Ziauddin Sardar & Re-Interpreting Homosexuality In Islam

images (14)


The context of this piece was a question by a Christian after the CoE considerations regarding openly gay clergy, asserting that he found the example of Ziauddin Sardar to be inspiring vis-a-vis his reinterpretation of the attitude to homosexuality in Islam.

Ziauddin Sardar is not a ‘prominent Muslim theorist’ and does not have scholarly authority nor is he an academic expert on exegesis or such. Nor is he a ‘normal’ lay Muslim of any variety. He is a modernist with heterodox views, he is free to hold these but he does not represent the mainstream of Islamic thought. Every religion has a right to define it’s orthodoxy.

A ‘long term, fulfilling’ relationship between two men or two women is presumed to involve physical contact extending to but not limited to sodomy and oral sex. If it does not then it is called ‘friendship’ or ‘brotherly/sisterly love’, so I do not find a distinction of gay marriage and sodomy to be realistic or helpful. And neither would most gays or heterosexuals, who would feel that they should be allowed unlimited consensual physical contact in a marriage.

I would say though that you will find that the vast majority of ‘liberal’ Muslim intelligentsia have a problem with the prominence afforded to people like Sardar. They see this as a case of the ‘acceptable’ (secularised) and ‘unacceptable’ (orthodox) forms of Islam. So these people’s prominence is not usually a function of their academic or other prowess but their utility in expounding heterodox views which liberals would like to be mainstream in Islam. This is fine, but these people engage more with the media than academia or the Muslim community to get their views across. They have the ‘ear’ of publishing houses and such when they write books with titles like ‘Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim’. They are rightly seen as arrogant and undermining the community since they do not engage with it but rather those hostile to it to get their legitimacy. It’s like me taking my ‘problems’ with Christian theology to a third party who I know does not like Christians, and using that prominence they give me (because of my hostility, say to the Catholic Church) to get a platform and voice while never bothering to confront the Christians themselves. This is Sardar and his gang much of the time i.e they are a Trojan horse operation.

Regarding homosexuality, the Quran is pretty clear as I understand it, it simply tells you not to satisfy you ‘lusts’ with men;

And [remember] Lot, when he said unto his people:“Will you commit abominations such as none in all the world has ever done before you? (7:81) Verily, with lust you approach men instead of women: nay, but you are people given to excesses!”‘

The confusion may be that the story of Lot is given in more detail later in the Quran (11:69 onwards) where there is a ‘men attacking men’ type incident, but the above quote makes it clear that homosexual action is disliked. This does not mean that there is a phobia of or discrimination against gays, and in fact the Ottoman Empire decriminalised homosexuality: that is not to say that it is approved of, merely that it is not possible to convict someone of a crime in regards to it, like private fornication or adultery much like being stingy is condemned, but as long as one pays one’s taxes in Islam, it is not possible to seek any measure against one in the Sharia.

There are actually specific tradition(s) of the Prophet (PBUH) stating that a time will come when men will marry men and women will marry women. So there is a specific disapproval of marriage and sexual activity or it’s simulacrum between anything other than a man or a woman, since Islamically marriage is not a secular but a religious or divinely ordained institution. Anyone wishing to have secular ceremonies and to acknowledge them is free to do so, but there is to be no compulsion in their recognition, just as we do not compel anyone to recognise our religious definition of marriage. The State again has yet another definition, which may be one or the other.

The Islamic position is that there is an extensive and inclusive system revealed by God to aid our moral and day to day decision making process, God acting as the facilitator for an objective moral standard that transcends human bias. Reasons are given for his ‘decisions’ and we are free to take them or leave them. Further, we are free to use our intellect and differ in what these rules mean and how to apply them, but we have to be fair and objective. We are explicitly warned not to be swayed by things like discrimination, or even enmity and hatred:


O You who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do. (Asad’s translation)

In applying our moral reason in Islamic terms we should also not be swayed by fashion or social consensus either, that is still not objectivity. Once we start to ‘reason’ based on what feels good to us or what society has currently agreed upon we have swerved from objectivity into fashion or hedonism. It is no longer the rational method, which is commanded in Islam.

