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Lesson Plan: Islam and LGBTQ+ Issues

Junaid Jahangir
Assistant Professor of Economics
MacEwan University

Hussein Abdullatif
Associate Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology
University of Alabama

Audience: This lesson plan is intended for a college undergraduate audience.

Course: Sex and Sexualities in Religion

Course: Sexual Ethics in a Multi-Faith Context

Course: Gender and Sexuality in Islam
Syllabus Section: LGBTQ+ Muslims

Course: Islam in Modern Times
Syllabus Section: Gender and sexual diversity

Lesson Goals and Objectives

The objective of this lesson is to shed light on emerging Islamic scholarship that affirms Muslim same-sex unions in contrast to the neo-traditional stance on the prohibition of homosexual acts. Generally, the objections to gay Muslim men and, by extension, lesbian Muslim women are concentrated around the prohibition of liwāṭ (sodomy) that is arguably derived from the Qur'ānic story of the people of Lut. Often, this prohibition is sustained on the basis of the decontextualized phrase "you indeed approach men with desire instead of women," which is interpreted without linguistic analysis as an unequivocally clear directive against same-sex marriage and defended as a necessary part of faith teachings among neo-traditionalists.

Additionally, an array of terse rulings in juristic manuals is often marshaled in contemporary rhetoric against the concerns of LGBTQ+ Muslims to pursue a life of intimacy, affection, and companionship. Such rhetoric is rooted in personal disgust, a view of the male gender defined by exaggerated muruwwa (manliness), refusal to accept the recommendations of professional bodies in psychology and psychiatry, and a marked unwillingness to revisit Islamic texts from a perspective renewed by deeper understanding of non-binary gender expression and sexual orientation.

Therefore, this lesson begins by acknowledging the prejudice that usually colors interpretation of the verses on the people of Lut and moves forward to facilitate an alternative reading of the texts. Prejudices can be addressed directly by considering the reasons why the issue of anal sex evokes disgust and even horror in the context of normative, culturally specific expectations concerning gender roles. Constructivist theories of gender and sexuality may be consulted to help ground students theoretically in how these concepts are formulated socially and change across cultures and periods.

A properly contextualized linguistic study of the Qur'ānic account of the people of Lut reveals that the passage relates a historically and geographically specific story, largely told from the narrative perspective of the Prophet Lut. By themselves, the verses cannot sustain the juridical additions and exegesis made over centuries to cement prohibition of same-sex relationships. The Qur'ān associates homosexuality with a desire to use force on unwilling individuals, and this is not in line with contemporary understanding of sexual orientation. An updated reading should also highlight the Qur'ānic illustration of homosocial relations among the people of Lut. This reading of the Qur'ān can be complemented by a holistic view of the Tafsīr literature that situates such conduct in the context of other evil deeds reported in the account: highway robbery, inhospitality, humiliation, and sexual assault. The story may also be read alongside the genre of narratives referred to as qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā' (tales of the prophets). Each narrative has a recurring theme in which a prophet asks his people to turn to monotheism, away from their harmful deeds; the prophet is then ridiculed or cast out, which is usually followed by the destruction of the people by a large-scale natural disaster.

The tension between the Qur'ān, which restricts capital punishment to cases of murder and anarchy, and the ḥadīth, which prescribes death for liwāṭ, can be resolved in favor of the former, as many ḥadīth suffer from discrepancies in authenticity. In fact, there are no prescriptions for capital punishment for liwāṭ in the Ṣaḥī'ḥs of Bukhārī and Muslim, which are the most authoritative Sunnī ḥadīth compilations. This is an ideal opportunity for discussion about the resuscitation of the "death texts" by neo-traditionalist scholars despite the discrediting of such texts as inauthentic by many ḥadīth experts. On the basis of transmission chain and content analysis, it is questionable whether such texts should be considered authoritative, as they are not substantiated by the primary source of Islamic knowledge—the Qur'ān.

Once the silence of the Qur'ān and ḥadīth on the anachronistic issue of same-sex unions has been established, the terse rulings in Islamic legal manuals can be read in the light of the commentary literature as well as the socio-medical knowledge of earlier jurists, which includes the diagnosis of ubnah (anal itch), and cures such as enemas, massage, and sitting on a severed hump of a camel.1

The above should set the stage for new conclusions about Muslim same-sex unions, provoking discussion of the paths to establishing a legal contract for same-sex couples given that sex acts are not intrinsically evil, but rather prohibited due to the absence of a legal contract. The formulation of a legal contract can be considered on the basis of a new understanding of the concepts of mulk yamin (possession of the right hand) as legally sanctioned consent, or Nikāḥ (marriage) as an agreement whose primary objective is the realization of mawadda (affection) between spouses. Here, the neo'traditionalist emphasis on procreation can be contrasted with the juristic definition of marriage as a legal outlet for sexual expression. In general, neo'traditionalist arguments against same'sex unions rooted in concepts of fitra (nature), obedience, 'awrah (private parts), and legal procedure can be addressed by returning to the original intents and purposes of the texts on these topics, which had less to do with banning same'sex unions than with promoting monotheism, hygiene, modesty, and matters of faith.

