Tim Winter: A Muslim Response

Tim Winter’s words are misguided, but he does not speak for Islam, says ZACK HASSAN.

Batman free will freedom of expression homosexuality hypocrisy islam LGBT rights Liam Neeson Muslim Ra'as al Ghul religion tim winter Zack Hassan

When I first read the ‘exposé’ of Tim Winter, I knew what would happen next.

Like the overwhelming reaction after the Boston bombings, Muslims reading about Tim Winter’s ill-advised comments will be thinking, “Yet another radical is dropping the rest of us in the shitter.” But there’s more to this story for me: I’ve heard Tim Winter speak. He’s given the Friday sermons at prayers I have attended, and I was unequivocally impressed by both his lack of religious zealotry and his intellectuality. I didn’t feel merely appalled at this story, I felt betrayed as well.

I feel I should write a bit about my own personal views so everyone knows where I am coming from. I am a Muslim. My support for LGBT rights is absolute, and many liberal, decent-minded, progressive readers may be surprised to discover that I hold this view because of my religion, not in spite of it.

Let’s be honest though, Muslims do an astonishingly crap job of representing themselves. And I’m going to confess: most religious people annoy me. While the religious zealots are bragging to anyone who will listen about the size of God/Allah/Krishna’s ego, forward-thinking people like you and me (and many religious people too) are rightly pointing at Al-Qaeda, George Bush (“God told me to invade Iraq”) and the Israel-Palestine conflict, and pointing out the hypocrisy in following a doctrine which encourages righteousness while simultaneously discriminating against people who believe something different.

That’s why I’ve always wanted less pretentious rhetoric from religion and more practical thinking about how to make society a better place: dealing with people fairly, encouraging benevolence, and making a stand against unfairness and injustice. The astute will notice that these are not uniquely religious things to want, and that’s the point.

Islam, by its own definition, is not exclusive to Muslims. A Muslim, simply translated, is anyone who subscribes to the belief that there is some sort of higher power and who also tries to be a good person.

That’s why I liked Tim Winter. He wasn’t like that. The two sermons I heard had the overriding theme of mastering oneself. “We all struggle to do the right thing, but humans have the ability to resist their impulses of greed, of corruption, of selfishness.” His speeches were not zealous; they were food for thought for all human beings. Of course, some of the things he said must now be seen in a different light. A man that I hoped would preach ideas that would expand my mind and allow me to transcend that struggle turned out to be like every other person who is homophobic because of their religion.

Like every other person that is homophobic because of their religion? So now he’s just as bad as Rowan Williams, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King? I’m not defending his views, but my point is that if Mr Winter were wearing a dog collar instead of a galabiya, no one would want to sack him.

This suggestion should be ridiculous; it is obvious that someone’s freedom of expression should not count against them. If there was evidence of him discriminating against students, that would be a different story, but the article itself details that Mr Winter is unbiased in his approach to his students; he is far more concerned with teaching people to think for themselves than metaphorically beating all the homosexuality out of them with justice’s divine fist. That has been my (limited) experience of the man.

Batman Begins, starring Liam Neeson as Tim Winter

Can we not just do away with religion altogether? I’m almost at the point of agreeing. But, like Batman, someone needs to say to Ra’s Al Ghul (who, by the way, is strikingly reminiscent of Tim Winter), “These people are not beyond rescue.”

Religion, for all its faults, still encourages humanity’s best traits: forgiveness, nobleness, kindness. It’s only a matter of time before they realise people with different sexual orientations are no less human. And even if homosexuality was somehow deserving of eternal incineration, people’s rights should be inalienable. If a religious person believes in free will, how can they impinge on the free will of others?

I realise my position is difficult. But Tim Winter is akin to religious, moral and political leaders. And he is no spokesman for Islam. If you want to know what Islam says about homosexuality, go read the Qur’an, or read articles gay Muslims have written. Don’t take someone’s words or actions as evidence of the doctrine, because they probably don’t know it as well as you could. Unfortunately, that will probably remain true until religious people stop being shit at applying their doctrine to the real world.