Sunday, April 22, 2012

A French Imam versus John Templeton Jr. on the issue of gays

by Salman Hameed

Issues of freedom of speech and religion are linked to modernity and are thus close to some of the themes discussed on this blog. These issues provide us with a window into how people are thinking about religious authorities. There are a number of reform groups out there that are presenting their own versions of Islam and are trying to answer some of the challenges posed by the modern world. In the process they are asking a fundamental question, who speaks for Islam? It is therefore interesting that a woman led a mixed Friday prayer in New York city and there were calls in Pakistan to not sacrifice animals for Eid ul Adha. And then we also have Taqwacore. I will have another post on this fascinating phenomenon of punk Islam that, true to its ideology, is rooted in the questioning of authority.

But here I wanted to point out a news story that a French Imam blessed the union of two Muslim men. This is fascinating!
Two Muslim gay men, deeply in love, tied the knot in France with the blessing of an imam.
Ludovic Mohamed Zahed, a French man of Algerian origin, and his South African partner Qiyam al-Din, were reportedly married in accordance to the Sharia (Islamic law) in the presence of a Mauritian imam named Jamal who blessed their union on February 12, 2012, according to a report in Albawbaba on April 2.

The two were previously able to marry in South Africa under the country’s same sex marriage laws, which also permits gay couples to adopt but France does not recognize same sex unions.
After the wedding that was organized by Din’s family, the couple decided to return to France and settle down in a Parisian suburb, hoping that the French government would recognize the legality of their marriage.
But the French authorities refused.

Zahed, who has his family’s blessings for the marriage, says that he faces more obstacles with the French law than discrimination from Muslims.

Although his legal settlement was still pending, Zahed decided to make his wedding a family affair, with his trusted Mauritian imam in tow. The marriage took place in a modest house in Servon on the outskirts of Paris, and was attended by his parents and few close friends. 
“Being married in front of my family, was like a new start of life for me, I could have never imagined such a day would come, seeing the joy in my parents’ eyes after they had battled with my sexuality and tried with all their might to change the course of my sexual orientation,” he said. 
Read the full story here.

So while we have a positive story of a French imam, we have a negative story from the US. It has come to light that John Templeton Jr., the Chairman and the President of the Templeton Foundation, has given close to half a million dollars to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) - an anti-gay organization. Disappointing! I know the defense will be that we have to separate the individual from the organization - but he is only the Chairman and the President. And just to make a definitive statement, John Templeton Jr. also gave money to the the Super PAC of Rick Santorum. Yikes!

It would be great that the Templeton Foundation, which has been funding projects on spirituality and the intersection of science & religion, can also fund projects on generating tolerance and respect for all human beings, including gays. Now that would be spiritual!


Anonymous said...

Wow that is enlightening. Now we need to work together to legalize threesome marriagaes and possibly GBs for the sake of humanity and equality...please. What say you?

Anonymous 2 said...

@ Anon
Why stop at threesome?
We should legalise marrying as many as we want. Can be even dozens at a time. Humanity and equality should be respected. Why should I be discriminated because I want to marry 5 men and 5 women for example?
What say you?

Even if an Imam does it, what's wrong is wrong.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

This comment will probably be taken as biased given my relationship with the Templeton Foundation, but I think you know that one cannot mix personal views/actions with corporate policies. The Templeton Foundation has on more than one occasion officially stated that even the personal donations of its Chairman and President do not represent its policies. Anyone is free to support any organization, as long as it's legal. If the chancellor at my university donates to some organization (from his personal money), does that imply anything for my university (and thus for me)?

As to this unheard-of "Mauritian imam named Jamal" (what credentials does this guy have whose full name cannot even be given?!) who "blessed" the union of two homosexual men... Well, first, what is "blessing" a union in Islam? Secondly, if anyone wants to call for the acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage in the Islamic culture, one had better bring more serious arguments than some obscure case and unknown "imam". Please find more serious discourse on this and any such issue. This may be good for tabloid media, but not for a serious blog.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 2:
I think you are referring to G@ngB@ng. I already mentioned it in my earlier comment (GB).

Salman Hameed said...

