NOV 16 – We read with interest the article titled “Religion no excuse to discriminate on sexuality” written by Ahmad Fuad Rahmat, representing the group the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), published in Malaysiakini on the 14th November 2011.
As the article pertains to fundamental issues in Islam, such as the nature of Man, the nature of Good and Bad and of Right and Wrong, the nature of Rights and Freedom, all of which must be understood properly and correctly based upon the guiding principles laid down in the Qur’an and enacted in the lives of the Holy Prophet P.B.U.H, we feel compelled to respond to several key issues raised in the article, to separate the truth from falsehood, to clarify certain points that has been needlessly obfuscated by the author and finally to set forth a correct understanding of the issue.
Rights and freedom versus haqq and ‘adl
What constitutes a right? As a language belonging to the family of Islamic languages, the Malay term for ‘right’, hak, is adopted from the Arabic haqq, which stands for both reality and truth. Its opposite is batil, which means non-reality or falsity . Therefore, what is good is not simply a property of statements or propositions, but has ontological significance in that it refers to that which has real and true existence, whilst that which is bad is considered illusory, ephemeral and unreal. Indeed, Al-Haqq (The Truth) is one of the 99 Beautiful Names of God as the one who is the antithesis of falsehood, as things may become evident by their opposites .
The distinction between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and bad had be laid down by Him and communicated to mankind through Revelation (Qur’an) and His Messengers. For instance, the quality of mercy is praiseworthy, thus enjoined upon all mankind, not merely because of its practical utility as a social convention, but ultimately because “He (Allah) has decreed upon Himself mercy” [Qur’an, 6:12]. Therefore, in order for something to qualify as a person’s right, it must be real and true, and it follows that homosexuality (as treatable psychological state) and deviant sexual practices cannot be regarded as ‘rights’ because they are not in conformity with one’s real and true nature.
Islam conceives freedom as ikhtiyar, which derives from the word khayr, meaning ‘good’, implying true freedom is choosing the good instead of the bad, the better over the worse or the best between two alternatives. A person who is presented with a choice between what is good and what is bad and proceeds to choose the bad is not exercising real freedom. In truth, the person is trapped within his own ignorance, thus unable to make the right choice in choosing for the better, and in doing so, has committed a grave injustice to his or her own self and others.
On the other hand, human rights as espoused by the West is a product of their collective guilt over past mistreatment and cannot be considered as wholly real and true because they resulted from philosophical speculation instead of being based on Revelation. The secular Western conception of freedom has failed to address the indignation of man which later results in him being delegated as mere animal thus enabling, to use Freud’s term, “rationalization” of any moral breakdown. Even random (but rare) occurrences of homosexual activities engaged by animals observed in the wild or within controlled environment were used to “rationalize” and justify homosexuality in human beings. Despite the nobility of his spirit and purpose of creation as determined by God, the secular man has chosen to place himself as the lowest of beasts by going against the very purpose for which he was created.
Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Bad
The author quoted Clause 43 of the Medinah Charter at the beginning of his article, which he writes as “Anyone who is wronged must be helped.”
Firstly, the source of reference for this quote was not mentioned, leaving its original meaning and context cloaked in obscurity, which prevents a proper evaluation of its significance. However, in a paper titled “The Medina Document” written by Ali Bulac, a Muslim intellectual from Turkey , Clause 43 reads as “Neither the Quraish nor those assisting them shall receive protection” and the previous clause (i.e. Clause 42) declares that “All cases of murder and fighting that occur among the people designated in this document shall be taken to God and His Messenger Muhammad. God is with those who best obey this document.”
The obvious difference in the wordings between the version quoted by Fuad Rahmat at the beginning of his article with the version of the same clause contained in the paper by Ali Bulac is highly crucial because it impinges upon the accurate meaning of the clause and signals the appropriateness of invoking it as a supporting argument support in contemporary discussions. Indeed, if the wording and superficial meaning of the clause have been distorted in such a crude manner, then is there any hope that one can recover and grasp the actual meaning of the clause? Furthermore, if the quotation of the clause is problematic even at the surface level, then what guarantee do we have that Fuad Rahmat had accurately understood the clause and conveyed to us its actual meaning, especially when absolutely no attempt was made to elucidate the context of the clause?
In short, both the content and the context of the clause he quoted at the beginning of his article are seriously compromised, which casts doubt on its validity in relation to the issue concerning sexual discrimination and religion, specifically on the reaction of the government authorities against the organizers of the event Seksualiti Merdeka and on the relationship between Islam and LGBT in general.
