There is a fascinating overlap between Salafis and most self proclaimed ‘Liberals’, both of whom seem to be having an (presumably) unconscious competition as to who can be the most bigoted and inflexible in their respective world-views. This congruence however is regarding what the ‘punishment’ for homosexual action should be in Islamic law (commonly referred to pejoratively as ‘Shariah’ Law’). Revealingly, they would both really like it to be death.
Of course, they differ as to why they would like this to be the case: for Liberals, taking on Islam as part of their extended spectrum war on religion/tradition and the family, they would like to show that Islam oppresses and kills sexual minorities and is as dangerous and intolerant as people suspect. Gay rights currently being a ’cause celebre’ (to the neglect of nearly every other type of rights such as the right to citizenship, education or even life if you happen to live in the poorer parts of the world – far more attention is lavished by Liberals on the cause of gay marriage than, say, eradicating child death from hunger, which is presumably to be left to Russell Brand), it would of course be expeditious if Islam were to mandate that homosexuality be punishable by death. We could then all switch off our brains and dismiss it as the ‘medieval’ menace we suspect it to be.
Salafis and their puritanical brethren the Deobandis would also love the punishment for homosexuality to be death – because to a puritan, anything harsh, violent or difficult is Manna from heaven and therefore more authentic, pure and religious. Suspicion of ease or pleasure is primal to the puritan world-view. It is a way for them to show just how diametrically they are opposed to what they think is ‘modernity’ but is usually more accurately leniency or mercy (though they would hate for it to be put thus) and to thereby earn points with a mass of Muslims feeling that their values and traditions are under threat. Minorities, whether they are religions, Goths or punk rockers, love to differentiate themselves from the masses and most Muslim groups are in fact exactly the same (albeit rather less fashionable).
The first matter that needs to be clarified is that homosexual orientation and even behaviour is not punishable in Islam at all (though it is morally reprimanded and in no uncertain terms). First of all, in Islamic legal theory it is nigh on impossible to prove anyone’s sexual peccadillos – which is why the Ottomans decriminalised homosexuality in 1858, something which helps proves our thesis as this undeniable fact is vigorously denied by both Islamophobes and Salafists – one could write a whole article about how both groups are keen to attribute this not to the traditional Hanafism of the Ottomans but to ‘secular’ Tanzimat reforms, betraying symmetrical and near complete ignorance of Ottoman history (or on how to use a search engine). Basically, being a sexually practising gay is not something which is punishable in Islamic law. What is punishable is the same thing that is punishable in the heterosexual case – having public intercourse in front of four or more witnesses, perhaps better called ‘public lewdness’. Like at an orgy or a sex tape or something. Or what is commonly known as ‘dogging’ in England.
In the Hanafi case, this in the worst scenario can result in flogging: any person who has straight or gay sex in front of four or more witnesses deliberately, will risk being publicly flogged (though the second Caliph Umar (RA), even lifted this punishment after a young man apostated after being caught ‘en flagrante’). In fact, the punishment for having gay public sex, as the talk by the noted traditionalist scholar below shows, was actually less than for having straight public sex. Which is a bit odd, but there you go.
Of course, this will neither please Salafis, who will be appalled at the leniency of the traditional (and majority) legal school of the Hanafis, nor Liberals, who will be furious that anyone should consider flogging people who have sex in public, put up porn videos etc at all but in the homology of their disapproval perhaps there is a lesson for people who can think critically.
After this guys first talk, elucidating the issue perfectly cogently and with referenced evidence that viewers could chase up for themselves, this poor traditionist had to film a second part (included below) since he was accosted with denials by Muslims who accused him of being a ‘sell out’ and pandering to the Zeitgeist. Yet he was only stating the position of the earliest and most authoritative jurist, Abu Hanifa, born in 63 AH (some time before the zeitgeist), whose legal school was and still is followed by the majority of Muslims – and more importantly by nearly all of the major Muslim empires and states (such as the Samanis, Timurids, Mughals and lately, the Ottomans), and is also the one followed by nearly all of the non-Arab Muslims of the world.
