LGBT in Islam

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Persian Shah Abbas with a page (1627).

LGBT and Islam is influenced by the religious, legal and cultural history of the nations with a sizable Muslim population, along with specific passages in the Qur'an[1] and statements attributed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad (hadith). Hadiths traditionally are not interpreted because their language is understood to be simple matter-of-fact language. Orthodox Islam is not only a system of beliefs, but also a legal system.

The traditional schools of Islamic law based on Qur'anic verses and hadith consider homosexual acts a punishable crime and a sin, and influenced by Islamic scholars such as Imam Malik and Imam Shafi.[2] The Qur'an cites the story of the "people of Lot" destroyed by the wrath of God because they engaged in "lustful" carnal acts between men.[according to whom?]

Nevertheless, homoerotic themes were present in poetry and other literature written by some Muslims from the medieval period onwards and sometimes homoeroticism in the form of pederasty was seen in a positive way.[3]

Today in most of the Islamic world homosexuality is not socially or legally accepted. In some of these countries, Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, homosexual activity carries the death penalty.[4][5][6][7][8] In others, such as Somalia, it is illegal.[9]

Same-sex sexual intercourse is legal in 22 Muslim-majority nations (Abkhazia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Niger, Northern Cyprus, Tajikistan, Turkey, West Bank (State of Palestine), and most of Indonesia). In Albania, Lebanon, and Turkey, there have been discussions about legalizing same-sex marriage.[10][11] Homosexual relations between females are legal in Kuwait, but homosexual acts between males are illegal. Lebanon has had recent internal efforts to legalize homosexuality.[12] Even in regions where homosexuality is not illegal it is seen as a shame by most families,[who?] and privately executing the punishments required by Islamic law[which?] may be seen as morally justified.

Most Muslim-majority countries have opposed moves to advance LGBT rights at the United Nations, in the General Assembly and/or the UNHRC. However, Albania and Sierra Leone have signed a UN Declaration supporting LGBT rights.[13][14] OIC member-state Mozambique provides LGBT rights protections in law in the form of non-discrimination laws, and discussions on legally recognizing same-sex marriage have been held in the country.[15][16]


Sharia punishments[edit]

There are several methods by which sharia jurists have advocated the punishment of gays or lesbians who are sexually active. One form of execution involves an LGBT person being stoned to death by a crowd of Muslims; this precedence was set in the hadith Abu Dawud (discretion advised; he has history of using da'if hadiths) which states "Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done", then elaborates they be "stoned to death".[17] The first ever homosexual t be punished under a caliphate occurred under the third caliphate of Umar who gave the order that the homosexuals be burned alive. However the majority of Muslim jurists established an ijma ruling that LGBT people be thrown from rooftops or high places,[18] and this is the perspective of most Salafists.[19]

The Quran[edit]

The Quran contains seven references to "the people of Lut", the biblical Lot, but meaning the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (references 7:80–84, 11:77–83, 21:74, 22:43, 26:165–175, 27:56–59, and 29:27–33), and their destruction by Allah is associated explicitly with their sexual practices:[20][21][citation needed]

“And (We sent) Lot when he said to his people: What! do you commit an indecency which any one in the world has not done before you? Most surely you come to males in lust besides females; nay you are an extravagant people. And the answer of his people was no other than that they said: Turn them out of your town, surely they are a people who seek to purify (themselves). So We delivered him and his followers, except his wife; she was of those who remained behind. And We rained upon them a rain; consider then what was the end of the guilty.”[7:80–84 (Translated by Shakir)]

The sins of the people of Lot became proverbial, and the Arabic words for homosexual behaviour (liwat) and for a person who performs such acts (luti) both derive from his name.[22] There is, however, only one passage in the Qur'an which can be interpreted as prescribing a legal position, and is not restricted to homosexual behaviour - in fact it deals with public practice of adultery:[23]

“And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them. And as for the two who are guilty of indecency from among you, give them both a punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.”[4:15–16 (Translated by Shakir)]

Islamist journalist Muhammad Jalal Kishk found no prescribed punishment for homosexuality in Islamic law[24][25] Several modern day scholars, including Scott Kugle, argue for a different interpretation of the Lot narrative focusing not on the sexual act but on the infidelity of the tribe and their rejection of Lot's Prophethood.[26]

The Hadith and Seerah[edit]

The hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammad) show that homosexuality was not unknown in Arabia.[27] Given that the Qur'an is allegedly vague regarding the punishment of homosexual sodomy, Islamic jurists turned to the collections of the hadith and seerah (accounts of Muhammad's life) to support their argument for Hudud punishment.[27]