Secondly, the author did not specify under how, in the light of the discussion over Seksualiti Merdeka, homosexuals practicing deviant forms of sex can be counted as people who are wronged. As deviant sexual practices in its various forms (liwat, zina, etc.) are considered criminal offences under the Shari’ah, one does not see a person who is committing such acts as a victim, but rather as a perpetrator of a crime. Therefore, to assert that sexual deviants should be seen as ‘victims’ when in fact they are fully responsible for their own doing and in control over their choices in life is truly a blatant manipulation of the clause mysteriously culled from the Medinah Charter.
The linguistic deception is even more striking were one to realize that these acts are committed consensually and not under duress or the influence of intoxicants. Indeed, the sheer illogicality of placing a ‘wrongdoer’ in the same category as a ‘victim’ reflects the confusion that is productive of moral relativism.
The only way to help a person who has committed or going to commit a wrong is by preventing him in the first place. This is alluded to in a Hadith wherein the Holy Prophet said:
“Aid your (Muslim) brother when he is unjust, or when suffering from injustice.” He was asked, “What about when he is unjust, how can I aid him?” He said, “You prevent or forbid him from committing injustice, for this constitutes giving aid to him.” [Sahih Bukhari].
The understood maxim in Shari’ah is “prevention is better than cure” and that punishments are as much aimed as deterrence and educating the mass as it is corrective for the offender. Therefore it is incumbent upon Muslims who wish to help their fellow brothers and sisters who are afflicted with the problems of homosexuality to do so by first counseling them against wrongdoing, restraining one’s sexual thoughts and desires and as a final resort, physically preventing them from committing such acts.
It is quite clear that the Medinan Charter as cited by the author refers to “anyone who is wronged must be helped” not “any who has wronged [himself, herself or others] must be helped”. By taking and twisting clause so that it means a criminal must be helped by publicizing his freedom to practice homosexuality is against both the spirit and letter of the law.
We are not told how LGBTQs, simply because of their sexual orientations and gender identities, are discriminated and persecuted against. The organizers of Seksualiti Merdeka or even the writer from the so-called Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) have not offered us any data or factual evidence to support claims of discrimination or persecution.
Prying into other people’s privacy is not prescribed under the Shari’ah, nor was there any government or religious body set up in order to investigate what are inside their thoughts.
Even so, what society can tolerate much less accept a person’s claim to a right to commit crime to be publicized in the name of freedom? If convicting a person who has committed homosexual relations amounts to discriminating and persecuting, should we then be expected not to ‘discriminate’ or ‘persecute’ robbers, murderers and rapists, come what may?
Thirdly, the author asserted that the organizers and supporters of Seksualiti Merdeka aim only to “celebrating the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities” and not to promote homosexuality and hedonistic lifestyle.
We may ask, if it is truly meant to create awareness for this group to be treated as human beings, why bother using the name Seksualiti Merdeka, which naturally invites probing inquiries, if not outright accusations in the first place?
Again, it is not within the purview of Muslims to investigate the sexual orientations of people, albeit Christian Spanish Inquisition-style, so why the need promote the interest of this particular group at all? Those who organize and support such an event need to come up clean and not continue this doublespeak.
The self-proclaimed experts on Islam that brazenly offer their opinions online with regards to issues of apostasy and homosexuality in Islam should be firmly reminded that Islam demands that the harmful effects of deviant acts and crimes be minimized and contained, and not be shamelessly publicized for all to see. This is clearly indicated in the following Hadith:
“He who covers a Muslim (his mistakes and shortcomings), Allah will cover him in this world and the Hereafter; Allah will be in the servant’s need, as long as the servant is in his (believing) brother’s need.” [Sahih Muslim]
It is clear that despite the denial of the organizers, the actual spelled intention is the publicizing of homosexuality as a way of life. It is on the agenda of Seksualiti Merdeka to seek into de-criminalizing homosexuality as opposed to the Shari’ah. By using ‘neutral’-sounding names they are preparing the society by ‘de-sensitizing’ gradually so that it will accept homosexuality as a norm and not a form of evil as it is.
Giving platform for the LGBTQ community to voice out their deviant sexual preferences will only open door to more vices which are detrimental to the morals of the society and destroy families. Also, this act will constitute spreading sin among Muslims and reducing us to a race of donkeys copulating freely by the roadside. Allah has given stern warning to those who advocate immorality and that they will be chastised severely in the following verse:
“Indeed, those who like that immorality (fahishah) should be spread (or publicized) among those who have believed, will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows and you do not know.” [Qur’an, 24:19]
Bearing that in mind, how can an intellectual group applying the Islamic label to its name to openly advocate, in addition to freedom of apostasy among Muslims, the freedom for LGBTQ community to propagate their sexually deviant views in public sphere baring sensitivities and concerns of the majority, act in direct opposition to the above Divine injunction?
