On March 29, 2016, Farrokh Sekaleshfar — a British-born medical doctor and Shi’a Muslim scholar — was invited to speak at the Husseini Islamic Center just outside Orlando, Florida.
His sermon, “How to deal with the phenomenon of homosexuality,” at the Sanford-based center, happened behind closed doors, but it alarmed local gay and lesbian leaders. Only three years before, in another U.S. speaking engagement, the scholar and sheikh had described in characteristically sotto voce what it meant to do the compassionate thing for gay people:
“Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence.”
He continued: “We have to have that compassion for people. With homosexuals, it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.”
This is the different between Islam and almost all other religions. While the views of Dr Sekaleshfar are of course a minority view, you have a number of religious leaders in Islam who go around promoting these views. In other religions such as Christianity, people holding these views are deeply marginalised – the Westboro Baptist Church for example. They are shunned by pretty much everyone else (and are not so much a church as one extended family).
But here you have religious leaders invited to speak, and saying such things. It creates the climate for extremism.
Fusion got in touch with Dr. Sekaleshfar, who lives in the holy city of Qum in Iran and is currently traveling in Sydney, Australia.
Asked what his reactions are to today’s attacks, he told Fusion through Facebook, “I am totally against the barbaric act of violence that has happened. In no way at all can such a killing be justified Islamically.”
He called Orlando shooter Omar Mateen Siddiqui “an ill and perverted, animalistic entity who has abused an ideology to satiate his sad, twisted desires.”
Asked specifically about his March comments about gays in Orlando, as well as his better-known 2013 speech, Sekaleshfar called his approach an “academic discussion” in which he was describing the “theoretical angle as to what Islam says.”
“I never gave the call to a death sentence,” he said, adding that lines of his 2013 speech had been taken out of context. “I was explaining what Islamic law – in a country whose people democratically desired Islamic law to be exercised – states in relation to NOT homosexuals, but rather in relation to when the act of anal copulation is executed in such an aforementioned public,” he said.
Now there is a difference between saying the state should executive homosexuals and that individuals should do so. But it is about the climate. When a dozen or so Muslim countries do have the death penalty for homosexuality, when some Muslim scholars do say we should get rid of homosexuals, then it is perhaps no surprise that an individual may take that to mean that God wants him to kill homosexuals.
Again there is a difference between moderate Muslims, extremist Muslims and jihadist Muslims. But we delude ourselves if we think the problem is only the jihadists who actually pick up a gun. The extremist views of Dr Sekaleshfar provide a climate which fosters jihadism. Of course in this particular case, we don’t know if there was a link, but the point is no religious group should invite any religious leader to spread a message that homosexual acts should result in death.