«

»

Jun 26 2016

Muslims have a long history of accepting homosexuality in society

Muslim homosexual historyFrom Around the Web
Excerpt from: http://scroll.in

By Shoaib Danial
(SCROLL) June 18, 2016

Muslim societies have ignored their own history of accepting homosexuality, latching on to a twisted colonial legacy instead.

Days after Omar Mateen went on a shooting spree inside a gay nightclub in the United States on Sunday, killing at least 49 people, clues to his possible motivations are emerging.

[Yet] the 29-year-old was reportedly a regular at Pulse and even used a gay dating app. Reports of him having asked men out have surfaced over the last few days, with his ex-wife claiming she believed he was gay. She also said that Mateen’s father, an immigrant from Afghanistan, had mocked him for his sexual orientation. One of the first statements made by Mateen’s father after the shooting was, in fact, that homosexuals can be punished by God.

Stigmatizing homosexuality

Could the attack, then, have been driven by Mateen’s sexual orientation and the shame associated with homosexuality amongst Muslims today – rather than Islamist terror? “Transgressive sexuality and conservative religion can be a toxic mix,” writes David Shariatmadari in the Guardian. “If Mateen felt conflicted about his interest in gay men, it could have been because he believed his faith would condemn him for it”.

While a clear motive is yet to be established, it is a fact that modern Muslim societies condemn and shame homosexuality. In most Islamic countries, Muslims cannot come out as gay without risking stigma and bodily harm.

It is, however, important to point out how recent this homophobia is. For much of history, Muslim societies have been incredibly permissive of same-sex love.

Golden Age

At the height of the Islamic Golden Age – a period from the mid-8th century to the mid-13th century when Islamic civilization is believed to have reached its intellectual and cultural zenith – homosexuality was openly spoken and written about. Abu Nuwas (756-814), one of the great Arab classical poets during the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, wrote publicly about his homosexual desires and relations. His homoerotic poetry was openly circulated right up until the 20th century.

Nuwas was an important historical figure – he even made a couple of appearances in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (known in Urdu as Alif Laila). It was only as late as 2001 that Arabs started to blush at Nuwas’ homoerotism. In 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists, burnt 6,000 volumes of his poetry.

Most modern Muslims, therefore, have little knowledge of what the Islamic Golden Age was really about, even though they keep on wanting to go back to it.

“ISIS have no idea what restoring the Caliphate actually means,” a tweet by Belgian-Egyptian journalist Khaled Diab said. “In Baghdad, it’d involve booze, odes to wine, science… and a gay court poet.”

Baghdad was, till the time the Mongols invaded and destroyed it, the cultural capital of much of the world – the New York City of its time. If Nuwas and his homoerotic poetry could represent the height of Baghdadi culture, it is natural that other Muslim societies would also be quite open to homosexuality. As historian Saleem Kidwai puts in the fabulous book Same-Sex Love in India, “Homoerotically inclined men are continuously visible in Muslim medieval histories and are generally described without pejorative comment.”

Writing on same-sex love

In fact, far from being pejorative, Muslim societies once openly spoke of same-sex love, even celebrating it at times. Mahmud of Ghazni, a towering sultan of his time (971-1030), was actually held up as an ideal for, among other things, deeply loving another man, Malik Ayaz.

Mughal Emperor Babur wrote of his attraction to a boy in the camp bazaar in his 16th-century autobiography – a celebrated work of literature in the medieval Muslim world.

In the 18th century, Dargah Quli Khan, a nobleman from the Deccan travelling to Delhi, wrote a fascinating account of the city called theMuraqqa-e-Dehli (The Delhi Album), which described just how mundane homosexuality was in Indo-Islamic society. At the public bazaars, male prostitutes solicited openly and Khan spoke admiringly of how “young good-looking men danced everywhere and created great excitement”.

Till the 19th century, Muslims treated homosexuality as a part and parcel of life, so much so that students were exposed to romantic stories of homosexual love – a position untenable even today across parts of the Western word. Kidwai writes:

Sadi’s classic Gulistan, containing stories of attraction between men, was considered essential reading for Persian students. Ghanimat’s Nau rang-i ishq, a seventeenth century masnavi describing the love affair between the poet’s patron’s son and his beloved Shahid, was a prescribed text in schools.

