A few days ago (23d April), at the Antirasistisk Senter venues, I attended a debate on homosexuality and religion, with a particular focus on Islam. There were many people attending the debate and we got a unique chance to hear a multitude of views on the subject. These debates are important and they are necessary. There are many people who think that homosexuals should be treated differently than the rest of us. The difference of treatment is a euphemism for discrimination.
The debate showed that although there is much to be done to dispel prejudices against homosexuals, nonetheless there is willingness to challenge these prejudices and accept that homosexuality is a fact of today’s society. Even though many religious people find the phenomenon disconcerting many are nonetheless able and willing to suspend the religious rulings against homosexuality.
We can argue that a simple suspension won’t do, that more is needed from religious scholars, i.e., they must reinterpret the text to include homosexuals on their ranks. Nevertheless, the fact that religious people are willing to openly talk about homosexuality is already a huge step. We should, of course, not stop at that. Our aim should be to open religion and religious positions completely to homosexuals. It won’t do to simply state, as Basim Ghozlan, the leader of Det Islamske forfundet in Oslo, said, Islam is against homosexuality, and Islam has forbidden homosexual relationships. Muslims cannot hide behind a religious screen as an excuse to discriminate against homosexuals. The very fact that Islam is erected as an obstacle, which forbids the homosexual relations, is suspect of a propensity to discrimination.
Homosexuals cannot be forced to define themselves in terms of either a Muslim or a homosexual. A homosexual Muslim who wants to pursue a career on religious affairs, such as being an imam in a mosque, for example, under presently held interpretation of Islam is denied such an opportunity. This is discrimination justified by an appeal to an uninterpreted and pure Islam, which somehow transcends the social and historical needs of the believers.
The logic of antidiscrimination requires that Muslim’s understanding of Islam be subjected to a critical opening that will reveal the socio-historical roots of certain norms which are today held beyond dispute. Moreover, the religious texts, as they have proved throughout their history, are quite simply ambiguous and mostly metaphorical and symbolic in their nature and open to multiple interpretations. To simply state that Islam disapproves of homosexual relationship is to misunderstand both the nature of religion and the text on which it is based and by which religious claims are given justification. It is the posture and the approach of the reader which determines the mode of the religiosity to be found within the covers of the text. An approach that prioritizes the symbolic and metaphoric nature of the text would come to diametrically opposite conclusions from the one that treats the text as an ensemble or a set of propositions that contain literal truths. It is thus insufficient and intellectually dishonest to erect the religious text as a barrier against granting homosexuals the rights they should have on account of their humanity.
Religion, like any other discourse, is a human discourse. It is produced by people and for the people. If religion becomes a ground for justifying discrimination then we have a symptom. The awareness that discrimination is being justified by reference to a religious text is an opportunity to revisit the text and see if there is space and possibility to insert a view which would include members of a different sexual orientation.
I should like to mention here that although Islamic theologians have not yet seriously tackled the question of homosexuality in modern context, there are plenty of Muslims who have seriously reflected and completely accepted that homosexuals are not only to be tolerated but must be treated equally and without any discrimination. Hadia Tajik is one such Muslim.
In her presentation, Tajik very eloquently and persuasively argued that traditional Islamic (as well as Christian) theology discriminates against homosexuals. She also pointed out that the Koran does not exist in an ideological vacuum but is read and interpreted by people, and that such readings should reflect the historical circumstances of the present. In Tajik’s view there was no religious obstacle to the full inclusion of homosexuals in all walks of life. In all honesty, I must say that Tajik’s speech left a deep impression on me. As long as there are Muslims of her calibre there is absolutely no question that, sooner rather than later, homosexuality will become a common and accepted phenomenon among Muslims.