Those paying attention will note that every single American Islamic organization one can think of has condemned the massacre of Orlando in absolute terms. The purpose of this post is to explain why that is, and must be, right, in doctrinal terms, and to stick to the most traditionalist sources to explain it.
So let us begin with the obvious point that homosexuality, under traditionalist readings, is an unambiguous sin. I say this not to detract from or in any way degrade the great work being done by people like Junaid Jahangir on the subject, offering new ways to think about our sacred sources. I personally support such efforts. But my point here is that one is not obligated to accept their nontraditional assessments to come to the conclusion that the Orlando massacre is, and must be, a gross defiling of Islamic law. So sticking again with traditionalism of the most conservative and unadulterated sort, let us repeat, homosexuality is a grave sin under those approaches, and my du’a to the brothers and sisters working to change that.
Is it a mandatory capital offense? Under the traditionalist accounts, the jurists are split. For the Shi’a, yes (more on that here) but for Sunnis, half of the Hanafi school, which is one of the four orthodox schools, the answer was plainly no. (For the other Hanafis, as well as the other three orthodox schools, it was a capital offense). So the idea that there is tradition from the Prophet Muhammad which all Muslims accept indicating that a homosexual had to be killed is simply not true. Some thought that, yes, but clearly most Hanafis did not think that, and this at a time when to kill a gay man meant nothing at all. (More on that in an earlier post, but the real source to read is Christian Lange’s excellent book).
Let us continue, as the position devolves from the arguable to the absurd. If homosexuality is a capital offense, what is the proof necessary? All agree–four male witnesses must witness the act of the penetration of the penis of one man into the anus of another. In the absence of this, there is insufficient proof to implement the scriptural crime. So does that mean that you don’t actually punish homosexuality, because you can’t really prove it? Well, yes, many would say. Indeed, Khaled Rouayheb’s fascinating account of late classical Islam seems to show a great deal of tolerance for homosexual conduct so long as one was careful not to be quite too open about it. (That’s not an apology, it’s a description of life in 1650).
But at the very least, to the extent homosexuality was punishable, it was largely through what was known as the tazir, or discretionary punishments, giving a judge or the Imam (i.e. not a random person) to institute punishments in their discretion for particular acts. In today’s world, focused as it is on legality, most traditionalists equate this to modern legislation criminalizing acts in the public interest. So one could, for example, criminalize two men lying naked under a blanket together because it leads to what traditionalist accounts would regard as the unambiguous sin of homosexuality.
Either way, what you could not do as a regular guy is just decide you’re going to kill people because you know they’re doing something they shouldn’t, and you lack the proof God said you needed to prove it. And what is the sin for those who wrongfully kill?
Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. (Qur’an 5:32)
We are not finished. The analysis above presumes that we lie in what in classical terms would be known as the House of Islam, where Islamic law reigns. What of the House of War, where it does not? Can we institute Islamic punishments there? The answer is unambiguously no. There is no question about this, not among the very jurists who exhort the jihad to subdue the entirety of the House of War to make the world all the House of Islam.
It gets worse. May a Muslim live in the House of War? Many Muslims do not know this, but the traditionalist accounts are split. All agree, however, that a person may travel in the House of War, even as a non Muslim from the House of War may enter the House of Islam. They come in via what is known as an aman, or promise of safe passage, and they are known as musta’mins. Given the promise, they cannot be touched and their safe passage is guaranteed until they leave. Because as the Quran notes, the believers fulfill their contracts. There is a sanctity to the contract, and it must be respected. To break it is a breach of loyalty, a treason of sorts.
Similarly, and importantly, the Muslim under an aman in the House of War absolutely cannot engage in hostilities against the House that has guaranteed him safe passage. He has been promised safe passage, and in exchange, the passage is innocent. What if the House of War fights the House of Islam, or otherwise makes life difficult for Muslims? The answer of the traditionalist jurists was clear–emigrate, as the Prophet did before you, from Mecca to Medina, and fight the enemy from there. You cannot fight your enemy when your enemy gives you safe passage, it’s absolutely clear, absolutely basic, absolutely unconditional. You must, absolutely must, obey their rules when under safe passage in their lands. If a Muslim can live in the United States under the traditionalist accounts, then it is through the aman, and the obligation of loyalty, or let us say at least nonhostility, is as clear as it could be. (More in this here.
So when you walk into a nightclub in a non-Muslim country and open fire on those inside of it, and kill 50, what are you, according to the most traditionalist, least gay friendly accounts of Islamic law that there are? You are the one who murdered all of humanity, and those who tried to stop you will be judged as having tried to save all of humanity. And you are a scofflaw and a traitor to boot. Murderer, traitor, breacher of oaths and covenants. Nothing Islamic about any of that.
Peace to the victims.