Couple of comments:
1) Re: Templeton: I think it is fair to point out the ideology of the Chairman and President of the organization when he is the son of the founder, and the organization itself talks about the philosophy of his father in shaping their own mission. Jerry Coyne - with whom I disagree a lot - nevertheless raises a fair question in this regard:
"I ask those who take Templeton money if they’d still take it were the Templeton Foundation headed by someone like David Duke, a politicial and former member of the Ku Klux Klan who continues his racist activities. Suppose Duke were to continue to agitate against blacks and immigration on his own time, donating his own money for those causes, while running the “Duke Foundation” that gave money to scientists with the aim of finding a consilience between science and ethnic diversity. Suppose that some of that money were go to pure science alone, without any racial connotations or strings attached. Would it then be okay to take that money? If not, why not?"
It is unfair to compare John Templeton Jr. to David Duke. But in many ways the issue of gay-rights also has similarities to the fight for equal rights for African Americans. And remember - the money was not just given to the Republican Party. It went to NOM - a more notorious anti-gay organization.

b) Re: French Imam: I actually completely disagree with you here. First of all, my emphasis was on the fact that many Muslims are shaping and re-shaping authorities when it comes to various challenges of the modern world. My interest is in Muslims and not in theology. So I would like to point out that some fascinating (at least I find them fascinating) efforts are underway - just like a woman imam in NYC or the efforts of Irshad Manji in dealing with homosexuality or a group called queer Muslims. They all consider themselves Muslims. One can argue on the basis of theology - but that would be a different project. To point out the fact that they represent a diversity of Muslim responses is a different project. The French imam falls in this narrative - even if he is "unheard" of, and so does the view of these Muslim scholars who think that homosexuality is permissible within Islam.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

First, if you admit that it is unfair to compare John Templeton Jr. with David Duke, then don’t make that analogy; it is just scary tactics and bad rhetoric.

Secondly, the Templeton Foundation (JTF) does state that it follows the philosophy and vision of its founder, John Templeton Sr. (the father), and I’m stunned that you’re amalgamating the father, the son, and the institution, which has its bylaws and boards, is bound by US law, etc. You would be in the right to examine the policies of the foundation as well as the vision of the founder – but that’s it. Probing the socio-political positions of the chairman (and son) and trying to relate that to the foundation is just an attempt to fault and condemn an institution by hook or by crook. You can only critique what JTF funds when you ask whether people should accept its money in projects. Do you realize how many high-level scholars and scientists (who have applied for and gotten JTF funds) you are condemning with your logic?

Now, regarding homosexuality and Islam, it is not productive to mix it with other issues, such as a woman leading a prayer. (That was the important American-Muslim scholar Amina Wadud, who with many other women is making a strong and serious case for women leading prayers.) That’s miles away from that tabloid-case of the “French imam” (who is Mauritian, according to the piece you quoted) who “blessed the union of those two gay men”. I don’t mind a serious discussion of any issue (please don’t tell me “I am not interested in theology”), but not the simplistic approach that “some people are challenging the ‘authorities’, so everyone should just move along.” I do want to hear the serious arguments on this and other topics, and I want no censorship of any views whatsoever. But let’s not trivialize issues or make them black and white. You cannot just decide what’s right and close the subject, with no societal debate, no norms, no limits! If you really want to address the topic, cite the serious proponents of homosexuality in the Islamic culture as well as the counter-arguments.

Salman Hameed said...

Couple of things:

1) I brought up the father and son connection in response to you bringing up the chancellor of your university. I was pointing out that this is a different case.

And I find it fascinating that you think that I am trying to "fault and condemn an institution by hook or by crook". I have written enough on the Templeton Foundation enough to refute your insinuation (which is a bit that you are accusing me of that). But is it really that unfair to wonder about the possibility of any influence of the Chairman AND President of the Foundation on its directions or decisions? Oh - yes - the Board has assured everyone that this is not the case. But we also have examples of Rupert Murdochs of the world (and the new Wall Street Journal as a showcase). May be this is not the case at the Templeton Foundation. But since John Templeton Sr. died only a couple of years ago, is it really that crazy to ask if there is any influence of the new Chairman AND President of the foundation? (and no this is not about being bound by the US laws. Most bigotry is completely legal in the US).

2) Our true difference, however, lies in the next issue. Our approaches are worlds apart. I am interested in how Muslims are forming their responses to different challenges of the modern world. This is the reason I find similarities between the issue of homosexuality, different Muslim women defining different ways to interpret and practice Islam (hence it is not just Amina Wadud - but so is Irshad Manji and many others), etc. This allows one to explore some of these changes within the context of individualization of religious practices and interpretations (for example, Weber). From this perspective, a theological response is just one data point - and a particular expression of authority. So - no I'm not interested in creating a theological response not transmitting it. I'm more interested in its consumption by individuals. And no, I'm not saying that "everyone must move along". I am interested in the process of how people are moving along.

