Homosexuality, Islam, And A View On What the Qur’an Says About Gay People

Homosexuality, Islam, And A View On What the Qur’an Says About Gay People

Christopher van der Krogt, lecturer in History and Religious Studies at Massey University, looks at what Muslim teachings actually say about homosexuality. Read below.

Neither the Bible nor the Qur’an (Koran) has a lot to say about homosexuality, and what they do say relates only indirectly to contemporary discussions about gay rights and same-sex marriage. Like pre-modern scholars of law and ethics, these books assume heteronormativity.

As a concept, homosexuality is relatively recent, even if there is plenty of evidence for homoerotic pleasure in the past – albeit illicit in religious terms.

Scriptures and later writers usually referred only to particular sexual acts and did not raise the issue of personal sexual orientation.

For religious conservatives, though, both Muslim and Christian, the occasional derogatory reference to same-sex acts is enough to prove their inherent sinfulness in all circumstances.

More liberal interpreters point to broader ethical considerations such as compassion and empathy. They argue that the condemnations of scripture do not apply to committed relationships founded on love.

Such a perspective, however, is inevitably more common among believers concerned with human rights, influenced by gender theory, and trained in contextual and holistic methods of interpretation.

HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE BIBLE

Leviticus 20:13 (cf. 18:22) declares it abominable for a man to lie with another man as with a woman, and both partners are to be executed.

The possibility that one party has been coerced is not discussed: both are defiled. However, the offence seems to be no worse than other capital crimes mentioned in the same context, such as adultery and incest.

Paul evidently regarded the prohibition of sexual acts between men or between women as violations of natural law known even to non-Jews – at least if their minds were not clouded by idolatry (Romans 1:18–32; 2:14–16).

He seems to have reflected contemporary views that men should be sexually assertive and women passive, and that sexual activity must be at least potentially procreative.

SODOM AND SODOMY

For Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, the story of Sodom is central to the traditional condemnation of male homosexuality. As recounted in Genesis 19, however, this is not a story about love or consensual sex between men: it is about rape and inhospitality.

The mob that gathers outside Lot’s house need not be exclusively male (the Hebrew plural anashim can include both genders), and the text says all ages were represented (Genesis 19:4, 11).

When the crowd demands Lot’s visitors, he offers his two virgin daughters in their stead. Perhaps he considers the rape of his daughters a lesser evil than the rape of his guests.

The fact that the guests are male is not emphasized. After the visitors (angels in human form) rescue Lot and his family, God rains down fire and brimstone upon Sodom, Gomorrah, and other cities nearby.

Actually, he had already determined to punish all these towns and their inhabitants, male and female, young and old, before the angels’ visit and the attempted homosexual rape (Genesis 18:16–33).

When the wickedness of Sodom is recalled in other parts of the Bible, homosexuality is not mentioned. Yet, despite this broader context, the story was often interpreted primarily as a condemnation of homosexual activity in any form.

In the Qur’an, the somewhat ineffectual Lot of Genesis becomes the Prophet Lut. The Arabic term for homosexual anal intercourse, liwat, comes from his name rather as English derived the term sodomy from the name of the town.

As in Genesis, Lut seems to argue with the men of Sodom over the relative propriety of abusing his daughters or his guests (11:78–79; 15:67–69).

More often, though, the emphasis is on his condemnation of lusting after men instead of women (7:80–81; 26:165–66; 27:55; 29:29). In the Qur’an, Lut says:

“Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.”

TRADITIONAL ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVES

In the Hadith (thousands of stories reporting the words and deeds of Muhammad and his companions that are comparable in authority to the Qur’an itself), there is some support for the notion that the principal offences of Sodom were idolatry and avarice.

These led in turn to inhospitality and the rape of male visitors.

Nevertheless, the Hadith do unequivocally condemn male homosexual acts. The Qur’an (4:16) demands unspecified punishment for men guilty of lewdness together unless they repent.

“Yet, the Prophet is supposed to have declared that both the active and the passive partner should be subject to the same penalty as for zina (illicit heterosexual sex, usually adultery), namely execution by stoning.”

Abu Dawud’s authoritative hadith collection records a report from Abdullah ibn Abbas:

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done (38:4447).”

