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Testing the Limits

My head is spinning. For those who read French, I suggest that you visit Massir, a Tunisian blogger of unusual clarity and courage, and read her post Damned to Hell? (to translate loosely) in which she responds to the criticisms Islam_ayeh left in a comment thread on a different blog where Massir dared to defend the rights of homosexuals and call for tolerance toward them.

You will be thrust into the middle of a debate about sexuality, religious belief, use of the veil, freedom of expression, and imposing one’s way of life on others. Massir argues that Islamic fundamentalists do this, while others say it is homosexuals who do this. There is little agreement and little resolution in this debate, but one thing is clear: these are sensitive subjects even in “modern” and “secular” Tunisia, to the point that merely bringing them into the open ignites a firestorm.

I have enormous respect for my friend Massir: her moral compass, her poise and occasional fury (when faced with hateful stupidity), and her courage for using her blog as a forum for sensitive questions of belief and behavior. If anyone doubts this, her most recent post raises the question, “Why do happily married men go to prostitutes?” Fortunately, this conversation remains “on the level.” It is just as revealing as the one about homosexuality and Islam, though in a different way.

To give those of you who don’t speak French a taste of Massir’s ideas, allow me to translate a few lines:

    I am in no way against people of faith who respect their religions (no matter what their religion may be). I am AGAINST fundamentalists of all religions who want to impose their beliefs on others.
    As for homosexuals, who am I to judge them? What are my skills and qualifications in that field? Is it natural or a perversion? It really isn’t my problem. […]
    INTÉGRISTE [the French word for fundamentalist]: the word itself is revealing. In it we find the verb “integrate.”
    An intégriste has his own way of thinking, and he wants to INTEGRATE everyone into his way of seeing things. He possesses the Real Truth, and we should integrate ourselves into it.
    I don’t agree. Religion and sexuality are an entirely personal matter. No one has the right to judge, or to impose another point of view.

These seemingly obvious proposals ignite a firestorm of debate. Some people tell Massir, “Stop trying to justify yourself” or “Calm down before going on a crusade.” One person puts homosexuality on the same level as sex with animals or children. Fortunately others stand by Massir, and she herself doesn’t back down from her ideas in the least.

    My criticisms address themselves only to those who imagine that their way of life is best, their religion is best, their reasoning is best, and who must therefore impose it on others, including through force.

A revealing debate, to say the least. To take things a bit further, I want to add a question of my own. Is is possible to be a “good Muslim” and a “practicing homosexual” at the same time? Has Muslims’ understanding of Islam evolved in the modern world to the point where we can answer yes? I would argue that it IS possible, though I admit this is not an easy argument to make. Most Muslims I know don’t like to discuss this question. If pressed, they insist that Islam is clear and unforgiving in its condemnation of homosexuality. And the few gays I know who grew up in Muslim societies seem to have left their religion behind them.

Right here on this blog, when I expressed my willingness to “defend Muslims” as I “defend gays, Jews, women or poor people,” commenter Hashmat told me, “[Homosexuals are] condemned by Islam and Muslims have no choice but to accept that, not accepting is a sin that puts one outside of the fold of Islam.” If anyone can sketch out a “middle ground” where homosexuality and Islam can coexist, I would like to know.


Comment from BO18
Time: January 31, 2007, 18:56

I’m glad you brought this up, eatbees!
I was planning to write something about homosexuality in the Arab world after I listened to a NPR-program today about it.

I do believe there is a middle ground somewhere, only its just not visible yet.
The whole discussion about homosexuality and Islam is hijacked at the moment by religious wackos who exclude and condemn everybody who’s not like them and by homosexual ex-muslims who believe that the 2 have nothing in common. A belief thats usually rooted in a kind of vengeance towards Islam.

Islam may condemn homosexuality (although opinions on that can differ, but I’m not a scholar in that field) but that doesn’t mean that muslims have to condemn homosexuals in their midst. Or condemn the religious practices of homosexuals.

The middle ground is there were tolerance and moderate practices prevail.
Comparing homosexuality with bestiality or pedophilia is absolute nonsense of course.
And it just shows that the Arab (and/or Muslim) homosexuals in that region have a long way to go before they’re accepted.

Religious heterosexual muslims tend to avoid any discussion on this topic with the argument that you cant discuss islam with the kufar. Kufars in this context are the islamic homosexuals.
They’re immediately excluded from any discussion about Islam.

So in order to find the middle ground this practice of excluding has to stop.
In Europe the discussion about homosexuality within Islam is slowly growing. (I’m not counting the pseudo-discussion where by rightist politicians or orthodox muslims just use the discussion for their own political agenda)
Muslim homosexuals are being accepted as equal discussion partners by religious muslims
I believe that the middle ground will be found in Europe.
The discussion there tends to go about respect instead of acceptance.