So, to be coherent in the Islamic position, if God claims that he has made us a system for moral guidance and this is seen to cover everything from marriage contracts to personal hygiene and how often you should cut your toe nails, then it would be a glaring omission for Him to wait thousands of years for Liberalism to come along (in fact Liberalism is a very old idea) and fill in the gaps about gay marriage etc. So that’s the way we look at it. I’m not imposing the same on Christians, it’s up to them.

In short, Islam believes in freedom of expression, sexual, speech, whatever. But when these freedoms involve other people, then they have to be tempered according to a ‘first do no harm’ principle. So when a young lady’s freedom to wear a short skirt in public infringes on my freedom not to be titillated, then we need to reach a compromise. But who decides where the compromise lies? We say God, because he is not human and thus objective. Liberals say something different which usually means social consensus or what feels good or what does not do PHYSICAL harm to others. Same goes for homosexuality, once it is brought into the public sphere then there is regulation, if it is not public then there is no problem, apart from God’s stated displeasure at the act.

All this is assuming that it is even possible to arrive at moral judgements in a reasonable manner without God in the first place. For example, what is the rational reason for prohibiting incest? Especially before the advent of Genetics? Is there one? Who are you harming by marrying your sister if she loves you and you love her? So we need to talk about how to reach moral conclusions in the first place.

Now with the decriminalisation of homosexuality by the Ottomans in 1862 you can see a policy of respect and tolerance not achieved by others for many more decades. If two men wanted to live together, in an Islamic system where there is a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy on sexual conduct, they are fine and are not denied any rights other than to openly promote a gay lifestyle. They could even adopt children as long as they did not make it a ‘gay adoption’ issue. You may say that the ‘openly gay’ or ‘promotion’ aspects of the lifestyle are essential, but I would say not necessarily, and you do not see heterosexuals having festivals and parades to express their sexuality, this kind of stuff is often imposed onto the gay community (sometimes by itself) due to their ‘minority’ status, and they should not have to buy into it. Further, if gay people did want to argue for or promote homosexuality in an Islamic state, they can do so in the form of a public debate against Muslims or whoever. If Muslims are willing to debate the very existence of God in an Islamic state, then gay marriage is no problem. The caveat is that it has to be a public debate, not an ad campaign or posters by United Colours of Beneton, they have to come out into the arena of ideas and if they can win then good on them. I think this is pretty fair and the bottom line is you can be gay unhindered, why do you need to promote it to others any more than we need to have adverts for heterosexuality?

As Muslims, we love and accept gay individuals same as anyone else, but we make it clear that we do not see their behaviour as the overall moral ideal. This is not surprising to my gay friends, as they frankly do not ‘accept’ or understand my attraction to women, but they do tolerate it. Tolerance does not mean that people should ‘pretend’ that they ‘get it’ as is the case nowadays. Despite having close gay friends and associates, I find their behaviour baffling. That does not mean I seek a mandate against it or them, but nor does it mean I will be promoting it, just as I do not expect them to promote a heterosexual lifestyle (nor do they). In fact ‘forcing’ people to accept it under the banner of progressive values often has the opposite effect and causes people to react very badly.

And I think that will be the result of the CoE controversy, since it is obviously not a theologically motivated reinterpretation, which would be fine, but is being done under social pressure, namely that of the prevailing doctrine of Liberalism, which itself has not been arrived at by free means but rather by a level of imposition and a militant understanding of what is the ‘Good Life’. If it were a genuine reinterpretation it would have been done long ago when the Church in Europe was a lot more vital and intellectually curious. This, to me, is done to show the Church who is boss, and some of them are saying (to Liberalism): ‘You are’.

Much like the Architect in the Matrix Reloaded said when under threat:

‘There are degrees of survival we are willing to accept.’

