Custom Search

Islam and Homosexuality (part 2)

James Doughty
Student, Political Science
Montclair State University
New Jersey
Spring 2009

Though the Qur’an offers at best debatable stances on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex sexual relationships, it at least stays within the same idea of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner.’ However, the Hadith, or sayings and teachings of the Prophet, is far more ambiguous and contradictory. After discussing where the Qur’an stands on the controversial issue, Wafer moves on to analyze the Hadith’s stance on the issue. This is not as easy as it appears, for even though there are multiple stories which involve male-male sexuality, the opinions seem to change within each passage; likewise he argues that because of the inconsistency of the stories, it is difficult to ascertain their authenticity, and he even goes so far as to hypothesize that different writers in the Hadith had different interpretations of the Prophets message. 9

He quotes one writer al-Tifashi who says “that ‘inverts’ were common in the Prophet’s own tribe, the Quaraysh, and the Prophet is supposed to have been particularly amused by the wit of one invert called Hayth. He is also reported to have permitted inverts to be in the same room as his wives when the latter were not veiled (Khawam 1971:255).” The inverts that are being referred to are of course what would be classified by many gay scholars today as homosexuals. But what is important to remember is the commonality of those who find attractions to the same-sex, that even in the time of the Prophet, these ‘inverts’ were commonplace.

Wafer moves on from the seemingly positive point of view regarding homosexuals, to two other passages in the Hadith which clearly express not only disdain but the idea of homosexuality being an abomination. “Whenever a male mounts another male,” he quotes “the throne of God trembles…There is also a Hadith which recommends the stoning of ‘those who practice sodomy, both the passive and the active…” These contradictory views of homosexuality only add support to one argument, similar to the one mentioned above: that same-sex relations existed prior to any Western influence. Likewise, it appears that the act of homosexuality, that’s to say, male on male sex, was the ‘sin’ not necessarily the feelings or same-sex attraction itself.

As a matter of fact, Wafer concludes his essay by stating the commonality of same-sex attraction. In fact he says that “There are also a number of Hadith in which the Prophet warns his followers against gazing at youths precisely because they are so attractive. One of these is quoted in the Arabian nights: “Do not gaze at beardless youths, for they have eyes more tempting than the huris. 10 ” Though the Prophet was clearly against acting on these same-sex impulses, he understood and acknowledged the naturalness of theses yearnings.

Therefore, it appears that Islam itself as a religion, and homosexuality in a non-western context are not mutually exclusive from one another. Indeed, they seem to be able to exist together happily, with no real contradiction of values or wrong-doing. Therefore, because Islam is a religion which recognizes the human need for sex, but prohibits pre-marital sex with women, it appears that same-sex relationships are the ‘loop-hole’ around that prohibition. However, for those Middle Easterners who identity with the West’s idea of homosexuality as an identity, they have a more difficult battle. Khalid Duran, a prominent Muslim scholar who has actually addressed the issue of homosexuality believes that “{equality rights}Are unlikely to be achieved by means of secular arguments that do not pay due respect to the sacred sources of Islamic culture. Such an approach is more likely…to result in a backlash against what is perceived as an attempt to impose the values of the former colonial powers. 11 ” However, with the groundwork made by Wafer and like-minded scholars, those means are not as impossible as they once seemed. In fact, the idea of equality for self-identifying gay Middle Easterner’s may be easier to obtain because of these valid religious arguments. It should be noted though, that social movements and equality justice, is, and has always been a long and arduous battle, a battle that needs not only be taken against the religious intolerance, but against the states which allow it.

With the added aide of religious arguments, the battle for gay equality within the Middle East is difficult today due to the Islamic countries which strictly impose, prohibit and sometimes lethally punish homosexuality. Anissa Hélie starts her essay “Holy Hatred” by stating that, “Amnesty International counts at least 83 countries where homosexuality is explicitly condemned in the criminal code; 26 of these are Muslim…The seven countries in the world that carry the death penalty for persons presumed guilty of homosexual acts, justify this punishment with the Shari’a- or standard interpretation of Muslim jurisprudence. 12 ” The countries in the Middle East that have capital punishment laws for homosexuals include not surprisingly Iran, and Saudi Arabia two of the most controlling and dictatorial states in the Middle East.

On the note of Iran, when Iranian ‘President’ Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country” he was of course met with boos and laughter at Columbia University. 13 However, it’s not so surprising that he would indeed believe that, because in all honesty, he has very few homosexuals like the ones in the West. Similarly, it’s quite imaginable to believe Ahadinejad feels that those homosexuals in Iran, who identify themselves as being gay, have been ‘taken care of’ almost in the sense of a disease. However, that does not excuse his or his countries policy of murder of suspected homosexual men and youths who may or may not identify as gay in western terms. Though Iran always states that they are killed due to ‘rape’ most scholars and intellectuals are aware that the reasons lay not within ‘rape’ but in the same-sex practices that those found ‘guilty’ engage in. Similar stories no doubt exist throughout other Muslim countries in and outside of the Middle East, where men engaging in same-sex relations are undoubtedly harassed or even killed. That sadly is the state for many homosexuals, both Western and non-Western identifying, throughout the Middle East. However difficult homosexual males may have it though, the difficulties and injustices lesbians face in the Middle East are exponentially more difficult.