Muslim homosexuals want to be respected first, acception can come later.
We’re kind of fed up by being spat at or encountering the occasional stone when walking through muslim neighborhoods.
A lot of homosexuals don’t even think about acceptance.
They believe that respect towards their lifestyle is the biggest step that could be taken in this area.

And I think that religious heterosexual muslims need to realize that homosexuals arent perse out to reform Islam to their wishes. A lot of them realize that Islam indeeds condemns homosexuality. They’re fine with that. They just want to (re)gain their place within islamic societies.
As soon as religious muslims realize that the homosexuals are just out for respect and not reform, as soon as that happens I think the middle ground will be found very quickly.

But unfortunately Europe, where the middle ground will be found first I hope/think, is spellbound by islamophobia. This doesnt really promote tolerance or respect for each other and certainly doesnt help the discussion.

But everytime I feel down about homo-acceptance, I just look towards Lebanon. The only official arab gay-rights movement can be found there. (HELEM)
If it happens in Lebanon, it is bound to happen in the rest of the Arab world. It may take generations and I will certainly not live to see a chane in the homophobic laws . But it is comforting to see that at least 1 movement found a foothold in that region.

Comment from BO18
Time: January 31, 2007, 19:11

Oh, me again.

I just read those comments of Islam_Ayeh on the blog of Massir.
And all I have to say is: ignorance.

Those are the ideas we have to fight. And unfortunately not only in the Muslim world but also, for instance, in the States. Where it is becoming fashionable to send your kid to a christian brainwash-camp so that he/she can turn straight.

Comment from adel
Time: January 31, 2007, 19:18

Of course homosexuality and Islam can coexist, what Islam forbidden is sex outside marriage, whatever that sex is between man-woman, man-man or woman-woman… and homosexuality has nothing to do with sex! it is all about feeling, a person can be gay, bisexual or lesbian and live okay within Muslim society as long as him or her doesn’t have “forbidden sex”, for a Muslim to be gay is just an exam from GOD, if you wait a little more and obey commands, you will have a lot of Ghelman in heaven to fuck all the day.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 31, 2007, 21:06

eatbees: your comment doesn’t make much sense

adel: I did not mean to make sense

eatbees: you’re saying for Muslims, all sex outside of marriage is a sin, which is why all gay sex is a sin

adel: yeah

eatbees: then gay people aren’t judged for being gay, but for sex outside of marriage. if they remain virgins, they can go to heaven and have gay sex!

adel: yes

eatbees: this is close to the Catholic position. they accept gays as long as they remain virgins—but for Catholics there is no sex in heaven!

adel: in Islam there’s Ghelmans—they are young guys who serve you all the time and you can fuck them if you want. so you will have your four wives from earth, plus 72 virgins and unlimited number of Ghelmans

eatbees: why would a good Muslim want to fuck boys in heaven?

adel: it’s heaven, nothing is forbidden—you are supposed to have fun in all the ways you want!

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 31, 2007, 22:49

@BO18—Thanks for your generous comment. Let’s see what I can pull out of it….

“…homosexual ex-muslims who believe [Islam and homosexuality] have nothing in common. A belief that’s usually rooted in a kind of vengeance towards Islam.”—Sounds to me a lot like what a lot of gay ex-Catholics go through who feel betrayed by their religion. Even my mother, who is obviously not gay, was raised Catholic but later turned against it in a violent allergic reaction. Now she it bitter to all things Catholic…a lot of people, gay or not, who have had bad experiences with the intolerant side of their religion react this way.

“Islam may condemn homosexuality (although opinions on that can differ….)”—This is where I’d like to hear the theological case for tolerance. It seems to me that in Islam, being a hypocrite or liar is worse than other sins. Since there have always been and always will be gays, isn’t society living a lie to deny them? Isn’t it forcing them to live a false life out of fear causing them add hypocrisy to their original “sin”? This doesn’t seem like what ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim would want….

As Adel points out in his comment, many Muslims see homosexuality as a “test” for gay-inclined people that can be overcome or suppressed. I’m not sure modern psychology supports this. In fact I know it doesn’t. “Gay conversions” don’t work! So the choices are: society makes room for its gay members, or everyone lives a lie. Which is more just?

“Religious heterosexual muslims tend to avoid any discussion on this topic with the argument that you cant discuss islam with the kufar. Kufars in this context are the islamic homosexuals. They’re immediately excluded from any discussion about Islam.”—This is something I never heard before, but it makes sense (in a scary kind of way). It’s a logical mindbender, isn’t it? Question your religion and you step outside the circle. Step outside the circle and you lose your right to question. Like Catholic excommunication, I guess—which used to have real power in the days when if you weren’t Catholic, you didn’t eat.

