Guest Post by ABHAY KUMAR
No sooner had the Muslim minority of India come to terms with a sudden surge of the Hindu right BJP in four assembly elections, seen as the ‘semi-final’ ahead of the General Election scheduled for early 2014, than their attention was gripped by yet another controversy. On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality, overruling the three-year old judgment of Delhi High Court. The bench comprising Justice G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadaya ruled that homosexuality or unnatural sex between two consenting adults under section 377 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) is an offence. The judgment has evoked mixed response. The political elites and parties along with religious leaders have responded in more than one way and some have supported the Supreme Court judgement while others are against it. But a strong protest against the verdict has been lodged by progressive, left circles backed up by English language media.
Contrary to this, Muslim religious leaders and those politicians whose primary constituency is the Muslim belt, have wholeheartedly welcomed the ruling. While the English language media has acted as a ‘torch-bearer of liberal’ values, the Urdu press, on the other hand, has fought a spirited battle against the western ‘disease’. 
However, unlike these ‘guardians’ of the community, there are some other Muslim voices, who have broadly opposed criminalising people on the basis of their sexual orientation. This paper attempts to discuss the responses of Indian Muslims on the question of homosexuality.
How could a religious minority be against sexual minority, asks a Muslim journalist, M. Reyaz, who does not see any conflict with being a “believer” and a part of religious minority while at the same time being an empathizer with sexual minority. ‘Not that I was ever a champion of rights of LGBT, certainly my religious beliefs restrains me. But at the same time, I never suffered with homophobia.’ His suggestion for orthodox Muslims is not to impose one’s moral values on others. ‘No one is forcing Muslims to drink alcohol, no one is forcing us to have extra-marital affairs and no one is forcing Muslims to “turn” homosexual. So why this hue and cry? Simply because we do not believe in something, are we thence going to prevent others from practicing it too?’
The way Reyaz argued his case has some resonance with noted Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan, who is a professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, has also been confronted with the question of homosexuality. Ramadan staunchly believes that it is not only Islam that opposes homosexuality but also that all the other religions of the world reject it. But this, warns Ramadan, does not give anyone license to persecute a homosexual. He asserts that ‘homosexuality is forbidden in Islam, but that we must avoid condemning or rejecting individuals. It is quite possible to disagree with a person’s behavior (public or private), while respecting that person as an individual.’
Unlike Ramadan, there are other Muslims who call themselves believers at the same time they find justification for homosexuality in the Holy Scriptures. One such group is the ‘moderate’ Muslims of Indonesia. They have justified homosexuality on the ground that all human beings including lesbians and gay men are created and blessed by God. They argue that for God what matters most is ‘piety’. ‘There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety,’ says Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace.
Besides, Samar Habib, who edited an anthology on Islam and Homosexuality in 2010, has strongly advocated the extension of human rights to gay men, lesbians and others. Rejecting the traditionalist interpretation that Islam condemns homosexuality, Habib underlines the need to re-contextualize the Quran. In order to distill a homosexual-friendly Islam, Habib asks for rejecting “authoritative” reading of religious scholars. Thus, he supports ijtihad, which, in author’s view, is “independent” and “individual” interpretation of text. Habib’s methodology draws a lot from Islamic feminists, who are re-reading the Quran and other holy texts in support of the rights of women and other oppressed groups. Such reading of a text is done from the readers’ viewpoints, rejecting the view that there is only one way of looking at the text. In other words, the text does not speak on its own, it is the readers who invest meanings in it by textually analyzing it.
Some supporters of de-criminalising homosexuality take recourse to the language of human rights. Fahad Hashmi, who is an M.Phil student of Delhi School of Economics, says that the irony of it was that at a time when Jamaat-e-Islami was celebrating human rights week, it opposed such rights for gays. ‘Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) celebrates Human Rights week, and its website requests the Parliament and the Supreme Court “to make law to curb all promiscuous acts including homosexuality and live-in relationship that lead to moral turpitude”.
My study finds that such open empathizers with homosexuality are a minority among the Muslim minority in India. But are they ‘authentic’ Muslim? Can such ‘westernized’ Muslims be a true representative of Islam? When I discussed their views on homosexuality with some of Islamic scholars they asked me to read the holy text rather than listen to such ‘inauthentic’ voices. Let me add a disclaimer that I am not a scholar of Quran and Islamic laws. The scope of this essay is just to discuss the various responses of Indian Muslims on homosexuality, leaving it to readers to make their own opinion about whether homosexuality is permitted in Islam or it is a Western ‘disease’, imposed on the culture of India.
