This evening, 22nd February, I attended a debate at City University, the topic was: Islam and homosexuality. An extremely polemical and sensitive issue without doubt. I am not one to shy away from controversy-so this debate was perfect for me.
The two guest speakers- one a gay Muslim man, and the other- a Muslim lesbian, both believe that their faith and sexuality are compatible. But it wasn’t the two speeches which will be remembered, but the question and answer session which ensued.
The first speaker, Azeem, attempted to use Quranic scripture to justify his position- and also loosely referenced a few Islamic scholars who have a very liberal interpretation on the concept of homosexuality. My personal feelings towards him were that of sympathy, I detected genuineness in his heart, and his timid nature prevented me from forming negative opinions about him. The other speaker, Anjum, however, was extremely emotional in both her speech and her answers to the questions posed to her after her talk. The emotion she showed, I suppose, is only natural, as the life she has had so far must have lead to a great deal of stigmatisation, discrimination and prejudice-hate even. Her speech, though, was as boring as my gcse chemistry lessons. “Im not going to talk about homosexuality from the point of view of scripture or from a theological point of view, but from my life experience, my journey.” A bit rude of me maybe, but, I found myself dozing off at certain points in her speech, as she didn’t really have anything beneficial or constructive to say. Nevertheless, I admired her courage to come forward and speak so openly.
It was the question and answer session, though, which made the event worth attending. One of the moderators announced that questions should pertain more to the speaker’s experiences as opposed to questions pertaining to scripture. The head of the university’s Islamic society was one of the first to raise his hand. His question echoed the catholic position towards homosexuality: having desires, lusts or sinful inclinations isn’t a sin, but to act on them is, he said. Both speakers failed to address his remark, but interestingly, Azeem conceded that his homosexuality probably is sinful. But he still believes that this was how he was made, and he refuses to change himself into something he is not.
Intrigued by the whole discussion, I too had a question to ask. My question was fairly similar to the one asked before. I first thanked the two guest speakers for attending the debate, and reassured them of two important Islamic premises. The first- no Muslim has the right to say ‘you are not a muslim’, that is God’s decision, and His alone. The second- was that no human being has the right to say ‘you are going to hell’, as this too is God’s decision- and God’s decision is based on his complete and utter justice and mercy. I asked whether they believed-like many muslim scholars do-that they should be attempting to suppress these natural inclinations and perform jihad (which means to strive and struggle with oneself) in order to prevent themselves from practising homosexuality, which, according to Islam is a sin. As compared to others, my question seemed to be one of the more diplomatic ones, as opposed to the ones asked which mentioned ‘murderers’ and ‘homosexuals’ in the same sentence.
Other questions, however, resulted in Anjum shouting back at the questioner in fury because of what they said. At some points during the debate, the tension was palpable, at some points I felt uncomfortable, and others I couldn’t help but laugh.
One comment, which particurarly resonated with me, came from a man who works for the NHS. He said that he has dealt with many Muslims who have attempted to commit suicide because they cannot live with themselves. This issue is something which needs to be dealt with by the Islamic community. If it is not, more Muslims boys and girls will continue to top themselves NEEDLESSLY- when really all they require is the support of others through this difficult time in their life.
One thing I learned by the end of this debate is that no matter what you say to a homosexual- they will not change who they are- no matter how persuasive you may be. Homosexuality, I believe, is not just a choice but something real, powerful and possibly ‘natural’ which exists within a man or woman. Azeem, quite rightly said “God didn’t make a mistake with me.” But whether this statement justifies his position is still debateable, as many would argue that the way he naturally feels is not an excuse for him to manifest this behaviour in the form of homosexual acts.
One thing I think most people would agree on, though, is that these sorts of discussions help dispel prejudices and lessen homophobia. More dialogue is needed for both sides to understand each other and help resolve many of the issues which far too often result in misunderstandings, hatred, and worst of all, homophobic attacks.