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The power of wishful thinking May 16, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Homosexualists, Responses, Shari'ah.

Khaled Diab has written up a review and author interview of Brian Whitaker’s Unspeakable Love: Gay and lesbian life in the Middle East – and I would be inclined to read then ignore these, had they not been published in Al-Ahram Weekly in a more condensed form. I’ve written about Whitaker’s book before, but haven’t got myself a copy yet. I’ve just noticed that he’s added his theological theories (without detailed analysis) to his blog, so I’ll come back and tackle those directly in my next post. First, let’s tackle Diab. He quotes Whitaker as saying:

I don’t particularly see Islamic scholars as a force for social change. If the experience of the Christian church is anything to judge by, some will eventually revise their view of scripture in the light of reality; others will stay where they are and ultimately be deserted by many of their followers.

Well, to throw back a quip, I believe we need to revise our view of reality in the light of scripture. That may sound like a terribly fundamentalist perspective (hey, what’s wrong with that?), but it’s perfectly valid to state that our worldview is better shaped by divine revelation than by changing social norms and masters of a media-supported agenda.

So while homosexualists insist that homosexuality is a matter of innate identity, and that sexual practices are unobjectionable as long as they’re consensual, we continue to affirm that inner feelings do not define people, and that all acts ultimately need God’s consent and otherwise should not be promoted in society at all.

By the way, Whitaker observed, in a rather out-of-proportion article back in January:

Sunni clerics, especially those influenced by Saudi Wahhabism, like to assert their authority by forbidding anything that might be remotely pleasurable.

Now I’ll look at the five paragraphs Khaled Diab wrote in summary (not necessarily accurate) of Whitaker’s argument about the Islamic position being unclear, under the title of “The power of dogma“.

One major barrier to a broader acceptance of homosexuality is dogma. Whitaker’s book tackles the theological arguments in detail. He explores the thorny issue of whether Islam actually forbids gay love or whether social attitudes are the problem.

Don’t you just love when it’s called “gay love” so that Islam or its scholars are seen as being “against love”? What is forbidden is, to use a neutral term, homosexual acts. We don’t need to go into the popular negative words that have been used to describe such acts. 

Sunni and shi’ite Islam’s five main mathaheb (schools of law) have widely divergent opinions on the legal treatment of homosexual acts. In addition, most Muslim countries do not rely exclusively on Islamic jurisprudence but draw on numerous secular sources in their body of law. More liberal Arab countries, such as Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt base much of their legal system on French law and the Belgian constitution served as a model for several Arab states. One negative example is the British introduction of anti-sodomy laws in what is now Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

None of that detracts from the clear Islamic stance on the acts being forbidden. While some juristic schools may prescribe a ta’zeer (discretionary) punishment to be decided by a qualified judge after due process, that doesn’t mean that Islam is silent on the matter.

Like some of their Christian and Jewish counterparts, certain Muslim scholars tend to focus on certain types of sexual acts, and not sexual orientation per se, frowning upon ‘sodomy’, since they regard it as a waste of sexual energy because it cannot end in procreation. Nevertheless, Islam has, since its inception, recognised the recreational side of sex. For instance, a woman is allowed to seek a divorce from her husband, if he does not satisfy her sexually. And medieval Muslim sex manuals described an array of inventive positions.

Certain Muslim scholars? OK, Khaled, try to make it look like a crazed minority. So tell us the names of the other scholars, you know, the ones who think homosexuality is fine and well, and what contributions they have made to Islamic scholarship in general.

It’s true that most scholars’ responses to questions on homosexuality (as far as I’ve seen) fail to make a clear distinction between the matter of actions and that of attractions, despite this being a fairly obvious distinction to make (the first hadith in Bukhari’s collection is “Actions are but by intentions…”) and it being something these scholars would certainly affirm if it were pointed out to them that such clarification was required.

Islam gives a view of sex as both for procreation and enjoyment. That doesn’t mean that enjoyable sex is automatically allowable sex, as the permissibility of an action depends on it not being prohibited by the Shari’ah (the Qur’an and Sunnah, then juristic analogy and consensus). And by the way, using “Muslim sex manuals” as evidence in a juristic debate is pretty lame, to say the least.

Many Islamic scholars who claim that the Quran forbids homosexuality refer to the story of the prophet Lot and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, ‘sodomy’ – or ‘Lutiya’, as we call it in Arabic – is a huge misnomer, since God, according to the Old Testament, is angry at Sodom’s “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness”. Likewise, the Quran does not spell out the nature of the crime committed by Lot’s people, save for their corruption and the rejection of the prophet God sent to them.