Homosexuality: A Revolt against God
My study finds that almost all the Muslims organisations, parties and Urdu newspapers, clerics etc. have welcomed the verdict. All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which is one of the petitioners in the SC against homosexuality, says, ‘The Supreme Court has given this verdict to maintain the culture of this country.’ The biggest and most influential Islamic educational institute, Darul Uloom Deoband, calls anal sex a ‘crime’. ‘Anal sex is strictly prohibited even if it is between a man and a woman,’ says the rector of Darul Uloom Deoband, Abdul Qasim Nomani. Another important Muslim organisation, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) holds that homosexuality as a western construct triggers ‘moral chaos’ and disintegration of family structure. Established in 2011, JIH’s political party, the Welfare Party of India warns the government not to give homosexuality a legal protection. Formed in 2006 as a party of all deprived communities, particularly Muslims, the Popular Front of India similarly asks the government not to undo the SC’s judgment in the name of ‘progressivism’. The party adds that homosexuality is a ‘dirty’ thing that the number of HIV positive persons was more among homosexuals.
As stated above, the Urdu press also has led a vigorous campaign against homosexuality. Such stance, as it is argued, has also to do with its readers, who mostly come from madrasas. For example, the editorial of The Roznama Rashtriya Sahara, New Delhi, one of most circulated Urdu dailies, not only criticizes the government for failing to take a firm position on homosexuality but also points the finger at the foreign funding of homosexual campaign. If the number of homosexuals is not much, asks the editorial, then how do they get so much support from media, particularly electronic media and civil society? Thus, the editorial concludes that such movements are being funded by the organisations of western forces. All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of India Muslims, also links homosexuality to the West. The president Dr. Zafarul-Islam’s says homosexuality is being imposed by ‘market-oriented western values’ on India’s ‘traditional and cultured society’ by ‘a screaming miniscule minority’.
In the writings of these Muslim critics, one could see how the structure of arguments tends to create a binary between the West and the East. The argument is made in such a way that Indians – both Hindus and Muslims – are opposed to homosexuality, while Indian culture is painted as morally sound and Western culture is morally repulsive and corrupt. The difference between Hindus and Muslims, seen as the source of perennial ‘Hindu-Muslim’ conflicts, suddenly disappears.
A columnist in Urdu press, Muhammad Asif Iqbal, too works on the same fault-line of ‘morally corrupt’ West versus ‘morally sound’ East. He explains the cause of such moral decline in the West. According to Iqbal, this degeneration began in 17th and 18th century Europe when Christianity was questioned by modernity, which claimed that knowledge and revelation can be separated. Terming knowledge which is in contradiction with revealed knowledge as ‘empty’ (khokhla), he categorically says that a great scholar who does not have fear about God is stupid (jahil) while an illiterate person, who does not know the Book of God but fears God, is learned (zi ilm). In other words, knowledge, in Iqbal’s view, is one which has been sent through Prophets by God and those who forget this become misguided and get caught in sensual pleasures, behaving like an animal. For him, the ills of western society such as breakup of family, homosexuality etc. are the product of the processes when society became free from morality and religious values.
However, the much detailed and nuanced critique of homosexuality came from Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, who is a member of executive board of AIMPLB. Writing in AIMPLB’s magazine, Khabarnama, the Maulana says that Islam has only permitted that a man can marry a woman. Drawing on the Quran, he argues that sexual relation between a man and a woman is only natural and any deviation from this is evil. Therefore, the physical features of man and woman are created by God in such a way that they could fulfill the need of each other. That is why such a relation has been maintained so far in society.
With another religious perspective, the Maulana also takes a rational point of view to criticize homosexuality. He argues that some parts or organs of body are meant to bring the required materials inside the body and therefore a space is accordingly created. Similarly some parts of human beings are there to flush out materials such as urine and excreta. Therefore any penetration inside those organs [as required during anal sex] is against the nature. In a same way the sexual requirements of woman’s organs cannot be fulfilled by another woman but by the sexual organs of man. Therefore, he calls homosexuality an act of ‘revolt’ (baghawat) against God. ‘The real purpose of creation of any organ of human beings is to fulfill the special requirement, not just to derive sexual pleasure. Seeking pleasure is a secondary thing. Instead the real purpose of sexual intercourse is to give birth to progeny for survival of humanity.’ The Prophet prohibited men not to engage in intercourse with menstruating women until they became clean. He, therefore, argues that anal sex, as anus remains always dirty and impure, is unnatural and prohibited.