“I believe that the middle ground will be found in Europe.”—You point out another paradox here, that Muslims in Europe are more tolerant, more advanced than the folks back home, but at the same time, the effect is mitigated because “Europe is spellbound by islamophobia.” In other words, even if European Muslims show tolerance for their gay cousins, they will still be victims of the GENERAL prejudice Europeans feel toward Muslims as a whole!

I want to ask, do you think that any gains by Muslim homosexuals in Europe can end up having a positive effect in the bled? This may be part of a larger question—do Muslims living in Europe, with their experience of pluralism and democracy, carry any of these values with them when they visit their relatives back home?

“A lot of homosexuals don’t even think about acceptance. They believe that respect towards their lifestyle is the biggest step that could be taken in this area.”—This was the case in America too, back in the 1960s and 70s. Even in the 1990s a young man was crucified on a fence for being gay and cruising the wrong dude—but a lot of progress has been made overall. Everyone has a friend or coworker who is gay, so even gay marriage and adoption are starting to seem normal. Who knows, you might get further with this than you think!

“A lot of [gay Muslims] realize that Islam indeeds condemns homosexuality. They’re fine with that. They just want to (re)gain their place within islamic societies.”—This is a tricky one. How can a person live with respect in a society that condemns him? I suppose you mean convincing conservative Muslims that the homosexuals in their midst don’t have ambitions to overrun and destroy Islam, ruin the traditions and turn the whole world into a disco? (There are people who think that way — you probably know some.) That would be a step forward, less of a “war to the death,” less of a zero-sum game.

Finally, you mention Lebanon. I wasn’t meaning to write this post—it was kind of a passionate quickie upon reading Massir’s blog—but there’s an interview with a Lebanese gay rights activist that I’ve been holding in reserve for later. You might find it interesting. Here’s the best part:

Q. What sort of rights would you like to see homosexuals in the Arab world have?

A. I do not believe in homosexual rights. I believe we have a serious problem in the Arab world with human rights. What we are missing nowadays, is the basic rights for a human being to be recognized as—a human being! Discrimination faces everyone…. Gay rights is no exception.

Comment from Massir
Time: February 1, 2007, 04:46

Merci Eatbees.
Je prends ta réaction comme un compliment.

Comment from Massir
Time: February 1, 2007, 04:48

Il y a quelques mois, j’avais lu certains articles sur l’homosexualité en Egypte. Je vais essayer de les retrouver. Il y a l’histoire de Sally, un homme qui s’est fait opérer pour devenir une femme, et il y a l’histoire de la rafle d’homosexuels sur un bateau.
Très intéressant comme débat.

Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: February 1, 2007, 06:34

Well, I am certainly no religious authority, but from what I know only major sins, like shirk and ridda’, exclude the person in question from the fold of islam. Homosexuality, while certainly abhorrent to islamic dogma, is on par with other social evils – from an islamic perspective – such as premarital sex, alcohol consumption, and so on. Indulging in these sins does not make the sinner a non-muslim.
I wonder whether the focus on homosexuality, and the description of it as a major sin, isn’t something that has been imported into islam from Catholic or Evangelical societies. Just a thought…

Comment from adel
Time: February 1, 2007, 15:28

Comment from Yahia
Time: February 1, 2007, 16:05

Is this in-subject?

“Il faut avoir une religion, et ne pas croire aux prêtres; comme il faut avoir du régime, et ne pas croire aux médecins.”

Comment from Kenza
Time: February 1, 2007, 16:29

Sorry I didn’t read the comments (ah time time time) but i just recalled a book (I didn’t read, time again) which is written by a lesbian muslim : The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, By: Irshad Manji.
Maybe the view of a homosexual muslim can help clear some ideas, who knows…

Comment from Massir
Time: February 1, 2007, 16:58

Hi Eatbees:

I would like to thank you very much.

Tonight, it was my midterm oral evaluation. I had 95%. You helped me.

1/ As I often read your blog, I practise my english.

2/ We had to choose a subjet, and discuss it for 15 minutes. Guess what? I talked about your blog, and of course about this note. The teacher found it veru interesting.

Biiiiiiiiiiiiig Kissssssssssses.

@ Kenza:
I read this book last summer. I didn’t like it.
The beginning of the book was interesting. Then, she began to talk about israel. You know me, i have nothing against Israel, and many of my friends are jewish, and even some of them are israeli. But, she was only saying every thing is very good in Israel, and every thing is bad with muslims. She had no arguments. I was really disappointed with that book.
She didn’t write anything about homosexuality (as I remember).

(I’m only level 10 in english, so please excuse all my mistakes!).

Comment from BO18
Time: February 1, 2007, 17:09

HI Massir,

Your english is perfect, no worries. ( if your teacher says otherwise, just slap him/her)

About Irshad Manji. One of the most interesting voices in this field ( reform of islam)
She can be, as you said, very prejudiced when it comes to Israel vs. Arab world.
But every person has his or her flaws. And I regard this as one of her flaws.
But the other things she says do appeal to me.

