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Macalester Islam Journal

Volume 2, Issue 3 2007 Article 8

Homosexuality in Islam: A Difcult Paradox
Nicole Kligerman

Macalester College
Copyright c 2007 by the authors. Macalester Islam Journal is produced by The Berkeley Elec-
tronic Press (bepress). http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/islam
Homosexuality in Islam: A Difcult Paradox
Nicole Kligerman
This paper addresses the complex intricacies of homosexuality in Islam by exploring Quranic
notions of sexuality, theoretical perceptions of homosexuality in the Muslim world, the effect of
Western inuences on sexuality, and human rights abuses inicted upon Muslim gays today.
KEYWORDS: Islam, homosexuality, Quran, sexuality, human rights abuses

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Nicole Kligerman 'IJ

This paper aJJresses the complex intricacies ol homosexuality
in Islam ly exploring Qur`anic notions ol sexuality, theoretical
perceptions ol homosexuality in the Muslim vorlJ, the ellect ol
Vestern inlluences on sexuality, anJ human rights aluses
inllicteJ upon Muslim gays toJay.

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Nicole Kligerman 'IJ

Historical anJ contemporary homosexuality in Islam
loth Jemonstrate a paraJoxical reality. Vhile it is a common
Vestern perception that contemporary Muslim societies are
particularly repressive ol gays, this has not alvays leen the case.
In lact, it is partly the rise ol Vestern inlluence in the Muslim
vorlJ that has createJ a greater social stigma against
homosexuality. Although the Qur'an Jismisses homosexuality
entirely, Muslims have a complex relationship to samesex
sexual lehavior that Jeserves to le comprehensively exploreJ.
This paper aJJresses the intricacies ol homosexuality anJ same
genJer sex in Islam ly exploring Qur'anic notions ol sexuality,
theoretical perceptions ol homosexuality in the Muslim vorlJ,
the ellect ol Vestern inlluences on sexuality, anJ human rights
aluses inllicteJ upon Muslim gays toJay.

Islamic Lav anJ Homosexuality
The Qur'an is very explicit in its conJemnation ol
homosexuality, vith very lev loopholes vith vhich to
theologically conJone gays in Islam. In the Qur'an, homosexuals
are relerreJ to as @".+ A.' (Lot's people), relerring to the
prophet Lut (knovn as Lot in the Christian Bille) vho
preacheJ against homosexuality in the cities ol SoJom anJ
Gomorra, vhich vere sulsequently JestroyeJ. In the Qur'an,
Lut questions, Hov can you lust lor males, ol all creatures in
the vorlJ, anJ leave those vhom GoJ has createJ lor you as
your mates` You are really going leyonJ all limits (26.I65

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The Prophet MuhammaJ aJJs, DoomeJ ly GoJ is vho
Joes vhat Lot's people JiJ |ie homosexualityj.

The Prophet also comments that, No man shoulJ look
at the private parts ol another man, anJ no voman shoulJ look
at the private parts ol another voman, anJ no tvo men sleep |in
leJj unJer one cover, anJ no tvo vomen sleep unJer one
In his last speech, knovn as the Iarevell Sermon, the
Prophet aJJeJ a last conJemnation ol homosexuality, saying,
Vhoever has intercourse vith a voman anJ penetrates her
rectum, or vith a man, or vith a loy, vill appear on the Last
Day stinking vorse than a corpse, people vill linJ him
unlearalle until he enters hell lire, anJ GoJ vill cancel all his
gooJ JeeJs.

The Qur'an Jeclares Islam to le the religion ol nature
anJ, similar to ]uJaism, promotes sex ly making it a sacreJ act
vith a prayer asking Allah to grant me a righteous chilJ lelore
sex. The Qur'an lurther encourages sex ly outlaving celilacy
anJ permitting polygamy, thus reinlorcing heteronormative
sexual lehavior. Since the purpose ol sex is procreation
accorJing the religious text, homosexuality is seen as an
alerration ol Allah's vill vhich threatens Muslims vith
extinction. As a result, there is ollicially no room lor
homosexuality or homosexuals vithin Islam.

Scholars ol shari'a, Islamic lav, interpret homosexuality
to le not merely a sin, lut a crime as vell. Despite this, there is
no specilic punishment lor homosexuality, insteaJ, the Jecision
is lelt to the Jiscretion ol the ruling authorities. Shari'a
encourages those accuseJ ol homosexuality to repent insteaJ ol
conlessing to the crime. This phenomenon can potentially
explain the paucity ol historical literature ol punishment ol
sexual transgressions.
Islamic lav stanJs lor privacy anJ
protects it ly all means. BesiJes, it repeateJly emphasites that a
person is innocent until proven guilty vithout any Joult, anJ

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everyone shoulJ have the lenelit ol the slightest Joult.

