Multiculturalism and Islam; civil unions and homosexuality
by Samir Khalil Samir, sj
Islam has always been merciless on homosexual relations. Yet there is silence in Italy among Muslims on civil unions and homosexuality. There is a kind of manipulation of Islam on the part of liberal progressivism. If Europe and America want to change the concept of “family”, they must take account of universal religious traditions. The second in a series of articles on multiculturalism.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Multiculturalism is not helping the West to be itself, nor is it helping the Muslims of Europe to integrate better in their new countries. I would like to demonstrate this point by examining the question of homosexuality and the family in the Islamic tradition and in today’s Islamic world.
Muslims in Italy and the debate on civil unions
In Italy, it is the supporters of all-out cultural tolerance who are promoting a law on civil unions. They were preceded by other European countries where the same observation can be made.
Strangely enough, Muslims communities – who receive so much support from progressive liberals – have remained silent on this issue. For example, UCOII – an association of Italian Muslims which claims to represent the majority of Muslims given that it controls (often in financial terms) a large part of mosques in the country – speaks only when it is politically convenient, when it spots the possibility of obtaining a right, a privilege, a prayer hall, a mosque, a reduction in working hours during Ramadan, a vacation for a pilgrimage to Mecca, etc.
But members of UCOII do not weigh into the issues that are being debated in Italy. The problem of the value of the family and of homosexual couples seems to not interest them. This is a sign that they are not carrying forward a project of integration, but of revindication.
It must be said that the question of de facto couples has never been put forward, either in the past (obviously) or in this day and age. Even more than is the case in Christianity, Islam puts the accent on procreation in marriage, and secondly on sexual pleasure, which falls exclusively under the framework of legality, whether in terms of marriage or concubinage. Outside of legal marriage or recognized concubinage, any sexual act is a grave sin, and this according to all Islamic schools of legal thought, whether Sunni or Shi’ite.
Let’s consider therefore what is Islam’s official position (as expressed in the most important schools of law) with regard to homosexuality; then, what is the reality in the Muslim world (yesterday and today) on the question of homosexuality; and lastly, what is the current legislation in various Muslim countries.
The Koran and the Hadith on homosexuality
In the Koran, anal relations are considered a very serious sin. The biblical story of Lot (Genesis 19) is told 6 times in the Koran, an exceptional number of times which demonstrates its importance, and is always condemned absolutely: Koran 7, 80-84 ; 11, 77-82 ; 15, 58-79 ; 26, 160-174 ; 27, 54-58 ; e 29, 28-35. According to Muslim tradition, these six texts date back to the Mecca period (610-622), actually to what scholars of Oriental studies call “the third Meccan period” which covers the years 619-622. According to editions in Saudi Arabia, these chapters correspond respectively to chapters 39, 52, 54, 47, 48 and 85.
The condemnation of the actions of the people of Sodoma is unremitting. For example, Koran 29 (The Spider), 28-29: “And when Lot said to his people: Most surely you are guilty of an indecency which none of the nations has ever done before you; you lust after males.”
According to the Tradition of Muhammad (Sunnah), homosexuality, both male and female, whether active or passive, is equivalent to adultery, and is thus punishable by death.
Doctors of the faith (“ulama”) usually refer to 3 hadith, which speak of liwât (a word that derives from Loth), i.e. relations between two males (but it also generally means homosexuality), or of sihâq, i.e. relations between two females. The first hadith says “When a male mounts another male, God’s throne trembles.” The second says “Kill the person who is active and the person who is passive.” The third deals with lesbians: “The sihâq of women is fornication ((zinâ).”
Furthermore, anal relations with one’s own wife is condemned by a hadith: “Cursed is he who approaches his wife from behind” (Imam Ahmad Collection, 2/479).
Homosexuality is often practiced, throughout Arab and Islamic history, between an adult and an adolescent boy. A hadith says to “mistrust young adolescents, because they are a greater source of damage than young virgins.” A story is told of Imam Sufyān al-Thawrī (died 783) who fled from some baths one day, asserting on the question of sexual temptations that “if every woman has a demon who accompanies her, then a beautiful young man has seventeen of them.” The famous Hanbalite jurist, Ibn al-Jawzī, (died 1200) appears to have said, “Those who claim to not experience any desire when they look at beautiful boys and young men are liars, and if we believed him, we would seem him as an animal, not as a human being.” In classical Arabic poetry, there is an abundance of poems on love for young men, and in fact many would go to monasteries to contemplate young novices!
A reflection of this love for boys is also found in the Koran. In the description of Paradise in Sura 56, 12-19, we read: “In the gardens of bliss, many from among the old, a few from among the recent, on thrones decorated, reclining on them, facing one another. Round about them shall go the eternally young, with goblets, pitchers and cups of pure drink; which shall give neither headaches nor drunkenness.” And also in Sura 52, 21-24. “And (as for) those who believe and their offspring follow them in faith, We will unite with them their offspring and We will not diminish to them any of their work; every man is responsible for what he shall have wrought. And We will aid them with fruit and flesh such as they desire. They shall pass between them a cup immune to vanity and sin. And round them, to serve them, shall go boys similar to hidden pearls.”
The Koran thus completely condemns homosexuality and equates it to adultery. The tradition of the Prophet of Islam accepted by the ulama explicitly says that it deserves death. Practice of homosexuality was however frequent. Islam authorizes chaste love with boys, as long as there was no physical contact. And according to a saying (hadith): “He who loves and remains chaste and hides his secret and dies, dies a martyr,” that is for having resisted the greatest of temptations.