Ibn al-Jawzi records Muhammad as cursing sodomites in several hadith, and recommending the death penalty for both the active and passive partners in same-sex acts.[28]

Sunan al-Tirmidhi, compiling his work two centuries after the death of Muhammad, wrote that Muhammad had prescribed the death penalty for both the active and the passive partner: "Whoever you find committing the sin of the people of Lut (Lot), kill them, both the one who does it and the one to whom it is done."[2] The overall moral or theological principle is that a person who performs such actions (luti) challenges the harmony of God's creation, and is therefore a revolt against God.[22]

Al-Nuwayri in his Nihaya reports that Muhammad is alleged to have said what he feared most for his community were the practices of the people of Lot (although he seems to have expressed the same idea in regard to wine and female seduction).[27]

Narrated by 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.

Sunan Abu Dawood, 38:4447 see also Sunan Abu Dawood, 38:4448 Sunan Abu Dawood, 31:4007 Sunan Abu Dawood, 31:4008 Sunan Abu Dawood, 11:2169 Sunan Abu Dawood, 32:4087 Sunan Abu Dawood, 32:4088

Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet cursed effeminate men; those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners of women) and those women who assume the manners of men, and he said, "Turn them out of your houses." The Prophet turned out such-and-such man, and 'Umar turned out such-and-such woman.

Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:72:774 see also Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:82:820

Medieval jurisprudence[edit]

The four schools of shari'a (Islamic law) disagreed on what punishment is appropriate for liwat. Abu Bakr Al-Jassas (d. 981 AD/370 AH) argued that the two hadiths on killing homosexuals "are not reliable by any means and no legal punishment can be prescribed based on them",[29] and the Hanafi school held that it does not merit any physical punishment, on the basis of a hadith that "Muslim blood can only be spilled for adultery, apostasy and homicide"; against this the Hanbali school inferred that sodomy is a form of adultery and must incur the same penalty, i.e. death.[22]

There were varying opinions on how the death penalty is to be carried out. Abu Bakr recommended toppling a wall on the evil-doer, or else burning alive,[30] while Ali bin Abi Talib ordered death by stoning for one "luti" and had another thrown head-first from the top of a minaret—according to Ibn Abbas, this last punishment must be followed by stoning.[27]

Rulings by modern scholars of Islam[edit]

With few exceptions all scholars of Sharia, or Islamic law, interpret homosexual activity as a punishable offence as well as a sin. There is no specific punishment prescribed, however, and this is usually left to the discretion of the local authorities on Islam.[31] Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, a contemporary Mauritanian scholar, has argued that "[even though] homosexuality is a grievous sin...[a] no legal punishment is stated in the Qur'an for homosexuality...[b] it is not reported that Prophet Muhammad has punished somebody for committing homosexuality...[c] there is no authentic hadith reported from the Prophet prescribing a punishment for the homosexuals..." Hadith scholars such as Al-Bukhari, Yahya ibn Ma'in, Al-Nasa'i, Ibn Hazm, Al-Tirmidhi, and others have impugned these statements.[32]

Faisal Kutty, a professor of Islamic law at Indiana-based Valparaiso University Law School and Toronto-based Osgoode Hall Law School, commented on the contemporary same-sex marriage debate in a March 27, 2014 essay in the Huffington Post.[33] He acknowledged that while Islamic law iterations prohibits pre- and extra-marital as well as same-sex sexual activity, it does not attempt to "regulate feelings, emotions and urges, but only its translation into action that authorities had declared unlawful." Kutty, who teaches comparative law and legal reasoning, also wrote that many Islamic scholars [34] have "even argued that homosexual tendencies themselves were not haram [prohibited] but had to be suppressed for the public good." He claimed that this may not be "what the LGBTQ community wants to hear," but he wrote that, "it reveals that even classical Islamic jurists struggled with this issue and had a more sophisticated attitude than many contemporary Muslims." Kutty who in the past wrote in support of allowing Islamic principles in dispute resolution also noted that "most Muslims have no problem extending full human rights to those - even Muslims - who live together 'in sin'." He argued that therefore it seems hypocritical to deny fundamental rights to same-sex couples. Moreover, he argued as pointed out by Islamic legal scholar Mohamed Fadel,[35] this is not about changing Islamic marriage (nikah), but about making "sure that all citizens have access to the same kinds of public benefits.

Views of homosexuality in Islamic societies[edit]

Modern day[edit]

Major denominations and religions of the world
LGBT rights at the United Nations
     Support Countries which have signed a General Assembly declaration of LGBT rights and/or sponsored the Human Rights Council's 2011 resolution on LGBT rights (94 members).
     Oppose Countries which signed a 2008 statement opposing LGBT rights (initially 57 members, now 54 members).
     Neither Countries which, as regards the UN, have expressed neither official support nor opposition to LGBT rights (46 members).

