There’s nothing I love better after six hours of travelling and two nights of non-sleep than watching an episode of BBC 3’s Free Speech on iPlayer but sometimes one is forced by circumstance to go above and beyond the call of duty.
The segment that interested me had originally been scheduled to air in the previous episode a couple of weeks prior but had been pulled due to objections from the committee of Birmingham central mosque where it was being hosted. Anyhow, as the presenter, Rick Edwards so ably pointed out, better late than never.
This week’s motley panel included Maajid Nawaz (needs no introduction), Luisa Zissman (failed contestant in a contest of failures with the sole redeeming feature that she’s kind of hot), Amy Lame (American-born lesbian Labour candidate who once featured on a reality show about fat people) and some bloke with an absurd hairstyle who’s apparently a historian. Strategically positioned in the audience was Muslim commentator and activist, Abdullah Andalusi who had clearly been chosen to represent the voice of mainstream Islamic orthodoxy.
The segment opened with a short clip narrated by a homosexual drag queen by the name of Asif Quraishi, in which he explained in brief the difficulty he had experienced in admitting to his family that he was gay and his ongoing quest for acceptance by the wider Muslim community. It concluded with him addressing the community asking them when it would be ok to be simultaneously gay and Muslim.
I’ll try not to bore you with a verbatim, by the second seriatim account of the night’s proceedings but will attempt to focus instead on where I think Abdullah Andalusi got it (a bit) wrong, where two young Muslim ladies got it right and why Maajid Nawaz is a disingenuous opportunist.
Just for the record I’d like to state that I hold Abdullah Andalusi in great esteem and have the utmost respect for the superlative work that he does in propagating the call of Islam and in countering the specious arguments of the Islam haters and their scurrilous attacks on the Muslim community and its Prophet (saw) so what follows should be considered in light of that.
To state that Islam doesn’t discriminate between people based upon sexual orientation but regards them all as merely human is misleading (albeit I’m sure that was not the intent) and obviously ignores the very real distinction that Islamic texts do draw between Muslim humans and non-Muslim humans. Additionally making such a statement in the context of a debate upon the acceptability (or otherwise) of openly and actively gay individuals to the Muslim community is highly confusing given that it is widely known that classical Islamic law mandates the strictest punishment for those who engage in homosexual intercourse – without doubt a form of discrimination! Needless to say that this left many, including the presenter, looking rather pulled and although, when pressed, Abdullah did clarify that such acts are sinful he was noticeably ambivalent as to his thoughts on the particular case of Mr Quraishi. Such confusion was to be exploited later on by Maajid Nawaz in order to impute a position to Abdullah Andalusi that he clearly was not comfortable with and which seemingly set him at odds with the orthodox Islamic stance elucidated later on by a young Muslim lady. I must also mention that the repeated off-topic full throttled broadsides against Maajid did Abdullah no favours with the audience and presented Maajid the opportunity to play the picked-on victim card again – which of course he duly did.
Unfortunately I do not know the name of the young Muslim ladies in question (one is present on Twitter using the handle @Arabesque_x) but their confrontation of Messrs Nawaz and Quraishi was the highlight of the evening. Ms Arabesque – for lack of an alternative moniker – began by excoriating gay drag queen, Asif over his stubborn insistence on retaining his Muslim identity while choosing to lead a lifestyle clearly at odds with Qur’anic teachings. The logic of her impassioned submission – backed up by her citing of the relevant surah (along with an offer to provide the precise verse) – that Islam forbade homosexual relationships and as a consequence thereof the concept of gay Muslims was oxymoronic, struck a chord with many in the audience and I noted that several (apparently) non-Muslim participants applauded also. Her subsequent forceful, curt dismissal of Ms Zissman’s incipient objection raised a few laughs whilst simultaneously alerting many to the fact that the topic was an emotive one for many Muslims as it impinged upon the question of Qur’anic authority. At first Asif attempted to dismiss her appeal to the Qur’anic text out of hand, intoning that he wasn’t there to discuss the Qur’an but to talk about love. However, the astute lady reminded him that as he had posed the question when will Muslims (and by implication Islam) accept gays consequently the teachings of the Qur’an lay central to answering that. The best Asif could muster by way of riposte was that his sexuality was not a choice. At this point the second of the two young Muslim ladies was invited to comment by the presenter and proceeded in a somewhat more sedate manner to similarly make the point that while Asif was free to be gay, Islam quite clearly prohibited homosexual behaviour and the answer to his original question therefore, was an emphatic “never”. The resultant hand-wringing jeremiad by Asif decried both the supposed rising suicide rate amongst homosexual youths and a growing tide of homophobic crime, laying the blame squarely at the feet of the attitudes that had been expressed by these two Muslim ladies.