Official position of Islam on homosexuality, yesterday and today
There are five juridical schools in the Muslim world today: 4 are Sunni (Hanafite Malikite, Shafite, Hanbalite) and the fifth, Jaafari, is Shi’ite. The Hanafite school does not consider homosexual relations to be adulterous, but leaves punishment to the discretion of judges. The other four schools consider it to be adultery and condemn the two partners to death. As with adultery, there must be 4 male witnesses or 8 female witnesses.
Imam Yûsuf al Qaradâwi, the scholar most accredited with modern Sunni Islam, writes « Islamic jurists have had opposing opinions on the punishment for this abominable practice. Should punishment be that foreseen for zina (fornication), or should both the active and passive participants be killed? Even if such punishment can seem cruel, it has been recommended to maintain the purity of Islamic society, and to cleanse it of perverted elements ((Al-halâl w-al-harâm fî l-Islâm - The licit and the illicit in Islam).
How is sharia, the Islamic law, being applied in the Islamic world? In seven nations, homosexual relations are officially punishable by death: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia, Somaliland, Yemen and Afghanistan at the time of the Taliban. In many countries, homosexuality is punished with incarceration, or corporal punishment, as in Bahrain, Qatar, Algeria, Maldives, etc. In some countries (Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Mali, etc.), homosexuality is not prohibited as such, but gays can be condemned for offending public morality, as happened in Cairo on May 11, 2001, when 52 men were arrested on board the Queen Boat Nightclub, anchored in the Nile. Iran is the country where the situation is of the greatest injustice: since the Islamic revolution, the Iranian government has executed more than 4000 people accused of homosexual relations.
On this, as on many other points, Islam is in contradiction with the Universal Charter of Human Rights, due to the confusion made between ethics and law. A religion can consider an act to be a serious offence against God (a sin), and no one can prevent someone from saying so – as instead shamefully happened in the European Parliament with Italian M.P. and E.U. Commission-candidate Rocco Buttiglione. But law cannot always correspond with ethics. Ethics aims at the perfection of behaviour, and must propose an ideal which will always been difficult to reach, but serves as a guide for man. Law indicates the minimum limit after which one can speak of a crime. Furthermore, and this is another crime, the media exercises unacceptable and immoral pressure on homosexuals: in the case of the 52 gays in Cairo, the press published their names, addresses, telephone numbers, and photos: this, and not homosexuality, would have merited incarceration.
There is also a question of incoherence: Islamic moral represses homosexuality, but people usually tolerate it. It is not rare, for instance, in Egypt between an adult and a young man. It is so widespread that we have two terms in Arabic to indicate the active and passive parts (‘ars e khawal) of a couple.
Conclusion: defending the family for the sake of dialogue with Islam
I find that there is not much debate in Europe among Muslims on the question of homosexuality and on the value of the family as the union between a male and a female. I have only found an inter-religious statement issued in Lyon, France, in favour of the family.
“It is not a question,” they say, “of a debate on society, but of an unprecedented superior choice in humanity’s history, given that the family as a union between a man and a woman is a gift that must be passed on to future generations.” The letter goes on to say that the family is very fragile today, because adults are not able to help young people build their future. “How can they acquire a solid formation, face the future with hope, respect the duties of a profession and build their own balanced family if the institution of marriage is relativized?”
1. Religions and philosophies have the right to have their own scale of values, to consider that such and such an act is moral or immoral, virtuous or sinful. Every man has this right. On the condition however that such moral judgement does not affect judgement on the person and behaviour in his regard. The act is one thing, the person is another.
2. Religions have the duty, if they want to be of help to human society, to periodically, constantly, re-examine their positions, both in the light of foundational texts and of contemporary reflection. As Pope Benedict puts it: faith and reason must be harmonized and are inseparable one from the other.
3. Islam in particular is going through a phase of returning to its origins, to protect itself from a West that it judges to be irreligious and atheist. It faces the easy risk of regression. To achieve the harmonization between faith and reason, it is indispensable that faith not be explained only by “men of religion”, as our jargon goes (rigiâl al-dîn), but also by scholars of scientific and humanistic disciplines. The drama of contemporary Islam is the dichotomy within the community, the umma: those who lead (or should lead) the community study only religious sciences and whatever explains these; those doing other studies do not interfere on the intelligence of faith.
4. The concept of family has had an almost unanimously recognized meaning ever since the existence of man, namely as the nucleus composed of a man and a woman with their children. The concept can extend to relatives of varying degrees, but the nucleus remains such. The fact of homosexuality has always existed in human history, which has tolerated it without legitimizing it. The West is proposing a new approach to the concept of family, presenting it as “progressive.” Being such a fundamental matter, it would be necessary to hold in account not only national opinion, but also the approach held by humanity as a whole. Europe and America (or parts of these) cannot think of themselves as the motor of humanity and of its progress: this can be true at the technological and scientific levels, not at the ethical and philosophical level.
5. Western behaviour on matters pertaining to the family and to sex confirms Muslims in the idea that Western civilization is decadent, and they attribute this decadence to the loss of faith and religious practice. The more determined element reacts violently against this evil. How does one explain to traditional Muslims (the majority of them) that modernity is replete with values (even if there are deficiencies as in any human reality), if what appears of this civilization is contrary to certain recognized values? Islam’s battle against the West, seen as depraved, will continue, taking on violent forms, because Western behaviour violates the conscience of the Muslim world on important points.
6. I would add a final question. Why, when it was a question of removing some visible signs of Christian tradition (the crucifix, nativity scene, etc…) numerous voices were heard using the argument of avoiding offence against Muslims (as if a nativity scene were an offence to them!), and when it is a question so fundamental to them, there is no such talk? It is not perhaps that the liberal world is exploiting Muslims only when it suits their own opinions? This is not respect, but manipulation…and Muslims (or also Arabs) are not so stupid to believe in it.