Therelore the jurispruJence laiJ out in Islamic lav also aiJs
those accuseJ ol leing gay.

Muslim Homosexuals
In meJieval Islamic societies, sex is organiteJ in
conlormity to principles ol social anJ political hierarchy.
vas not uncommon in this kinshiplaseJ society to have
homosexual patterns laseJ on loth transgenerational systems
vith ritualiteJ or initiatory systems letveen youths anJ
aJults anJ transgenJerist systems vhere one partner assumes
the role ol the opposite genJer.
Therelore, homosexual
relationships reinlorceJ Jominant anJ sulorJinateJ roles
alreaJy present in society. Homosexual relationships lolloveJ
traJitional genJer anJ pover patterns, loys playeJ the passive
role (emulating the voman), vhile aJult males asserteJ their
pover ly receiving sexual pleasure through Jomination.
Fgalitarian sexual roles, hovever, vere seen as inexplicalle anJ
During the MiJJle PerioJ, upper class men
olten haJ young males vho playeJ the passive role in the
relationship, supporting this notion ol the inherent
sulorJination ol the voman's traJitional role.
Particularly in
Morocco, it vas seen as equal to have a young male sex partner
as it vas to have a young girl, male prostitution vas also
common. Fven in contemporary Morocco, homosexuality
letveen a man anJ a youth carries little social stigma, it is
vieveJ as loth natural anJ an expression ol Jominance anJ

A meJieval meJical treatise attriluteJ to ArRati,
Treatise on the HiJJen Illness, attempts to explain the
hiJJen illness ol ulnah, or passive homosexuality. ArRati
Jescriles ulnah as leing JeriveJ lrom veak male sperm that
makes the male chilJ elleminate. To comlat ulnah, ArRati

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prescriles engaging in sexual activity vith maiJs anJ slaves
vith nice laces.
Although ArRati himsell apologites at the
enJ ol his vriting lor having aJJresseJ the issue anJ other
meJieval vritings poke lun at ulnah, ArRati's treatise
nevertheless Jemonstrates that homosexuality vas vieveJ as a
natural, genetic phenomenon.
Because ol the specilic outlaving ol homosexuality,
there are very lev sellproclaimeJ gays in Muslim societies
toJay. Hovever, this is not to say that there are not people vho
actively engage in samesex sexual acts. UpholJing the
appearance ol lamily is ol the utmost importance, anJ so long as
one maintains the image ol a gooJ lather anJ huslanJ (complete
vith a vileor vivesanJ chilJren), many Muslims Jo not
concern themselves vith vhat goes on lehinJ others' closeJ
This has leJ Muslim homosexual men to marry
heterosexual Muslim vomen to aJhere to the appearance ol
social norms, actions that are citeJ ly Vestern human rights
groups as a human rights aluse.

Knovn homosexuals vere tolerateJ in pullic ollice il
they continue to pullicly live a heterosexual lilestyle. Ior
instance, Sultan Mehmet Iatil, Ottoman conqueror ol
Constantinople anJ Sultan MahmuJ Ghatnavi, vho invaJeJ
InJia lrom Alghanistan, are loth important historical ligures
anJ knovn gays. Both men haJ several vives anJ chilJren.
Vhile Vesterners voulJ viev these menanJ those like
themas lisexual, Muslims viev them as consistent vith
shari'a, they maintaineJ an outvarJly conlorming appearance in
terms ol lamilial anJ pullic lile lut happeneJ to engage in
homosexual activity.
Hovever, vhile traJitional Muslim societies may
tolerate homosexuals in pullic ollice, gays are vehemently
rejecteJ in the role ol teachers or religious role moJels. This
coinciJes vith the importance ol marriage anJ lamily in Islam,
unmarrieJ people are usually not accepteJ into these positions
either. Again, homosexuality (anJ not leing marrieJ, thus not