During the Ottoman Empire, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1858, as part of wider reforms during the Tanzimat.[36][37]

Raphael Patai in The Arab Mind has argued that among some Arabs and Turks homosexuality can be justified as an expression of power. The "active homosexual act is considered as an assertion of one's aggressive masculine superiority, while the acceptance of the role of the passive homosexual is considered extremely degrading and shameful because it casts the man or youth into a submissive, feminine role".[38]

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council passed its first resolution recognizing LGBT rights, which was followed up with a report from the UN Human Rights Commission documenting violations of the rights of LGBT people.[39][40] The two world maps of religions of the world and the countries that support LGBT rights at the UN give an impression of the official attitude towards homosexuality in the Muslim world.

Rejection of homosexuality according to opinion polls[edit]

In a study on the global acceptance of homosexuality by Pew Research Center, released June 4, 2013 it is stated:[41]

The survey of publics in 39 countries finds broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union, and much of Latin America, but equally widespread rejection in predominantly Muslim nations and in Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and in Russia.

Age and views on homosexuality
Country 18-29 30-49 50+

should be accepted

 %  %  %
Malaysia 7 10 11
Turkey 7 9 10
Palestinian territories 5 3 --
Indonesia 4 3 2
Jordan 5 1 1
Egypt 3 2 3
Tunisia 3 2 1
Pakistan 2 2 2
Source: "The Global Divide on Homosexuality" (Website). PEW Research. 4 June 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 

In the UK, a Gallup poll showed that none of the 500 British Muslims polled believed homosexuality to be "morally acceptable", compared with 35% of the 1001 French Muslims polled.[42] A 2007 survey of British Muslims showed that 61% believe homosexuality should be illegal, with up to 71% of young British Muslims holding this belief.[43] According to a 2012 poll, 51% of the Turks in Germany, who account for nearly two thirds of the total Muslim population in Germany,[44] believe that homosexuality is a sickness.[45]

Sex between boys and men[edit]

Despite the formal disapproval of religious authority, the segregation of women in Muslim societies and the strong emphasis on male virility leads adolescent males and unmarried young men to seek sexual outlets with boys younger than themselves—in one study in Morocco, with boys in the age-range 7 to 13.[46] Men have sex with other males so long as they are the penetrators and their partners are boys, or in some cases effeminate men.[47] Liwat is regarded as a temptation,[48] and anal intercourse is not seen as repulsively unnatural so much as dangerously attractive. They believe "one has to avoid getting buggered precisely in order not to acquire a taste for it and thus become addicted."[49] Not all sodomy is homosexual: one Moroccan sociologist, in a study of sex education in his native country, notes that for many young men heterosexual sodomy is considered better than vaginal penetration, and female prostitutes likewise report the demand for anal penetration from their (male) clients.[50]

It is not so much the penetration as the enjoyment that is considered bad.[51] Deep shame attaches to the passive partner: "for this reason men stop getting laid at the age of 15 or 16 and 'forget' that they ever allowed/suffered/enjoyed it earlier."[citation needed] Similar sexual sociologies are reported for other Muslim societies from North Africa to Pakistan and the Far East.[52] In Afghanistan in 2009, the British Army was forced to commission a report into the sexuality of the local men after British soldiers reported the discomfort at witnessing adult males involved in sexual relations with boys. The report stated that though illegal, there was a tradition of such relationships in the country, known as "bache bazi" or boy play, and that it was especially strong around Kandahar.[53]

Gay marriage[edit]

In 2007 there was a gay party in the Moroccan town of al-Qasr al-Kabir. Rumours spread that this was a gay marriage and more than 600 people took to the streets, condemning the alleged event and protesting against leniency towards homosexuals.[54] Several persons who attended the party were detained and eventually six Moroccan men were sentenced to between four and ten months in prison for "homosexuality".[55]

In France there was an Islamic same-sex marriage on February 18, 2012.[56] In Paris in November 2012 a room in a Buddhist prayer hall was used by gay Muslims and called a "gay-friendly mosque",[57] and a French Islamic website [58] is supporting religious same-sex marriage.

The first American Muslim in the United States Congress, Keith Ellison (D-MN) said in 2010 that all discrimination against LGBT people is wrong.[59] He further expressed support for gay marriage stating:[60]

I believe that the right to marry someone who you please is so fundamental it should not be subject to popular approval any more than we should vote on whether blacks should be allowed to sit in the front of the bus.