“Sodomy” is pretty accurate (while lutiyah or liwaat is, in my opinion, a rather unjust attachment of the name of a noble prophet to a despicable act!). The Qur’an informs us in a remarkably eloquent verse that the Sodomites (actually they are not named as such in the Qur’an, but as “the People of Lut”) were the inventors of homosexual acts.

It says (in my own literal rendering of 7:80): “And Lot, when he said to his people: ‘Do you commit the abomination in which none at all preceded you, in all the worlds?'” The famous exegetes (such as Abu Hayyan, the renowned linguist) have commented on the construction {منْ أَحَدٍ} as being a strong emphasis that there were none who committed such acts before the Sodomites (even, according to my understanding, in the animal kingdom!).

So what did the Sodomites get up to? Well, first of all, don’t quote me the Old Testament to prove your point, for God’s sake! The Qur’an does indeed “spell out” that they committed same-sex acts, as we find in the verse quoted above (see also 11:69ff, 15:57ff, 21:71ff, 26:160ff, 27:54ff, 29:26ff and 54:33ff). The passages in Surahs 7, 26 and 27 mention only the crime of approaching men sexually instead of women, so putting their ultimate destruction down to “their corruption and the rejection of the prophet” is deeply dishonest (or at best, outrageously ignorant) of Khaled Diab.

UPDATE: See Why were the Sodomites destroyed?

Even more dubiously, some scholars point to a Hadith (saying of the prophet) of questionable authenticity that men should not imitate women and vice-versa.

Why is it dubious? It is one of numerous hadiths on this issue, many of which are much stronger in import than that one. It’s strange that Diab hasn’t quoted, for example:

“Allah curses the one who does the actions of the people of Lut.”
“If a man comes upon a man then they are both adulterers.”

I confess to not having researched the various hadiths on the subject as to their authenticity etc., but I can tell you that I’ve quoted these ones from a fatwa by the wonderful Sheikh Taha Jabir Al-Alwani.



1. Rasheed Eldin - May 16, 2006

The ‘Aqoul blog summarises the relevant parts of Whitaker’s book thus:

Chapters 5, “Should I Kill Myself?” looks at Islamic religious arguments about homosexuality. Whitaker draws heavily on on-line Islamic sites, in particular IslamOnline, for his examples. He notes how sites like IslamOnline are drawing on right-wing Christian “psychologists” who promote “sexual reorientation therapy”, draws an interesting parallel with attitudes towards lefthandedness, which some Muslim authorities still see as a perversity that needs to be overcome, while others argue that it is an inborn trait that reflects how a person has been made by God, and discusses the surprisingly positive attitude towards gender-reassignment surgery, particularly in Iran, where Khomeini made a ruling that such operations were permissible.

Whitaker then turns to the scriptures. He engages in a close reading of the Lot story, and then reproduces the arguments of Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle that the Qur’an does not specifically forbid homosexuality, but has a positive attitude towards natural diversity that could be extended towards sexual diversity. He doesn’t so much make a theological argument himself as outline a possible theological argument that could lead to an Islam that accepts homosexuality.

2. Yousef - May 16, 2006

It’s rather outrageous that a newspaper with (somewhat) of a reputation in the Arab world would print such nonesense about the Qur’an and tafsir. I’d be willing to say that they wouldn’t print such an article in their Arabic newspaper. Diab’s unfairly brief and highly inaccurate explanation of why acts of homosexuality (lutiya as he incorrectly translates it) are reflective of his ignorance of both the topic at hand and the Islamic science of tarfsir. It would probably have given him some credibility if he quoted some scholars on the issue…unless, of course, he’s adopting the view of some members of MGM that we are all scholars.

3. Rasheed Eldin - May 24, 2006

Aside from the political backlash Arabic papers might face if printing such claptrap, I think that Diab would be utterly unable to sustain the deceit if writing in Arabic, not just because of the higher Qur’anic knowledge of many of those readers (some of whom would no doubt refute him comprehensively), but because the whole deception perpetrated by the Queer Muslims depends on mistranslations and portraying the Qur’an as mystifying and open to any interpretation. The Qur’an is deep, and one can go beyond the surface meaning, but this requires knowledge and sound methodology: base desires are the greatest enemy to sincerity in this matter.

4. yusoof abdullah - July 4, 2006

Its been such old stand against gay men and woman , we see the hate speech being preached from the pulpit on Friday Assembly prayers. So many muslims young and old are striving for a liitle reasonbale compansion from the theoelogins but to no awail , so they become lased muslim, with love for the creator they carry intill death .

So let carry this ” burden ” and do not forget your maker .

5. Rasheed Eldin - July 4, 2006

Yusoof, where do you live? I’m interested because I live in the UK and have personally never heard the subject of homosexuality mentioned in the Jumu’ah khutbah.

