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Pope has opened a window for gays

November 05, 2020 16:49 IST
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The wrong of victimising, targeting and persecuting homosexuals on the basis of archaic and prejudiced ideas has gone for long.
Time we set it right, says Mohd Asim.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Pope Francis's endorsement of same sex civil unions is a great moment in history. A big and widely followed religious institution speaking of gay rights should be celebrated and applauded.

'Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God, the Pope said in one of his interviews for a new documentary.

'You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.'

The papal thumbs up is big as most of the biases, prejudices and discrimination against people of sexual orientation different from heterosexual is based in religious and cultural beliefs.

You have religious leaders across communities decrying homosexuals as 'deviant, sinners and not normal', thus giving 'normal' people a free pass for their mistreatment of the gay community.

Gays have suffered legal and social persecution for long. It's time that the world seized on this moment provided by Pope Francis.

We must hear more against discrimination and persecution of homosexuals from other religious leaders, who have for long aided and abetted this discrimination by their narrow, at times even wrong, interpretations of religious texts.

Let us look at the views of almost all Muslim religious leaders on homosexuality. 'It's unnatural, deviant, sin, against the will of God'. That is the consensus across the board.

Only the extent of punishment prescribed differs. It ranges from social boycott, prison, death to extreme barbarism of throwing gays off rooftops heads first, the kind practised by ISIS.

The Islamic view on homosexuality is primarily rooted in the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is narrated in the Quran, too.

Tale goes that the Prophet Lut had warned his people of 'immorality', for they did 'approach men with desire, instead of women'.

In return, the people warned by Prophet Lut tried to expel him from the city, and even tried to sexually abuse the angels who came down to Lut in the guise of men.

Consequently, God destroyed the people of Lut with a colossal natural disaster. Scholars and average Muslims take this story as justification for punishing gays.

It's important to reinterpret and retell the story to snuff homophobia out of it. Were the Sodoms punished for homosexuality or for attacking Prophet Lut and the angels? The Quran narrates this divine punishment for Sodom and Gomorrah, but it does not mandate any earthly punishment for homosexuality.

In contrast, the Old Testament clearly decrees that homosexuals 'are to be put to death'.

The basis for punishing gays in Muslim societies comes from the Hadith and different schools of jurisprudence. None come from the Quran.

In fact, there is no mention of homosexuality in the Quran. So, it is not God's law to punish those with different sexual orientations.

That is why it's important for responsible, tolerant, progressive Muslim leaders to speak out and amplify the Pope's message, which is to end discrimination among God's creation.

All religious and 'cultural' institutions treat homosexuality as a crime, or at the very least, an abnormality. Obviously, for this school of thought, homosexuals are abnormal and sick people.

In India, we have popular gurus claiming to have a cure for homosexuality and people in the government calling it 'unnatural' and 'deviant'.

After decades of struggle, the Supreme Court of India decriminalised homosexuality, the basis of which again was English law and Victorian morality. Indian history, mythology and art are replete with references and characters with differing sexual orientations.

Look at the Khajuraho carvings, the Kamasutra, the depictions of the courts of kings and nawabs. Homosexuality and transgender identities were normal in this great civilisation.

As celebrated author Vikram Seth once said, 'It is homophobia that came into India and not homosexuality.'

That is why the Pope's open endorsement is so important. It must be followed up by religious and cultural institutions of all kinds.

In an ideal world, no one should need the sanctions of any religious leader or institution to be able to live or love.

But, it's not an ideal world and religions hold great sway on people. So, till the ideal arrives, it's important that archaic institutions are pushed into openness.

The wrong of victimising, targeting and persecuting homosexuals on the basis of archaic and prejudiced ideas has gone for long. It's time we set it right.

Mohd Asim is a Delhi-based journalist.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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