Malawians Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga made international headlines in 2010

A Muslim cleric has caused a stir in Malawi by proclaiming that gays and lesbians should be afforded their human rights, despite being sinners like witches and sex workers. reported that Sheikh Mdala Ali Tambuli – described as a respected Muslim scholar – made the pronouncement during a workshop for religious leaders on sexual reproductive health and rights.

“As religious leaders, we saying nowhere in the Bible or the Qur’an is homosexuality supposed to be there or promoted. On the other hand, what we are saying is that people who are practicing this act are supposed to be served on three things: They are supposed to get protection, love and also we have to look after them, because they are human beings and are totally entitled to all human rights,” Sheikh Tambuli was quoted as saying.

He went on argue that gays and lesbians “are sinners just like those practicing witchcraft or sex workers” but asked, “if we protect and love these other sinners, why can’t we do the same with these people?”

The comments drew immediate condemnation from other Muslim leaders who slammed Tambuli’s stance.

Islamic scholar Dr. Imran Shareef told “The stand of Islam on homosexuality is very clear. It’s against the commandment of God.”

“We will therefore not depart from the teachings of our religion to advocate for the legalisation of same sex relationships just to please the majority.

“Instead, we are advocating for full enforcement of laws that criminalise homosexuality and have been in use for some time in this country. As Muslims, we can’t compromise the teachings of the Qur’an to accommodate the practice of homosexuality in the name of human rights,” he said.

In a statement, the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) also stated that the “interests of homosexuals have no place and basis in Islam”.

“We would like to inform the general public and other fair minded Sheikhs in Malawi that the issue of homosexuality is clearly categorised in the Qur’an as evil and sinful acts as evidently seen in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah during the time of Lut when such immoral practices existed,” said Sheikh Idrissa Muhammad, MAM’s National Chairperson.

“If Allah had wanted to guarantee the so called human rights to the homosexuals, then he wouldn’t have punished and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“We would like also to remind the general public and all those advocating for the interests of those in same sex marriages is not only evil and sinful, but it is also illegal and criminalised under Sections 153 and 156 of the Penal Code (Laws of Malawi) therefore, supporting, aiding or abetting of nay illegal practice constitute a crime in Malawi,” added Sheikh Muhammad.

The status of these laws is in fact unclear. In May 2012, Malawi’s President Banda announced her intention to overturn the country’s ban on homosexuality.

In November 2012 it was reported that Malawi had “suspended” laws criminalising homosexuality pending a parliamentary vote, but three days later Attorney General and Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara made a u-turn, saying, “There was no such announcement and there was no discussion on same-sex marriage.”

The issue of LGBT rights in Malawi was thrust into the international spotlight in 2010 when Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in Malawi on charges related to same-sex sexual conduct.

They were later pardoned following international condemnation and the personal intervention of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Chimbalanga, who identified as a woman, was reportedly granted refugee status in South Africa.

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