, no acknowledgment and no sex."

Masoud also points out that in addition to spiritual harms, homoerotic activity results in "severe witnessable physical harm," since it is not compatible with the human body's design. Increased vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases and to the HIV virus is also a risk, as well as to other diseases.

"We have to make a clear distinction between the act and the desire," explains Masoud. "The compulsive desire is not a sin, and only those who act upon it are sinning. Many people say that the person who engages in homosexual activities is an apostate, but Islam really says — and agrees with [Sharma] on this point — that the person is still Muslim, Muslim, Muslim, as long as he acknowledges that he is sinning. We need to reach out to these people, and I [personally] get many emails and telephone calls from youth suffering from this problem thinking they are damned even though they don't act upon their desires. We need to help them without disarming them of their spirituality. We, too, need to tell them who they are, but on all levels of existence: body, self and most importantly spirit."

Argument two: Sharma rebuts orthodox Islamic scholars who have interpreted the Qur'an and Hadith as forbidding homosexual relations by stating "that story [in the Qur'an] has nothing to do with consensual homosexual relations — it is about male-to-male rape. [Also] the Hadith of our beloved Prophet have been misinterpreted for centuries by men."

Sharma and those who agree with him have reached this conclusion through their own ijtihaad, the personal attempt to interpret scripture. "We were instructed by our Prophet (peace be upon him)" explains Sharma, "to actually engage in discussion about Islam after which we can form an opinion based on it with our own intelligence."

Scholars point out the hole in his logic—which is that the process of ijtihaad is not open to anyone, but only to those who have rigorously studied. Otherwise, anyone can open any book and make any fatwa (religious verdict) to suit his needs based on limited knowledge and information that is out of context.

"Only around 20 of over 100,000 companions of the prophet were "ahl estembat" (those who considered themselves qualified enough to actually interpret Qur'an and Hadith)" says Masoud. "Ijtihaad needs intensive training in language, purpose of Shariah and an academic awareness of the reasoning behind all other specialized mujtahids' (those who practiced ijtihaad) derived rulings. Unqualified, post modern readings of scripture are too focused on personal freedom and individual pleasure that they unintentionally take the verses out of both spiritual and scriptural context. Specialization is respected in all realms of life, and Sacred Law should be no exception.

"Also, if you [start the process of ijtihaad] with preconceived notions and then search for 'proof' in the Qur'an, you will see what you want to see — just like terrorists find justification for killing innocent non-Muslims in the Qur'an."

In the end, Masoud notes, one has to remember that "jihad is to struggle in the cause of good. It's a struggle for the sake of goodness, beauty, justice and truth. Homoerotic activity is not a manifestation of these universal principles; it's a violation of them and is in antithesis to the spiritual dimension. I love the title [of the movie] but when defined differently. We need to have jihad against extremism in society so we can learn to love the sinning person that is struggling, even though we hate their sin. And so, I too, call for a jihad for love."

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