“You are the Best of Peoples raised up for (the benefit of) men; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah;” [Qur’an, 3:110]
We must realize that as stated in the verse, in order for “the Best of Peoples” to emerge, the pre-conditions of enjoining good and forbidding evil must be fulfilled beforehand. Such is the purpose for conception of amar ma’ruf nahi munkar which aims for the emergence of “the Best of Peoples”.
“Whoever amongst you sees anything objectionable, let him change it with his hand, if he is not able, then with his tongue, and if he is not even able to do so, then with his heart, and the latter is the weakest form of faith.” [Sahih Muslim]
In light of such commandments, the decision to ban Seksualiti Merdeka fell well within the responsibilities of the authorities, therefore ought to be commended and not condemned - especially given the lamentable failure of groups such as IRF to carry out such responsibilities as instructed by Allah S.W.T. in the Qur’an.
It would have been truer to the “Islamic” label of IRF if Fuad Rahmat had advocated the rehabilitation of individuals afflicted with homosexual tendencies rather than clamoring for the freedom of these groups to wantonly and overtly trumpet their sexual orientations and practices.
Have they not also considered how Allah recounts punishment visited upon Prophet Lot’s people for the crimes of homosexuality? How then, in the light of these Divine injunctions, does one act in total opposition and still maintain an Islamic label?
Of inclusivity and tolerance
With regards to the author call for Malaysians and Muslims to learn to be inclusive, two immediate questions come to mind: What does it mean to be inclusive? What are its proper limits? Being inclusive implies making space for something or somebody (in this case, LGBTQ) within a larger grouping (in this case, Malaysian society). What then is the nature of this ‘space’ being demanded upon?
The word ‘inclusive’ is ambiguous for it did not specify what sort of ‘place’ ought to be given to Muslim LGBTQs.
Of course, a person who commit a sin is not automatically considered a kafir i.e. we do not automatically pronounce takfir on somebody who has committed a sin, just like we do not declare a Muslim who drinks or commits adultery a kafir. But that should not be taken to mean that Islam as a religion now condones drinking alcohol and adultery i.e. that drinking and adultery are no longer recognized as sins in Islam, for that implies re-forming (or perverting or distorting) Islam to suit the moral conditions of contemporary society.
It should be noted here that proclaiming takfir upon a sinner and declaring that a sin is no longer a sin are both extreme positions, and it does not bode well for one to swing violently from one extreme position to the other.
The nature of ‘inclusiveness’ that IRF likes to trumpet is not made explicit, although based on the fact that he appears to advocate a deconsecration of values, and to exalt freedom (which is a neutral term) at the expense of justice (which in contrast, is a morally-laden term), one can safely infer that the vision of ‘inclusivity’ that it seeks to promote is founded upon the following presuppositions: the preservation of the paramount right of an individual over and above his duties and responsibilities to others e.g. other people, the state, the world, God.
The exaltation of reason as the ultimate arbiter in moral conduct over and above adherence to religion, traditional wisdom and customs.
The veneration of man’s bodily wants over and above his spiritual needs i.e. man as a pure physical animal as described by modern biology and anthropology.
The assertion that open discussion on homosexuality must be informed begs the question as to what extent morality and ethics should find support from the latest discoveries from the fields of the natural and social sciences, which presupposes that these two fields are ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’, eternally-unchanging and unaffected by the course of history. But it is inevitable that the interpretations and subsequent directions taken by these two fields are themselves colored by the values, hopes and purpose of the dominant civilization that produces, practices and propagates it i.e. the values, hopes and purpose of the Western civilization.
Granted, not all of their values are in-congruent to ours, but to uncritically accept foreign values without evaluating its suitableness to the requirements of justice and wisdom as projected in the worldview of Islam is just as extreme a position as complete and total rejection of such values.
One may also argue that (i) whatever the West approves of is not always necessarily good for us, (ii) Islam as a religion and civilization is unlike the West, and (iii) even Western society do not as a whole entertain such LGBT demands i.e. they are individuals and groups that express reservation or opposition against such demands.
Indeed, we affirm that the religion of Islam is fundamentally different from other religions as understood and practiced in the West, in that (i) Islam clearly and firmly demarcates between praiseworthy and blameworthy actions in the sight of Allah S.W.T., to which knowing and pious Muslims must actively conform their utterances and actions accordingly, and (ii) Islam reminds its faithful followers to guard their own selves – that includes the intentions in their hearts, the utterances of their tongue and the actions of their physical bodies – and those close to them (i.e. family members, friends, neighbors) against any situation that may incline oneself towards committing blameworthy acts.
It follows therefore that every member of a community must actively ensure that the opportunities for committing blameworthy acts is narrowed and restricted, as opposed to ‘normalizing’ it by making it public or parading it out in the open, for by closing the doors to evil, one tempers justice (‘adl) with mercy (rahmah) so that anyone would have enough time to contemplate repentance and avoid wrongdoing altogether.
