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Open letter rejects ‘unconstitutional fatwa’ against LGBTQIA+ Muslims

Open letter rejects ‘unconstitutional fatwa’ against LGBTQIA+ Muslims

A group of Muslim South Africans have released an open letter denouncing the Muslim Judicial Council’s fatwa which they says amounts to hate in a context where the lives of LGBTQIA+ people are already in danger. "It is based on ignorance and reinforces oppression and injustice rather than supporting just, fair and equal ruling," the letter reads. We publish the open letter below.

The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and the Jamiatul Ulama of South Africa have announced that those who consider themselves homosexual are out of the fold of Islam. They have called for takfir (excommunication) of the Muslim lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community. The punishment for being excommunicated is death. 

As queer Muslim South Africans and allies we resist the fatwa unequivocally. The MJC is a self-appointed, unelected and entirely male body, save for the head of their Women’s Forum, that does not represent the Muslim community on any democratic basis. They also do not have religious authority as Islam is not a system that is organised along the lines of such religious intermediaries between people and God. 

We question their standing to decide who is part of the Ummah and who is to be excommunicated. 

We remind the MJC that Section 9 of the Constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation, and applies to government and private parties. Section 15 provides for the recognition of religious legal systems and marriages that are not inconsistent with the Constitution. The rights of LGBTQIA+ people under the South African Constitution cannot be trumped by cultural or religious authority, especially the right to life. 

The MJC’s fatwa amounts to hate in a context where the lives of LGBTQIA+ people are already in danger. The fatwa is based on ignorance and reinforces oppression and injustice rather than supporting just, fair and equal rulings. 

As Muslim South Africans who are LGBTQIA+ and allies, we assert: 

  1. It is possible to be LGBTQIA+ and Muslim. As LGBTQIA+ Muslims we live this combination daily. Our Islam is based on solidarity, critical love, care and kindness. For us, faith is about pursuing justice, fairness and equality. A discriminatory statement by the MJC does not and cannot invalidate our existence, or our right to life;
  2. As LGBTQIA+ Muslims we want to state that our connection to Allah is not contingent on the fatwa of an unelected group of an institute run by dogmatic men, who deem themselves experts on Islam. No person or organisation can determine our connection to Allah or the spiritual realm; and
  3. As LGBTQIA+ Muslims we strive to create Muslim spaces in South Africa that are safe, affirming and supporting to LGBTQIA+ Muslims. Our right to exist is protected by the Constitution, with our full freedom and human dignity intact.

We as Muslim South Africans who happen to be LGBTQIA+ and allies denounce this fatwa by the MJC on the grounds that:

  1. The fatwa deepens the hatred of LGBTQIA+ persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. This hatred is rooted in the limited knowledge the representatives of the MJC have on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, the limited consultation conducted by the MJC within the Ummah and their lack of engagement with progressive Muslim scholars;
  2. The publication of this fatwa implicates the MJC in actively contributing to homophobic and transphobic violence; and
  3. While the fatwa makes a statement encouraging persons to “avoid spreading hate” and “display good conduct”, these are hollow calls. The fatwa invalidates the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people, limits their bodily autonomy and agency, and calls for the “rejection” and “prohibition” of LGBTQIA+ practices. It is undoubtedly motivated by hate and will embolden homophobes to attack LGBTQIA+ Muslims. It also runs the risk of directly increasing gender- and homophobic-based violence.

The MJC and associated bodies such as the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa have published other articles and statements which incite hate against LGBTQIA+ persons. LGBTQIA+ persons in South Africa are clearly protected by the Constitution and other laws. We encourage them to use the available channels (Equality Court, Commission for Gender Equality or South African Human Rights Commission) to hold persons/institutions accountable for homophobia/transphobia. 

All people deserve to enjoy a life free from oppression and discrimination. Together we can dismantle oppressive institutions and build safe, affirming and kind spaces for LGBTQIA+ Muslims and all persons. DM/MC

This was written and endorsed by Rumana Akoob, Gabriel Hoosain Khan, Fatima Shabodien, Nelisiwe Msomi, Shireen Hassim, Seehaam Samaai, Shaazia Ebrahim, Mahomed Jameel Abdullah, Safia Khan, Rumain Akoob, Ty Khan, Shahra Sattar, Jamilla Jade Madingwane, Mangaka Molaqa, Shabir Madingwane, Nompilo Molaqa, Gulshan Khan, Mishka Wazar, Nokuthula Mjwara, Fairoze Diedricks, Maushami Chetty, Lorenzo Wakefield, Shiraz Soeker, Sharon Cox, Phumi Mtetwa and Elsbeth Engelbrecht, Muhsin Hendricks, Haroon Wadee, Shameez Joubert, Waseem Imam Saheb, Alex Sutherland, Seth Deacon, Simone Cupido, Shakira Qwabe and Zama Mthunzi.

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