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proJucing chilJren) is seen as a lreach ol the religion ol
The I986 murJer ol prolessor Isma'il Al Iaruqi anJ his
vile Lois proviJe a prime example ol Vestern
misunJerstanJing ol the Muslim homosexual paraJox. Ol
Palestinian Jescent, Al Iaruqi taught Islamics in PhilaJelphia
anJ vas killeJ ly one ol his stuJentsa Muslim convertvho
claimeJ that the Iaruqis lorceJ Muslim stuJents to perlorm
homosexual acts in return lor scholarships at Temple
Irrespective ol the valiJity ol his claim, this
Jemonstrates the stuJents' lack ol unJerstanJing ol the
sultleties ol Islamic teachings regarJing homosexuality. Vhile
the stuJent haJ learneJ alout the Qur'an's rejection ol
homosexuality, as a Vesterner he laileJ to unJerstanJ that
Jespite the shari'a's Jismissal, homosexuality is largely
permitteJ vhen it is not openly JisplayeJ.

In the Muslim vorlJ, it is common to engage in
homosexual activity vithout leing consiJereJ gay il one is the
active partner in the act. In Turkey, Fgypt anJ the Maghrel,
men vho are 'active' in sexual relations vith other men are not
consiJereJ homosexual, the sexual Jomination ol other men
even conlers a status ol hypermasculinity.
It is common in
the Maghrel lor schoolloys to lrag alout vhat sexual act they
vill perlorm to their male peers, especially those that are
perceiveJ as veak anJ passive. Vhereas in some other
languages slang terms lor homosexuals only connote
elleminate (such as the vorJ +"(2#B/ in Spanish), the Aralic
terms +"=C.$ ('the passive partner') or D"+2$ are common aluses
anJ have the connotation 'characterless', 'JepraveJ', |orj
Homosexual rape is also a very poverlul anJ
oltenutiliteJ humiliation tool. Repressive regimes, like those in
Iran anJ Pakistan, use homosexual rape on political opponents
as a policy ol repression. This tactic is olten seen as more

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politically ellective than killing people, as it Jenies people ol
their manhooJ.

Ol the varying anJ Jistinct cultures ol the Muslim
vorlJ, some are seen as having more open anJ pronounceJ
homosexual iJentities. Persians are particularly knovn lor
expressing their gay tenJencies, e.g.,Iranian poetry contains
many explicit anJ implicit homosexual relerences. Conversely,
AnJalusian poetry has scant relerences to homosexuality anJ
traJitional Moorish culture has lev allusions to a gay culture.

Despite this, there is a lrequent occurrence ol
emergency homosexuality in all ol the Jiverse Muslim
communities. Since loys anJ girls are separateJ until marriage
accorJing to Islamic traJition, opportunities lor premarital
sexual experiences remain scant. As a result, loth males anJ
lemales olten have samesex relationships. In some societies,
like in Morocco, loys olten use lestiality (vith lemale Jonkeys)
as their sexual outlet. This tenJency traJitionally enJs at
marriage, vhich takes place lor girls letveen ages I3 anJ I6 anJ
lor loys occurs lrom ages I to 2J.

Hovever, the rising trenJ ol JelayeJ marriagetoJay,
many people get marrieJ in their 3Js or +JsanJ ol eJucateJ
Muslim vomen not getting marrieJ at all may result in an
increase in homosexual relationships. Hovever, homosexual
practice is an ellect, not a cause, ol the Jecline in marriage in
Muslim communities.
Another lactor that coulJ increase the
rate ol homosexual activity among vomen is that ten million
Muslim men lrom throughout the Muslim vorlJ have migrateJ
to Furope seeking vork.
Vhile this Jecline in males may
result in an increase in emergency homosexuality, it is
Joultlul that statistics vill le availalle as outvarJ
homosexuality remains taloo.

Muslim Homosexual Interaction vith the Vest

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Gay anJ leminist theories claim that sexual categories
(heterosexuality, homosexuality, anJ lisexuality) are not
universal. They contenJ that the term homosexual only relers
to people vho Jeline themselves in this specilic sexual
orientation, not to those vho engage in samesex sexual
lehavior. This certainly holJs true in the Muslim vorlJ.
In the
precolonial Muslim vorlJ, vhich incluJes Arals, Persians,
Turks, Berlers, Black Alricans anJ InJians, sex letveen tvo
males vas quite common, lut those vho engageJ in such
lehavior JiJ not Jeline themselves as gay. Vhile Vesterners
vho traveleJ to these areas in the I
anJ I8
centuries vere
scanJaliteJ ly (or aJmireJ) the seeming openness ol soJomy in
these regions, homosexuality in those community anJ Vestern
homosexuality are lunJamentally Jillerent.
The Jistinction
maJe ly moJern Vestern 'sexuality' letveen sexual anJ genJer
iJentity, that is, letveen kinJs ol sexual preJilections |anJj
Jegrees ol masculinity anJ lemininity, has, until recently, haJ
little resonance in the MiJJle Fast.