The Maulana also draws on Islamic history to substantiate his argument. Citing the reference of Prophet Lot (Lut in Arabic), he cautions Muslims not to repeat the sin of homosexuality as committed by Lot’s community for which God condemned them. The Prophet also said that a man, who commits anal sex with his wife, is condemned. Drawing upon the Hadith (the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad), he asserts that the Prophet warned people that when a man indulges in a sexual relation with a man and a woman with a woman, then it is a sign of getting closer to the Dooms Day (Qayamat). At another occasion, the Prophet, in the Maulana’s view, categorically said that God will not bless a person who would indulge in unnatural sex such as homosexuality or anal sex. He also cites Caliph Umar, who narrated that God’s wrath is for those men who try to imitate women and for those women who try to be like men. He warns people that God is wrathful of those who fornicates with animals, or repeats the sin of Prophet Lut’s community. Besides, he also mentions a narration of Caliph Uthman that a person can be killed if he indulges in homosexuality.
Conclusion: Need to Shun Islamophobia
Having discussed the views for and against homosexuality among Muslims, let me offer my own observations. While I tend to be persuaded by Ramadan’s position that one has no right to persecute gay people, in the same way I believe that those who are not gay or do not believe in homosexuality should also not be treated as fundamentalists. Unfortunately, the tone of some of the English newspapers of our country was not moderate when they criticized the Supreme Court’s verdict. For example, The Hindu in its editorial declared the decision of the SC ‘enthroned medieval prejudice and dealt a body blow to liberal values and human rights.’ Such comment is highly misplaced in a sense that many of advanced western countries including many states of the USA have not de-criminalized homosexuality as yet. Is the USA living in medieval age? The Western Islamic media keep exaggerating that Arab countries and Muslim world persecute gay people. Habib too expresses concern about this. Moreover, Ramadan is right to raise objection that upholding homosexuality cannot be a criterion for considering a Muslim a ‘liberal’ and ‘modern’. Ramadan rues that ‘Muslims are now being called upon to condemn the Qur’an, and to accept and promote homosexuality to gain entry into the modern world.’  At the same time we should not also forget that even among gay people there is an existence of Islamophobia, as argued by Habib.
In other words, a homosexual Muslim carries a double-burden of being gay and Muslim. Given the differences, which are so nuanced and complex, they should be resolved in a democratic manner.
The author is a Ph.D student of Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
 The Delhi High Court’s judgment on July 2, 2009 ruled that Section 377 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalising homosexuality was a violation of Fundamental Rights enshrined in Indian Constitution. According to Section 377 of IPC, ‘Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with 1[imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.’
 The bench ruled, ‘‘We hold that Section 377 does not suffer from…unconstitutionality and the declaration made by the Divisional Bench of the High Court is legally unsustainable.’ For details, see J. Venkatesan, ‘Supreme Court sets aside Delhi HC verdict decriminalising gay sex’, The Hindu, New Delhi, Dec 12, 2013, p. 1.
 Unlike the unambiguous position of English press, the political elites and parties of the country were divided on the issues. Their stances might have been taken keeping in view electoral imperatives. While the CPI, the AIDMK, the DMK, the NCP were hesitant to take any clear position, the BJP, which claims to champion “cultural nationalism” avoided any reaction. The Congress was a divided house. Union ministers and senior Congress leaders such as Jairam Ramesh, Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora spoke in favour of homosexuality; its member of Parliament from Muslim-majority Kishanganj, Bihar, Maulana Asrarul Haque Qasmi called the verdict a positive intervention at a time when society was gripped by many ills including sexual deviation. Among them, at least two parties took a firm position; the CPM supporting decriminalising homosexuality while the Samajwadi Party, welcoming the ruling. The Union government finally filed a review petition in support of scrapping Section 377 with the Supreme Court on Dec 20, 2013. For details, see ‘Government seeks review of SC judgment on Section 377’, The Times of India, New Delhi, Dec 21, 2013. Accessed on Dec 23, 2013.