The voice of compassion is there, even though it is hard to find. Hopefully you will find it here, even though we are firm on our opinions against what Allah has forbidden, and firm against people with weak arguments with devious intentions.

6. Yousef - July 5, 2006

Perhaps the stand is from the homosexualists against all these religions, have you ever thought of it that way?

7. Rasheed Eldin - September 10, 2006

I apologise to myself, to our readers and to Brian Whitaker for still not having written my review of his book/chapters on the Islamic position on homosexuality.

Since his views are based on Scott Kugle’s, I want to refute Kugle first, so what I say about Whitaker can be briefer. But I still haven’t got round to that either! Pray for me please.

Meanwhile, I remind you of this excellent snapshot of Kugle’s contributions:

8. Orssa - February 1, 2010

It is so easy for muslim Imams to affirm what Is wrong and what is not…is that what you guys are good at? are you ever gonna learn how to actually lead people into believing you, are you ever gonna offer genuine compassion for being human and the will to sin…

you all think the hard thing is just to say this and that is wrong and haha who the hell does he think he is we are scholars and how propestorous everyone is….

I think if the Prophet (Sallah Allah 3alayho wa sallam) foresaw that muslims will be invaded its probably by our eternal vanity and stubborness in understanding that the point is believing that God is the all mighty and trying to propagate that message first and to propagate it unforcedly and in the kindest words or no one is gonna listen…

But Imams dont care…who doesnt want to listen let him burn in hell and mock how lost he is..instead of being mercifull and praying for him…..

You find it so easy to condemn gays, thats why its so easy for gays to feel shut out from imams…when are imams gonna understand that they have to be charming to society for society to trust them instead of being so Righteous and so condescending..

Prophet Mohamed was not like that…and Although God stood right By him he was not like that…so its amazing to Me how a fellow human the same position I am…thinks he can claim that God doesn’t like me…

A gay muslim…tormented from finding no respite or guidance to a sane life

Rasheed Eldin - February 2, 2010

Salam Orssa,

I don’t think we portray these issues as easy, let alone claiming that the life of a believer who finds that he is attracted to the same sex could ever be easy.

I agree there is a problem with many imams, which I think stems from a lack of awareness, and failing to realise how to show the compassion of Islam towards those who sincerely want to please Allah, and how to reason with those who have chosen otherwise.

We don’t sit and condemn, nor do we deprive our brothers and sisters in faith and in humanity of prayers for their mercy.

What I worry about is that ultimately you might – as many people do – be implying that true compassion would be in not criticising sin, and giving people a green light: green for Islam and green for go! But covering up the real teachings of Islam in order to make some people feel happy is not kindness, but the worst sort of betrayal.

Brutal honesty isn’t good, but it is infinitely better than sugar-coated lies.

Best wishes brother and feel free to stick around if you have questions.

9. Ali Aryani - October 31, 2010

I’m sick and tired of you literalist fools who claim the literal words of a book are the perfect solutions to all of life’s situations and issues when it’s clearly not!,..You need to open your eyes and look at reality,..queer sexuality is real and people need a real and health way to satisfy their sexuality and by the way,..same sex behaviors have been observed in the animal kingdom and most people exhibit attraction to both sexes to a certain extent.
As someone who identifies as a Muslim, I know Islam means to submit, to make peace with the truth, the truth is what we know as Allah, not some vague image in our mind solely conjured up by the words of the Qur’an. The Qur’an only works when you interpret it according to the reality you live in and experience not by following its literal wording.
If that’s the way you want to go, your religion is nothing but a dangerous, oppressive and poisonous superstition and your much better of stepping back and taking a break from it and thinking about why you call yourself Muslim and what is your religion supposed to do for you?
The only reason to call oneself Muslims is that the notion of Islam of submission to reality, to the truth is right, and to do that one has to judge things based on practical reality! If being Muslim means nothing but following the literal wording of the Qur’an and the hadiths, even when they conflict with evidence and situations of reality, then the world is much better off without such Muslims, it would be better off with arreligious people! The same goes to Christians and Jews especially, and with any religious dogma! If religion means dogma it’s garbage, that should be thrown in the trash before it poisons the world! Religion should be a tool to acheive peace, happiness and contentment, not an ideology that forces self suppression, ignorance and blind faith! Such ideologies are nothing but descpicable methods of social manipulation and control, dangerous fascist and materialist mechanisms of greed and opression!

Rasheed Eldin - November 21, 2010

I don’t know why you bothered trying to lend your anti-religious screed credibility by saying that you are “someone who identifies as a Muslim”. Your rant against Islam was one of the lucky ones that got through moderation, just to give readers a taster of what’s “out there”.

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