Sexuality and Sharia

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f_islamAs the international coordination office of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways organized the 2nd CSBR Sexuality Institute in Istanbul, Turkey on 11 – 18 September 2009.

During the seven-day gathering, Siti Musdah Mulia, an expert on Islamic jurisprudence and chairperson of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), led two sessions on sexuality and Sharia.

Mulia defined sexuality as a gender-biased social construct, a social process of expression of desire and passion that is dominated by a patriarchal ideology and system. “This system ultimately results in a very discriminative distribution of roles and positions for men and women,” she noted. “Strangely enough, there are still a great number of people who consider this state of inequality as the will of God.”

She argued that people were equal in the eyes of God regardless of their gender, ethnicity, wealth, social status or sexual orientation. She said that what is considered sinful is people who commit sexual violence, pedophilia and other crimes.

Mulia underlined women’s right to their own bodies. “Female sexuality is a right that belongs solely and fully to women,” she stressed. “Women’s morality cannot be judged from sexuality, nor from the male point of view.”

The activist discussed various expressions of sexuality in Islam, covering sexual relationship, marital rape, reproduction right and health, marriage, pregnancy and birth, contraception, abortion and sexual orientation.

In a session especially dedicated to understanding LGBT issues in Islam, Mulia made a distinction between sexual orientation as “an irreversible, predestined character that includes several variants including heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and asexual,” and sexual behavior as “a learned behavior by which someone channels his or her sexual desire in a manner that is influenced by social construction that imposes heteronormativity or heterosexual orientation as the single truth.”

She added: “Islamic law doesn’t speak about the issue of sexual orientation, but speaks about sexual behavior. Islamic law is always directed to the deeds done by human beings offering free choices, not to something that is predestined in nature for which human beings are offered no choices.”

Mulia explained that Islamic condemnation of homosexuality arose from a narrow-minded and literal interpretation of the story of Lot and his people. She offered an alternative understanding of the story, underlining how God enacted his punishment because the people of Lot committed abuses, acts of violence and sexual exploitation, and because their behavior was unjust and discriminatory.

“The big obstruction of LGBT people is the religious interpretation, not the religion itself,” she said, “that is a heteronormative, gender-biased and patriarchal interpretation. Biased interpretation is intentionally preserved from generation to generation in the name of God for the interest of reaching political objectives.”

To fight these systems of oppression, Mulia suggested the following courses of action:

  • Re-reading texts and providing an alternative vision and challenging the hegemony and monopoly of those who claim to be the guardians of theology;
  • Developing a new religious interpretation that is more human, more egalitarian, more conducive to peace, piety, justice and promotes human rights. In other words, promoting Islamic humanism, which leads to the appreciation of human dignity;
  • Struggling for the right of interpretation;
  • Striving to change the culture from patriarchal to egalitarian; and
  • Reforming Islamic family law because it inflames the behavior of governments and society as a whole.

To learn more about Siti Musdah Mulia’s thoughts on sexuality and Islam, follow these links:

  • Sexuality and Sharia
  • Homosexuality and Islam

Sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, Joelle found queer and feminist activism, which only added to her always being lost – in thought, that is. Joelle likes to wander (or is it ponder?) the world, read books, listen to her – yes, her – music, and mull over her existence, the human condition, and the thoughts zooming through her mind when she’s running or biking in the city and beyond. Queer existentialism anyone?

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