Sunday, August 02, 2009

Let the Moon FIGHTING begin!

Any Islamic month starts the night of the first visible crescent moon. What's "visible" remains an open question and when we start Ramadan fasting, and celebrate Eid at the completion of the month can be a point of some conflict.

For this year anyway the beginning of Ramadan should be pretty clear. On the evening of August 20, almost everywhere in the world, the Moon will not yet be far enough from the Sun to be visible... only 10 degrees when it sets over San Francisco. By the next evening, the 21st, it will be easily visible wherever the sky of the Western horizon is clear. Fasting begins on August 22.

Eid is celebrated at the beginning of the next month and then the visibility of the moon is less certain. September 19th it MAY be visible in parts of the American southwest, setting Eid celebrations on the 20th. Or it may not be visible anywhere in America that evening, so perhaps we should celebrate Eid on the 21st. A group of sheikhs somewhere will have already decided. It's not worth fighting over. I may disagree with ruling councils on matters of principle, but there's no point in arguing over one day more or less of fasting. Besides, if you don't go with your mosque on this one, you just miss a party -- and gain nothing for it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A response to Tariq Ramadan's statements on Islam and Homosexuality

Tariq Ramadan, a leading European Muslim intellectual has posted an article "Islam and Homosexuality"

My response to Brother Tariq:

Assalaamu Aleikum,

The way homosexuality and Islam are being positioned against each other
creates a false dichotomy and does no favors for GLBT folks or for Muslims.
One of the more interesting facets of this issue is how many people who have
been outspoken anti-gay “defenders of tradition” have suddenly decided to
include gays in their defense of Western Culture. "Friends" like this
nobody needs.

Brother Tariq here takes on quite a few issues, rather confusing the point.
But one of the beautiful things about Islam is that it recognizes that we
all bring our own backgrounds, biases, and information gaps to any argument
and should listen to diverse opinions with respect.

The word “homosexuality” and the understandings of that word have a peculiar
history. The term was itself coined in 1868 for political purpose and
quickly found a medical niche. We know that there has been same-sex love
through history, that it exists in all human cultures and that there is
same-sex activity in hundreds of animal species. There is a growing body of
scientific evidence that same-sex attraction is innate, that it has a
largely genetic component. Like left- or righthandedness, one’s eye color
or height, it is part of a range of normal variations. However the way
sexuality is understood varies greatly from one culture to another.

Brother Tariq makes a very firm declaration about the universality of
religious rejection of homosexuality, but there are in fact a growing number
of religions that accept same-sex love. Unitarians, Quakers, and an
ever-expanding range of protestant denominations accept GLBT members and
offer same-sex marriage to loving couples. In the largest denominations –
the Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians – the issue has been
controversial exactly because same-sex love has been gaining so much
acceptance. What “a majority of rabbis” accept I can’t say, but the Reform
and Conservative branches of Judaism are accepting of homosexuality. Gay
and lesbian rabbis are common and serve on rabbinical boards. A small, but
growing number of Muslim groups are even becoming more accepting.

In Islam condemnations of homosexuality rest on the story of Lot (Sodom and
Gomorrah) which is about men raping men. This is common in prisons, and we
see it mostly in situations where men who identify as heterosexual attack
men they perceive as gay. I’ve personally known men who were savagely
attacked and gangraped by groups of men this way. There are also stories of
such abuse by Egyptian and Iranian police. This has nothing at all to do
with men loving men or women loving women.

Brother Tariq’s assertion 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,” is quite an overstatement. There are people like Geert
Wilders who urge us to reject or revise the Qur’an, and that of course is
impossible. Some people do make impossible demands only to create trouble.
That is quite separate from the issue of homosexuality, even if they do
exploit that issue. Homosexuality is not something that can be promoted any
more than blue eyes or being six feet tall can be promoted. People can
experiment and “fool around” just as they might wear contact lenses or high
heels, but in the end you are who you are. Heterosexuality is promoted, and
in many places even mandated, but our God-given human nature will out, and
homosexuals forced into heterosexual marriages by cultural and familial
pressures live unhappily in loveless marriages, often leading double lives,
cheating on their mates. Not only are gays and lesbians being deprived of
fulfilling, loving partnerships but so are their heterosexual husbands and
wives. Gay people know that a sexual orientation cannot be promoted. It
can only be accepted – or rejected – that there are people of different
sexual orientations, and that everyone, regardless of orientation is
entitled to equal rights.

Brother Tariq is addressing the situation of Muslims living in western
nations. Muslims who live in pluralistic societies, or as minorities, are
obliged to respect the laws and customs of the lands we live in. In
democratic nations where we are part of a dialogue where attitudes towards
homosexuality are changing, we can take a voice in that conversation.
Politically it is in our interest to promote acceptance for diversity. Our
religion tells us to “live and let live.” Brother Tariq is quite correct
when he says:

“There is no ambiguity, and ample clarity: European Muslims have the right
to express their convictions while at the same time respecting the humanity
and rights of individuals. If we are to be consistent, we must respect this
attitude of faith and openness”

This is exactly what GLBT activists are working for – no more; no less.