If the issue at hand was something more central to Christianity, like ‘Is Jesus God?’ and a bunch of Anglican scholars and clergy under pressure from a dominant Islamic civilization and said: ‘Well, actually, that was then, and there is a lot of leeway for interpretation, so now it’s not so important’, most people would recognise it for the ideological bullying that it is, but because this is something they feel they can ‘get away with’, and may give them some much needed legitimacy with dwindling congregations, no one cares.

There is the same ‘secularisation’ in Islam: where Islamic ‘clergy’ give legitimacy to essentially secular and heterodox ideas like driving bans for women and the beheading of Indonesian maids or whatever merely to get favour from the ruling elite in places like Saudi Arabia. They, just like the CoE, make complicated theological justifications for what is ultimately, an unacceptable and humiliating compromise, merely so they can keep their social standing while all around them, the Rome of their religion burns.


18 thoughts on “Ziauddin Sardar & Re-Interpreting Homosexuality In Islam

  1. As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.

    Why do you say the story of the angel guests to Lut ﷺ may mean attacking them and not approaching them for sex as any homosexual or heterosexual would do? And even if it did mean attacking and raping, that would never negate the sin of homosexuality, because, anyway, Prophet Lut ﷺ suggested for them their women instead, as they are purer, which affirms the sin of homosexuality. Also, if it meant attacking, that would also mean Prophe Lut ﷺ told them to rape women and even that raping women is purer.

    • Salaams,

      I am not saying that the story means ‘attacking’ men as opposed to approaching them: that is the interpretation the ‘pro-gay’ lobby try to give it. I am saying EVEN if that is the way the story develops, it is of no consequence since the Quran disparages same sex relationships explicitly by stating:

      ”Verily, with lust you approach men instead of women: nay, but you are people given to excesses!”‘

      So whether there was a rape attempt or not, it is of no moment, since it already disapproved of approaching men as opposed to women.

      In any case, what you said is completely correct and shows that their attempt at ‘re-interpretation’ is completely ignorant.

  2. Ah, okay. I think you implied that by saying “… where there is a ‘men attacking men’ type incident, but the above quote makes it clear that homosexual action is disliked,” and homosexuality is not disliked but haram.

    • Brother, I think you have misunderstood me.

      The reason I mentioned that there was an incident of apparent attempted male rape is that this DOES seem to occur later on in Surah 11: if we want to refute these guys we have to know their ‘evidences’. So there is an apparent sexual assault attempt later on.

      So homosexuality is condemned in chapter 7: then there is in Surah 11 an incident where angels sent to the Prophet Lot (PBUH) are accosted by sexually predatory males: the story of Lot is given in detail in Surah 11, NOT Surah 7 where the condemnation I quoted is:

      Here is Asad’s translation and commentary in full so you can see I didn’t make it up myself:

      AND WHEN Our messengers came unto Lot, he was sorely grieved on their account, seeing that it was beyond his power to shield them;107 and he exclaimed: “This is a woeful day!”

      And his people came running to him, impelled towards his house [by their desire]:108 for they had ever been wont to commit [such] abominations. Said [Lot]: “O my people! [Take instead] these daughters of mine: they are purer for you [than men]!109 Be, then, conscious of God, and disgrace me not by [assaulting] my guests. Is there not among you even one right-minded man?”

      They answered: “Thou hast always known that we have no use whatever for thy daughters;110 and, verily, well dost thou know what we want!” (11:80) Exclaimed [Lot]: “Would that I had the strength to defeat you, or that I could lean upon some mightier support!”111

      107 Lit., “he was straitened as regards the reach of his arm in their behalf” – an idiomatic phrase often used in classical Arabic, denoting here Lot’s utter inability to afford his guests protection from the people of Sodom, whose homosexual propensities have ever since been commemorated in the term “sodomy”. Since Lot thought that the strangers were no more than handsome young men, he felt certain that they would be sexually assaulted by his sinful countrymen.

      108 Lit., “towards him” – but since their desire was obviously directed at Lot’s guests, and not at himself, my rendering would seem appropriate. It is to be noted that in its passive form, as
      used here, the verb yuhra’un does not merely mean “they came running” but, rather, “running as if driven onward by some force” (Zamakhshari)- in this case, the force of their perverse desire.