In 2014 eight men were jailed for three years by a Cairo court after the circulation of a video of them allegedly taking part in a private wedding ceremony between two men on a boat on the Nile.[61]

Medieval era[edit]

Ottoman illustration depicting a young man used for group sex (from Sawaqub al-Manaquib)

Increasing prosperity resulting from Muslim conquests in the centuries following Muhammad's death was accompanied by what some Muslims bemoaned as a general "corruption" of morals in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Therefore, despite its condemnation by religious authorities, homosexuality persisted in a subterranean manner. It seems to have become less of a rarity as the process of acculturation sped up. Information relating to the development of music and song reveals the presence of mukhannathun, who were apparently for the most part of foreign origin. The arrival of the Abbasid army to Arabia in the 8th century seems to have meant that tolerance for homosexual practice subsequently spread more widely under the new dynasty. The ruler Al-Amin, for example, was said to have required slave women to be dressed in masculine clothing in the hope of inducing him to adopt more conventional morals.[27]

There are other examples from the following centuries. The Aghlabid Emir, Ibrahim II of Ifriqiya (ruled 875–902), was said to have been surrounded by some sixty catamites, yet whom he was said to have treated in a most horrific manner. Caliph al-Mutasim in the 9th century and some of his successors were accused of homosexuality. The popular stories says that Cordoba, Abd al-Rahman III had executed a young man from León who was held as a hostage, because he had refused his advances during the Reconquista.[27]

Mehmed the Conqueror, the Ottoman sultan living in the 15th century, European sources say "who was known to have ambivalent sexual tastes, sent a eunuch to the house of Notaras, demanding that he supply his good looking fourteen year old son for the Sultan’s pleasure. When he refused, the Sultan instantly ordered the decapitation of Notaras, together with that of his son and his son-in-law; and their three heads … were placed on the banqueting table before him".[62] Another youth Mehmed found attractive, and who was presumably more accommodating, was Radu III the Fair, the brother of the famous Vlad the Impaler, "Radu, a hostage in Istanbul whose good looks had caught the Sultan’s fancy, and who was thus singled out to serve as one of his most favored pages." After the defeat of Vlad, Mehmed placed Radu on the throne of Wallachia as a vassal ruler. However, Turkish sources deny these stories.[63]

The objectivity of the European sources that claim Mehmed had homosexual tendencies cannot always be verified. Commonly, contemporary writers would embellish stories to add sensual imagery and homosexual behavior and attribute them to Ottoman sultans in an attempt to rile up European opposition to the Ottomans. Furthermore, with regards to the story about Notaras' son, Ottoman sources assert that the boy was being recruited to be an iç oğlan, meaning an "inner servant". Mehmed employed a corps of inner servants, whose role was to serve in the innermost chambers of the palace, not for the sexual pleasure of the sultan.[64]

In literature[edit]

According to the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World

Whatever the legal strictures on sexual activity, the positive expression of male homeoerotic sentiment in literature was accepted, and assiduously cultivated, from the late eighth century until modern times. First in Arabic, but later also in Persian, Turkish and Urdu, love poetry by men about boys more than competed with that about women, it overwhelmed it. Anecdotal literature reinforces this impression of general societal acceptance of the public celebration of male-male love (which hostile Western caricatures of Islamic societies in medieval and early modern times simply exaggerate).[65]

Legal status in nations[edit]

The death penalty for homosexuality is currently in place in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria.[66][67] The legal situation in the United Arab Emirates is that it is illegal and can get you the death penalty, but some regions just give jail time, mutilations, and fines. In Qatar, Algeria, Uzbekistan and the Maldives, homosexuality is punished with jail time or fines. This has led to controversy regarding Qatar, which is due to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Human rights groups have questioned the awarding in 2010 of the right to host the competition, due to the possibility that gay football fans may be jailed. In response, Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, joked that they would have to "refrain from sexual activity" while in Qatar. He later withdrew the remarks after condemnation from rights groups.[68]

In Saudi Arabia, while the maximum punishment for homosexual acts is public execution, the government will generally use lesser punishments—e.g., fines, jail time, and whipping—as alternatives, unless it feels that individuals are challenging state authority by engaging in LGBT social movements.[69] Iran is perhaps the nation to execute the largest number of its citizens for homosexual acts. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Iranian government has executed more than 4,000 such people.[70]

In Egypt, openly gay men have been prosecuted under general public morality laws. (See Cairo 52.) In stark contrast, homosexuality is both legal[citation needed] and tolerated[citation needed] in Lebanon[citation needed] and other states in the Levant, like Palestine[citation needed], Jordan[citation needed].

