• Mohamad Tabbaa

The Compendium of Confidently Compiled Compounded Incomprehension

I’ve had my social media apps deleted for a little while now, but some people were kind (of cruel) enough to alert me to yet another rebuke to my recent podcast.

I have to say, I enjoyed this one a bit more than the previous one; it didn’t even pretend to take me down ‘with Islam’ (though they tried to bolster their credentials with a vague claim to ‘sacred knowledge’) but tried to engage me in my field. I genuinely read it with an eye for engagement but … wow. It really took me back to marking poorly constructed second year essays, which would be fine, except these are both apparently graduates (I’d like to speak to some of their teachers) and the abomination that is the final result is somehow the collective work of not one, but two, great minds... Could’ve fooled me.

I felt bad simply ignoring it because they’ve obviously poured a lot of effort into it (though their poor grammar tells a very different story), so I did the right thing and marked it for them, free of charge : )

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good essay, and as generously as I tried to read it, the best I could award them was 69%

Here's a snapshot of their assessment:

Full essay with extensive markings and commentary here:

Acharki and Zaky Essay Feedback
Download DOCX • 66KB

In case it wasn’t already clear, I’ve opted out of this game where we all collectively pretend to respect people who are very clearly ignorant simply because they sport a beard and gown and think highly of themselves. I’m really done with playing the Emperor’s New Thawb.

When I say I'm not a scholar in gender or sexuality, I say it in relation to those who are: people who have spent decades in the field, who have publications, who engage with other scholars and in turn are recognized as scholars by their peers. People whose conversations and reflections leave no doubt about their grounding and stature in these fields. Some of these people have been my teachers and I recognize that I have not yet reached their rank, But that's not an invitation for some random beginner with an inflated sense of self to try his luck. These are not my peers, interlocutors or even audience. Whilst I revel in intellectual engagement, I also enjoy serving a good dressing down when it's warranted, particularly in situations where people are perpetuating harm. It's a good break from having to actually think.

And let me pre-empt a criticism that I know will come my way: that I don't respect scholars. Anybody who knows me knows that this is utterly false, and my history demonstrates this. But I won't hesitate to say that I don't have an iota of respect for frauds who either deliberately pose as scholars, or those whose ego leads them to believe they are God's intellectual gift to humanity.

I honestly couldn’t care less what some emotionally-unhinged dude thinks about me or my work when he is unreflective enough to advise homosexual men to marry and have sex and children with women they’re unattracted to as a religious duty. How someone who claims to be religious could advise someone to enter a relationship where they sabotage their sense of self and that of their partner, to live a life dishonest to themselves and their partners, as a way of gaining closeness to God, is truly beyond me. This is to say nothing of the damage they would cause to their partners who would be able to sense that something is off but would likely need to engage in constant cognitive dissonance to simply make sense of and survive their situation. People who claim to be learned and devout who have not even a basic grasp of concepts of selfhood and self-mastery as a pre-requisite to knowing and worshipping God want to sit here and dish out advice like hotcakes.

People with such an inflated ego that they think an undergraduate degree authorises them to write a universal and eternal manifesto that covers morality, law, politics, sexuality, agency, identity, religion… each single topic a lifelong scholarly endeavor in its own right conclusively answered in a Facebook post. That really tells you the value these people place on knowledge.

People who believe that if they don’t know about a societal issue it means it’s being over-determined rather than admitting that they’re simply ignorant of it because they live in a bubble, surrounded by their own kind and rarely ever venturing outside of their comfort zones, you know, where the other 99.99% of the world lives. Let me tell you something: every single one of us knows someone who’s gay. If you don’t know any gay people it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it simply means they haven’t felt comfortable enough being honest with you. Reflect on why that is.

I’ve had multiple strangers confide in me about their sexuality and detail for me the horror of following their sheikh’s advice, some of them ending up in intensive care units, on heavy mind-altering medications, in states of psychosis, depression and generally not being able to lead meaningful, functional lives. And these are not ‘bad’, ‘deviant’ people. These are religious people who are genuinely trying to follow their sheikh’s advice and it simply doesn’t work. That's not a fault in them but a fault in their sheikh's limited understanding. .

A number of these people were leaders in their own fields and they’ve had to step away for fear of being stigmatized and abused. That’s the only reason I talk about this topic, because the common advice coming from sheikhs is so harmful. Then I get accused of disrespecting our tradition. Our tradition was worldly, it was about living in the real world, not burying our heads in the sand and hoping all of our problems would magically vanish by themselves. My callout is not to say abandon the tradition, it’s to ask them to live up to it. Do better than to condemn your own people to a torturous life because you’re not willing to put the effort in to learn something difficult and produce a nuanced position.

We know that God does not burden a soul beyond their ability, so there is a way for gay Muslims to lead meaningful, fulfilling lives. That’s the challenge for all of us, religious scholars included, to understand what that looks like, because very clearly the current model is not working.


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