What is bizarre here is that you suddenly want me to provide you with citations of "serious proponents of homosexuality in the Islamic culture as well as the counter-arguments" - whereas I have written many many posts about human rights, rights for minorities, Qur'an burning, and many other issues and I haven't seen such a reaction from you (and to be clear, I do consider the issue of gay-marriage as an equal-rights issue). So let me clarify this with a specific example: A blogger in Saudi Arabia gets arrested for blasphemy for poems he wrote on twitter or an Ahmadi is killed in Pakistan. In both instances, there might be serious theological responses out there, but I am not using theology to defend the rights of these individuals to practice free speech (however minimal should be available in Saudi Arabia) and freedom of religion. At an academic level, I'm interested in why such issues are taking place and how perceptions of modern individual are challenging some of the established norms. And this is the reason I find parallels between the cases as diverse as homosexuality to women's prayer issue to punk Islam. You may be interested in forming a theological response. Good for you. But I think it is okay if we have different interests...

P.S. So you keep on using "tabloid-case" for this French-Imam news item. Would you feel differently if they had used the name of the imam? Does that make a difference for you? Perhaps this is too big of a question, what rights do you think homosexuals should have in a society and should those rights be different in a Muslim-majority country versus another?

AnotherAnonymous said...

I have to agree with Salman's points on homosexuality, but unfortunately his views are in the minority. I hope more Muslims start thinking like that.

The comments by above Anonymous's are absurd. Comparing homosexuality to GB? Please educate yourself and stop being so ignorant.

Anonymous said...

So what exactly is wrong about threesome, foursome and even GB? If three, four, five, or even a dozen people want to legally live together in a sexual relationship, it is there choice. Shouldn't that be respected and supported? Aha! that is against nature, right? Sorry, my bad :-(

AnotherAnonymous said...

@Anonymous: I'm not saying anything is wrong with a threesome or even a foursome, as long as it's consensual between whoever is doing it.

Gangbanging is not consensual, it is a group of people raping someone.

Salman Hameed said...

It is unclear if you are simply immature or obnoxious. I will give you the benefit of the doubt (even though I know who you are) and assume the former and reply to you this one time. I hope you do know the distinction between sex and marriage. The battle in the US is over marriage and not over sex. But I wonder if you would use the same vile language to define polygamy in Islam? Would you describe 1 person with two wives as threesome? Would you extend your language to the time of the Prophet (PBUH)?

These are real issues with real people and there is rampant discrimination and hatred that gays have to face - even in the US. You may disagree with the issue of marriage, but I hope you stay decent in this conversation.

Anonymous 2 said...

@ Salman
Polygamy in Islam is a difficult topic. Not all scholars agree on what can be interpreted from the Qur'an. So I think people take advantage of it and marry according to what satisfies them.

The Prophet's (PBUH) time was very different from today. So the issues were also very different then. You cannot compare the social interactions and relationships that went on at that time to what is happenning today. I will say the Qur'an was revealed to teach people the way to live and I will stop at that.

To comment on your second point ....
Seriously, if homosexual marriages can be legalised, why cant we legalise marrying any number of people we want?
I am not talking about rape and GBs here.
I am asking a serious question: If there is a person who wants to marry 10 people, and all 10 people are willing to marry him, who are we to determine that he cannot get married to the 10 people he want? Why do we say it is illegal? Why cant we let them do what they want and put a stamp on their marriage legalising it and reconginsing it?

Anonymous 2 said...

@ Anonymous

"If three, four, five, or even a dozen people want to legally live together in a sexual relationship, it is there choice. Shouldn't that be respected and supported? Aha! that is against nature, right? Sorry, my bad :-("

Am I missing something here?
How can the desire to marry multiple people be something against nature? If this desire is there, then it HAS TO BE natural. No?

To answer your question ...
I think if homosexual marriages can be leagalised, there should be no reason why such a marriage should be considered illegal?
What say you?

Anonymous 2 said...

Too many Anonymouses to spoil the broth.
May be next time I should consider writing under a name like Faisal Irshad. :)

PS. There are more than one Faisal Irshads in this universe.

Anonymous said...