The rise in Vestern colonialism in the MiJJle Fast anJ
larger Muslim vorlJ correlateJ vith the increasing stigma
against homosexuality. The Jestruction ol the kinshiplaseJ
community, stemming lrom the rise ol capitalism anJ the male
vagevork lorce reinlorceJ the patriarchal, heterosexual lamily
unit. As state governments lostereJ such a change, the stigma
against homosexuality increaseJ.
The concept ol
homosexuality as Jelining a particular type person anJ a
category ol 'Jeviance came to the MiJJle Fast |through the
agencyj ol the Vest as vell.
Until Vestern inlluence,
homosexuality JiJ not carry a negative connotation in the
Muslim vorlJ. The change in community structure anJ the
rising inlluence ol Vestern perceptions thus largely createJ the
contemporary taloo against homosexuality in Muslim societies.

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Hostility to homosexual practices has leen part ol the political
anJ cultural legacy ol Furopean colonialism.

Most contemporary Muslims, not just Islamist
lunJamentalists, viev homosexuality as a lyproJuct ol
increaseJ Vesternitation. Because ol this viev, many people are
not concerneJ vith protecting the rights ol the gay minority.
Iurther increasing Jilliculty lor gays in the Muslim vorlJ are
Furopean anJ American gay converts to Islam. Many ol these
people come to the religion mistakenly lelieving that Muslims
vill le more tolerant ol their sexual iJentily, an erroneous
assumption that has leJ to a Jecrease in human rights lor gay,
naturallorn Muslims.
Vestern gay sex tourists vho lrequent
North Alrica anJ Kenya, among other places, are seen ly the
local communities as vealthy anJ JecaJent haves, causing
resentment ly the inJigenous havenots. As the Vestern
homosexual minority JemanJs equality, the heterosexual
majority increasingly viev gays as overinJulgent anJ JemanJing
more privileges than heterosexuals receive. This serves to
increase resentment, thus Jecreasing human rights anJ
acceptance ol homosexuality.

Vestern homosexuals seeking sexual pleasure in Aral
countries typically Jo not realite the psychological impact
Arals may Jerive lrom soJomiting a Vesterner. These sexual
acts are seen as taking revenge on an imperial aggressor, a
lormer sulject race exacting retrilution on a Jominant
Thus, the villingness ol some Muslims to have sex
vith a Vesterner can le attriluteJ partly to hostility anJ rage.
Despite this, some Arals Jo cater to potential sex
tourists through velsites such as GayFgypt.com, vhich
aJvertises the lest places to meet men in Fgypt as vell as
teaches phrases in Aralic alout hov to llatter your hanJsome
Fgyptian loylrienJ anJ essential chatup lines lor the gay
On the lirst page ol the velsite, hovever, there is a

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nevs lulletin lrom Decemler II, 2JJ6 vhich varns ol a viJeo ol
Fgyptian police soJomiting a lus Jriver vith a lroomstick as
the man legs Sorry, pasha. Sorry.
This is an ominous varning
to sex tourists anJ Muslim homosexuals alike ol the Jangers
gays lace in the Muslim vorlJ.

Human rights aluses ol gays in Muslim VorlJ
Human rights aluses ol homosexuals are very prevalent
in Muslim societies. Most Muslim countries have lavs against
homosexuality anJ in SuJan, SauJi Aralia, the UniteJ Aral
Fmirates, anJ Yemen those convicteJ are punisheJ vith Jeath.
Other countries have penalties that range lrom a maximum ol
three years imprisonment to lile in prison.
RegarJless ol the
varying sentences, homosexuality is not conJoneJ in any
Muslim country..
The Queen Boat allair on May II, 2JJI inlamously
exposeJ the human rights aluses inllicteJ on Fgyptian
homosexuals. Over 5J men arresteJ on the lloating Jisco the
Queen Boat vere leaten anJ tortureJ ly Fgyptian police. The
Queen Boat 52 (as the 52 men vho vere helJ vere JulleJ ly
the press), vere also accuseJ ly the press ol sexual excesses,
Jressing as vomen, Jevil vorship, |anJj even Julious links to
Israel...Iront pages carrieJ the men's photographs, not alvays
vith llack lars across their eyes.
Alter that inciJent, agents
lrom the Department lor Protection ol Morality in Fgypt legan
monitoring suspecteJ gay gathering spots, recruiting
inlormants, luring people to arrest via chat sites on the Internet,
tapping phones, raiJing homes. ToJay, arrests anJ rounJups
occur throughout the country.

