Why is it so difficult for people to accept the marginalised communities for who and what they are? Why must individuals be penalised for their sexual orientation, for being truthful to themselves?
And whose business is it to keep inventory of what two consenting adults do? Being nosey is bad enough but to spread lies as the Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) is now doing is utterly regrettable.
JMM or the Coalition of Malaysian Malays is going all out to “wipe out” the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual communities under the claim that the LGBT communities are all about free sex; so much so the Seksualiti Merdeka festival became a spacegoat and its organisers humiliated and lambasted for organising a free sex event.
The police last year declared a ban on Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual festival celebrating the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity that has been held since 2008.
The fact will always remain that Seksualiti Merdeka has never propagated “free sex”. And yet the extremist mindsets of JMM decided to take it upon themselves to “punish” the country’s LGBT group.
Among others, the coalition has decided to venture into schools to continue its LGBT-bashing. It was reported in an online blog and a Malay daily that JMM was conducting an anti-LGBT campaign in about 30 schools.
However, deputy Education Minister Wee Kia Siong quickly distanced the ministry from the controversial LGBT-bashing campaign saying it was not the ministry’s stance to promote such negative perceptions against any segment of society and that such activities must be monitored and stopped.
Wee added: “I have received the report from the school. Actually, it was one of the PIBG programmes. In light of what has happened, we want all the schools as well as the state education departments to monitor and stop such activities from now on.
“It is all right to inculcate good values. We are not questioning their intentions but we want them to be more careful especially on this topic.
“When you say anti-LGBT or anti-anything, it can be perceived in a negative manner. With this sort of taglines, you have to be careful. I believe it is better to educate and teach instead of just going with ‘anti’ taglines.”
Still, JMM remains relentless in going all out to persecute the LGBT communities. On April 21, the coalition will spearhead a protest at Dataran Merdeka to condemn what they described as “unacceptable” sexual practices.
On March 21, Barisan Nasional MP for Sekijang, Baharum Mohamad, told Parliament that three out of every 10 men in Malaysia is gay and described the figure as “scary” before calling on the government to establish a gay rehab center to ‘combat’ homosexuality. Since then, the LGBT communities have been on the receiving end from various quarters.
Even Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin joined in the fray by saying that the LGBT communities require counselling to “prevent the spread of this negative culture, which was previously prevalent only in Western countries.”
Does JMM having Muhyiddin’s backing?
It is an irony that while non-governmental organisations like the Malaysian AIDS Council is barred from talking about condom use to students during its safe sex talks in schools, JMM has taken the liberty of attacking the fundamental rights of an individual, in this case the right to choose one’s sexual orientation, that too to students who have to grasp this issue maturedly.
Has JMM the backing of the Education Minister in this case? After all, it was Muhyiddin who had rubbished the Seksualiti Merdeka as an “immoral” and “waste of time” event.
The JMM’s anti-LGBT campaign prompted Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah to seek the government’s intervention.
“If it is true that they have begun an anti-LGBT campaign in secondary schools, the government and (Education) Ministry is duty bound to promote respect to these minority groups.”
“They (JMM) can have their opinions but campaigning against certain groups of people is wrong as it may result in violence against them,” Muhammad Sha’ani was quoted by The Malay Mail as saying.
Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia and the country has already caused anger after it sent “effeminate” boys to a “gay cure” camp in early 2011.
In 2010, the Malaysian Film Producers’ Association announced that gays could be depicted in films so long as they turned straight by the end of the feature.
The country’s first gay-themed film, “Dalam Botol”or “In A Bottle” tasted comparative success when it made just over one million ringgit in five days. The film tells of a man who undergoes gender reassignment to the detriment of his relationship with his male partner.
Homosexuality is not a “disease”
While JMM and the likes continue with their flight of fancy “jihad” of ridding the country of the LGBT communities, the American Psychiatric Association back in 1973 made it clear that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.
The modern attitudes toward homosexuality have religious, legal, and medical underpinnings but still, as early as the20th century, it was argued that homosexuality was inborn and therefore not immoral, that it was not a disease and that many homosexuals made outstanding contributions to society.
Meanwhile, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, had said that the homosexual orientation should not be viewed as a form of pathology. In a now-famous letter to an American mother in 1935, Freud wrote:
“Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too….
“If [your son] is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed….” (reprinted in Jones, 1957, pp. 208-209, from the American Journal of Psychiatry, 1951, 107, 786).
