Lately, it seems Canada's cities are making headlines for all the wrong reasons, most recently my own birthplace: Calgary, Alberta. Here, our Muslim Council is now officially on report for granting the podium to alleged homophobes, despite the fact we have a Muslim mayor who celebrates diversity, including gay-pride events.
And despite the fact we didn't actually invite them to talk to us about sex, and despite the fact our city recently approved our building a $28 million Muslim community center, in part based upon our Muslim Council's commitment to celebrating diversity alongside him.
So what gives? Can Calgary's Muslims honor our faith and our Canadian values together? The answer we've repeatedly given is a resounding yes!
Now, I don't deny that there are Muslims who say otherwise, included some very popular Imams. However, those Muslims are "Jahiliyyah-level" ignorant of both the words of the Qur'an and the Sunnah of Muhammad.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Jahiliyyah is an Arabic word denoting one of Muhammad's predictions, that some otherwise seemingly pretty impressive followers would return to the ignorant and pre-Islamic practices that he -- while he was alive -- brought to an end.
Because before Muhammad, no question there was some stoning going on, in the pagan, Christian and Jewish communities of the Middle East, for a variety of reasons, including sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
Then, during Muhammad's final years, and for a few years afterwards, the stoning stopped, and more importantly our inappropriate fixation on other people's sexuality came to an end as well.
The truth is, Muslims, Christians and Jews together have a problem, if we want to use so-called "higher criticism" to pretend God doesn't care about our sexual choices, because our scriptures are clear He does.
But that isn't necessary: Rather than changing God's words, both Jesus and Muhammad serve as exemplars of how faithful believers are actually supposed to act toward others, while remaining personally continent in our choices. Clearly, we are expected to be guided by compassion and respect for another person's freedom to make their own choices, most of all.
Most of you are likely quite familiar of Jesus' own way of dealing with his community's enthusiasm for self-righteous stoning. When faced with an accused adulterer and an angry crowd he wrote something in the sand, and told them "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
He put them in their places -- as equals in the sight of God with each other -- disallowing their attempt to serve instead as judge, jury and executioner. He exemplified compassion.
And Muhammad? He did us all one better, and exemplified freedom and respect.
When sexual accusations directed at one of his wives almost tore that community apart, he asked God for guidance and received the requirement for four witnesses, of any form of sexual transgression: witnesses to the actual sex act, not heresay, not extrapolation from co-habitation, affection, or an inappropriate regard for Broadway musicals, no, it took four witnesses of the actual sexual penetration.
And someone who discussed someone else's sexual practices without four witnesses was punished almost as severely as the alleged transgressor would have been -- 80 vs 100 lashes -- and their testimony was ignored thereafter forevermore.
To the point that one of Muhammad's companions complained that, even if he walked in on his own wife having sex with his own best friend, he couldn't do anything but divorce her quietly and swallow his anger. Period. In fact, I think that sort of frustration might help explain why his first followers -- who were in every other way the most faithful to his legacy -- reinstituted stoning for sexual transgressions on a legal technicality almost before his body was cold in the ground.
But just to be very clear, even then, that only pertained to Muslims: Nobody other than Muslims were subject to Sharia. During Muhammad's time, and -- according to the revered Hanbali jurist Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya for decades thereafter -- non-Muslims could do pretty much anything their own communities considered acceptable, including sexual practices, as long as they did it in private.
So public sex and Muslim porn stars not-withstanding, I think the rest of us are pretty much okay.
Can we all take a step back, and use a little bit of common sense? I know Muslims are commanded to "enjoin the good, and forbid the wrong" throughout the Qur'an, but as I pointed out in "Why I Think Islamists Are Anti-Islam," Muslims who try to impose their beliefs on others are actually doing the opposite of what they intend.
"Perhaps the reason why the Qur'an condemns coercion in matters of religion so explicitly is because anytime you try to impose something -- even something good -- you make sure that it's opposed. Human nature being what it is, imposing "good" actually promotes the opposite."
And every Muslim knows that regardless of God's Law, even a Muslim who sins does not cease being Muslim, no matter how they transgress: We are all sinners in need of Grace. The glory of Islam is the realization that God alone is All-Merciful and All-Forgiving, and rather than separating us from each, our failures and God's Grace bring us together.
I have gay and lesbian friends and colleagues, and some of them are Muslim, and I love and respect them for God's sake, and for their own sake. To be clear, we can even talk about things like faith and sexuality, and why I feel the way I do, and why they disagree: because we respect and like each other.
Personally, I don't think sex has anything to do with love, even though it's a nice thing to do for each other: Instead, I think the ultimate expression of love isn't sex, it's self-sacrifice.
In fact, I think that inappropriate linkage between love and sex is what's wrong with the way we are all currently approaching human sexuality regardless of our orientations; I love lots of people both male and female, some passionately, but I only have sex with the one I'm allowed to. But hey, that's just me.
And regardless, we all know that what any of us do in private is none of anybody else's business. Period.
So rest assured in Calgary, when ignorant Muslims say ignorant things and tell us to hate someone in God's name for any reason, we don't listen to them.
Instead, we listen to Muhammad, and we do our best to love everyone.
Before he died, Muhammad told us the greatest tragedy that would befall our faith would be Muslims forgetting the Love that began us, and that -- even though He hates sin, no question -- the God who made everyone loves everyone.
And then he told us,
"All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and it may be that the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O God, that I have conveyed your message to your people."
So my fellow Muslims, what can I tell you?
Go in peace, live in peace and love in peace.
And never forget to serve the Lord.