Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The New York Times: Actually Kind of Honest About Islam For Once

This interesting piece by Mustafa Akyol in the New York Times yesterday is surprisingly honest about the roots of homophobia in the Islamic world.

Discussing the intolerant reaction of Turkish authorities to last month's gay pride march in Istanbul, Akyol notes that some - I would say all too many - Muslims in his homeland take seriously Muhammad's command in the hadith - which I discussed here - to kill "those carrying out the People of Lot’s dirty work".

Akyol's advocacy of a new approach towards homosexuality in Islam is admirable, but hampered by challenges. He notes that "the traditional mainstream Islamic view on homosexuality produces intolerance in Turkey toward gays and creates starker problems in Muslim nations that apply Shariah," and later that "the majority of Muslims are likely to keep seeing homosexuality as something sinful, if public opinion polls are any indication." (Just imagine if some greasy Islamophobe like, say, Pamela Geller, had said that - the NYT would be calling her a racist.)

Akyol also runs into trouble when he tries to deny the authenticity of the hadith - the main source for the idea of imposing the death penalty on homosexuals - which is unlikely to endear him to the majority of Muslims, who still base most of their ritual practice on the traditions (four of the five pillars of Islam, which all those who profess to be Muslims must practice, are found only in the hadith, and not the Qur'an). His discussion of a "reformist" view of the Qur'anic passages on Allah's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah also seems to rely heavily on an outsider's opinion which is non-Qur'anic and appears to be based more on the Biblical account of these events - accounts which Muslims believe have been corrupted from the original version found in the Qur'an.

Akyol is correct when he later discusses the remarkable tolerance the Ottomans, and other Islamic leaders, seemed to have at various times for homosexuality, to an extent unimaginable in the Christian West, although it must be pointed out that this was often during times when members of the ruling elites happened to themselves be practicing homosexuals, and thus a sudden magical "tolerance" for it should hardly come as a surprise (in the same way that gay vicars are often the ones to conveniently discover that God actually loves sodomy after all, despite what the Bible says).

On the whole, though, the article is an interesting read, and it is refreshing to see a Muslim discuss - in a mainstream uber-leftist publication, to boot - the Islamic origins of Muslim homophobia, including the lethal kind, even if he may be much too optimistic about about how easy it will be to change those attitudes in a world full of devout Muslim believers.

As I sidenote, I must also recommend that you read this piece by a Turkish columnist who refers to Akyol as a caliphate-supporting "Islamist" who goes for a "literalist interpretation of the Koran when in question are commandments like abstinence from pork and alcohol and his apologetic inclination toward a figurative interpretation when he thinks ‘the cause’ needs to look pretty to western friends." Whatever Akyol's true inclinations, and however honest yesterday's piece was, it is still a refreshing thing to read in the mainstream media nonetheless.

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