In the Name of the 49, The Beloved, the Lost
As part of my effort to hold the self-appointed leaders of the Muslim communities in the US and Canada responsible for their own words and actions, particularly in the wake of the Pulse massacre, I’d like to present the internet with this small compilation of the teachings of some of the leadership of the Sunni Muslim community about LGBT people. I am not going to get into general or common teachings about homosexuality in Islam. We all know what the orthodox or mainstream position is. What I want to do is a quick overview of what the community leadership has had to say about LGBT people, or how they have transmitted those teachings. In other words, this is the type of rhetoric many Muslims in Canada, the US, etc. have grown up hearing. It’s not just the core teaching of “Homosexuality is a sin,” it’s the manner in which it’s expressed. It’s the tone of voice, the asides and so on.
Let’s start off with those considered in the mainstream media and in their own mirrors to be the promise of integrating Islam in America – the Sufis and their like. Mind you, not all of these “leaders” will admit to being Sufis, and not all of them are Sufis. But birds of a feather and all. I have not the time nor the inclination to create separate posts for “people who are admired by Sufi Muslims but aren’t actually Sufis because they didn’t take bayah with a tariqah” and “people who claim they’re not Salafi but totally are.”
Hamza “Mark Hanson” Yusuf is the founder of Zaytuna College, formerly known as the Zaytuna Institute, in California. He is one of the foremost proponents of something popularly known as “Traditional Islam” in the West. That is, a return to what are promoted as the classical teachings of Islamic law, exegesis, and spirituality. He has been a popular speaker for about 20 years. He is considerably influential in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the English speaking world. He has been called “the rock star shaykh,” and has appeared in the American media (CNN, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times) and presented as an alternative to Salafi/Wahabi/Brotherhood/Bad Muslims. He has been labeled an apostate by that band of losers known as ISIL/Daesh. He has been long considered brave for teaching things contrary to Salafabism when it was dominant in the mosques of the US, and has no doubt been the target of many death threats. In addition, he has had a popular recurring series on the pan Arabic MBC network during Ramadan. Mr. Yusuf is 57 years old. So being from California, being a convert, what does Hamza have to say about LGBT people?
In Part 5 of his ‘Foundations of Islam’ series, which is from a course he did at Abiquiu sometime around 1997, Hamza Yusuf says: “From the Islamic perspective, if there’s an impulse, then what is demanded of the individual is that they suppress that. So from the Muslim point of view, if the person has homosexual impulses or desires, the Muslims would say that is the same as someone having the impulse to steal.
“From the Muslim point of view, there is a harm when this emerges into the public space. In other words, as far as Muslims are concerned, what people do behind closed doors is their business… If someone is openly doing these things, that is what is condemned. The same with alcohol. Someone who makes wine at home and drinks wine – that’s between them and God. The minute they step out into the public space, then that is where the Shariah says no. It’s also considered one of the signs of the end of times… Homosexuality and lesbianism would become prevalent according to Muhammad. And he actually said that men would marry men and women would marry women.”
In a lecture called “Signs of the Last Hour” or “Signs of the Day of Judgement,” which was given sometime in the late 1990s, and sold by Alhambra Productions (the predecessor of Sandala), Hamza Yusuf had some enlightening things to say. Conveniently someone has excerpted his teachings on LGBT and posted them on Vimeo, so those of us thirsty for knowledge can get past the dajjal and the signs that will be evident in Syria, and get right into the homos. He starts from a hadith and offers this commentary:
“That the end of time will not come until you send amazing things, grandiose things, things that are just unbelievable. This matter will become increasingly grave towards you… Now if you look now at things happening in the world, things are becoming so frightening, people are becoming increasingly more concerned and increasingly more scared at the same time…. He said that a man will marry a man and a woman will marry a woman. He said nikah and doesn’t mean zina. He said nikah which it’s primary meaning is marriage. And now this is the legislation in the Supreme Court in the US and they have legalized in certain states the marriage between the same sex. Become legal, in our own time! And this is going to be come the norm! And he said you would see people be sexually satisfied, a man with a man and a woman with a woman. Again, becoming an increasingly gross matter in the cities all over the world, the proliferation of homosexuality and lesbianism. Unbelievable things, wallahi that 20, 30 years ago, even in these countries, they couldn’t admit these things or they would lose their jobs. And this is becoming a norm in our own lifetime! This is something phenomenal. We’re just all asleep. We’re watching this happen in a day dream. These are deeply frightening matters, that we should be concerned about, that our children are growing up in environments in which human beings – they’re not even human beings, worse than human beings, worse than animals, because not even the animals do that, and they’ll try to use proof that monkeys have homosexuality among them. The Prophet and the Quran use the monkey as the lowest example, the lowest metaphor of a human being. He said that people would wake up as monkeys and pigs, their inner reality… so homosexuality, yes you do find it among monkeys. But the fact is, that is what you’re imitating. We imitate Bani Adam (humanity), the righteous, the truthful, we don’t want to be monkeys and pigs. That you use as a proof of your deviation the monkey is a sign of your own gross pathetic state and condition, and yet these things are put forth like they’re rational.”