Sadly, such understanding, compassion and empathy is no where to be found in the hearts of learned individuals who use avenues like JMM to vent out their hatred against the LGBT communities which in the eyes of a self-respecting human being deserve every applause for standing up for themselves, in spite of the odds faced.
Muslims, like Hindus and Sikhs, will not like to surrender their personal laws because they are just that: personal. But these laws seldom remain a private affair. When they concern Muslims, they tend to be played up in the news media with an element of “eek!”. The intent — I could daresay – is still largely to highlight the antediluvian nature of Islam.
In its last session, Parliament passed a law allowing Sikhs to register their marriages under the Anand Marriage Act instead of the Hindu Marriage Act, fulfilling a long-standing demand of the Sikh community. Sikhism doesn’t countenance the concept of divorce, celebrating rather an ideal nature of marriage, referred to as Anand Karaj (blissful event). This was just a blip on our television screens or was never reported. Newspapers that did, buried it mostly.
Contrast this with the Delhi High Court’s recent ruling that according to “Mohammedan Law, a girl could marry once she attains puberty”. It made it to the front page of a leading daily this past week. It picked the judgement well after a leading news agency had reported on it.
The ruling was first reported several days after it had been delivered. I mean the legal correspondent who reported it first pounced upon it, as a tiger would leap at its prey. Then, television – although people think it is a step ahead of newspapers – picked it up, with NDTV holding a panel discussion.
The NDTV anchor who hosted the discussion clearly lacked the domain knowledge, about Muslim laws and their applicability.
The anchor’s handling of the discussion reminded me of what sitting Delhi High Court judge, Hon’ble Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed, had recently said (speaking at the launch of legal academician Tahir Mahmood’s Muslim Law in India and Abroad): “There’s a lot of problem understanding Muslim law. In fact, there’s a lot of problem understanding Muslims.” He of course wasn’t speaking specifically about Muslim marriage laws but in the context of Mohammedan Law as a whole.
Most missed a crucial point: that a marriage solemnized cannot be declared void under Indian laws, even if the girl is a minor, and this applies to both Hindu and Muslim girls. The marriage remains illegal but not void.
On the face of it, personal laws, rooted either in religion or customs, are needed for meeting the social needs of a truly multicultural society. Without them, society would become a monolithic framework representative of a pre-determined value-system. Many wouldn’t agree to such a framework.
Islam began as a reformist movement, gave women rights to divorce and re-marry and work. The Prophet had married his boss, to whom he was employed and who was older to him by several years. Nearly 1,400 years ago, this must have been incredible: being able to fall in love, despite the veil; marrying some one well older (something any parent will disapprove even today), and working under a woman.
Yet, the Hadith and sunna (Prophet’s ways) and qiyas (analogy) as distinct sources of Muslim personal laws must be viewed in the context of their time. In the early phases, the Qu’ran and the Hadith were the sole sources of a Muslim’s social rules. For codified law, you needed something more. Therefore, the qiyas and ijma (or consensus) were used.
Changing the personal laws itself is difficult. Could one rewrite the shashtras for instance? But even a change in the law may not sometimes be the solution at all. Child marriages are more a manifestation of lack of education and low-income levels, rather than a religious requirement.
Assuming that Muslims agree to this law being changed, child marriages will continue if girls stay out of school and parents look to get rid of them by giving their hand in marriage at the first possible opportunity.
Conversely, Muslim laws recognizing the right of a woman to marry upon attainment of puberty simply has not resulted in Muslims compulsorily marrying off their daughters by that threshold.
What is the explanation for the well-documented high prevalence of female foeticide and child marriages among Hindus, despite Hindu personal laws requiring a girl’s age to be 18 for marriage? The reason for baalika badhu (a child bride) is social.
Attempts to reconcile personal laws with present-day social realities are not easy but have been on. People have a notion that Muslims can have up to four wives. In Pakistan, a serving government employee cannot marry a second time without prior approval of the government. In Indonesia, all Muslims need the court’s permission to do so, which is very difficult. The onus is on the applicant to prove why he needs a second wife. In Tunisia, you can’t just marry more than once, if not divorced.
Justice Ahmed says there are “no hidden monsters” in the Shariah. But surely there are inadequacies in the context of our times. Ways have to be found out. Yet, popular understanding of Muslim law may not be correct, constitutional or in consonance with Islam.
