Shortly after the new civil partnership law took effect last December, two lesbians arrived at their local register office to tie the knot. Both were Muslims and both were wearing hijab. As far Why homosexuality is wrong in islam I have been able to discover, this was the first Muslim "gay wedding" in Britain. It "Why homosexuality is wrong in islam" covered in the media at the time and I'm not going to give any clues now as to who the women were, but I can assure you it did happen.
Someone I know well acted as a witness at the ceremony. About the same time, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, denounced such partnerships as "harmful" for society.
Though there are many Muslims who take an even harder line, denouncing gay people as "paedophiles and Aids carriers" and likening homosexuality to a "cancer tumour" that must be eradicated, Sir Iqbal's remarks - together with the MCB's reluctance to engage in dialogue about homosexuality - have triggered exactly the sort of conflict that another prominent British Muslim warned against six years ago.
InZaki Badawi - an elderly but far-sighted scholar who was head of the Muslim College in London - took the unprecedented step of giving an interview to Gay Times.
Dr Badawi, who died earlier this year, told the magazine: Many high-ranking leaders in the Islamic world are gay. Recalling the film My Beautiful Laundrettewhich portrays a love affair between a British-Asian Muslim and his white boyfriend, he described it as "a useful reminder to the Muslim community that they cannot simply sweep gays and lesbians under the carpet". It is true, of Why homosexuality is wrong in islam, that most Muslims today regard homosexuality as bad and do try to "sweep gays and lesbians under the carpet", but this is a product of society rather than their religion.
The vast majority of Christians and Jews held a similar view half a century ago but since then significant bodies of opinion in Judaism and Christianity have begun to question it. Today, opinion in both Christianity and Judaism covers a broad range from outright hostility to complete acceptance, with many shades in between. As a result, it is no longer possible to speak of a single "Christian" or "Jewish" view of homosexuality.
So far, there has been no comparable debate within Islam - but that doesn't mean to say it can't happen. There is a widespread misapprehension - repeated yesterday in readers' comments about Peter Tatchell's article - that the Qur'an "is plain in its condemnation of homosexuality".
It is not plain at all and it depends, as with the Bible, on how you interpret the relevant verses. Nor is there any sound theological reason why Muslims should condemn anyone simply for being lesbian or gay.
Nevertheless, while attitudes towards homosexuality in the west over the last few decades have generally been liberalising, Muslim countries have been moving in the opposite direction. This is largely a result of international politics. Perceptions of a domineering west, coupled with fears of globalisation and modernity have brought a revival of imagined "customs and traditions", along with the spread of rigid and puritanical versions of religion.
Historically, though, Muslim societies have been relatively tolerant of sexual diversity - perhaps more so than others.
Evidence of this can be found in classical Arabic literature, in the accounts of early travellers, and in the examples of Europeans who settled in Arab countries to escape sexual persecution at home.
Muslim societies have also traditionally recognised that people can be attracted to members of their own sex, and have usually seen nothing wrong in that.
It is worth remembering that in the Qur'anic vision of paradise, along with the famous 72 female virgins, the faithful enjoy endless supplies of drinks non-alcoholic, of course served by handsome young waiters. In orthodox Muslim teaching, the question of sin arises only when people act upon their sexual impulses, but same-sex acts are not among the small number of crimes for which a penalty is specified in the Qur'an.
What punishment - if any - should be applied is a matter of opinion and interpretation. Furthermore, the levels of proof required by Islamic law are so high that if the rules are properly applied no one need ever be convicted they do something extremely blatant, like having sex in the street in broad daylight.
The general idea in Islam is that sex should take place within a legalised framework that includes conventional marriage but can also extend to other forms of "Why homosexuality is wrong in islam" relationship such as slavery in the days when that was practised. The original purpose of this was to avoid disputes about parentage and inheritance in the event of pregnancy - an issue that is unlikely to arise in the case of same-sex couples. In terms of Islamic law, same-sex acts are normally treated as equivalent to adultery in the case of a married person or fornication in the case of an unmarried person.
The issue here is not that they are both of the same gender but Why homosexuality is wrong in islam their relationship is not legally recognised. This, in a sense, is the Islamic Catch Just like the Bible, the Qur'an has a number of verses that are popularly regarded as condemning homosexuality.
As in the Bible, they are comparatively few and open to a variety of interpretations. What the Qur'an actually says about this is discussed more fully in my book Unspeakable Love published next weekbut the key point is that the verses usually cited are by no means as clear or unequivocal as people imagine. As in Christianity, Islamic arguments against homosexuality centre on the tale of the prophet Lot or Lut as he is known in the Qur'an and the destruction of Sodom.
The Old Testament version of the story was debunked by Christian scholars years ago and, on any sensible reading, is irrelevant to homosexuality as we know it today. The Qur'anic version is remarkably similar and open to similar critiques, and yet its popular interpretation is hardly ever challenged by Islamic scholars.
Within Christianity, the debate about homosexuality has become a test case in a much wider battle between two conflicting approaches to religion. On one side are the conservative orthodox forces, who take a generally inflexible and legalistic view of scripture, while on the other are the progressives, who focus on the overall spirit of their faith rather than the letter, and are more willing to reinterpret it in the light of new understandings about human behaviour.
One early example of a progressive view, as applied to homosexuality, came from the Quakers way back in Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters: Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse. Homosexual affection may of course be an emotion which some find aesthetically disgusting, but one cannot base Christian morality on a capacity for disgust.
Neither are we happy with the thought that all homosexual behaviour is sinful: An act which expresses true affection between Why homosexuality is wrong in islam individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual.
The same criteria seem to us to apply whether a relationship is heterosexual or homosexual. In comparison with Christianity today, the progressive forces in Islam are extremely weak, though they do exist.
The reasons for their weakness are mainly historical or social and have nothing to do with the nature of Islam itself. The result, unfortunately, is that all sorts of dogmatic rubbish invoking the "fixed principles of Islam" is allowed to pass unchallenged. You can even find prominent scholars who seek to eradicate left-handedness in much the same way that they try to "cure" homosexuality. One extraordinary and horrific example of following supposedly divine rules without applying common sense occurred in when fire broke out at a girls' school in Mecca.