Now, it has been said that as he has aged, and in the wake of 9/11 (more likely the latter than the former), Hamza has mellowed not just in his manner (this man loved so shout), but in his choice of topics and his approach to them. When I was but a youngster, one could often find Hamza opining on things like the New World Order and the Illuminati, and he sure was passionate about them. One memory that sticks out is Hamza comparing non-Muslims to lizards. Lizards have simple brains, you see – fight, flight, food, fear & fuck. So do non-Muslims, the shaykh told us. The event took place in Madison Square Garden, where the billboard was supported by the electronics chain The Wiz, whose slogan was “Nobody Beats the Wiz.” “Nobody beats the LIZ!” he shouted, to ecstatic cheering and applause. Video tapes of this event were sold all across the English speaking world. We could watch them over and over on our home VCRs. So has Hamza mellowed in his approach to LGBT people post-9/11, post turning 50?
In 2010, at the Rethinking Islamic Reform event in the UK, he said “Now what’s happening now as you get this extraordinary post-modern environment that we’re in now, where the internet has opened up this extraordinary exchange of ideas. And you have many, many Muslims that have migrated to the West, have imbibed western liberalism (as if homosexuality was completely unknown in the classical Islamic world – ed)… they’re struggling. We have for instance, gay and lesbian people in the US…born into Muslim families that want a gay and lesbian Islam…” I would like to add here, dear reader, that one should not think it is by happenstance that Hamza uses the word “imbibe.” This is a word commonly used by Muslims when talking about alcohol. Non-Muslims in the 21st century rarely use this word, but Muslims use it a lot when speaking about not only the Islamic prohibition on alcohol, but when speaking about the place of alcohol in non-Muslim culture. So it is not that LGBT or immigrant Muslims are influenced by western liberalism – they are drunk on it. To be drunk means to lose one’s senses, it means to move into areas forbidden by god, it means to be in a state of rebellion (rebellion being bad, of course, except when it’s not).
At another time during the same event, he seemed to step back from his earlier remarks (which to my knowledge, he has never apologized for, and I did look to see if he did), when he said this: “On the other hand, I think it’s important to humanize people and not dehumanize people (except when saying they’re worse than animals, I guess – ed). I think that the types of attitudes that a lot of Muslims have are compatible with the spirit of mercy and rahmah. And the other thing which is important, is that people outside of the faith of Islam are not in any way obligated to follow the details of Islamic law. So what is prohibited for us is not necessarily prohibited for them if they don’t accept Islamic tradition.”
This second type of disbelief (kufr juhd) can be further categorized as sometimes unrestricted (mu’laq) and other times restricted (muqayyad). Unrestricted rejection means a denial of the entire religion, including God’s revelation and His messenger. The second category is limited in its rejection and involves denying one or more aspects of the religion. For instance, someone who acknowledges God’s unity, the prayer, and the other five pillars but denies the prohibition of sodomy is in a state of kufr juhd because he knows, in reality, that it is wrong, as it is unambiguously prohibited in both the Qur’an and in the well-known hadith, but he has chosen to follow his caprice in accepting it.
