A friend recently shared a video by Islamic scholar Javed Ghamidi, where host, Muhammad Hassan Ilyas, prods him through a series of questions on homosexuality. Ilyas records such videos at the Ghamidi Center of Islamic Learning in Carrollton, Texas.
There is no doubt that Ghamidi Saheb is one of the most brilliant scholars from Pakistan, whose approach on reason and reasonability is much needed in a country that is rife with sectarian intolerance and marginalisation of religious minorities. However, even the best among us have their blind spots for they are shaped by their times and circumstances. None of us has it all figured out. For instance, Sir Isaac Newton was circumscribed by his worldview on mechanical laws and therefore could not see beyond towards quantum physics. Similarly, Ghamidi Saheb seems to have hit a brick wall on the issue of homosexuality even as he has offered radically different views on issues such as the optionality of headscarf and women leading congregational prayers.
The issue of homosexuality is irrelevant for Pakistan where the chief issues revolve around the existential threat due to the impending economic and political crisis, apart from the devastating floods due to climate change. Pakistan also has to worry about the education of a burgeoning young population and healthcare of vulnerable people that live in a highly inequitable society, where their monthly income matches a single restaurant bill of a well-off family on Lahore’s M.M. Alam Road.
However, from time to time, the homosexuality issue is raised as a scare tactic in the context of transgender rights. Sometimes, the odd firebrand “attention seeker” makes matters worse by railing carelessly on social media instead of diligently working like other responsible activists with local counsellors, social workers, healthcare providers, and government officials. A lot of work is menial and does not draw attention in the age of riya kari (showing off) and nargissiyat (self-centredness) on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.
The conduct of western LGBTQ Muslims has not always been exemplary, especially when they engage in unbecoming conduct that goes against Muslim values of haya (modesty) and iffat (chastity). Thus, all these factors allow for Ghamidi Saheb’s opinions to go unchallenged and consequently, overseas Pakistani communities remain embroiled in the conundrum of squaring their faith with their lived experience.
On the other hand, religious political parties also make things worse when they harp on symbolic issues instead of addressing the pressing economic issues of Pakistan.
Returning to Ghamidi Saheb’s video, his opinions may not be relevant beyond his narrow following in Pakistan. However, they matter for many overseas Pakistanis who look to him for religious guidance, especially as they and their children face the realities of LGBTQ communities and families in their workplaces and schools. Many of them have LGBTQ colleagues and friends, and they want to square their lived experience with the stringent proscriptions of their faith.
To this end, Ghamidi Saheb’s opinions come across as most unhelpful, as they only cement a worldview that is shaped by the economic and social structure of Pakistan instead of the social realities of the West. It does not help overseas Pakistanis to avoid charges of homophobia when they listen to Ghamidi Saheb juxtaposing LGBTQ families raising children with the zaalimoon (oppressors) or attributing the existence of homosexuality to childhood sexual abuse, both of which have been rejected as quack opinions by prestigious medical, psychological, psychiatric, and pediatric professional associations across the world.
Ghamidi Saheb, like other great men, is a product of his time and space. He has gone against the views of his esteemed mentors, including Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi and Maulana Maududi. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the well-educated pupils of Ghamidi Saheb, who have consistently followed their mentor’s opinions on most issues instead of charting their own paths. Dr. Farhad Shafti comes across as an exception but many others do not toe the line.
On the other hand, the approach of western LGBTQ Muslim activists revolves more around social justice activism (based on offense) than on an Islamic discourse (based on tahammul (endurance) and ajazi (humility)). Additionally, the conduct of western LGBTQ Muslims has not always been exemplary, especially when they engage in unbecoming conduct that goes against Muslim values of haya (modesty) and iffat (chastity). Thus, all these factors allow for Ghamidi Saheb’s opinions to go unchallenged and consequently, overseas Pakistani communities remain embroiled in the conundrum of squaring their faith with their lived experience.
Addressing homosexuality in a manner that upholds both religious freedom and basic human rights should not be problematic in a world where either/or approaches are being rejected in favour of holistic approaches. This means instead of choosing the environment or corporate profit, we can have both.
Addressing homosexuality in a manner that upholds both religious freedom and basic human rights should not be problematic in a world where either/or approaches are being rejected in favour of holistic approaches. This means instead of choosing the environment or corporate profit, we can have both. On homosexuality, this means stating that while we do not find precedence or accommodation in our religion on same-sex marriage, we respect the rights of other Muslims who think differently on the issue. After all, it is not an issue of an article of faith or ibadat (worship) but one of muamalaat (social transactions) where opinions can change with time and space. Such a position would allow overseas Pakistanis to avoid indulging in quack opinions like attributing homosexuality to childhood sexual abuse, reducing same-sex relationships to the act of anal intercourse, or depicting LGBTQ families as oppressors. This is because affection, intimacy and companionship do not arise from something as ugly as sexual abuse.
Similarly, same-sex relationships cannot be reduced to a single sexual act, especially when such an act is irrelevant for lesbian and some gay couples. Additionally, morality is not based on our capacity for disgust, especially when minority Maliki and majority Ithna Ashari opinions on ityan bil dubur (anal intercourse) are starkly different from the mainstream Hanafi position that is usually followed in Pakistan.
Overall, Ghamidi Saheb is a blessing for the Pakistani people. His contribution and service to our faith are second to none. However, he remains a fallible human being and we adore him for expressing his opinions with full honesty and humility. At the same time, overseas Pakistanis are responsible for doing their own homework instead of blindly following religious opinions hither and thither. They have every right to reject worldviews that go against their religious understanding especially when such views compromise the sanctity of marriage through open relationships, sex outside a legal contract, polyamorous conduct, wearing makeup with thick beards, or blurring the lines between male and female spaces. At the same time, they can understand that some of their co-religionists have additional challenges in this very short and trying life.
Thus, if they falter or forge relationships based on mawadda (affection) following all the other Islamic values and rules, then we ought to treat them with dignity and respect. After all, tests are harder for Prophets and saints with stronger faith, not ordinary human beings who were made weak. In essence, we need to remember that Allah creates whatsoever He wills, and Allah loves us all.