by Junaid Jahangir | July 10, 2013
In May, the assembly of Islamic researchers of Al Azhar University in Egypt — constituting the highest authority in Sunni Islamic jurisprudence — condemned Muslim same-sex marriage and rejected the prayers of Muslims who pray behind queer-positive Imams as invalid.
Conservative Muslim leaders occasionally judge the prayers of fellow Muslims who challenge Muslim social norms and accuse them of apostasy. However, such scriptural abuse violates the spirit of Islam that rests on Tawhid — the oneness of God, which forbids any clerical interference in people’s relationship to God.
As in the case of queer Muslims, some conservative Muslim leaders brand Muslims who shave their beards as disbelievers and counsel against praying behind beardless Imams. Likewise, they deemed the woman-led mixed congregational prayers of Dr. Amina Wadud and her followers as invalid.
They hyperbolically likened her leading the prayers to waging war against God and His Prophet, accused her of apostasy and categorized her supportive opinions on Muslim same-sex unions as filthy, vulgar and repulsive.
By demonizing fellow Muslims who challenge Muslim social norms, conservative Muslim leaders subject them to danger from extremists who believe that apostates should be killed. Indeed, such scriptural abuse violates the Prophet’s teaching, “Do not harm and accept no harm.”
Conservative Muslim leaders have a responsibility to avoid inciting hatred. They have to recognize that in branding fellow Muslims with hawa (selfish pursuit of desires) and bidah(distortion of Islamic principles), they indulge in baghy and istibdad bil ray — self-righteousness accompanied by a denouncement of those with dissenting opinions.
In contrast, several past jurists rejected the narrative of exclusion. The 11th century jurist Sarakshi opined that even minds that opposed one’s own way of thinking should be honored, and the 19th century jurist Ibn Abidin argued that a human being has to be honored regardless of his religious beliefs.
The Al Azhar researchers branded Muslim same-sex marriage as against religion, ethical values and human traditions. However, they failed to recognize the diversity in culture and religion that has accommodated same-sex relationships throughout human history.
Instead of scripturally abusing queer Muslims and their allies, Islamic researchers at Al Azhar, may wish to heed the opinion of Ibn Abidin, who upheld that those who made up charges of disbelief usually possessed a lower caliber sense of spirituality and that their works were not credible.
It would be against the spirit of Islam to advocate that Islamic law invalidates the prayers of queer Muslims and their allies, or that it condemns queer Muslims to a life without intimacy, love and companionship.
Indeed, according to Dr. Hashim Kamali of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Sciences in Malaysia, the overriding objectives of Islamic law include justice, human dignity, equality, removal of hardship, prevention of harm, and realizing benefits for people.
Islamic law does not prevent conservative Muslim leaders from adopting a renewed approach on matters of social change. The controversial prayer led by Dr. Wadud that initially invited scorn eventually led some conservative Muslim leaders like Shabbir Ally andHamza Yusuf to acknowledge a more nuanced position on women-led mixed congregational prayers.
Likewise, a constellation of Imams from queer inclusive mosques across the globe along with Muslims for Progressive Values vehemently opposed the Al Azhar statement. In essence, the progressive Muslim community rejected all forms of physical, verbal and spiritual attacks against queer Muslims and their allies.
Acknowledging that scriptural abuse should not stifle freedom of conscience, religious debate and basic human rights, they exhorted fellow Muslims to determine their position on same-sex marriage without intimidation and welcomed any dialogue on the basis of compassion and understanding.
The progressive Muslim community, whose powerful statements can be found here andhere, has also supported Muslim same-sex marriage by citing that in Muslim tradition, marriage is a social contract between two free consenting individuals.
In light of a changed social milieu and the unstinted support of the progressive Muslim community, how long will conservative Muslim leaders inflict scriptural abuse and channel their prejudice by selectively parsing the religious tradition?