“In his didactic poem, Jawharah al- Tawhid, Imam al-Laqqani says that those who deny (jahada) something known by all in the religion have entered into disbelief (kafara). Commenting on this line, Shaykh Bakri Rajab says:
Every sane, responsible, adult Muslim must believe in everything that God has
obliged Muslims to believe in from all those matters that are confirmed categorically
and necessarily. This includes the obligation of five prayers a day, fasting, and the other pillars, as well as the prohibition of adultery, fornication, sodomy, and intoxicants. Hence, whoever rejects a clear injunction or prohibition, deeming it less than binding, or who legalizes what God has deemed illegal has left Islam (kafara).(Shaykh Bakri Rajab, Tawdi hidayat al-murÏd ila shar jhawharat al-tawhid , p 122)
In 2015, writer Scott Korb released a book titled ‘Light Without Fire,’ the story of Zaytuna’s first year, Hamza is quoted as saying the following things: “‘I don’t want to see gay people bashed,’ he told Korb. ‘But I also don’t want it normalized as a healthy thing for a society. I think it confuses young people who are already having enough things to deal with.’ He went on to say that a person can become a homosexual ‘very easily,’ and that one way people turn gay is by watching too much pornography. ‘I don’t want things normalized,’ he said. ‘I don’t want someone to say this is a normal, healthy lifestyle. It’s not. It’s pathogenic.'”
And finally, in the wake of the Pulse massacre, what did Hamza have to say?
This is a huge step for Islam in America. This is the leadership we need. Such brave. Much courage. Killing is bad.
A co-founder of Zaytuna College and the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland, Zaid Shakir is an Air Force veteran, writer, translator and teacher who has not written or said anything on record that I could find about LGBT people. However, he was criticized in the wake of the Pulse massacre for denouncing violence without ever mentioning that the victims were gay (more on that at another time – he is not the only one).
Abdullah bin Hamid Ali
Philly native Abdullah bin Hamid Ali is a graduate of al Qarawiyin in Fes, Morocco, and currently teaches Islamic Law at Zaytuna and founded the Lamppost Productions.
In 2013, he wrote The Homosexual Challenge to Musim Ethics, stating, among other things, that gay rights only matter because of white people and that being gay is “an inordinately perverse passion that runs contrary to human nature.” I have to say that a great deal of this essay deals with ideas that were considered scientific in the West in the 19th century – that people are gay because they are “inverts” and such, and I really could not be bothered to give serious study to such Victorian nonsense (not to mention the tired heterosexual stereotypes of all gay men as generally effeminate).
“Classical views in all the Abrahamic faiths, generally, consider sodomy and gay behavior to be unnatural; a disposition that defies practical reason. Consequently, religious groups committed to a belief that God created a natural order for both biological and non-biological life continue to be the most vehement opponents to homosexuality in all its forms.
“Religions, like Islam, have attempted to outlaw the practice by prescribing punishments like, flogging and stoning, for people who either confess to or are caught committing acts of sodomy. Medieval Muslim scholars, in an attempt to remedy increased occurrences of homosexual sex between males, prohibited men from being in seclusion with beardless boys. Attitudes have changed very much today in both the “West” and the “East” perhaps due to neocolonial hegemonic pressures, although there is still significant opposition among non-Muslim factions also.
“Another concerns whether or not the debate about gay rights would even be newsworthy had it not been that a significant number of whites with their prevailing cultural capital and political influence were not part of the debate.
“The very fact that we are not discussing the scientific, genetic, or biological causes for heterosexual activity gives heterosexuality a marked advantage and authenticity over its obverse reality.
“There is no doubt that the Islamic law deems sodomy and other sexual acts between people of the same gender to be unlawful and utterly depraved—for Islam recommended the severest of punishments for public indecency of all sorts, including bestiality, fornication and adultery. That did not mean, however, that jurists did not look for ways to integrate obscured gendered people and repentant sodomites into the community.
“That being so, as a Muslim who has and will continue to encounter other Muslims struggling with homosexual thoughts and urges, it is important for the Muslim community to approach this topic with much more empathy and less prejudgment. Our children are now growing up in a culture where homosexual encounters and public discourse about gay acceptance is more normative. Though we try our best to insulate them from what we deem to be corruptive forces, there is no doubt that we won’t be able to protect them all the time.”
On gay marriage, he regurgitates much of the usual thought we are subjected to from religious leaders, adding this point:
“Thirdly, when we look closely at the gay community in the Western world, we notice three fundamental facts: 1) the overwhelming majority of gays are white which means they are members of the majority ruling group; 2) they are economically and politically privileged as a collective; and 3) because of 1 and 2, they are able to intimidate and compel many in the heterosexual community to conform to their demands. In other words, one can only be oppressed by an oppressor. When we look for who has been oppressing gays and keeping them from “marriage equality”, it has been that same white majority which is complicit in the oppression of other minorities. What this means is that the gay community is neither a minority nor is it oppressed. If anything, because of their political and economic position, they are complicit in the oppression of others, especially those who refuse to accept that being a homosexual is natural.”