I’m impressed that she’s one of the few critics who actually try to talk to the masses instead of to fellow critics.
Unfortunately she doesn’t really elaborate on homosexuality in most of her writings.
But when she speaks at a forum or whatever, homosexuality is one of the main subjects. Mainly because of her critics who try to pin her down on just that.
So if you ever have the chance to see her speak, go!

Comment from Liosliath
Time: February 1, 2007, 22:51

“for Catholics there is no sex in heaven”

One of the reasons I no longer go to Mass!

Comment from eatbees
Time: February 2, 2007, 00:26

@Massir — Of course my reaction is a compliment! About using my blog to improve your English and score well on your exam—thank you! and glad to be of service!

You mention the treatment of homosexuals in Egypt. The New York Times had an excellent article a few weeks ago on the rounding up and torture of gays by police in one Egyptian town. Unfortunately the piece is only available to subscribers of the Times, but I quoted part of it here. It is a tragic story. More than that, as I point out in my post, the real story is the sick, sadistic individuals who inhabit the Egyptian police. Cowards in uniform. I think we all know there are many more examples of violence by the Egyptian police, having nothing to do with “gay rights” but rather, human rights, revealed by courageous bloggers who put videos of police brutality on their blogs for all the world to see.

@Ibn Kafka — “… from what I know only major sins, like shirk and ridda’, exclude the person in question from the fold of islam [and homosexuality not].” It would be interesting if we could get a religious ruling on this—is homosexuality on the same level as adultery as Adel claims, to be seen as “sex outside of marriage” and nothing more, perhaps in some contexts even to be praised and laughed off as the sign of a healthy appetite?—or do we believe Hashmat whom I quote in the main post—that even to tolerate homosexuality means one is no longer Muslim? Islam wants the modern world to see it as the religion of tolerance, can it live up to that? And how to reconcile a tolerant image with the hadith I’ve been told about, that says “kill them wherever you find them” for gays, or words to that effect?

About the influence of Catholicism, coming from that tradition myself, I would say that it has the weirdest ideas of human sexuality of any religion! Islam has no “original sin” and never treats sexuality as shameful in itself, but Catholicism often does.

@Adel — Does someone want to take a stab at summarizing this article in English (assuming it adds to the debate)?

@Yahia — I don’t care if it’s on topic, I like it! “Have a religion, but don’t believe in priests.” I always thought that religion would cause fewer problems here on earth, if we each remember that our belief and what to do about it is between us and God (so we mustn’t judge others).

@Kenza, Massir, BO18 — When I returned from Morocco, my mother had Irshad Manji’s book on her reading table. (She goes through 3-4 books a week, and she is fascinated by views of Islam, both positive and critical.) Tonight is the first I’ve learned that Manji is a lesbian, which may explain some of her animus to Islam (as BO18 said in his first comment) “rooted in a kind of vengeance.” I haven’t read the book myself, but I worry that it may play into the hands of neo-conservatives who love to talk about “Islamofascism” and see Islam as intolerant. Moroccan author Laila Lalami raised similar points in an article in The Nation where she reviews Manji’s book and a book by another female critic of Islam, Hirsi Ali. Lalami’s article is worth reading for her perspective on Muslim women caught between Islamic extremists on the one hand, and intemperate Western critics on the other. For a view of what Islam can be in modern times, I much prefer the book by Reza Aslan, No god but God. An Iranian raised in the U.S., Aslan is an excellent champion of a progressive Islam that can thrive on the free flow of ideas.

Comment from adel
Time: February 2, 2007, 11:02

> Does someone want to take a stab at summarizing this article in English (assuming it adds to the debate)?

Najia did it

Comment from eatbees
Time: February 2, 2007, 12:21

@Adel — Thanks! It seems that it’s a question of a “five-day cure” for homosexuality based on ritual cleansing and recitation of the Qur’an, as suggested by Morocco’s Islamic party, the PJD. Which shows that religious conservatives are the same everywhere, out of touch with reality.

The post Adel linked to also contains a link to this interesting article in Tel Quel about homosexuality in Morocco, which includes several interviews. For those who are interested and can read French, bien entendu.

Comment from Kenza
Time: February 2, 2007, 17:36

@eatbees: thanks for the link to Laila’s article on the nation, I liked it very much indeed.

I once found an article about moslim women authors and the way their books are seen in the west and send it to her asking for her opinion and she kindly read it and gave me a feed back.

I like what she writes and the way she thinks very much, plus she seems to be a very nice person :)

Comment from BO18
Time: February 21, 2007, 07:57

Hi Eatbees,

You know you asked me a question here in one of your comments. (whether gay muslims in EU can have a effect in the bled)

And since I love procastrination, it took me till today to answer your question ;)

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