      109 Most of the commentators are of the opinion that the phrase “these daughters of mine” signifies here “the daughters of my community” (since a prophet is the spiritual father of his people). But
      whether this is the case, or whether – as is more probable – Lot’s words refer to his actual daughters, there is no doubt that in their wider implication they point to the natural relationship.

      110 Lit., “no claim whatever to thy daughters”.

      111 Lit., “or that I could betake myself to some mighty support”. Although some of the commentators are of the opinion that this expression denotes “tribal support” (which was, however, unavailable
      to Lot inasmuch as he was a stranger in Sodom), we have a number of authentic Traditions (extensively quoted by Tabari) to the effect that what Lot meant was God’s support: for the Prophet
      Muhammad, referring to this Qur’anic passage, is reported to have said, “God bestowed His grace upon Lot, for he betook himself indeed unto a mighty support!”

      So the translation (at least) mentions that men were going to ‘assault’ the male guests, who were in fact angels. This is what the pro lobby are probably on about. But it does not help them as the condemnation is made before this incident is related and is general and not about this incident.

      As for the issue of Haraam/disliked, the article was written as a response to a Christian who was asking if Ziauddin Sardar was correct in his interpretation of homosexuality, and the questioner hoped that he was. Telling a non-Muslim that it was ‘haraam’ which is a phrase he does not understand would not really help. In fact, haraam things are disliked by God are they not? I did not say it was ‘makruh’, I just used the English word disliked, not as a Shariah or Fiqh terminology. Fiqh terminology is not really being used in the article. The point was not to say that homosexuality is ‘makruh’ as opposed to ‘haraam’, and the questioner would not understand these phrases anyway.

  3. Subhanallah. The “rape” issue comes up to begin with because such “modernists” have drunk the wine of “Western freedom”, wherein consensual sex between adults is always allowed no matter what, without other restrictions.

    But Islam of course never accepted this at all. Consensus for us is always superseded by the Shar’i injunctions, so much so that in some cases and according to some scholars the Shar’i rule may even block the consent of certain people either in marriage and/or sex. May Allah help us all to understand Islam on its own terms, not based on the presuppositions of another science or field.

  4. If you say that “These people [like Ziauddin Sardar] engage more with the media than academia or the Muslim community to get their views across.” how then do you assess a publication like the Magazine ‘Critical Muslim’? How then do you assess his previous engagements like his research work for the Hajj Research Centre in the seventies or his previous advisory position in the cabinet of Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia? If you read his conversation with the Halal Monk on tradition and modernity, I think it becomes clear he’s just as critical of both.

    • Well, thank you.

      But ‘Critical Muslim’ is a magazine isn’t it? Is it an academic journal? Then how is it proof of academic engagement?

      Advising politicians makes one neither an Islamic scholar nor an academic. Anwar Ibrahim has been imprisoned by the way.

      Are you saying that studying at King Abdul Aziz University is sufficient to make one an authority on Hajj? Who gave him this title of world authority on Hajj? Saudis? Himself? You?

      You agree with me that Sardar is critical of Islamic traditionalism (no small matter). Fine, so can I

      1) See his Islamic scholarship credentials (I don’t want ijaazats etc, just some proof that before condemning the traditional Islam of Al Ghazzali, Imam Maturidi, Ibn Sina, Zaid Al Kawthari etc he has at least attempted to study the subject – for example, mantiq, Arabic, Usool of fiqh, jadal, whatever.Especially since it is his paid profession. You know, like if I want to reform brain surgery, I should at least be a senior brain surgeon, or a talented amateur or at least have some killer logical arguments. Does he have this? His Wikipedia page, which I know you have seen, is a bit vague on his traditional Islamic scholarship:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziauddin_Sardar.