I would leave it to others to address Mr. Ali’s deliberate obscuring and erasure of LGBT people of color – who have had a long history and a strong presence in the LGBT liberation movement (Audre Lord? Silvia Rivera?). Although he wrote this before the Pulse massacre, one can only look at his words – that the LGBT community is made up of rich, white oppressors – and then look at the reality at Pulse – dead men and women of color and all economic backgrounds. Are these his oppressors? According to him, LGBT people of color, and poor and working class LGBT people are complicit in the oppression of others – especially fundamentalist religious people like himself or, the Catholic Church or any televangelist.
Khalid Latif is the imam of the Islamic Center at NYU, a chaplain for the NYPD and a blogger at Huff Post.
In the wake of the Pulse massacre, Mr. Latif wrote the following tweet and Facebook post
This was the response of some of his followers. Keep in mind that we don’t choose our followers when we have open profiles. However, it does illustrate that even among those who follow a more open-minded leaders, there is this attitude of homophobia.
In this response, a Twitter follower calls out Mr. Latif for the lack of LGBT inclusive programming at NYU’s Islamic Center. While this is a completely valid point, it illustrates how knee deep in homophobia the American Muslim community is that the fact that Mr. Latif writes about compassion and solidarity is considered progressive, without his having to back it up with LGBT Muslim programming.
Timothy “Abdal-Hakim Murad” Winter is the Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, the Dean of Religious & Theology Students at Wolfson College, and a lecturer at Cambridge University, as well as a writer and translator.
In videos that have since been removed from the online realm except for one link on the Daily Mail (of all places), Mr. Winter said that homosexuality is“inherently ugly” and “You’re an ignorant people. Why ignorant? Because you don’t even understand what your bodies are for. How ignorant can you get? Even the animals know.” After comparing LGBT people to arsonists, he took a page from the Christian fundamentalist, complaining that “there is a great war against cigarette smoking but there is no campaign at all against the vice of the people of Lut.”
When this video was discovered by students and publicized in 2013, Mr. Winter called the ensuing attention an “inquisition,” and then apologized to Muslims for the controversy. Never mind the LGBT students whose academic future he has control over – it’s other Muslims who were wronged by him.
“When I looked at the clip I saw a young man ranting,” he writes of himself as a man who was 35 at the time the video was recorded. It is worth noting that Hamza Yusuf supported him in this “he was just a young’un” claim. Meanwhile, progressive, liberal, heterodoxic, gay, and other Muslims under the age of 40 are expected to adhere to the letter of Shariah all the time, with no excuses. Hell, by these standards, Hamza and Tim should stop immediately complaining about being called out by all LGBT and progressive people under the age of 40. After all, maybe they just don’t know what they’re doing!
(Please also note that Hamza called the controversy a tempest in a tea pot, suggesting that LGBT activists make something out of nothing. Everything under the sun is “persecution” and “inquisition” and Islamophobia towards Muslims, but when LGBT students voice genuine concern about the political and social opinions of a person in a position of power and control over them, well, they’re just making something out of nothing).
“It was probably the worst thing I have ever done, tricked out with dubious science and many errors, and presented in a very aggressive style which is alien to the manner I now use. My views, knowledge and style have mutated in 17 years.” He pleads with Muslims not to be bullied into stating anything but what he said in his 1995 video (only NICER), saying, “Ours is an age which increasingly finds it hard to understand a message of dignity, restraint, and sacrifice. Instead, the age favours hedonism. Muslims in the West must witness to the truth that hedonism does not bring happiness; happiness, which is every human’s birthright, comes from surrendering to the commands of Heaven.” He concludes by comparing LGBT activists and those who believe in full legal rights for LGBT people to extreme right wing politicians in Europe, and by calling himself a persecuted man. Meanwhile, Huff Post noted that as of the date he published this letter on Masud.Co.Uk, the leader and teacher of young people had made “no public apology.”
Faraz Rabbani was one of the founders of SunniPath.com (now Qibla.com) and is the founder of SeekersHub.org which offer online Islamic advice and courses.
This was Faraz’s initial public reaction to the Pulse massacre.
The material on SeekersHub conforms to the general Islamic teaching regarding homosexuality, and does not delve into the realm of calling LGBT people “animals,” or comparing them to arsonists.