Addressing a public meeting in Bengaluru organized by Aneka, Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College, Commission for Justice, Peace and Creation of the National Council of Churches in India and other organizations, members of the sexual minorities complained that they were excluded from the church, temples, mosques and other religious institutions for worship. Their testimonies educated us all and challenged our notions of “normal” and “natural”; that there was more diversity in nature than what we were reluctantly willing to accept; that our understanding of “normal” and “natural” are not shaped and determined by the truth we have personally explored but by our lazy habits of accepting the dominant discourse that is amplified and put across to us by politico-economic elite in their exclusive interests; that homogenization and standardisation of diversity is project of market forces to sell and sell and profit from privileging status, class, position, etc. and is modern day discourse of patriarchy, segregation, racism, casteism, ideas of superiority and birth based hierarchies.
The conclusion that some members of the sexual minorities speaking at the meeting drew was painful – that their families did not accept them, community did not accept them, nation did not accept them, the highest judicial body did not accept them, and even God rejected them though they wanted to follow Her commands and submit themselves to God.
God does not reject anyone – not even the sinners, offenders and oppressors – why should God reject people with different sexual orientation? There is difference between church and God (by church I mean institutionalised bodies of all religious traditions claiming to be authentic representatives of God). God has given us ample signs that diversity is Her creation. Let me restrict myself to Holy Quran.
In Sura 30:22 of the Holy Quran, the believers are told, “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: Verily in that are signs for those who possess knowledge.” Sura 30 was revealed in Mecca when the Persian Empire conquered Christian Roman Empire and Roman Empire had lost Jerusalem. The Quraish tribesmen taunted the Prophet and redoubled their persecution as Prophet’s message was renewal of Christ’s Message in Jerusalem. The Sura reveals to the believers that rise and fall of an empire is but a small event and the true powers are in hands of God who will make the righteous rejoice. God’s creation is explained along with the diversity of creation. Diversity is symbolically explained in terms of colour or race and language, but by no means restricted to merely to that. Believing in God is accepting the diversity of his creation.
Sura 49, was revealed during the Medinese period when the followers of Islam were increasing and various delegations would come to meet the Prophet. The spread of Islam brought conflicts between the followers. God permits to fight only when anybody transgresses commands of God. But reminds that believers are all single brotherhood and tells them to make peace with justice and fairness. The Sura guides the followers to respectful behaviour with others and harmonious living, not to defame or use offensive words towards each other.
Those who do not desist are indeed doing wrong. Verse 13 of the Sura states, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God, is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”(49:13) The Verse emphasises commonalities between humankind as well as the diversity and calls upon the believers to celebrate diversity as otherwise one would not have known and appreciated oneself and others. To know oneself, diversity is important.
The Holy Quran only indicates some of the diversity created by God – colour, language, nation and tribe. However, creation of God’s diversity is by no means restricted only to these. Diversity created by God is by far vast that we are struggling to grapple with as we struggle with truth. In the Holy Quran it is further laid down, “Say: Everyone acts according to his own disposition (nature): But your Lord knows well who is best guided on the way.” (17:84). God created diversity is also in terms of nature and disposition – different bodies and different natures. Different sexual disposition is also diversity of nature which was evident from the testimonies of the sexual minorities that we heard.
The learned religious leaders of various fiqhs do not appreciate the diversity which is one of God’s creations. God commands us “There is no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error. Whosoever rejects evil and has faith in God has indeed grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things.” (2:256). We are permitted to fight only those who transgress God’s commands. We cannot have any quarrels with those who may well be fair and just in their dealings and righteous in their conduct, just because of their different sexual disposition.
The Holy Quran has laid down guidance for the human beings. Islam provides humans the freedom to choose and yet the freedom is not unfrettered. One has to take responsibility for one’s actions. Yet Muslims do have the freedom to responsibly express their differences. “And if they accuse you of falsehood, say: “My work to me and yours to you! You are free from responsibility for what I do and I for what you do!” (10:41) God further guides us: “Say: O you who have denied faith! I do not worship that which you worship and neither do you worship that which I worship and I will not worship that which you worship and neither will you ever worship that which I worship. So therefore, unto you your way and unto me mine!” (109:1-6)
We must do justice not be judgmental
God commands us to be just and fair in our dealings with others and not be guided by hatred of others. Humans are called upon to be compassionate and treat all humans as equals. “O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (5:8).
As follower of God, our duty is to struggle for justice and stand up against oppression. “And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed? – Men, women and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help!” (4:75).
To tread God’s path is to do justice, particularly work for the liberation of those oppressed, weak and discriminated, even if that goes against one’s own interest. Instead of doing justice, the church leads us to be judgmental of others and emphasize on culture and rituals with a sense of superiority. Let us do justice rather than be judgmental.
*Director, Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, Mumbai