As everyone has seems to be missing the sarcasm here, and secondly as now you have dragged the Prophet (PBUH)'s name here in this silly discussion, so now I will reduce the tone of sarcasm and come to a serious note. It was highly expected from you anyways.
I could not come up with a word for a case of several people in a relationship, so I hinted over that term (GB) out of sarcasm which does not always mean rape as per definition, but if someone found it offensive, I will look for an alternative.
Dear it is all about consent and free will right? Two people want to live together in a relationship, fair enough. Despite all the criticism, freedom to choose a way of life is still a great blessing of the modern civilization, and should be respected. But then why does this freedom break down when we talk of more than two people in a relationship? Who has the authority to limit this number to two only? It is also about real people isn't?

Anonymous said...

And in many societies, homosexuality is as undesirable as polygamy in other societies. "Freedom" and "Equality of Freedom" are entirely different things.
When as a scientist you are highly vocal in the arguments related to Science and Pseudo-science, you should also be able to appreciate the difference between Islam and Pseudo-Islam. But you are mingling the two. To me it is also unclear if you are simply immature or obnoxious.

Salman Hameed said...


Just to clarify. I was arguing for respect for all including Muslim traditions of marriage and the time of the Prophet (PBUH). I was responding to this other gentlemen who cannot distinguish between sex and marriage.

Okay - not to your important question:
"Seriously, if homosexual marriages can be legalised, why cant we legalise marrying any number of people we want? "

SO couple of things: a) First of all, there is no reason to equate homosexuality with this particular question. I mean that question can follow from a marriage between a man and a woman. In fact, as we know, polygamy is legal in Islam and some other religions as well. How many people? Well, that is an issue that different societies have come to different conclusions. In the US, polygamy is illegal. I don't know the details, but I'm not sure if there is an ethical or moral reason for this. I think the issue of religious freedom does occasionally come up - but the legal system seems to trump that. I don't know the arguments for that.

b) The issue of gay-marriage is an matter of equal rights. Sexual orientation is not a choice. Sexuality does not exactly work as a binary and humans biologically present a broad spectrum. I'm in the school of Cognitive Science and in the School of Natural Science, and the issues of gender and biology are discussed in a number of classes. I can ask one of the biologists to write up a post in the next couple of weeks (we have two weeks till the classes end and this is a busy time of the year). Since sexual orientation is biological, the right to marry should be available to all. Not long ago, the legal system in the US discriminated based on the color of the skin. That was wrong. I think, we should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation as well.

But of course, this a matter of intense debate here.

Joanna S said...


In response to your interest in "how Muslims are forming their responses to different challenges of the modern world", have you heard of the "islawmix" project at the Berkman Center at Harvard? This is a web resource tracking and analyzing trends in Islamic law. They also follow news coverage of how Muslim individuals are engaging with Islamic rulings in terms of their personal choices.

Salman Hameed said...


Awesome! No I did not know about it. Thanks for sending in the link!

Epiphenom said...

Regarding marriage (heterosexual vs gay vs multiple) the key question to ask is "What is marriage for". If the purpose is to create some kind of contractually binding agreement to increase the stability of a relationship between people who love each other, then there is no reason that it should not include any of these situations. However, I would point out that some research suggests polygamy has adverse social effects, so this is probably one case in which I would say the interests of society outweigh the interests of the individuals.

Regarding Templeton, it seems to me self evident that the views of the Chairman and President should be taken as an indicator of the organization. Also, this illustrates the problem of giving very wealthy people the power to dictate research and political agendas. Why should John Templeton Jr have all this power - just cos his dad was very rich?

Salman Hameed said...

"Regarding marriage (heterosexual vs gay vs multiple) the key question to ask is "What is marriage for"."

But I think this is the question where religious organizations (for example the Catholic Church) demand ownership which poses a problem for a secular society. I think the social effects arguments may also be a problem on the issues of equal rights. I know that you are saying that with respect to polygamy, but what if studies (and of course, studies involving humans are very tricky) showed that gay marriages have adverse social effects (however we define them). And just to be clear - this is not the case. Should then the governments be okay in banning gay marriage? From the equal rights perspective, I don't think this works. But if we take the example of the ban on first-cousin marriages, then I can see your point. But given the fact that 50% of marriages in the US end in divorce anyways, shouldn't the adverse effects be counted for straight marriages as well? However, much of it is moot point, as studies do not point to such a conclusion - and that leaves it a matter of equal rights.

A total aside: A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a sociologist friend of mine who works on household work distribution between couples. In response to the 50% rate of divorce, he was of the opinion that it is equally valid to be surprised of the fact that 50% of marriages do not end in divorce. May be we are asking the wrong questions. :)

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