It is doubtful whether any passage of the Qur’an refers to lesbian acts though the condemnation of women who commit indecency (4:15) is sometimes read this way. A few hadith warn women against seeing or touching each other when naked.

Traditional Islamic jurisprudence assumed strict gender roles. The 17th-century Muslim scholar Haskafi explicitly included “a male” in his list of those whom a man could not legally marry.

Marriage was understood in hierarchical terms, but although a man could have sexual relations with female slaves, he did not have the same rights over male slaves.

Pre-modern scholars who produced lists of “enormities” included liwat and sometimes tribadism (“rubbing”, that is, lesbian intercourse) after zina. Prescribed penalties for homosexual acts varied according to different schools and individual scholars. In any case, it was difficult to attain the required level of eye-witness testimony.

In practice, homosexual encounters, including with young male prostitutes, seem to have been quite common in Islamic societies. They were no more or less a cause for moralistic concern than other forms of illicit sex.

REINTERPRETING THE ISLAMIC TRADITION

Without actually endorsing homosexuality, some Muslims in Western societies have recognized a parallel between the religious acceptance they demand and the acceptance demanded by gays and lesbians.

The New Zealand Muslim MP Ashraf Choudary (who did not realise that the Qur’an does not urge the stoning of homosexuals) observed that, “…if the law allows one minority group in our society to be discriminated against then all minorities are vulnerable.”

Some, such as Cambridge philosopher Abdal Hakim Murad (Timothy Winter), have accepted that a homosexual orientation may be innate but say that does not make homosexual sex permissible.

Deducing that it may therefore be legitimate remains a step too far for most.

Traditionally, if sins can be forgiven when repented, declaring forbidden acts not to be sinful has been regarded as heresy or even apostasy. Commentators such as Mehdi Hasan, after wrestling thoughtfully with the issues, have concluded that while they do not approve of homosexual acts, they cannot condone homophobia.

A similar message was offered by Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford, when he visited New Zealand: Muslims and others have to respect each other, which includes accepting that the law permits gay marriage.

For Muslims generally, as for conservative Christians, homosexual acts are sinful. It is difficult to be openly gay or lesbian in predominantly Islamic countries, but in the West, there are even (a few) gay imams.

There are also support groups for gay and lesbian Muslims. Writers such as Scott Kugle (Siraj al-Haqq) try to reconcile Islamic identity with alternative sexual orientations. Like their Jewish and Christian counterparts, they seek the “original” meaning of scriptural texts obscured by generations of patriarchal, heteronormative interpreters.

They also question the authenticity of certain hadith – in the traditional manner by scrutinizing their chains of transmission – and reopen past debates such as that concerning “temporary” marriage. The latter need not be short-term and may offer an alternative framework for co-habitation without formal marriage.

Christian gays and lesbians have had to work hard for a measure of recognition among fellow-believers; their Muslim counterparts are just beginning that struggle.

Acknowledgement: The most useful source for this essay has been Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence (Oneworld Publications, new edition, 2016).

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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20 Comments

    • Mandy
      June 24, 07:56 Reply

      Very illuminating, aswear. It would seem though that the Quran is a lot more clear on its reproval of Homosexuality than the Bible.

      • ambivalentone
        June 24, 10:44 Reply

        Does it? It lumps homosexuality and adultery in the same class and is just as vague as the bible as to what exactly Sodom and Gomorrah did generally assuming that their men wanted to lie with the angels while all the rest of the people watched free porn.
        My own is if they can tolerate prostitutes, but give capital punishment to adulterers, they cud just as well tolerate homosexuals in ESTABLISHED relationships while stoning gay guys who were philanderers

  1. chuck
    June 24, 10:03 Reply

    Since the Bible and Qoran are hostile to homosexuality and homo eroticism, what does it mean to be gay and a believer in these religions?

    On a personal note the way gay Christians and Muslims rationalize their sexual behaviour is often telling. You can see the red flags quickly.

    • posh6666
      June 24, 11:22 Reply

      Honestly as a muslim who tries his best to always say his 5times daily prayers and also fast for 29_30 days during Ramadan I always wonder if my acts of prayers is accepted due to my lifestyle.Or i’m just worshiping Allah in vain.

