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Updating 5 Muslim Beliefs On Homosexuality

Conservative Muslims believe that the earliest jurists and exegetes have best explained and analyzed the Qur'an and the Hadith. However, it is important to underscore that the reasoning of the past scholars was informed by the social mores and medical knowledge of their times.

Past scholars associated the invention of homosexuality with Lot's people, associated homosexuality with humiliation and addiction, diagnosed the receptive partner as diseased, prescribed cures for the receptive partner and viewed homosexuality as an inversion. These five beliefs are updated as follows.

1) Homosexuality existed prior to Lot's people

The 12th century exegete al-Razi suggested that Lot's people set the precedent of practicing homosexuality as a whole community instead of individuals. However, like the exegetes Tabari and Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir associated the invention of homosexuality with Lot's people. He mentioned:

"They did things that none of the children of Adam or any other creatures ever did before then ... so they were unfamiliar with it before the people of Sodom invented it."

The jurist al-Haytami even expressed that no animal is found to engage in homosexual intercourse. However, historical record traces same-sex conduct as far back as 10,000 years in the Melanesian region and 40,000 years ago among aboriginal people of all racial lines. Likewise, 2300 years ago, Aristotle recorded homosexual behavior amongst hyenas.

This indicates that reflection is required on the clear words of verse 7:80 on the immorality not perpetrated before. Should not the same nuance be shown on verse 7:81 that mentions approaching men with desire instead of women? Indeed, the question arises why did an entire people, as opposed to a select minority, "approach men instead of women"?

2) Moving from dishonour, humiliation and addiction to intimacy, affection and companionship

Jurists like Abu Hanifa mentioned that the receptive partner does not naturally desire homosexual intercourse, which is construed as a one-sided act. Al-Razi mentioned that homosexual intercourse does not engender love and tenderness. He asserted that the receptive partner suffers severe dishonor and humiliation and experiences such animosity so as to kill the insertive partner. Furthermore, he referenced texts on Lot's people, which show homosexual intercourse as inflicted on strangers or consequently emerging as an addiction.

This helps explain why the entirety of Lot's people was engaged in homosexual acts as opposed to a select minority. The story is depicting the superfluous conduct of men who subjected fellow human beings to dishonor, humiliation and animosity. It is about unbridled conduct as opposed to relationships that rest on affection, intimacy and companionship.

3) Replacing the framework of disease with sexual orientation

Al-Razi alluded to medical knowledge in his exegesis by stating that seminal fluid might lead to injury, diseases and tumours in the anus. The jurist Ibn Taymiyyah also mentioned that the receptive partner has no sexual desire for the act and is motivated by money or disease. Yet another scholar al-Ruhaybani opined that the receptive partner is beyond repair as the semen of the insertive partner poisons his body to the extent that he cannot be helped.

All of these opinions are extra-textual in nature and help explain the rulings of the jurists. Embracing the consensus amongst contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists allows Islamic jurisprudence to remain alive instead of being frozen by the social mores and medical knowledge of past eras.

4) Rejecting fanciful cures and celibacy

The jurist Jafar Sadiq suggested the cure of sitting on a chopped off hump of a camel for ubna (affliction) of the receptive partner. However, other figures like the 9th century physician al-Razi viewed ubna as incurable. The scholar al-Thalibi viewed it as 'the disease, which cannot be treated except by disobeying God.'

Extract from the Tafsir Nur ul Saqlain in Urdu

Some conservative Muslims uphold the scholar Dawud al-Zahiri as a paragon for gay Muslims. As a child, he was bullied and nicknamed "poor little sparrow." When his father affirmed that nickname, he told his father that he was as mean as the bullies for laughing at him. He dedicated his book to his love, Ibn Jami, and confessed to his teacher Niftawayh that he was dying due to unfulfilled love for another man.

Such scholars also composed pederastic poetry. This trope of death by love allowed jurists like al-Ramli and Ibn Qayyim to tolerate glances and kisses to prevent the greater evil of the lover's death. However, it would be absurd to advise Muslim LGBT youth today to tolerate bullying, love from afar, glance and kiss, compose pederastic poems, sit on camel humps and expect martyrdom through inner struggles. Indeed, medical knowledge, social norms and juristic opinions cannot be frozen in the times of the past jurists.

5) Evaluating the notion of masculinity

The exegete Al-Razi opined that the role-reversal of males and females in sexual conduct is unnatural. The scholar al-Raghib viewed the penetration of a male by a woman with a dildo as the ultimate sexual irregularity. This suggests that notions of masculinity shape the idea that homosexuality is an inversion of nature. However, it deserves to be noted that there are straight men that enjoy being penetrated just as there are gay men who reject such a practice. As such, the issue is less about homosexuality and more about notions of masculinity. In this sense, a heterosexist reading of the texts is driven by an exaggerated sense of masculinity.

In conclusion, conservative Muslims can critically evaluate the assumptions that informed 1400 years of Muslim scholarship on homosexuality. This would enable them to unfetter the meaning of scriptural texts from the social mores and medical knowledge of those times.

Indeed, the late exegete Muhammad Asad reminded us through an old Kurdish nomad:

"If water stands motionless in a pool it grows stale and muddy, but when it moves and flows it becomes clear: so, too, man in his wanderings."

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