The Hanafis took a similar position on gay sex as they did on adultery (though they rightly identified that there was no punishment stipulated for the former in the Quran at all, and thus they too were reluctant to stipulate what God had not): namely that vigorous moral disapproval and punishment are two different things. None of the Muslim exegetes and authoritative scholars approved of homosexual action or for that matter fornication or adultery – but they did not mandate a punishment for them.
Of course, puritans cannot understand how you could disapprove of something without mandating a punishment but this is a failure of imagination and orthodoxy on their part. It is clear to even a unlearned reader of the Quran that for the vast number of vices the Quran is keen to elucidate at length, such as deception, avarice or the neglect of the poor and destitute, there is nonetheless no legal punishment stipulated.
The Islamic position on homosexual action is in no way exceptional within the context of Islamic legal theory and ethics, much to the chagrin of Salafists and their equally inflexible bedfellows, Liberals.
I like this scholar because he is brave enough to tell it like it is, regardless of kowtowing to either Muslims or non-Muslims, and gives enough detail to save me having to do an article about this, as I have long been planning. In short he explains that whereas the Quran is clear on stipulating a censure for ‘zina’ (illicit intercourse – either fornication or adultery, which incidentally are not referred to separately in the Quran but jointly under the term ‘zina’ and thus the Hanafis and others agree on the same sanction for both – namely flogging, and not stoning), it neglects to both specify one for homosexual sex or to class it as ‘adultery’. Therefore, in serious matters that mandate a physical punishment, lesser evidence than the Quran is not aldmitted by Hanafi legal theory (and most Malikis as well). In this and other cases, the Hadith are indeed lesser evidence, irrespective of their being graded ‘sahih’ (and the hadith gradings of jurists differ from that of hadith scholars). And in any case, the Hanafis find significant fault with hadiths calling for the capital punishment of either adulterers or homosexuals these narrations are boldly rejected by that legal school as well as by many other jurists, as the speaker ably demonstrates.
But at the same time, it is rather, well, pathetic that the well known Hanafi position on there being no punishment for homosexuality is resisted by so many Muslims. I mean, I knew about this when I was studying the rudiments of Islam, so it is somewhat indicative of the level of ‘authenticity’ that we have from groups such as Salafis, Deobandis, HT or whatever, that their explanations of the ‘Islamic’ approach to homosexuality failed to include the authoritative position of the Hanafis – rather, finding this position embarrassing, they followed the methodology of the Islamophobes and seemingly lied or ‘forgot’ about it.
Perhaps they were so worried about the proliferation of homosexuality in the Muslim community that they felt they had to help God and the classical scholars out by appearing to be ‘tough on gayness and tough on the causes of gayness’. Which is ironic, as they are also very tough on the ’causes’ of heterosexuality (like guys and girls being able to mix or talk to one another)…
So now you have the ACTUAL Islamic position on ‘punishing’ homosexual sex. In public. If any Liberals, Secularists and their ‘Islamic’ iterations, the Salafis, know any better, then allow me to utter the immortal words: ‘Come at me bro!’.
But if you can’t, then have the epistemic humility to admit your error and stop embarrassing the religion of God with your banality and nonsense.
Sheikh Atabek Shukrov Nasafi is a noted scholar and specialist in Islamic aqeeda and theological sciences. Undertaking his religious studies at first in secret in Uzbekistan while it was part of the USSR, he has gone on to have an eclectic and comprehensive Islamic education all over the Muslim world.
Already a scholar when he arrived in the Middle East, he studied in Damascus under such luminaries as Mhmd Adnan Darwish, graduating finally from Al Azhar but only after having studied both in Medina and the wider region, for example under Sh. Uthaymeen (and numerous others).
He is currently based in the Northwest of England where he is the founder of the Avicenna Academy.