Stoning Gay People to Death in Brunei Is an Outrage and Not My Definition of Islam

Mehdi Hasan is a columnist and senior contributor at The Intercept. He is the host of The Intercept podcast “Deconstructed.” Hasan is also the host of Al Jazeera English’s “UpFront.” He has interviewed, among others, Edward Snowden, Hamid Karzai, Ehud Olmert, and Gen. Michael Flynn. He is also the author of two books — a biography of former U.K. Labor Party leader Ed Miliband and an e-book on the financial crisis and austerity economics. He is based in Washington, D.C.

I WAS 13 years old when I first heard of the Sultan of Brunei. The absolute ruler of a tiny, oil-rich kingdom in Southeast Asia, Hassanal Bolkiah was the subject of a much-discussed TV documentary by the British filmmaker Alan Whicker in 1992. As a young teenager, sitting in front of the television, I was in awe of this Muslim king. He was the richest man in the world! He earned a quarter of a million pounds every hour! He owned more than 150 cars!

Today, however, I’m filled not with awe but with disgust. Brunei has become the first country in Southeast Asia to impose capital punishment for “crimes” such as adultery and gay sex….

Then again, shamefully, Brunei isn’t alone. A recent study by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found that there are already six countries that explicitly make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. And, as a Muslim, it is a source of deep frustration for me that 5 out of the 6 are Muslim-majority countries — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia — and in the sixth, Nigeria, the death penalty is imposed only in Muslim-majority or Muslim-plurality states. According to ILGA, there are also 70 member states of the United Nations that “criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts” — and, again, Muslim-majority countries are disproportionately represented on that list. In fact, homosexuality is illegal in the vast majority of the world’s Muslim-majority nations, from Senegal in West Africa to Malaysia in Southeast Asia to Qatar in the Middle East. (Full disclosure: I host two shows on Al Jazeera English, which is funded by the government of Qatar. According to the Qatari penal code, gay sex can result in a prison sentence.)

It is easy to blame all of this rampant, state-sponsored homophobia in the Muslim-majority world solely on Islam. Indeed, the prominent British atheist, scientist, and Islamophobe, Richard Dawkins, cited Brunei’s barbaric new law in order to compare my faith to cancer.

Yet the truth is that nowhere in the Quran is a legal punishment prescribed for the sin, or the “crime,” of homosexuality. There are no authentic reports in any of the Muslim books of history of the Prophet Muhammad punishing anyone for same-sex acts. In fact, even many Muslims today are unaware that the Ottoman Empire decriminalized homosexuality in 1858. Got that? One hundred and nine years before the U.K. and 145 years before the United States, the biggest Muslim-ruled empire on earth decreed that there should be no penalty for being gay. Read more via The Intercept