Maajid Nawaz’s contribution – if you can call it that – was to reassert once again his staunch opposition to “literalism” and to repeat his trite mantra that as there was no singular authoritative interpretation of Islam therefore everyone should be free to fashion and adhere to their own. Of course by adopting such an axiom one is confronted with the awkward problem of how to declare the “extremists” interpretation invalid and an aberration – a point raised by both Ms Arabesque and again later on, in a rather perfervid manner, by Abdullah. Realising that he’d been called out on this point Maajid then switched tact and attempted to draw a parallel between the abolition of slavery in Muslim lands despite its apparent Qur’anic sanction and the need to revaluate the interpretation and attitudes towards scriptures that justify discrimination towards gays. For added measure and to buttress his point on differing interpretations he thought it a good idea to get personal with Ms Arabesque by contending that many “literalists” would be apt to excommunicate her for not sharing their position on the niqab, jilbab (one piece outer garment) and, bizarrely, for having the temerity to speak in front of men (notwithstanding the fact that she was speaking in defense of Islam). At one point, sensing an opportunity to utilise the earlier confused message put out regarding non-discrimination towards homosexuals, he railed that Ms Arabesque’s rejection of Asif’s gay muslim identity clearly put her at odds with the stance of Abdullah – a statement which visibly made him flinch! Again I should point out that I felt it rather unfortunate that in seeking to come across as reasonable and measured – which of course is no bad thing – Abdullah gifted Maajid with an opportunity to present to non-Muslims a picture of a divided community.
At the end two non-Muslim gentlemen articulated the view that one cannot force religious people to adopt liberal views and that every religion has certain strictures that it imposes upon its followers which must be adhered to if one is to be accepted as part of that particular faith community.
So there you have it – leaving aside Ms Arabesque’s stellar performance a complete waste of 20 minutes of my life but hey at least it gave me an excuse to not go to the gym tonight.
The Qur’an recognised the reality of slavery but neither mandated it nor outlawed it. The claim that Muslims no longer engage in the slave trade today because Muslims have rethought their interpretation of Islamic texts is erroneous. The laws relating to slavery in Islam confined who could be seized into slavery to prisoners of war and those seized in raids on nations which had no treaty of peace with the Islamic state. Furthermore the Imam (leader) was entitled to free all the captives of war if he so chose and also to prevent Muslims from conducting further raids to seize more. Seizing Muslims, citizens of treaty states or dhimmis (non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic state) has always been forbidden. The context in which people can be enslaved according to Islamic law no longer exist today and seeing as there are no slaves existent anywhere in the world (in theory anyway) then this unfortunate blemish in the history of human civilisation should no longer arise again. Islamic law has not altered on this issue in any way, shape or form.
As to the question of homosexuality and Islam then while it is possible in theory to be an active homosexual and still be Muslim (albeit a highly sinful one) if the individual rejects the position that homosexual acts are sinful according to the law of Allah (swt) then they have committed apostasy and are no longer regarded as part of the millah (nation) of Muhammad (saw). Viewed from the perspective of dogmatic belief rather than actions the question itself is inane and akin to asking “when will it be ok to reject Jesus and be Christian?”
In a secular liberal society one is entitled to live their life as they see fit free from the constraints of religious dogma but equally so those who do conform to it have the right to reject you as members of their community based upon your non-adherence. So my message to Mr Quraishi is that you can go around shouting that you are gay and proud as much as you like, just not in our mosques and certainly not in my home.
May the peace and blessing of Allah (swt) be upon our master, Muhammad. Ameen.