      • posh6666
        June 24, 11:30 Reply

        A lot of times I cant even feel comfortable or sleep when I know I didnt say my complete 5times daily prayer.As with a whole lot of several hundreds of thousands of other muslims in the north,who are gays but are very consistent with their prayers and ramadan…Infact its so confusing cos we the northerners have the highest number of dedicated muslims but yet are also probably more into the gay lifestyle than any other region in Nigeria.

        • Chuck
          June 24, 13:17 Reply

          Posh666, how do you reconcile it? Given that you know Islam doesn’t accept homosexuality, do you think you can get forgiveness/ into Paradise after a life of sex with men?
          I’d like to understand your thought process.

          • posh6666
            June 24, 13:47 Reply

            Honestly its a really overwhelming situation,sometimes I just want to give up all together but at the same time I cant even sleep nor feel complete when I dont pray.

            Well let me try and explain my thoughts to you.We are taught that Allah is forgiving and merciful,so for everytime you say your prayers you are expected to ask for forgiveness for all your sins…

            Thats why the Ramadan period is a very important period for we muslims,because we are made to know that for that 29-30days you fast,all your previous sins for the whole year is totally wiped out and you start all over on a clean slate.

            There’s a prayer we say in hausa “Allah ya sa mucika da Imani” meaning when death comes may it meet us when we are at our purest form.

            Meaning despite our sins,there’s this hope we all have that by God’s grace we will die when we are at our purest eg not long after saying one of the 5obligatory prayers,during ramadan period,while chanting the kalmat shahada thats declaring that Allah is the greatest or even on a friday.Becos there’s the believe that anybody that dies on a friday as a muslim will be paradise bound and all his sins will be forgiven.

            Lastly anybody that dies from certain ailments is believed to be forgiven of his/her sins example severe headache,stomach ache,cancer,during child birth as a woman and also when murdered.

        • z
          June 24, 14:59 Reply

          Are you sure about this, I keep hearing it but I don’t know how true it can be

        • z
          June 24, 15:05 Reply

          Are you sure about this, I keep hearing it but I don’t know how true it can be…about the secret gay lifestyle being more prominent in northern Nigeria

          • posh6666
            June 24, 15:19 Reply

            Oh yes its really prominent in the north but unlike places like the south flaming queens are not really much so u cant just walk upto somebody on the street and toast him.

            Things can go left really fast cos people here can be very discreet and pretentious.So its works by friends linking you with one or two nice guys from there you get to meet others and then you gradually realise its a really big circle…

            The disadvantage is that most northerners dont operate gay oriented social media apps so if you are not an insider you can live in the north all your life and you will never get to know the real gay social life scene except you are lucky to meet one good friend.

            • chuck
              June 24, 18:06 Reply

              Thank you for this extensive answer. I appreciate it!

        • posh6666
          June 24, 15:07 Reply

          Well thats what we read in the Quran and the words of the Quran doesnt change.Its the same version right from creation of the world till the last day.Infact all the major events that will happen right till the last day has been well documented several thousands of yrs ago.

      • chuck
        June 24, 18:05 Reply

        Depends on the reasoning behind being Muslim/ Christian and gay at the same time. The reasoning lets you know if the guy is someone you want to associate with.

  2. ambivalentone
    June 24, 10:38 Reply

    Wait!!! The principal offences of Sodom were idolatry and avarice and lusting after the male guests, and yet the Hadith 38:4447 says you shud “kill the one who does it and to whom it is done” and go back to telling me that guests are supposed to be treated hospitably when you already say they shud be killed for acts of their hosts??? Biko, I have a headache

  3. Canis VY Majoris
    June 24, 10:38 Reply

    Blah blah blah!

    I always wondered though, of all the numerous “abominations” that was stated in the old times, how the views on homosexuality remains glacially stagnated by time and civilization puzzles me.

    Also, how it’s now NOT right to put my brother to death for planting different crops side by side in our back yard or NOT stone my sister to death for wearing two different clothing materials. Yet, its very OKAY for them to do all these things to me, because I fuck men instead.

  4. Sasha
    June 25, 09:25 Reply

    There is no god.
    Religion is a façade which is only here to distract people from the grim reality of mortality.
    Make your lives count, you only get to live once and there’s no afterlife for you even if you fast for 365days and don’t have sex with anyone.

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