A controversy has erupted in the Southern African nation of Malawi after a Muslim imam spoke out for legal protections and human rights for gays and lesbians. The speech made by Sheikh Mdala Ali Tambuli, "a respected Muslim scholar" has created "a backlash across the country’s Muslim population," reports OnIslam.
"As religious leaders, we saying nowhere in the Bible or the Qur’an is homosexuality supposed to be 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."
Many of the leading Muslim clerics in Malawi have publicly opposed the imam's position.
"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. Imran 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.
Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity. About 13 percent of the country's population of 14 million are Muslim, according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. Nearly all of Malawi's Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam.
Same-sex acts are currently illegal in Malawi, as they are in at least 38 of 54 African countries. The maximum punishment is 14 years behind bars and hard labor. Malawian President Joyce Banda made international news when she promised to repeal the anti-gay laws after assuming office in May 2012. The laws have not been repealed yet but they have been suspended. Parliamentary leaders of Banda's ruling Democratic Progressive Party announced a "moratorium" on arrests and prosecutions of suspected gays and lesbians in May 2012.
Malawi faced international condemnation for the May 2010 conviction and 14-year prison sentences given to Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. The couple was convicted of "unnatural acts" and gross indecency" after holding an engagement ceremony. The late President Bingu wa Mutharika eventually pardoned the couple on "humanitarian grounds."
Banda's move reverses the recent trend in Africa in which many LGBT persons have been increasingly singled out for prosecution. Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for gays or same-sex activity. South Africa and Seychelles are the only African nations that protect LGBT rights. South Africa is also the only African nation to guarantee marriage equality. Kenya's parliament and supreme court are considering decriminalizing its sodomy statute.
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