The video of the debate on Religion and Sexuality is available to watch below. The debate took place on the 17th November 2016 at University of Westminster, London, UK
This discussion considered these questions:
- What happens when we experience friction between our sexuality and our beliefs?
- How do feelings of shame impact upon our freedom to express our beliefs, sexuality, identity and politics?
- What role does love play in our tolerance and respect for others who hold different views on faith and sexuality?
The event was organised by the University’s Faith and Spirituality team and is co-sponsored by the Department of Politics and International Relations.
The participants were:
Professor Dibyesh Anand, Head of Department of Politics and International Relations.
Abdullah al Andalusi, Muslim Debate Initiative
Dr Sian Hawthorne, a lecturer in Critical Theory and the Study of Religions at SOAS University of London. She convenes the MA Religion in Global Politics and is co-founder and convenor of the BA World Philosophies. Her research interests lie in the areas of religion and gender, intellectual history in the study of religions, and its intersections with post- and decolonial theory thought.
The other guests included a member of a Evangelical Christian organisation, a member of the Buddhist organisation who didn’t want to be named.
The full video is at the bottom of the page.
‘On the 17th November 2016, I participated in a debate on the controversial subject of Sexuality and Religion, at the University of Westminster (London, UK).
From the outset I knew that the discussion would turn to the platitudinous usual tropes touted by Secularists that ‘religion oppresses people sexually’. The Secularist Liberal position usually presents the issue of homosexuality to be the main argument that evidences their case of religious oppression. They also include the ‘freedom’ of people to dress how they want in public, in the name of ‘expressing their sexuality’, as well as the ‘freedom’ to engage in sexual relations outside marriage.
However, I took a completely different approach to what they were expecting, namely that all ideologies and religions have taboos, and all require people to repress their sexuality in a number of situations. In fact, I made the argument that Islam offers the potential for a greater prevention against sexual frustration, than Secular Liberalism can.
Of course, in all debates, the first step to demonstrate the probity of one’s argument, is to get all sides to agree a common basis from which the topic will be judged against. I discussed the basics of human sexuality from psychological studies, namely that humans are not actually born with an innate understanding of how to use their sexual organs, and with whom. Usually, this is taken care of by the individual’s own realisation of the different human sexes and parental and social education.
Consequently, studies continue to show that only the desire for satisfaction of sexual organs is biologically determined, but not human sexuality. In the debate I mentioned the famous sexologist, Alfred Kinsey, who actually criticised the categorisation of human sexuality into ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’. He posited that human sexuality usually follows a scale (and can change over time), where humans can be sexually attracted to a number of different stimuli. There are even many cases of humans being sexually attracted to inanimate objects for example (which I cited some examples of).
I argued against using labels which are themselves are discrimination of people based upon the labels that categorise and (in the words of Kinsey) pigeon-hole people by desire, like ‘heterosexual’, ‘homosexual’, ‘bisexual’ etc, and highlighted that these labels do not exist in either the Quran, Hadith, New Testament, Tanakh or even in the Ancient world. Islam, nor the Abrahamic faiths, do not persecute or discriminate against people for having desires – because while desires are not necessarily biologically determined, people still have no control over how they feel. I argued that like all law systems, Abrahamic religions restrict actions only (of course, while the public square of an Abrahamic state is governed by laws and regulated by government, actions done in privacy in one’s own home are only accountable to God).
From these bases, because sexuality is not biologically determined, I argued that religion does not oppress human sexuality, but rather Islam (and the other Abrahamic religions) merely restricts the expression of human sexuality, e.g. sexual intercourse, to a specific range of activity (i.e. the legally committed and responsible institution of marriage with non-familial members of the opposite sex). Love between humans, however, is not restricted, and is free and even encouraged by religion between all people.
I pointed out the contradictions with Liberalism’s basis for morality, with the practice of Secular Liberal states, namely the idea of individual consent of an ‘adult’. Western states ban polygamy and incest even if the individual adults entered into these consensually (and even if they used contraceptives for the latter). The West also bans many types of narcotics too, despite it being possible to be argued as ‘consensual choice of an adult’.
Furthermore, I argued that sexual arousal is automatic and not the choice of people, but can be incited in them by someone else in public. I pointed out that Secular Liberalism (along with Islam) demands that people control their sexuality in public. However, unlike Islam, Secular Liberalism permits people to arouse each other in public (with sexually suggestive advertising in pictures, TV, clothing etc), despite not having any intention of engaging in sexual intercourse. This then leads to a society which becomes hyper-aroused throughout the day, yet not capable to satisfy this arousal. I posited that Islam’s solution is to remove sexual provocation in the public sphere (from TV, Satellite channels, advertising and public fashion). Which society would have more sexual frustration, and which one would have less?
I then argued that Liberalism’s criteria of the prevention of harm and adult consent, caused a contradiction, when many Secular Liberal states ban Sexual Harassment (which is different from Sexual Assault, because it does not usually involve use of sexual physical contact, and under English law means to cause a ‘sexually offensive environment’), while at the same time, permit their populations to advertise their products, or wear clothes, with no regard to the sexually offensive environment they create by doing so. In essence, such advertising and clothing could be considered – in theory – forms of sexual harassment in of themselves.
I also pointed out that Secular Liberalism also contradicts itself, when it permits the most statistically lethal narcotic, Alcohol, to be consumed, yet bans other drugs, and holds people accountable for what they do while drunk, yet also argues that people who choose to engage in sex while drunk, have not the state of mind to give consent! (which effectively means that drunk sex between two equally drunk individuals would be technically mutual rape!).
I argued that Islam could resolve these issues if Alcohol was banned along with the other narcotics, that way people would be accountable for their actions, and consent could be easier to determine in court. A Feminist from the audience presumed I was saying that people should stop drinking alcohol in order to prevent rape – which she then shouted was not necessary as ‘men have been raping women for thousands of years’. This was despite the fact that I made no mention of any particular sex in my discussion, but Feminists seem prone to view the world through a gender sectarian lens.
I rounded my argument upon an Abrahamic basis, namely that it is not consent of the individual that makes an action good or bad, but rather the consent of the REAL owner of the body undertaking the actions, namely, God. If Allah (swt) does not give His (swt) consent to an action between one person and another, then in Abrahamic theology, this is a violation of the (real) owner of the body.
The debate brought up a lot of discussion on how British colonialism affected the world with Victorian Christian attitudes to sex and sexuality, that have generated modern stereotypes about ‘non-Western’ religions.
The debate also saw me arguing against identity politics, where people are grouped into political and social groups based upon characteristics they did not choose (sexuality, skin colour etc).
Interesting points were made from the different panellists, but only Dibyesh Anand, the moderator, who admitted to being barely able to restrain his desire to join the debate, actually attempted to challenge my arguments – which I was able to respond to, and my explanation was generally not contested. He had previously debated me in my last debate at Westminster, where he infamously attempted to criticise Islam and what he believed was its approach to homosexuality, by asking me what what happen if we made love under an Islamic government (which he later admitted was just to be provocative).
The full debate can be found below, and I suggest watching it for those who are interested in seeing how Abrahamic religions (and specifically Islam) can engage the topics of human sexuality against Secularists and Secular Liberalism.