Friday, 8 July 2016

The Gays Are Coming for Dinner

Two weeks ago, members of the LGBT community in Ireland were invited by the Chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, Dr. Umar Al-Qadri to a meal at the end of Ramadan. On the face of it this seemed like a good news story, but it's a bit more nuanced.  In many ways I think Dr. Umar Al-Qadri is a force for good and compared to the views emanating from other mosques across these islands he almost seems like a liberal. As a Sufi Muslim he believes in tolerance for other religious and non-religious world views and Sufi Muslims like himself suffer persecution and killing at the hands of Islamists. He is a vocal opponent of violent extremism from within the Muslim faith and he has organised protests against violent extremism and condemned the Orlando killings. 

However, just like the Pope he is on record as expressing the view that being gay is not a problem as long as you don't have a sexual relationship with another gay person, which to me seems to defeat the whole purpose of being gay in the first place. In fact, since he sent out the invitation he has become embroiled in some controversy on social media when some of his coreligionists condemned him for interacting with the LGBT community accusing him of condoning homosexuality. Dr Al-Qadri then stated that:

“This is about respecting people. It is not condoning, to eat together,” and “When in Ramadan we open our doors for those who commit Kufr [non-belief] and Shirk [idolatry], why can we not open our doors for those who commit Fisq [sin]?”

These homophobic remarks sparked outrage by some LGBT activists and whilst I agree with them in opposing homophobia, I can’t help but wonder just what did they expect from a follower of the Islamic faith, even from a peaceful well-intentioned Sufi like Dr. Al Qadri? There are passages in the Koran and Hadiths that condemn homosexuality and call for the killing of gay people that many Muslims agree with to some degree or another. Perhaps those LGBT activists that oppose any criticism of Islam by wrongly conflating it with bigotry against individual Muslims might now think twice before allying themselves with the Islamic religion and with Islamists in particular

Whilst I oppose Dr. Al Qadri’s views on homosexuality I think we should keep in mind that his intentions were good and that compared with many of his coreligionists who don’t follow the Sufi path he is ethically light years ahead. Whilst Dr. Al Qadri does subscribe to the same warped ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ view of homosexuality that the Catholic church espouses this has very different consequences in the real world compared to the more commonly held ‘hate the sinner and the sin’ view that is practiced in many parts of the Islamic world.  Whilst Dr. Al Qadri was extending a dinner invitation to the LGBT community nine Islamic countries along with ISIS continue to execute people just for being gay.  There is a big difference between Dr. Al Qadri’s form of homophobia where he organises religiously conservative awkward dinner parties with the LGBT community and Iran’s brand of homophobia where they just hang you.  

As a liberal, a secularist and a defender of freedom of conscience I defend the rights of people like Dr. Al Qadri to hold extreme socially conservative views that I disagree with as long as they do so without inciting mistreatment or harm to others, which as a peaceful Muslim Dr. Al Qadri does. However, if I was gay and I was invited to dinner by someone who thought it was a 'sin' for me to express my sexuality I don't know would I attend the meal. I think I would find it terribly patronising and I don’t think I would choose to spend time socially in the company of someone who saw my sexuality as being a disorder or some kind of moral depravity. On the other hand,  I think Dr. Al Qadri is in many ways a decent and kind human being so maybe through dialogue with him there might be a chance he would see the ludicrousness of his religion’s views on homosexuality. However, I'm not too confident that we will see any Muslim leaders or representatives from any of the mosques across the British Isles leading a float in a Pride Parade any time soon. Perhaps, we might also see those LGBT activists that organise marches against ‘Islamophobia’ realise that there are in fact good reasons for them to be very phobic of  Islamic teachings on homosexuality.

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