In an interview with the Tunisian Al-Wataniya TV channel, Professor Amel Grami said that in the days of early Islam, "society was more aware of its diversity and more pluralistic, while today we are more rigid and unaccepting of the other." According to Grami, a professor of Arabic studies at the University of Manouba, Tunisia, and an authority on gender studies, "many judges talked openly about their passion for boys, and said that they have their own boy, whom they meet intimately, and so on. Many jurisprudents had such relations."
Following are excerpts from the interview, which aired on December 20, 2015.
Amel Grami: When you read books of heritage…
Interviewer: Why shouldn't we treat [homosexuals] as mentally or physiologically unbalanced…
Amel Grami: You know that these notions do not appear in our heritage. These people were not considered to be suffering from a disease. Our forefathers treated these groups with more openness than us. When you read our books of heritage, you will appreciate this relaxed attitude, this acceptance of the other, the different. There was an effeminate man in the house of the Prophet Muhammad, and he did not burn him, chop off his head, or harm him. The same holds true for the days of the Prophet's companions. There are stories from the Umayyad period, when effeminate men and young boys were central people in gatherings, and would express their opinions. If you read Kitab Al-Aghani, you will find stories about the most famous effeminate men, who would compose witty poems, stories, and anecdotes. They were smart, and were not considered [abnormal].
Interviewer: In the 1990s, the WHO declared that [homosexuality] is not a disease.
Amel Grami: Yes. This [stems from] developments in science and in our knowledge. I say to people who claim that we are importing Western notions. I say to people who claim that we are importing Western notions, and dropping them on our society: Go back to your own heritage. Read your own texts. You will find that many judges talked openly about their passion for boys, and said that they have their own boy, whom they meet intimately, and so on. Many jurisprudents had such relations.
What I am trying to say is that society's ability to accept those who are different, whether in sexual orientation, in ethnicity, in religion, and so on, was greater than today, and that society was more aware of its diversity and more pluralistic, while today we are more rigid and unaccepting of the other.
At the end of the day, all the examples you bring… Why should a true believer feel that he is being provoked when he sees an unveiled woman? Why should he feel that he is being provoked when he hears a woman whose views differ from his own? Why should he feel provoked when she talks about sexual relations, or about marital rape? Are his own convictions so shaky? Is he so incapable of tolerating difference? We must listen to these populations, not talk about them. This is where the difference lies. By talking to these people, you are recognizing their right to speech, and you are acknowledging their difference. What I am trying to say is that at the end of the day, we have monopolized the right to speak on behalf of those who are different. We talk about people whose sexual choices differ from ours, or about spinsters.
We appropriate for ourselves the right to speak on behalf of those spinsters, to pass laws on issues such as unofficial marriages, and so on. What are we in fact doing? We don't give others the latitude to formulate their own message, and justify their choices. We deprive them of the right to speak for themselves, and we claim to represent the other. By "the other," I mean anybody who is different, not just homosexuals. I am talking about all types of people who are different –the blacks, the Amazighs, and so on. We profess to speak in the name of all others, but in fact, we impose our guardianship over them all.