      He describes himself as a ‘critical polymath’. Can we have a list of the subjects peer have judged him as competant in? Leibniz was a polymath. Ibn Sina was a polymath. So can I see his CV enabling him to criticise traditional Islam (i.e having studied it and thus understood it’s flaws) or is it Orientalism with a brown face?

      Isn’t he just a journalist with a science degree whop spent a few years in Saudi?

      2) Can I see his new ‘Madhab’ – not just his view on homosexuality (which is linguistically incoherent even in English translation let alone Sharia) but the rest of it as well, like his view on how to interpret Quran (Usool of Tafseer), Mustalah of hadith, his version on how to pray, how to use logic and scientific arguments in the framework of Islam etc. etc.

      Just his book on Usool of Tafseer will suffice, so that I can make sure that his version of Quranic exegesis is coherent and avail myself of his polymathic brilliance.

      Or is it just amateur hour again as usual in Islam?

      • Thanks for your elaborate and sensible answer. I will however have to refrain from answering every argument, for I think we disagree on something else.

        The thing is that I’m not going to speak on Ziauddin Sardar’s behalf about his academic or scholarly credentials. Frankly, they are of little concern to me.

        And I do not agree with the comparison with brain surgeons. Because discussions like those on the Islamic view on homosexuality are not a matter of technical procedures, they are, in the end, a matter of opinion and personal interpretation.

        Matters of opinion can always be more or less informed. One’s interpretation can be argumented poorly or well. But they are opinions and interpretations none the less. And the supposed ‘authority’ of someone because of specific studies, academic credentials or a specific CV do not make their opinions necessarily better. High profiled scholars often write stupidities and academics with many credentials often say silly things.

        So whether or not Sardar’s CV counts as good enough, doesn’t really matter to me. What should matter are his arguments. And they are all out there to be discussed and, if someone would deem it necessary, to be refuted.

        I gather that you do not agree with his stances. That is perfectly fine. But to do so on the basis of his CV and scholarly credentials seems a bit thin.

        So I return to what I meant to say in my first comment and that very simply is that Sardar does, in his own way, engage with the Muslim public (and not just the non-Muslim media). At the very least he created a forum like the Magazine Critical Muslim which allows for different opinions to be published and spread. That in itself is an example of engagement.

        Again, academic peer-reviewing might sometimes be a good way of determining quality (although it often simply means that a specific opinion on things reinforces itself within certain academic circles) but that doesn’t mean that non-peer-reviewed articles are necessarily lacking in quality.

        The same goes for his Usool of Tafseer. You’ll have to gather that from his book ‘Reading the Qur’an’ in which he gives his (personal) approach to Qur’anic exegesis. Up to you to like or dislike then.

        Personally, as you gathered. I do find much of inspirational value in what he says and writes.


        PS: just one small extra remark outside the topic: Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned, yes. But eventually acquitted as well since he was politically imprisoned on false pretences. And all of this actually had a lot to do with allegations of supposed homosexuality. All in all, people with ‘authority’ attacked him on ‘scholarly grounds’ and imprisoned an innocent man. And if I have been well informed, these things might happen all over again.

  5. Oh, and of course I readily admit that your blog post discussed the arguments and ideas of Sardar. But apart from your conclusions, that actually proves my point: he does engage with the Muslim community and the Muslim community engages with him. Your blog post is a fine (and well argumented) example thereof.

    • 1) Anwar Ibrahim is currently in prison

      2) He supports Wahhabi organisations such as IRF and had spoken for them

      3) Your approach is ridiculous as it makes religion a dilettantes playground: whereas a guy who has not studied Quantum Physics or Pre-Raphaelite art to the required standard would be laughed out of the room for speaking on these subjects or contradicting their highest authorities, you think that for religion it is indeed amateur hour, thus degrading theology as a pursuit so inferior that anyone can have a go

      4) Attacking ‘traditional Islam’ means taking on Al Ghazzali, Sayuti, Maturidi etc. You better have some Islamic sciences or killer logical arguments as mmmclmru said: Sardar has neither. His argument that the Quran is referring to gay rape and not gay sex is incoherent from all points of view, including literalism sand instantly disqualifies him not only as a authority on Islam but even as an honest intellectual. His work on Rageh Omar’s documentary about the life the prophet Muhammad proves his utterly inadequate understanding or even basic Islamic scholarship even more conclusively.