 For example, the legal advisor of the Utkal Christian Council–one of the petitioners in the SC, opposed decriminalizing homosexuality, ‘Sex between people of the same gender has been illegal in India since the 1860s, when a British colonial law classified it as against the order of nature and social values. Legalization of same sex marriage and sex between homosexuals would lead to social disorder and health hazards,’ Taking a different position, the spokesperson of Catholic Archdiocese Father Dominic Emmanuel said while the Church considered homosexuality as a sin but it was against criminalising homosexuality. ‘The church is against treating homosexuals as criminals. De-criminalising homosexuality does not mean legalizing same sex marriages. The Catholic church respects people with different orientation, but does not accept same sex marriage as it is against god’s plan. Sex is meant for procreation and taking forward creation.’ Similarly yoga guru Baba Ramdev opposed homosexuality, adding that the rights for homosexuals did not come under the purview of human rights but animal rights: ‘Today, you are talking about males with males and women with women. Tomorrow, you’ll talk about animals, too. Also, gay rights is not an issue at all. What contribution have gays made in history?’ But Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual guru, said Hinduism did not discriminate anyone on the basis of sexual orientation. See The Times of India, ‘Gay sex: Religious leaders hail SC judgment’, Dec 12, 2013. Accessed on Dec 18, 2013, and ‘Homosexuality not a crime in Hinduism, says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’, Firstpost.com, Dec 12, 2013. Accessed on Dec 23, 2013.
 As stated above the English press played a leading role in condemning the 98-page SC’s verdict. In its editorial, The Hindu called it a “retrograde decision” which has ‘enthroned medieval prejudice and dealt a body blow to liberal values and human rights’ [‘A retrograde decision’, Editorial, The Hindu, New Delhi, New Delhi, Dec 12, 2013, p. 10.]. The tone of The Indian Express was even louder. Calling Section 377 “a blunt instrument of repression”, The Indian Express termed the SC’s judgment a “betrayal,” which had ‘abandoned its duty to protect fundamental rights, its capacity to lead progressive change, and left this difficult task to Parliament’ [Editorial, The Indian Express, New Delhi, Dec 12, 2013, p. 12].
 As the post-Independent India saw institutional discrimination against Urdu language, today the readers, journalists and contributors of Urdu press are mostly Muslims. Against this background, the pages of Urdu press are an important site to hear the voices of Muslim intellectuals and leaders, who allege that their issues are mostly ignored by mainstream English and Hindi press.
 Samar Habib, ‘Introduction’ in Samar Habib, ed., Islam and Homosexuality, vol. 1, ABC Clio, Santa Barbara, 2010, p. xxiii.
 Ibid. p. xl.
 Similarly Dervla Sara Shannahan is a supporter of Muslim guys rights. The author also wants to re-read the Quran. For details see, Dervla Sara Shannahan, ‘Some queer questions from a Muslim faith perspective’, Sexualities, 2010 13: 671.
 I got this quote from Fahad Hashmi’s facebook wall through my facebook account. Fahad Hashmi facebooked on December 12, 2013. Accessed on December 14, 2013, URL, https://www.facebook.com/fahad.hashmi.353?fref=ts
The Roznama Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu daily, New Delhi, Dec 12, 2003, p.2. Accessed on Dec 18, 2013. A number of other Muslim organisations too opposed ant attempt to overrule the SC’s verdict by Parliament. Maulana Nisar Raza, president of Gharib Nawaz Foundation, said that the ruling of Supreme Court was in spirit of our culture and religion. He warned the Congress not to overrule the apex court’s ruling, lest it would cause the party a severe damage in the coming General Election in 2014 because the leaders of all religions were against homosexuality. Instead, the Congress, said Raza, should persuade people against homosexuality. The Inquilab, Urdu daily, New Delhi, Dec 14, 2013, p. 2.
 The Inquilab, Urdu daily, New Delhi, Dec 14, 2013, p. 2.
 Muhammad Asif Iqbal, The Awam, Urdu daily, New Delhi, Dec 14, 2013. pp. 3-4.
 Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, ‘Ham Jinsi ka Nikah: Islami Nukta-i-Nazar’, Khabarnama, All India Personal Law Board, July-September 2009.
 Similar arguments were also given by other scholars.
 Rahmani 2009, p. 19. However, the stress of Maulana on reproduction has been challenged by gay rights activists, for whom the sexual pleasure and social harmony are most important goal of sex. Elaborating “queer-friendly Islamic hermeneutics, Habib said, “It would not necessarily emphasize reproduction as the ultimate goal of copulation but rather the principles of pleasure and social harmony would be more emphatically affirmed.’ See, Habib 2010, p. lviii.
 Rahmani 2009, p. 19.
 Ibid. p. 20.
 Ibid. p. 20.
 Ibid. pp. 20-21.
 ‘A retrograde decision’, Editorial, The Hindu, New Delhi, New Delhi, Dec 12, 2013, p. 10.
 Habib 2010, p. xxviii.
 Islam and Homosexuality” by Tariq Ramadan
 Habib 2010.