The Islamic scholar at the centre of a row about his comments on homosexuality has told 5Pillars that he believes the practice is a great evil, but he rejects all attempts by individuals acting outside state authority to harm gays.
In his first comments on the row since several British newspapers called him a “hate preacher” and an “extremist” for suggesting the Islamic punishment for homosexuality included beheading and burning, Shaykh Hamza Sodagar said he was the victim of a campaign by the “enemies of Islam” and that Muslims needed to “stand firm against the kufaar.”
Sodagar is on a brief lecturing tour to London during the month of Muharram but has been prevented from delivering lectures since the row escalated.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, to an Iranian father and an American mother, Sodagar moved to Iran in the 80s but returned to the US in 1993. He subsequently developed an interest in religion and in 1997 went to Qom to begin his studies. Ever since he has been studying, teaching and travelling all over the world delivering lectures.
He spoke to 5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih earlier today.
Roshan Muhammed Salih: In a 2010 video you said that the punishment for homosexuality was burning, beheading, throwing them off a cliff, pushing a wall on them or a combination of all five. British newspapers have since labelled you a hate preacher and an extremist and have called for a ban on you entering the UK. Did you call for homosexuals to be beheaded and burned?
Shaikh Hamza Sodagar: This couldn’t be further from the truth – I even mentioned in the lecture that there could be a misunderstanding like this. I was simply explaining the Islamic penal code and if someone disagrees with this code that is their issue. The important thing to say is that it sounds like I’m telling people to go out on the street and find homosexuals somewhere and light them up and chop off their heads. But I am not preaching that, I am also saying that it is actually haraam to do that, even in an Islamic country you have no right to do that.
The penal code does not apply outside of an Islamic country and inside an Islamic country if people come to know that a male has been involved physically with another male then they have to report that to the authorities and they have to look into it. And if it is established by the authorities then they carry out the punishment, but an individual has no right to carry it out himself and if they do that’s a sin.
In the 1960s the gay rights movement began and they made it sound like they were an organic movement akin to the black rights movement or the women’s movement, but it’s not like that. Homosexuality is something that is unnatural, and this corruption is being forced upon us.
There is a war on religion, whether it be on Christianity, Judaism (real Judaism, not Zionism) and Islam. People of these various faiths are not even allowed to express their views, even the Pope is made to make various compromises and comments which verge on accepting homosexuality. But this is such a severe matter based on what Allah (SWT) has told us in the Quran that an entire nation was wiped off the face of the earth because of it. So if this becomes widespread it will hurt all of us; I am responsible to prevent this evil, this wrong and this corruption from spreading.
I feel not only for the Muslim community, I feel for the non-Muslim community getting involved with this corruption. It destroys society, it destroys the family. Although previously everyone considered this wrong, lobbyists have worked so hard that now it’s difficult to even say that it’s wrong. But let’s be clear: Islam is categorically against this.
RMS: We live in the West, which is a liberal, secular society where homosexuality is mainstream. Don’t you accept that your words would be shocking to a non-Muslim audience and shouldn’t we be more diplomatic here in the West?
HS: I have a very firm belief that God is our Creator and He knows all of us better than we know ourselves. If He has given us something then that is the most reasonable thing. And if someone doesn’t understand it that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to say.
If this was something that wasn’t relevant to the West and would simply bring unwanted attention to Islam and would give people an excuse to attack Islam without any benefit then obviously it would not be wise to say such things. Don’t forget, Islam also talks about slavery but there’s no wisdom about talking about this issue because there’s no reason to; we are not trying to suggest that we bring slavery back. But there is wisdom when you say this is what Islam says about homosexuality, to show the evil in it. Other religious faiths have not spoken their minds on this issue and have not said what is in their books – this is in the Old Testament after all. This is not new, God revealed this from the time of Prophet Ibrahim, it’s part of all Abrahamic faiths and traditions – this is not allowed.
And I should be allowed to say this. The death penalty is implemented in some states in the US and other states don’t accept it. But if you go to another state and support the death penalty is that wrong? Is that unreasonable? I am one of those who believes that this is the penal code and when it applies it’s legitimate. If you disagree with that then we can have a conversation, but to say that when I am discussing this penal code I am suggesting that people go out in the streets to find homosexuals to burn, that’s a big lie.
RMS: This lecture was filmed in 2010. Why has it come up now? Do you think you are being targeted for your outspoken religious and political views?
HS: There’s an Islamic identity developing as part of the global Islamic movement. And the Western countries that are against that movement will fight it – there are the military campaigns that are happening in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. There is the political front, the economic front, sanctions, lowering of the oil prices. This is all about changing the true Islamic identity.
There are three main elements that they are attacking – Islamic leadership and belief in it by creating ethnic or sectarian disputes because they know that if the Ummah unites behind a leadership we can achieve a lot. Another thing they are hitting is anti-Zionism – if any politician tries to say anything negative about the Zionist regime they attack them and then they learn the lesson that you do not focus on that. Thirdly, homosexuality has become an element which defines this anti-Islamic movement.
RMS: You conducted a few lectures when you came to the country recently but now you have been prevented from preaching. How do you feel that Muslims should react to the attacks on you?
HS: There are munafiqeen (hypocrites) within our community. These are the same people who are publishing pictures saying that the Shia community’s tradition is to cut the heads of little children in Muharram. Munafiqeen work with the kufaar and the kufaar want to shove homosexuality down our throats. With this campaign they really wanted to create fear in the hearts of the believers so that they won’t talk about this subject.
But when the enemy has an objective the believers need to do the opposite; if they try to say we are silencing this shaykh and he’s not coming back to the UK, the community needs to learn a lesson from this, it needs to say we want these types of speakers. Give this message to the kufaar, and what I mean by kufaar is the enemies who are creating this bad image of Islam so that the average British, American, Frenchman or German thinks that Islam is brutal. They have an agenda but they need to get the message that the Muslims have a strong identity and they will not give into this fear-mongering. This is a war on Islam and we feel responsible to fight this war.