Wednesday, 15 June 2016



‘One who kisses a boy with passion, God Most High will punish with a thousand years in the fire of Hell’. So runs a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad. One of many, illustrating the clear Prophetic stance not just on pederasty but on homosexual practice as a whole. As to the Qur’an, passages in at least two chapters (4 and 7) manifest a similarly strong disapproval. Islamic tradition seems no different from the stern monotheistic teachings on sexuality by traditional Judaism and Christianity. When it comes to punishments, however, the Law is complex.

In the wake of the atrocious Orlando slayings in a gay nightclub, it is imperative not to babble ignorantly about Islam but to throw some succinct light on what sharia’ law says on homo sex. The BBC may occasionally parade a droll gay Imam but that is not the mainline position of the religion of the Crescent. Islam, like it or loathe it, considers homosexual practice a serious sin. What about the legal punishments for that?

Islamic jurisprudence is a synthesis of both Qur’an and Prophetic teachings. The jurists of the four Sunni schools, however, exhibit a nuanced position as to specific sharia’ punishments for Liwat or sodomy. For example, for Imam Abu Hanifa, founder of the Hanafi tradition, a homosexual act does not have the status of adultery and so the penalty is not fixed but falls under taazir, i.e. it is at the discretion of the judge. The head of the Maliki school, Imam Malik, instead reports a hadith, narrated by Abu Hurairah, enjoining the execution of both culprits, whether active or passive. Imam Shafi’, another juristic fountainhead, quotes the Prophet allocating different punishment according to whether the offender is married or not. In the latter case the punishment again is not mandatory but ta’azir, discretionary. So, sharia authorities indicate diversity, not uniformity, as to the range of chastisements.

The ignorant don’t realise that sharia’ is no mob or lynch law but a rigorous, rule-governed judicial process. It is not up to any individual believer, like the Orlando gunman Omar Mateen to act as he did. He may have been incensed by the sight of two men kissing, yet he had no Islamic licence to be an executioner, to take it upon himself to judge and punish. Whether a Caliphate fatwa inspired him or not (and what legal status would that have, I wonder? A question for Muslims not decide!), his horrible action was arbitrary, illicit. Because he was no legally constituted Muslim qadi, or judge.

Grave wrongs or crimes against public interest, the community (as opposed to those against the individual, or torts) are called ‘hudud’ in Islam. Such as whoredom, theft, robbery, drunkenness and slander imputing unchastity. Islamic law however places strict limitations and conditions as to the penalties. Any doubt may be sufficient to prevent the infliction of hudud. Doubts about the character or state of mind of the accused and witnesses or even the authorities invoked are enough to allow the Court to avoid hudud. In the offence of whoredom some jurists can even recommend the accused should give no evidence if it could be self-incriminating. Famously, four male witnesses are required to provide ocular proof of the insertion of….you get my drift!

Like Lord Longford, famous for going London porno shops in order to ascertaining the wrongs he was campaigning against, or Victorian Prime Minister Gladstone who sought the company of prostitutes with the aim to redeem them, the priest has investigated gay bars. A range of behaviour can be examined there. From bland intimacy to a harmless social desire for friendship and fun to…the real McCoy. I imagine the night club where the Orlando massacre took place may have been no different. The point is that Omar Mateen probably would likewise have viewed the same spectrum. Nothing that could have legally justified his indiscriminate, mass murderous reaction, certainly not from the perspective of the law of Islam.

Some Muslims object to the focus falling exclusively on Islam when discussing this crime. Does not the Bible, the Old Testament, also enjoin the death penalty on homosexual acts? Indeed it does but no branch of Judaism today advocates the enforcing of such laws. Not even the state of Israel, the official Jewish nation, does that. As to Christianity, it considers the ritual and penal codes of the Book of Leviticus abrogated by Christ and that’s that.

It is true that Scripture and Church teaching have always regarded gay activities as sinful. St Bernardin of Siena, a zealous Franciscan preacher and ascetic, particularly disliked 'sodomites'. Maybe because as a boy he had been propositioned by a lewd gentleman. The pious youth’s reaction followed: he knocked out the impudent fellow with a punch. Later as a religious, Bernardin completed the job: he had all gays in Siena rounded up and expelled. In that, he was the heir of the fulminations of St Paul’s as set out in the New Testament. Guess today both Saints (let alone Islam’s Prophet) would be done in the West for ‘hate crime’.

Until 1967 homosexuality was a criminal offence in liberal England. Legalised after that between consenting adults – and only in private – the situation is now curiously inverted. Even dissenting from public pieties about the status of LGBT (yawn…) can lead to being disgraced or prosecuted in Cameron’s jolly Britain. London’s Muslim pro-gay mayor, Sadiq Khan, I trust rejoices in that. He is no qadi, however…

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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