In 20 out of 57 Muslim-majority nations same-sex intercourse is not forbidden by law. In Albania there have been discussions about legalizing same-sex marriage.[10] Homosexual relations between females are legal in Kuwait but homosexual acts between males are illegal. Lebanon has an internal effort to legalize homosexuality.[12]

Homosexuality laws in majority Muslim countries[edit]

According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) seven countries still retain capital punishment for homosexual behavior: Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. The situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is that is punished by corporal or capital punishment, depending on the region.[71]

Homosexuality laws in India[edit]

In India, where Muslims form a large minority, the largest Islamic seminary (Darul Uloom Deoband) has vehemently opposed recent government moves[72] to abrogate and liberalize laws from the British Raj era that banned homosexuality.[73]

LGBT movements within Islam[edit]

Float for gay Muslims at Pride London 2011.

The Al-Fatiha Foundation is an organization which tries to advance the cause of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims.[citation needed] It was founded in 1998 by Faisal Alam, a Pakistani American, and is registered as a nonprofit organization in the United States. The organization was an offshoot of an internet listserve that brought together many gay, lesbian and questioning Muslims from various countries.[74] The Foundation accepts and considers homosexuality as natural, either regarding Qur'anic verses as obsolete in the context of modern society, or stating that the Qu'ran speaks out against homosexual lust and is silent on homosexual love. In 2001, Al-Muhajiroun, a banned and now defunct international organization who sought the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate, issued a fatwa declaring that all members of Al-Fatiha were murtadd, or apostates, and condemning them to death. Because of the threat and coming from conservative societies, many members of the foundation's site still prefer to be anonymous so as to protect their identity while continuing a tradition of secrecy.[75] Al-Fatiha has fourteen chapters in the United States, as well as offices in England, Canada, Spain, Turkey, and South Africa. In addition, Imaan, a social support group for Muslim LGBT people and their families, exists in the UK.[76] Both of these groups were founded by gay Pakistani activists. The UK also has the Safra Project for women.

There are also some muslim ex-gay foundation such as StraightWay Foundation which help those muslims who are addicted in homosexuality but yet want to refrain from it.

Some Muslims such as the lesbian writer Irshad Manji[77] and academic author Scott Kugle argue that Islam does not condemn homosexuality.[78] Kugle, South Asian scholar and author Ruth Vanita, and Muslim scholar and writer Saleem Kidwai also contend that ancient Islam has a rich history of homoerotic literature.[79]

There are also a number of Islamic ex-gay (i.e. people claiming to have experienced a basic change in sexual orientation from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality)[80] groups aimed at attempting to guide homosexuals towards heterosexuality. The StraightWay Foundation is a UK based ex-gay organization which works with homosexual Muslims who seek to eliminate their same-sex attractions.[81] Al-Tawbah is an Internet-based ex-gay group.[82]

The religious conflicts and inner turmoil that Islamic homosexuals struggle over has been addressed in various media, such as the 2006 Channel 4 documentary Gay Muslims, and the 2007 documentary film A Jihad for Love. The latter was produced by Sandi Simcha DuBowski, who also made a Jewish-themed documentary on the same topic (Trembling Before G-d) 6 years before.

In November 2012, a prayer room was set up in Paris by gay Islamic scholar and founder of the group 'Homosexual Muslims of France' Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed. It was described by the press as the first gay-friendly mosque in Europe, but traditional Islamic scholars disagree.[83]

Gender variant and transgender people[edit]

In Islam, the term mukhannathun is used to describe gender-variant people, usually male-to-female transgender. Neither this term nor the equivalent for "eunuch" occurs in the Qur'an, but the term does appear in the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad, which have a secondary status to the central text. Moreover, within Islam, there is a tradition on the elaboration and refinement of extended religious doctrines through scholarship. This doctrine contains a passage by the scholar and hadith collector An-Nawawi:

A mukhannath is the one ("male") who carries in his movements, in his appearance and in his language the characteristics of a woman. There are two types; the first is the one in whom these characteristics are innate, he did not put them on by himself, and therein is no guilt, no blame and no shame, as long as he does not perform any (illicit) act or exploit it for money (prostitution etc.). The second type acts like a woman out of immoral purposes and he is the sinner and blameworthy.[84]

While Iran has outlawed homosexuality, Iranian Shi'a thinkers such as Ayatollah Khomeini have allowed for transgender people to change their sex so that they can enter heterosexual relationships. This position has been confirmed by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is also supported by many other Iranian clerics.

Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except for Thailand. It is regarded as a cure for homosexuality, which is punishable by death under Iranian law. The government even provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance and a sex change is recognized on the birth certificate.[85]

See also[edit]

Rights activists[edit]




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