Fallacies are rampant. One of my favorites is this. The standard iconic textbook of Mohammedan law in India was written by the late DN Mulla. It is still by far the best and the most-prescribed book. Most people assume Mulla to be a Muslim, probably some greybeard mullah from a madrassa. DN Mulla was a Zoroastrian and one of India’s finest jurists! I didn’t know this until Soli Sorabjee, yes good old Soli, pointed it out to me. By the way, Mulla, unlike Soli, is not on Wikipedia.
The centuries-old Shia-Sunni differences are the major obstacle to Muslim unity. These differences have always been fanned by the enemies of Islam to their benefit. Unfortunately, some so-called Muslim scholars on their payroll have also played a key role in keeping these differences alive.
Although I was born into a Sayyid Sunni family, I did not know of many differences while growing up as a child. Our families always respected Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and his parents and participated in ceremonies marking the anniversary of his martyrdom (the 10th day of the month of Muharram which is called Ashura) by reciting the first chapter of the Quran (al-Fatihah) and other chapters and verses of the Quran and fasted on the ninth and tenth days of that month.
Now when I give lectures on Islam to non-Muslims, one of the questions they always ask me is if I am Shia or Sunni. I ask them if they know the difference. They have no knowledge, other than what has been given to them by the media. So they say Shias are the ones who are the bad guys, the militant version of Islam, and cause all the trouble in the Middle East these days.
These non-Muslim American audiences of mine are surprised to learn that some of the known tyrants like Saddam Hussain and troublemakers like the PLO and Hamas are all Sunnis, just as they are surprised to learn that Tariq Aziz (Iraq’s Foreign Minister) is Christian and not a Muslim.
This is what I say to them about Shi’ites.”If Ali Ibn Talib (cousin of Prophet Muhammad) was a Shia, then I am a Shia. If he was a Sunni, then I am a Sunni(i.e., a follower of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In Islam there are five recognized schools of Divine Law:1) Hanafi;2) Shafi;3) Maliki;4) Hanbali and5) Jafari.
The first four are called Sunni, and the fifth one, who in addition to following sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), also follows those of Ali and consider him as the rightful successor of the Prophet, are called Shia. The first four have many major theological differences among themselves and according to a Christian friend of mine, “The only time Sunnis are united is when they are fighting Shias.”Shi’ism started as a political movement (Shia means follower or partisan) to help Ali become successor of Muhammad (PBUH).
Around every successful popular figure, there are some admirers whose own future interests rest with the rise of their leader. Thus in Indiana, we have “Friends of Lugar Club”, who are hoping that some day Senator Richard Lugar will become a US President. Nationally, we now have a “Hillary Rodham Clinton Fan Club” with 4,000 members! Thus, there were the Followers of Ali Club which later on became apolitical movement. During the initial battles with unbelievers, Ali, the Sword of Islam, was in the forefront and defeated and killed many of their leaders whose children and grandchildren, even when they became Muslims, always remembered who killed their father (animosity).
Ali was raised by Prophet Muhammad as a child so he knew Islam very well. Thus, when he became a judge, his judgments were based on strict Islamic principles, much to the disappointment of many who expected him to be lenient to the rich and powerful. He was so well respected and trusted by both Caliph Abu Bakr and Umar, that in difficult cases they asked his opinion.
Nevertheless, I tell my non-Muslim audience that both Shia and Sunni have many things in common. They both believe in One God (Allah), follow the same Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the last Prophet, offer five daily prescribed prayers, perform the prescribed fast in the month of Ramadan, go to Mecca for the pilgrimage (hajj),read the same Quran, and pay the poor-due.
However, my answers can only satisfy my uninformed non-Muslim audience. TheSunni brothers, misguided by western propaganda. who are ready to embrace non-Muslims (especially the white ones), in the pretext of invitation to Islam, will not do so for Shia. They are ignorant Sunnis. Our job as a missionary should be to invite both groups to the true Islam and not chase them out. There is a movement in the Sunni world to have Shias labeled as disbelievers. I have been told that Shaykh Bin Baz of Saudi Arabia has declared an edict that the meat of the People of Book (Jews and Christians) is permissible for Sunni Muslims to eat but not the meat slaughtered by Shias.
There are scholars on both sides, like Imam Khomeini and Shaykh Shaltut of al-Azhar who have done their best to minimize these differences and bring unity, but it is not working due to the misinformation prevailing in the common masses of Sunnis about Shi’ism. Thus I am listing their misconceptions of Shia belief and practices. For answers, I have consulted two Shia scholars in America., Dr. A. S. Hashim o fWashington and Imam Muhammad Ali Elahi of Detroit.
Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr wrote to me “to ignore and not waste time in responding to such wrong allegations.” He also mentioned that “a great deal of money and effort is being spent in the last few years to fan the fire of hatred between Shia and Sunni in the Persian Gulf region with obvious political and economical fruits for powers to-be.” However, in the interest of Islamic unity, I must deal with the questions rather than shun them. Please note that Imam Jafar (peace be upon him), founder of the Shia school of law, was the teacher of Imam Abu-Hanifa (peace be upon him).
Misconception #1: Shias have a different Quran. They add another 10 chapters to the original Quran.
Response: Not true. I have checked many times Quran kept in Shia homes and mosques. I still find it the same as the original Quran. More recently, I took care of an Iranian lady patient hospitalized here. I saw a copy of the Quran by her side. I borrowed it from her and browsed through cover to cover. In Arabic it was the same as our Quran. Of course, since I did not know the Persian language, I can’t say much about the translation. It is a sin to even say that the Quran can be changed or added to by Shia when it is protected by God.
Misconception #2: Some Shia consider Ali as God.
Response: Not true. It is disbelief to even think of such a thing. During the time of Ali, some pagan groups called Gholat did consider Ali as Lord. When he found out, they were burned to death.
Misconception #3: Shias have different declarations of faith and they add to the call to prescribed prayer.
Response: The declaration to become a Muslim, as administered to non-Muslims, is the same. Some Shia add to themselves, “Ali is a friend of God (PBUH) or Ali is a spiritual leader of God,” after the call to prescribed prayer, but not as part of the call to prescribed prayer.
Misconception #4: Shias do not perform sunnah prayers. Sunnah prayers are non obligatory prayers performed by Prophet Muhammad.
Response: Shias do perform non-obligatory prayers, 36 cycles per day in total, but call it nawafil and not sunnah.
Misconception #5: Some Shia believe the Angel Gabriel made a mistake and prophethood was meant for Ali and not Muhammad (PBUH).
Response: Not true. No Shia thinks of such false claims. “Only demented minds think of such questions.”
Misconception #6: Shias slander and ridicule the first three caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman) and Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Ayisha.
Response: Shia consider the first three caliphs as great companions and good Muslim administrators, but not spiritual leaders (imams). Imam Jafar Sadiq, whose mother and grand mother came from the line of Abu Bakr, said of Abu Bakr, “He gave me birth twice.” Ayisha is respected by Shias as the”Mother of Believers,” as Ali respected her when he sent her back from Basra to Madinah after the Battle of the Camel. If some Shia do slander the three caliphs and Ayisha, they do it out of ignorance and should ask God’s forgiveness.
Misconception # 7: Shias combine all five prayers into one prayer in the evening.
Response: Not true. In Shia mosques, whether in Iran or the USA, all five daily prayers are performed. Some working Shia do combine noon and afternoon and evening and night, but Shia scholars recommend performing them separately. Such combinations may not be ideal, but better than not praying at all. How can a Sunni who does not pray at all be better than a Shia who combines prayers?
Misconception # 8: Shias do not pay zakat (poor-due).
Response: Not true. They not only pay 2.5% left over from savings as zakat, but also an additional 20% as khums or general charity. However, they prefer to pay directly to the needy rather than corrupt Sunni government.
Misconception #9: Shias practice temporary marriages (mutah).
Response: Mutah (temporary marriages) was allowed during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and he himself practiced it. Ibn Zubayr was born out of the temporary marriage. Later on Caliph Umar prohibited it due to social reasons as the Islamic world was rapidly expanding. Shias discourage mutah but do not consider it prohibited. Some do abuse this. As a temporary privilege during travel, it is better than adultery.
Misconception #10: They consider Imams infallible and above the prophets.
Response: Not true. All prophets are born Prophet but as mentioned in Quran about Abraham that after passing the test, a prophet becomes a leader (Imam). Imams are carriers of the message of Islam. Shias consider Ali only as an Imam, but Muhammad (p) is the Prophet (nabi), Messenger (rasul) and leader (imam). With the little knowledge I have, I have tried to do my best as a Sunni in defending my Shia brothers in Islam with the hope and prayer to God Almighty that He will “instill love in the heart of the believers” and bring us closer to each other so that we jointly can fight our common enemy, Satan and his followers. May God forgive my mistakes in this article and this book (amin).