Unfortunately the issue of lesbianism in Islam and the Middle East is far more difficult to understand, not because lesbianism is inherently more difficult, but finding information about lesbianism and any notion of female sexuality in Middle Eastern contexts is more difficult to ascertain. This is mainly due to the lack of information and research both available and done by anthropologists alike. The only ‘evidence’ of any overt or covert lesbianism throughout Islamic societies has always been by men, both Arabic and Western alike. Stephen Murray says in his essay “Woman-Woman Love in Islamic Societies” that “Sexual relations between women within harems has been more supposed than observed.” Towards the end of his essay, he notes a modern day of example of the lack information regarding lesbianism available not only to scholars, but to the world in public with his statement regarding Iran. “Female homosexuality in Iran is hushed up in such a way that no woman, in the whole of Iranian history, has been allowed to speak out for such tendencies…To attest to lesbian desires would be an unforgiveable crime. 14 ” It should be noted here that there is some valid criticism regarding Murray and his work on homosexuality in the Middle East. Arno Schmitt, author of such works as Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Moslem Societies believes that Murray’s portrayal of not only lesbians in Middle Eastern society, but homosexuality in general is not only wrong but incomplete. He feels that because Murray and his co-editor Will Roscoe are both extremely Anglophone, they lose the subtle nuances in Arabic, and thus make mistakes in translation, causing layer upon layer of misinformation. His critique on the lesbian chapter is that there are only six pages associated with it. 15

Though the linguistic argument is indeed valid, that certain mistakes were bound to be made, it should not be forgotten that they used a variety of sources, though secondary sources, all complimented one another. Likewise, the critique on lesbianism in Muslim societies is not only unfair, but rather ridiculous. At least they attempted to make a mention of lesbianism in Muslim societies which is no easy feat, which is more than Schmitt ever did in his own compilation of essays regarding male-male sexuality, which have been referred to as nothing more than “a how-to book for fucking Arabs (which it tries to be),… 16 ” It seems then, that those who live in glass houses, should not throw stones, and the academic attempt to at least acknowledge lesbianism in Middle Eastern culture counts for something.

This taboo issue of lesbianism exits not only in societies throughout the Middle East, but throughout the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an, and even the Hadith, says nothing about female-female sexual relationships, adding only to the argument of where they stand. A possible theory if homosexual acts are forbidden and punishable for men, then for women, who are subservient to men, should never dream about lesbianism, for the punishment is unthinkable. Anissa Hélie brings up the issue of feminism in her article by stating “There is a strong connection between fundamentalist homophobic assaults and those directed against women who do not ‘behave,’ who may be unmarried or living alone. 17 ” She shifts the argument subtly by stating the problem is not Islam but rather the fundamentalist and patriarchal approach by Muslim leaders which cause the problems for not only women and lesbians, but homosexuals as well. She goes on to question why sexuality has been the issue targeted by many fundamentalist Islamists, and her answer, though western and secular, and even though it would definitely be knocked down as simple ‘decadent western influence’ carries a valid point: “A possible answer is that people making individual choices appear as a challenge: autonomy, especially for women, is seen as a threat. 18 ” Women have always been at the background of all social movements, be they heterosexual or homosexual, however, the landscape seems to be changing, not only for lesbians, but for all homosexuals in the face of Islam.

Thankfully, there is a movement throughout the intellectual and academic world to re-examine the Qur’an and Hadith from a gay-friendlier point of view, as is evident by academics such as Jim Wafer and Arno Schmitt. Similarly, Hélie notes in the conclusion of her essay, that homosexual acts and self-identifying gays, though condemned in most Muslim societies, still seems to slip through the cracks in Islamic popular culture.) She notes that, “Another positive example is found in Lebanon, where homosexuality is illegal, but a popular weekly TV program (Al Shater Yahki) has been focusing on sexuality since 1997 and includes gay voices. The fact that they speak from behind masks gives a measure of the risks involved.” Showing that even the most taboo and illegal subjects in the Islamic world, can still express itself one way or another.

It is also important to note the emergence of globalized gay rights organizations in the fight for gay rights not only in Islam and Islamic countries, but world wide as well. These organizations such as the Salaam, a Muslim gay group based out of Canada, or the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, who focus not only on the Islamic world, but global gay rights as well, shows how homosexuals identifying with the western notion, are finding a way to express themselves and fight for their rights. It is with all these factors, the understanding of cross-cultural examination, a new understanding of Islamic Holy Scriptures, understanding the status of gay men and lesbians, in the Middle East, that real change can happen, so that events such as gay youths being killed in Iran, is a thing of the past.

9 Jim Wafer. “Muhammad and Male Homosexuality” p. 89

10 Jim Wafer. “Muhammad and Male Homosexuality” p .90. Huris as best that can be found, are the women in paradise for those who are worthy. Found in Josef Meri. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia p. 335.

11 Jim Wafer. ‘‘Muhammad and Male Homosexuality’’p. 87

12 Anissa Hélie. “Holy Hatred” p. 120.

13 “Ahmadinejad speaks; outrage and controversy follow”

14 Stephen Murray. Woman-Woman Love in Islamic Societies pp. 97-102.

15 Arno Schmitt. “Review: Untitled” p.689-693

16 Thomas Spear. “ ‘Foreign’ Sexualities in Francophone Context” p. 197.

17 Anissa Hélie “Holy Hatred” p. 122

18 Anissa Hélie. “Holy Hatred” p. 123.