      5) Theology is a science of knowledge like all others, no-one cares for his ‘personal’ approach but a consistent epistemology, that is what an ‘usool’ of anything is.

      ”And I do not agree with the comparison with brain surgeons. Because discussions like those on the Islamic view on homosexuality are not a matter of technical procedures, they are, in the end, a matter of opinion and personal interpretation.”

      This is an aberrant statement as brain surgery is not a technical procedure but knowledge and then practice, just like any science including mathematics and religion. You showed your lax approach to theology as the lowest of sciences by saying that unlike anything else religion (i.e eschatology, truth etc) is a matter of interpretation and opinion. It is no more so than any other system.

      People like Sardar, who want to take on traditional Islam and did not even bother to study it to the required standard, despite making their fame and fortune off of discussing religion, are no better than those people who use ‘Science’ arguments to prove religion without bothering to study science. The man is a glorified journalist and has his opinion, That cannot be helped, but it is outrageous that the opinion of someone as uninformed as him is taken so seriously and this would never happen with, say, the Jewish community and is a reflection of how just as uninformed Islamophobes are allowed to have a platform and talk nonsense despite inadequate knowledge, people like Sardar are allowed to do the same as ‘representatives’ of Islam.

  6. Uhhhhh…yeah, what he just said…Many thanks for both your replies. Good points!

    When I said he does not engage with the community, you took it literally. The guy above made the point well: instead of taking on Islamic scholars and making his point about his ‘correct’ understanding of homosexuality in the Quran (shared by no-one from Sunni or Shia Islam for 1400 years) to the ‘Traditional Islamic establishment’, he took his case to the ‘public’ and publishers. That is the same as Islamophobes who take their pathetic arguments to the court of prejudiced public opinion rather than airing them before their opponents and establishing their veracity. Frankly, I agree that if any self – appointed representative of the Jewish or Christian communities was to take such outlandish and heterodox positions, they would be instantly understood for what they were.

    My responding to his banality is no more proof of his engaging with the Orthodox Muslim community than a Jew reading far-right literature means that he has been consulted by it’s author. I think your claim that me responding to him is proof of ‘engagement’ is invalid in the extreme.

    We have the right to representatives who are…representative.

    Anwar Ibrahim has be re-convicted and is indeed on bail awaiting a five year sentence. I am not saying he is guilty.

    But advising politicians is not Islamicly edifying nor community work.

    • Thanks for the clarifications.

      I therefore gladly take back my comment that “you’re engaging with him” as mmmclmru seems to find that inappropriate.

      I find it a bit inappropriate myself however, to think my stance would imply that I promote an approach to theology that would make it into a dilettantes playground. I simply wouldn’t overemphasise arguments of authority and find argumentation and counter-argumentation (which of course takes in account a thorough research of a certain subject) much more important. So again: I of course understand that here might be many counterarguments to Sardar’s arguments and that one can find his approach very unsatisfactory. I only find it unnecessary to dismiss what he says on grounds of lack of authority. Also because I don’t think Sardar would call himself a ‘representative’ of Islam. He places himself quite explicitly on one particular side of the spectrum.

      But of course I understand that one might dislike that certain people are good at working with the media and that by doing so, they receive some sort of representative status in the mainstream media. Thought that’s a different matter.

  7. @ J.T. Aslim: I think mmmclmru has a point when he (or she?) emphasise arguments of authority because nowadays we live in “democratic” era where people can say anything and everything even in the matters of deen without proper knowledge. This is what Syed Naquib al-Attas said ‘the loss of adab’. Of course even a highly respected scholar can make a mistake and make a fault opinion, but if this is case of a scholar let alone a layman. So, rather than make controversial issues or opinion with the guise of ijtihad it’s better to follow the learned and authoritative ulemas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s