The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) this week issues a fatwa (Islamic opinion) entitled “ISLAM AND HOMOSEXUALITY, A Brief Clarification”. (This does not seem to be on the web at the time of writing, but here is a local copy).
It is a short and reasoned statement that has created much reaction and response. As a member of the interfaith community, I feel that an interfaith perspective is called for. This Islamic writ is aimed at the umma, those in the “fold of Islam”, but its implications for the broader civil society are profound.
It is not my intention here to make a critique of Islam; I have been a strong supporter of this faith and its place in the universe of spiritualities for many years, and fight Islamophobia wherever I find it. Its contributions to world spiritualty are immense, and the distortions to the faith in the age of modern jihad are a tiny fraction of its total effect on the world.
But while the fatwa seeks to create clarity, it appears that it has done just the opposite. For me it raises important questions that it fails to address.
Brian McLaren said, “Statements lead to a state, but questions lead to a quest”. While much religion sadly remains in the paradigm of the decree, the creed, and dogma, the world is shifting away from this top down, unilateral approach to a more open-ended mode of dialog.
Dear members of the fatwa committee of the MJC:
I as an interfaith friend of Islam have read the recently issued “ISLAM AND HOMOSEXUALITY, A Brief Clarification” with interest.
While I am dismayed at the implications of the fatwa, I also recognize that you have gone to some lengths to underpin your judgements with tolerance, compassion and mercy. In my view the fatwa is a moderate and not hardline opinion, and goes a long way to keeping alive the stance of love and tolerance. I fully endorse this sentiment.
However in the name of the multi-faceted discussion you did not pursue in the document, and because I find myself inextricably intertwined with the many of the faith communities of Cape Town, I would humbly submit my responses in the form of several questions. If they can help in some way toward dialog between and within faith communities, I would be gratified.
I thank you for bearing with me, an outsider.
- Do you realise that the very word “fatwa” conjures up terror for some, if we remember the Iranian Fatwa (license to kill) issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989, or the Pakistani fatwa again the Ahmadiyya community who still suffer ostracization and even murder to this day?
- One of the ills of our current media space is text with no context. Without sufficient information, people are left to speculate, and there is confusion where clarity was the stated aim? So what is the background for this fatwa; what threats or opportunities created the need to issue it?
- In creating this statement was any dialog entered into with members of the LGBTQ+ community to assess their views?
- Were any women consulted in the opinion, or is Islamic opinion the sole domain of patriarchy?
- Is a fatwa ever positive and visionary, or is it a defensive reaction to events in society?
- Are other sources of truth, such as the sciences or other wisdom traditions, ever taken into account in a fatwa?
- In the Biblical history (as one example of a sacred text), slavery is a fact. However, virtually no Biblical adherent today believes slavery still to be justified; could the same be said about homosexuality insofar as the ancient texts appear to condone it?
- You end the statement by saying “hate the sin, not the sinner”. How can you be sure where genetic predisposition ends and “sin” starts?
- Do you recognize that the effects of the fatwa, though aimed at “the fold of Islam”, the umma, are felt by the broader civil society? In this interconnected age, the judgement is felt by many, and experienced as emotional collateral damage.
- Historically, “othering” is the hallmark of the worst of religion. Medieval Christendom was especially responsible for creating persistent hatred against “Jews, Sodomites and Heretics”. When we other a group, such as gays, we create a scapegoat upon which all kinds of hatred can be externalised. Is this historical perspective taken on board in your declaration?
- Good religion calls us to examine our own inner biases in our submission to the Almighty. Could it be that underneath the theological pronouncements of the fatwa lies any homophobia or prejudice in some form?