The necessity of a legal outlet for sexual expression can be emphasized through the commentary on verse 4:28 and the understanding that permanent celibacy is not an Islamic value. This could lead to discussion of the rules informing same'sex unions on issues such as divorce, polygamy, bisexuality, and mahr (dowry).

Further Reading

Adang, Camilla. "Ibn Ḥazm on Homosexuality. A Case-Study of Ẓāhirī Legal Methodology." Al-Qantara 24, no. 1 (2003): 5–31.

Ali, Kecia. Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur'ān, ḥadīth, and Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006.

Alli, Habeeb. Intimacy and the Sacred: In Muslim Communities. Edited by Elizabeth Rahman. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2011.

Amer, Sahar. "Medieval Arab Lesbians and Lesbian-Like Women." Journal of the History of Sexuality 18 (2009): 215–36.

Amer, Sahar. "Naming to Empower: Lesbianism in the Arab Islamicate World Today." Journal of Lesbian Studies, 16.4 (2012): 381–97.

El-Rouayheb, Khaled. Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500–1800. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Habib, Samar. Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality, 850–1780 A.D. New York: Teneo Press, 2009.

Habib, Samar. Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations. New York and London: Routledge, 2007.

Jahangir, Junaid, and Hussein Abdullatif. "Homosexuality: The Emerging New Battleground in Islam." Iran Namag 3.1 (2018): 134–62.

Jahangir, Junaid, and Hussein Abdullatif. "Investigating the Islamic Perspective on Homosexuality." Journal of Homosexuality 63.7 (2015): 925–54.

Jahangir, Junaid, and Hussein Abdullatif. Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016.

Jahangir, Junaid, and Hussein Abdullatif. "Same-Sex Unions in Islam." Journal of Theology and Sexuality 24.3 (2018): 157–73.

Kugle, Scott Siraj al-Haqq. "Sexuality, Diversity, and Ethics in the Agenda of Progressive Muslims." Progressive Muslims, edited by Omid Safi. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2003. 190–234.

Kugle, Scott Siraj al-Haqq. Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2010.

Nathan, Bassem. "Medieval Arabic Medical Views on Male Homosexuality." Journal of Homosexuality 26 (1994): 37–9.

Rispler-Chaim, Vardit. Disability in Islamic Law. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2006.

Rowson, Everett K. "The Effeminates of Early Medina." Journal of the American Oriental Society 111.4 (1991): 671–93.

Sanders, Paula. "Gendering the Ungendered Body: Hermaphrodites in Medieval Islamic Law." Women in Middle Eastern History, edited by Nikki Keddie and Beth Baron. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991. 74–96.

Skovgaard-Peterson, Jakob. "Sex Change in Cairo: Gender and Islamic Law." Journal of the International Institute 2.3 (1995): n.p.

Questions for Discussion

  • How is sexual orientation understood in contemporary psychological and psychiatric circles or by LGBTQ+ Muslims in contrast to the concept of hawa (desire) employed by neo-traditionalist Muslims?
  • Should we sideline the opinion of scholars such as al-'Asqalānī that intrinsic attributes be tempered, especially because of the harmful effects that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are known to cause, as various psychological and psychiatric professional bodies have shown?
  • Is the concept of liwāṭ a reasonable way to understand the concern of LGBTQ+ Muslims to live a life of intimacy, affection, and companionship established through a legal contract?
  • Are sexual acts prohibited because they are intrinsically qabīh (evil) or because of the absence of a legal contract?
  • Are there any reasonable juristic arguments against same-sex marriage? Alternatively, what juristic arguments can be mustered to substantiate a legal contract affirming intimacy, affection, and companionship for same-sex spouses?
  • What are the popular online arguments against homosexual expression, and how can they be deconstructed through a careful study of the Qur'ān, ḥadī, and jurisprudence? Students can think of same'sex relationships and desire in analogy to alcoholism, addiction, kleptomania, or other urges.
  • Are gender and sexuality better understood through an essentialist or a constructivist lens, and how does the juristic treatment of sexuality fit into this divide? Does this debate impact the case for a legal contract for same'sex spouses?

1Rosenthal, Franz. "Ar-Râzî on the hidden illness." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 52 (1978): 45–60; Ibn Jumu-a, -Abd -Ali. Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn. Qom: Intisharat Ismailiyan, 1415 AH/1994.

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