Towards a Queer Ijtihad
Find an audio recording here:
London Queer Muslims 21 Jan 2018
إِنَّ شَرَّ الدَّوَابَّ عِندَ اللّهِ الصُّمُّ الْبُكْمُ الَّذِينَ لاَ يَعْقِلُونَ
truly the worst of all creation are those that do not listen,
that do not speak, and do not use their reason to think (Q 8:22)
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا
عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا أَوَلَوْ كَانَ آبَاؤُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَ
and when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say,
“Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.”
Even though their fathers did not think, nor were they guided? (Q 2:170)
Old interpretations no longer
provide suitable answers to the
difficult questions facing the
Applying the Qur’an, Islamic traditions and practices, concepts of exoteric (zahiri) and esoteric (batini) understandings, to contemporary realities (to which Allah certainly does speak). Traditionally scholars limit the practice of ijtihad to specialists who have not only knowledge of the Qur’an and the hadiths but also broad familiarity with a wide range of modern scholarship in Arabic grammar, logic, philosophy, economics, and sociology.
• Other scholars assert that interpretation of the texts should not be confined to legal scholars but should be open to those with creative imagination.
• Restrictions on the contemporary practice of ijtihad are imposed both by religious establishments
and by repressive governments in Muslim countries. Democracy and freedom of inquiry and expression are essential to the practice of ijtihad and to the successful reconciliation of Islam and modernity.
• Muslims in the West have the freedom to think creatively while still being faithful to the texts, and their new interpretations could stimulate new thinking among the more traditional religious establishments in Muslim countries. Is this a responsibility?
The Qur’an was revealed over the course of twenty-three years. A science known as asbab an-nouzoul (“the causes for the revelation”) was developed to understand the specific reasons for and conditions related to any particular verse, thus enabling interpreters to better determine its meaning.
Following the passing of Prophet Muhammad and for at least the first eight or nine centuries of Islam, there were a wide variety of opinions and schools of thought on almost every issue and question. The science known as ijtihad (or reasoning and interpretation) was developed by Muslim scholars in order to understand and apply the message of the Qur’an to varying societal needs and conditions.
Commonly misunderstood as a “thing” that can be applied or interpreted (often in terms of severity or harshness), Sharia (Islamic law) is also subject to the ever-changing needs of society. Its guiding principles were designed to protect the individual and the society, but it was not established as a set of fixed rules. To respond to the changing needs of Muslim societies, Muslim jurists and scholars have relied on the well-established process of innovation, ijtihad. This process is based not only on the Qur’an and religious tradition (sunna), but also on reason, deduction, and prioritisation.
Take the following situation as an example of how ijtihad is applied according to the specific needs of a situation. How does it apply to our present understanding of ourselves as Queer Muslims?:
Fifteen years after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, Caliph Omar ibn-al-Khattab stopped cutting off the hands of thieves because most of them were stealing out of necessity due to hunger, poverty, and drought. While this contradicted a verse from the Qur’an, he justified his decision by stating that the principles of justice and fairness were supreme.
Another example is a case in which Imam Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, one of the founders of Islamic jurisprudence, gave a certain legal opinion in Baghdad. One year later he moved to Cairo, and in response to the same question he gave a very different opinion. Someone questioned
him, “Oh Imam, last year in Baghdad you gave a different answer,” and he replied, “That
was in Baghdad and this is in Cairo. That was last year and this is now.” When employing
ijtihad, scholars considered the time, place, norms, and prevailing conditions when they
rendered their religious advice and opinions.
A mujtahid is someone who interprets scripture and tradition according to the specific need of the time and situation, as the caliph Omar did with the thieves. Generally, the work of the interpreter of the text (the mujtahid) is to ascertain the authenticity of the source(s) (this work has been done in the context of homosexuality by several qualified scholars, including Siraj al-Haqq Kugle and Imam Muhsin) and then:
- discover the laws through the interpretation of the sources
- extend the laws to new cases that may be similar to the cases mentioned in the
sources for which the laws cannot be discovered through literal interpretation (this is called the method of analogy, or qiyas), and then to:
3. extend the laws to new cases that have not been covered by the previous two methods
by looking at the general principles and objectives of the shari’a (this method is known as istihsan -looking for the good; and istislah—general interests of the community).
أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
and of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves partners that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. (Q 30: 21)
وَالَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا
and those who pray, “Our Lord! Grant unto us partners and offspring who will be a source of comfort/happiness/consolation, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous.” (Q 25: 74)
Applying the above principle of istihsan and istislah, how can we understand the above ayat (Quran verses) in relation to sexual relationships as Queer Muslims?