In short, there is an objective moral and ethical standard in Islam, as projected by the Qur’an and affirmed by the life of the Holy Prophet P.B.U.H., the recognition and acknowledgement of which is signified by a willing submission to its requirements in every aspect of one’s life, whether through the setting of correct intention, the utterance of good words (“A good word is like a good tree”) or the carrying out of meritorious works.
Therefore, Islam renounces any attempt to marginalize and de-consecrate values by violently uprooting such values from the fertile soil of religion, making it subject to the caprices of society, thus reducing all moral and ethical judgements to the level of mere opinions.
Furthermore, Islam does not recognize – as does Western Christianity – the separation between private and public spheres and the subsequent banishment and confinement of religion exclusively to the private sphere. It rejects the claim that the ‘proper’ place for religion is behind closed doors or locked away in the dark recesses of a believer’s heart and mind, and that it must maintain its silence when entering the public arena or that it must throw off its religious garb and suffer the leveling of its values with other opinions – the good, the bad and the ugly – brewing in the public sphere.
“Do not conform to the ways of this world ...”
Fuad Rahmat’s assertion that Seksualiti Merdeka “represents a significant shift from the commonly held attitude among Malaysians that the LGBTQ community should be left to do what they want so long as they do not seek full recognition as active and entitled citizens” is a delusional view.
If these people are already recognized as Malaysians, then they have already been accorded full recognition as its citizens. What other full recognition that they require? Normal people do not require such recognition based on their sexuality, so why should we accord special status to people with abnormal sexual preferences?
In addition, publicizing one’s sexuality in order to gain sympathy is a wrong way to help individuals with problems of homosexuality because it gives them false recognition and leads them even more astray and misguided. The situation is not much dissimilar to giving free syringe and drugs to a drug addict wishfully thinking that his condition will improve. Worse still, if similar advocacy is given to drug addicts to announce publicly their “rights” for a fix or invite others to live wretched lives. In truth, nobody can be helped in this way because encouraging wrongdoing will not correct the behavior when we recognize it as crime, it simply emboldens them to even worse proportions.
It is also a shame to see that the well-meaning words of a prominent Muslim scholar such as Professor Tariq Ramadan has been twisted in order to lend support to the so-called ‘freedom’ of LGBTQ to voice out their sexual preferences in public, when it is clear that he only meant that such groups should be treated with kindness and generosity just like any other person, and that this should not be taken as condoning such sinful acts.
As for the concern of ex-communication or alienation from society, we have already explained Malaysian society’s silence over the matter until issue of Seksualiti Merdeka erupted is testament that the rights to be treated as human beings are already given and that they are tolerated so long as they do not openly promote dangerous and sinful lifestyles masquerading as human rights.
Nobody is proclaiming takfir on these groups, so to conjure the specter of ex-communication or alienation from society or takfir are simply feeble attempts to over-complicate the issue by surreptitiously positing an extreme position with the intention that people will be fearful of it, thus preventing them from even contemplating such a position. Indeed, if one were to take this position to its final logical outcome, it implies that a harmonious society will be one that does not have any objective moral standards to follow and where every moral judgment is merely a personal and subjective opinion. In short, a society without any law will be the happiest and most harmonious one of all – such imagination!
Indeed, there are many historical instances of societies which manage to be ‘inclusive’ in the true sense of the word (i.e. muhibbah, and not tolerance, which simply means “to endure what is unpleasant”) without having to reject religious moral and ethical standards, such as that of Muslim Spain and Ottoman Turkey, to name a few.
Under the penetrating gaze of a keen observer, the inclusiveness being paraded today is nothing but mere superficiality and not skin deep; it is trumpeted as a matter of political currency having no lasting value because ultimately it is not predicated upon correct and absolute grasp of human nature (fitrah) from which flows the correct and proper recognition and acknowledgement of his rights and duties.
True inclusiveness in Islam is not subject to political whims and fortunes, but founded upon a Qur’anic injunction, which implies that it is a religious duty, to which Muslims will be accounted for on the Day of Judgment, and not merely a way of winning votes on the Day of the General Election.
“The stream carries on its surface a growing layer of froth . . . - the froth disappears, but what is of benefit to man stays behind.” (Qur’an 13:17)
Muhammad Husni b. Mohd Amin and Wan Mohd Aimran b. Wan Mohd Kamil are Research Fellows at Himpunan Keilmuan Muslim (HAKIM).
1. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, “Islam and the Philosophy of Science,” in Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam (Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 1995), 125-126.
2. David B. Burrell, Nazih Daher, trans. Al-Ghazali’s Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2007), 124.
3. Ali Bulac, “The Medina Document,” in Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, ed. Charles Kurzman (Oxford University Press, 1998), 169-178.