LILONGWE – A new controversy has hit Malawi after an imam has come out in the open to champion rights of homosexuals, sparking angry comments from Muslim scholars who advocate full enforcement of laws that criminalize same sex marriages in the southern African nation.
“The stand of Islam on homosexuality is very clear. It’s against the commandment of God,” Dr. Imran Shareef, one of the country’s highly acclaimed scholars, told OnIslam.net.
“We will therefore not depart from the teachings of our religion to advocate for the legalization of same sex relationships just to please the majority.
“Instead, we are advocating for full enforcement of laws that criminalize homosexuality and have been in use for some time in this country. As Muslims, we can’t compromise the teachings of the Qur’an to accommodate the practice of homosexuality in the name of human rights,” he added.
The controversy erupted during a workshop for religious leaders on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights held at lakeshore district of Mangochi, the area with the largest Muslim population in the country.
At his presentation, Sheikh Mdala Ali Tambuli, a respected Muslim scholar in the country, advocated human rights, love and protection towards homosexuals, drawing backlash across the country’s Muslim population.
“As religious leaders, we saying nowhere in the Bible or the Qur’an is homosexuality supposed to be there or promoted. On the other hand, what we are saying is that people who are practicing this act are supposed to be served on three things: They are supposed to get protection, love and also we have to look after them, because they are human beings and are totally entitled to all human rights,” Sheikh Tambuli said in his presentation.
“As far as Islam in concerned, homosexuality is a sin and I make no apology for that. But I’m saying that as religious leaders, we have to take care of these men who are having sex with fellow men or those who are lesbians.
“All these groups of people have to be taken care of because they are sinners just like those practicing witchcraft or sex workers. If we protect and love these other sinners, why can’t we do the same with these people?”
Same-sex relationship and marriage are totally prohibited in Islam, Christianity and all divine religions.
Islam teaches that believers should neither do the obscene acts, nor in any way indulge in their propagation.
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is not a sin, but considers homosexual intercourse as sinful.
The scholar’s comments were immediately opposed by Muslim scholars in Malawi.
“Islam doesn’t regard homosexuality as a human rights issue, we will therefore, follow the dictates of our religion to oppose any attempts to decriminalize same sex marriages in Malawi, where in the first place, it’s already illegal,” Dr. Shareef said.
In its reaction to the same, Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) said promotion of “interests of homosexuals have no place and basis in Islam”.
“We would like to inform the general public and other fair minded Sheikhs in Malawi that the issue of homosexuality is clearly categorized in the Qur’an as evil and sinful acts as evidently seen in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah during the time of Lut when such immoral practices existed,” Sheikh Idrissa Muhammad, MAM’s National Chairperson said in a statement.
Sheikh Muhammad added: “If Allah had wanted to guarantee the so called human rights to the homosexuals, then he wouldn’t have punished and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”
The Muslim leader said it’s against the laws of Malawi for certain sections of the society to advocate for the interests of homosexuals “while there are criminalizing the practice.”
“We would like also to remind the general public and all those advocating for the interests of those in same sex marriages is not only evil and sinful, but it is also illegal and criminalized under Sections 153 and 156 of the Penal Code (Laws of Malawi) therefore, supporting, aiding or abetting of nay illegal practice constitute a crime in Malawi.”
But human rights Lawyer Chrispin Sibande said Malawi’s laws on homosexuality are “archaic”, and they don’t reflect the current reality on most issues in the country.
“The law evolves with time. We inherited almost everything we have from colonial masters (British) and yet in Britain, today people no longer use these laws. It is therefore high time we changed them,” Sibande told OnIslam.net.
In 2010, the country’s first gay couple got arrested and subsequently jailed. But a presidential pardon following an intervention from the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon saved the couple from serving the prison sentence.
The country’s largest Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic has been protesting against any move to legalize same sex marriages in the country.
“We will never move even an inch in our opposition against legalization of homosexuality. This act is against the nature of creation, we will therefore fight against any measures that would make this act legal in Malawi,” Fr. George Buleya, Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) Secretary General told OnIslam.net.
Organized by Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), an organization advocating for minority rights in Malawi, these workshops , according to its Executive Director, Gift Trapence are meant to break “the silence and open up dialogue among religious leaders.”
“These workshops are being organized to let religious leaders break the silence surrounding the issue of homosexuality. We need to open up dialogue and debate on this matter, otherwise, minority rights groups will remain disenfranchised,” Trapence told OnIlsam.net.
Dr Shareef, the renowned scholar, appealed other faith groups to unite for “a good cause to safeguard the sanctity of religion”.
“By accepting laws which would legalize homosexuality, we are undermining the sanctity of religion, whose consequences resulting from the wrath of God, like what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah where those acts were being practiced will be on this nation.
“We should therefore as a God fearing people rise up against all challenges which are posing as potential threats to the authority of God in Malawi,” said Shareef.
Islam is the second largest religion in the southern African country after Christianity.
Official statistics suggest Muslims constitute 12 percent of the country’s 14 million people, but the umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) puts the rate at 36.
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