Other inlamous cases ol human rights aluses incluJe
the execution ol hunJreJs ol political opponents on the grounJs
ol homosexuality alter Ayatollah Khomeini gaineJ pover in Iran
in I99.

In another case in Iran, tvo teenagers, MahmouJ

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Asgari anJ Ayat Morhoni, vere pullicly hangeJ in ]uly 2JJ5 lor
having a homosexual relationship.
Despite a minute gay
sulculture in cities like Cairo, Beirut, anJ Istanlul,
homosexuals lace harassment ly policies anJ outing to their
communities. Many homosexuals in MiJJle Fastern countries
have sought asylum in the Vest as relugees lrom ollicial

An olstacle that a potential gay rights movement vill
encounter in comlating these human rights aluses is the
prevailing viev that the movement is not inJigenous, lut rather
a VesternimposeJ iJeal that is not in line vith traJitional
societies. ]oseph MassaJ, a Palestinian lorn prolessor ol Aral
politics at Columlia University, argues that it is the vork ol
organitations like the International Leslian anJ Gay
Association (ILGA) anJ the International Gay anJ Leslian
Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)vhich he Juls the
Gay Internationalthat inaJvertently causes these humans
rights violations ly projecting their Vestern notions ol
sexuality on the Muslim vorlJ. Like gay anJ leminist theorists,
MassaJ claims that gay rights are not universal, anJ ly
attempting to assert the human rights ol supposeJ
homosexuals vho Jo not selliJentily as such, the Gay
International puts Muslims vho engage in homosexual activity
in the position ol JelenJing themselves to their increasingly
repressive governments.
The Gay International is Jestroying
social anJ sexual conligurations ol Jesire in the interest ol
reproJucing a vorlJ in its ovn image.
The vork ol such
groups thus not only threatens any potential lleJgling home
grovn gay rights movement, lut increases governmental
repression on homosexuality ly exposing a gay population in
the Muslim vorlJ that, Jue to its enormous Jillerences lrom the
Vestern concept ol gayness, Joes not vant to le iJentilieJ.

Looking TovarJ the Iuture

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Thus lar, there have leen no signilicant aJvances
tovarJ gay rights in the Muslim vorlJ. One reason lor this is
that, vith the myriaJ ol prollems that the region is lacing,
protecting a small group ol minorities is not seen as a priority.

Similarly, Muslim human rights aJvocatesalreaJy put in a
precarious situation vith the rise ol Islamist lunJamentalists
are not villing to compromise their creJilility ly aJvocating lor
an issue that vill not le greeteJ vell ly the pullic or
governments. Vaving the llag ol gay rights voulJ also Jetract
lrom their aJvocacy lor political anJ religious pluralism.

Hovever, lor gays to achieve more rights vithin Muslim
communities nongays vill also have to champion their cause,
lurther Jecreasing the prospects lor a real gay movement to
materialite in the near luture. Change lor homosexuals vill
come vhen prolounJ changes have reacheJ the Muslim vorlJ.

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Vorks CiteJ

Atimi, Negar. Prisoners ol Sex. Nev York Times Magatine
(2JJ6). 626. 3 Dec. 2JJ6

Dunne, Bruce V. Homosexuality in the MiJJle Fast. an AgenJa
lor Historical Research. Aral StuJies Quarterly I2
(I99J). II8. I5 Dec. 2JJ6.

Dunne, Bruce V. Pover anJ Sexuality in the MiJJle Fast.
MiJJle Fast Report (I998). 8II. I3 Dec. 2JJ6.

Duran, KhaliJ. Homosexuality in Islam. Homosexuality anJ
VorlJ Religions. Valley Iorge, Pennsylvania. Trinity P
International, I993. I8II9.

Homosexuality Lavs ol the VorlJ. VikipeJia. I Dec. 2JJ6

MahmouJ Asgari anJ Ayat Marhoni. VikipeJia. I Dec. 2JJ6

MassaJ, ]oseph. ReOrienting Desire. the Gay International anJ
the Aral VorlJ. Pullic Culture I+ (2JJ2). 36I385. IJ
Dec. 2JJ6.