Held at George Washington University, October 26, 2008
I apologize these notes are so sketchy a summary of what was said. Check the site http://www.islamandhomosexuality.com/ -- they're promising to have an audio recording of part of the event uploaded to the site soon.
1. Dr. Amal Amireh spoke about the exploitation of the gay rights issue by those with an Islamophobic agenda. She said the M-word has replaced the N-word. The issue of sexuality leads to the discourse of difference: The use of gay Muslims not for the sake of the gay people themselves but in order to bash Islam. It is used like the "oppressed Muslim woman" has long been used to attack Islam, when in fact the condescending Orientalist discourse that exploits this issue doesn't care about women.
Dr. Amal also criticized the denial of homosexuality in the Muslim world, the claims that gayness/feminism/human rights are a western invention. The existence of groups like al-Fatiha Foundation, Aswat, Helem, and Meem proves that LGBT Muslims really exist. They insist on both Muslim and queer identity, and refuse to choose just one. They are attacked as "native informants," i.e. inauthentic Arabs/Muslims. The politics of denial allows for the politics of homophobia, so that gays are subject to attacks. Dr. Amal stressed that this is not a Muslim monopoly: homophobia is global.
She concluded that we can be against homophobia without bombing the Muslim countries; to be against Islamophobia without the politics of denial of gays.
2. Imam Daayiee Abdullah stated that although gays are not specifically mentioned in the Qur'an, it does address them when it says "O mankind" and "O believers." The Qur'an allows for men who have no desire for women, and in verse 24:60, women who have no desire for men.
About the homophobia found in the hadiths, Imam Daayiee said: The hadiths are stories used as an educating tool. This does not mean that they are historically factual. They help the Muslims to understand things; they are not rules to follow, or to harm people. As for hadiths saying to kill gays, Imam Daayiee said historically the hadiths have been used for politics: If you don't like somebody, find out how to get rid of them.
His advice is: Read the words of the Lut story in the Qur'an literally. The people condemned in that story are heterosexual men who used homosexual acts to rape. Sexual acts depend on the circumstances, e.g. halal nikah vs. haram. On the question of reproduction: It does not mean that every man and woman is able to procreate. Do you restrict all people who are unable to procreate from enjoying sex?
In the Shari`ah: Imam Daayiee recommended the work of Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl who says in his study of "The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses" that people look to the Qur'an and Sunnah as authorities for law. When the text is read by human minds, people become authoritarian by not filtering out their own biases. There is no punishment for homosexuality given in the Qur'an. So scholars thought it was like heterosexual "zina." Heterosexuals always have a loophole to get out of punishment for zina. But for gays there's no legal loophole. The scholars have not provided an adequate account for gays, including nikah.
As for social structures, repression of homosexuality destroys marriages because people are forced into unwanted marriages. This leads to honor killings. The jurists apply ta`zir punishments because they cannot find any punishment in the Qur'an. As for the argument that Allah created mankind in "pairs," which is interpreted to mean heterosexual pairs, actually when twins are created they might be fraternal twins, male and female, or identical twins, two males or two females.
Imam Daayiee concluded that Muslims have the right to believe, to have a relationship with Allah, to seek justice--not "just us,"
3. Hisham Mahmoud presented a very anti-gay position. He began by reciting a Qur'an verse in Arabic and then joked with the audience that he had just cast a magic spell on them. (WTF?) He showed a PowerPoint display that listed homosexuality alongside "pedophilia," "rape," and "bestiality" as examples of haram sex. Even so, he admitted that all the hadiths about killing gays have been proven weak and cannot be used to legislate. Since there is no Qur'an text specifying punishment, no valid hadiths on the subject, the punishment has been left to the discretion of judges (ta`zir).
Hisham claimed that the Qur'an verses 4:15-16 are about punishing lesbians and gays. He said that verse 4:15 mentions "women who are guilty of lewdness" using the feminine plural relative pronoun "allati" while 4:16 refers to "two men who are guilty of it," using the masculine dual pronoun "alladhani." He interpreted verse 15 as talking about lesbians, and based on that interpretation, he interpreted the following verse to mean gay men. I wrote my criticism of this on a card to hand to the panel afterwards, but there was no time for questions because Imam Johari ran way over the time limit, so I'll post it here:
Verse 4:15 actually says nothing about lesbians; there is no basis in the text for interpreting it this way. In fact, in Arabic grammar the *plural* pronoun means three or more women, so it *cannot* refer to a lesbian couple. Therefore his interpretation of the masculine dual as "gay men," which depends on his interpretation of verse 15, also falls down. The text itself simply does not support any reading specific to homosexuality, so these claims are specious.
4. Imam Johari Abdul Malik spoke of his involvement with treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. He said that the stigma of AIDS as a "gay" disease prevents Muslims from seeking treatment and receiving help, which worsens the incidence of AIDS. He stated that "homophobia is not Islamic." But then he talked at length about how pork tastes so sweet even though it's haram. As though we're just meat.
Imam Johari's main point was that the purpose of humanity is to serve our Rabb in the correct way. He spent a long time playing a guessing game with the audience about what would be the first thing you say to the Martians when they land. His point was that we first have to establish the fact that we worship and serve our Rabb. He believes this correct way to include that marriage is only between a man and a woman. (Being Muslim, I noticed he did not say the usual phrase "one man and one woman.") Johari went on talking for more than double the time allotted to each speaker, which used up most of the time for questions.
5. At question time, someone asked Dr. Amal about journalists' emphasis on the Islamic identity of gay bashers in recent news here in Washington DC. They beat up a couple gays saying "In our country you would be killed." Dr. Amal said the focus on Islam here was unfair because most religions have homophobia, and everyone should condemn these attacks without slipping into Islam-bashing.
Hisham was very defensive about being considered homophobic, and protested that just because he said homosexuality is a sin and should be punished, that doesn't mean he's homophobic. This reminded me of a documentary about the Ku Klux Klan I once saw: they had some Grand Dragon wearing Klan robes saying "We don't hate the Negro! We just think he should stay in his place!" Yeah, the haters will always redefine their hatred to claim that it isn't hatred. They aren't fooling anyone except maybe themselves. Hisham attacked the practice of "coming out" by saying the "veil of Allah" allows gays to conceal their sinful homosexual identity from the people. To me, the obvious problem with this is the heteronormative presumption that being gay is automatically sinful and shameful, which is the whole problem to begin with.
Imam Johari was asked about separation of church and state, and whether he favored a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage. He answered that the First Amendment protects freedom of religion and rules out the establishment of a state religion, which allows us Muslims to practice our religion freely, therefore religious rules must not become American law, so he was fine with other people having same-sex marriages as long as they don't force him to do so. He got applause for this.
During the closing remarks, Hisham took the final word. He started reading from his PowerPoint notes and again associated homosexuality with "pedophilia," "rape," etc. At this, Imam Daayiee became righteously exasperated and burst out against the unfairness: The problem is, they always make this a test of the gays, but do not apply the same test to heterosexuals; they establish heteronormativity versus the diversity of Allah's creation. His protest against the constant unfairness in Islamic discourse won the biggest applause and cheers of the entire evening.