Islamic law

Of course, theologically, Islam did consider homosexuality to be sinful, based on the Quranic story of the people of Lut (Lot in the Bible). Interestingly, though, the Shariat, the umbrella term for the various legal codes and schools governing Muslim societies, have no punishment for homosexuality per se – sexual relations between men are outlawed under the larger rubric of adultery. Even then, convictions for homosexuality could only be carried out if the sexual act was testified to by four eye witnesses. This was such a high bar that commentators on Islam such as Hamza Yusuf have characterized the outlawing of homosexuality in the Shariat as a sort of “legal fiction”. Indeed, unlike medieval Europe, instances of homosexuals being punished are rare in medieval Muslim societies.

So what caused Muslim societies to go from coolly reading homoerotic poetry to outlawing and stigmatizing same-sex love? It’s tough to nail down an exact reason but here’s an interesting coincidence: there are five Muslims countries where being gay isn’t a crime. All that the five – Mali, Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey and Albania – share in common is that they were never colonized by the British.

Colonial influence

In 1858, in fact, the Ottoman Empire decriminalized homosexuality (a status inherited by Turkey). This was two years before the British Raj created the Indian Penal Code, Section 377 of which proceeded to outlaw homosexuality in modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

So deep was the influence of the 1860 penal code in India that conservative Hindus continue to hold homosexuality to be immoral and in the nearly 70 years since Independence, Parliament has not been able to overturn the law. Subramanian Swamy, Member of Parliament from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party even went so far as to claim: “Our party position has been that homosexuality is a genetic disorder.” This is near-bizarre given that Hinduism, unlike Islam or Christianity, does not even have any textual condemnation of same-sex love.

It appears as though Muslim (and Hindu) conservatives, without knowing it, are actually copying the Victorian mores of 19th century colonialism, while ignoring their own history. This at a time when even Western European cultures have pulled up their socks and gone on to ensure that human rights are available to their people irrespective of random externalities such as the gender they happen to be attracted to.

6 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. kasim suraj

    Again, Hinduism was in India before Islam reached India , and because these perpetrators were powerful, they couldn’t be punished as they were those in power. Same can be said about Lot’s people.

  2. kasim suraj

    Thank u very much Slepian .the author doesn’t seem to know anything about Islam . he’s basing his argument on works of poets and songwriters . who haven’t contributed anything to growing Islam though they were famous …..I repeat they were famous in their cultural and national backgrounds ….not Islamic wise . Muslims follow the Qur’an, hadith’s and the teachings of the holy prophet and the Sahabas. And these people fall into none of the above . so the author I’m sorry is completely lost here . let me give a logic example …. Lots people practiced sodomy ,I’d say it was accepted by the majority. But God forbade it . this situation does not justify its acceptance into Islam . although majority were into it .likewise, the above poets were heralded by many ( turkey and Spain had their cultures before Islam came there) but does not justify their righteousness and besides they were strictly talking about their social experience.. Not religious experience.

  3. kasim suraj

    Thank u very much Slepian .the author doesn’t seem to know anything about Islam . he’s basing his argument on works of poets and songwriters . who haven’t contributed anything to growing Islam though they were famous …..I repeat they were famous in their cultural and national backgrounds ….not Islamic wise . Muslims follow the Qur’an, hadith’s and the teachings of the holy prophet and the Sahabas. And these people fall into none of the above . so the author I’m sorry is completely lost here . let me give a logic example …. Lots people practiced sodomy ,I’d say it was accepted by the majority. But God forbade it . this situation does not justify its acceptance into Islam . although majority were into it .likewise, the above poets were heralded by many ( turkey and Spain had their cultures before Islam came there) but does not justify their righteousness and besides they were strictly talking about their social experience.. Not religious experience.

  4. Phillip Slepian

    Saying that some Muslims were openly homosexual is not the same as saying that Islam condones homosexuality. I think these passages make it quite clear where Islam stands on homosexuality:

    We [Allah] sent Lot and he said to his people, ‘How can you practice this outrage? No other people has done so before. You lust after men rather than women! You transgress all bounds!’… and We showered upon [the rest of] them a rain [of destruction]. See the fate of the evildoers.(Quran 7:80-81 and 84)

    If any of your women commit a lewd act, call four witnesses from among you, then, if they testify to their guilt, keep the women at home until death comes to them or until God gives them another way out. If two men commit a lewd act, punish them both; if they repent and mend their ways, leave them alone — God is always ready to accept repentance from those who do evil out of ignorance and soon afterwards repent: these are the ones God will forgive. (Quran 4:15-16)

    Muhammad cursed effeminate men and masculine women in this Hadith edited by Bukhari and narrated by Ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin and highly reliable transmitter of Hadith:

    Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet cursed effeminate men and those women who assume the similitude (manners) of men. He also said said: “Turn them out of your houses.” He turned such and such a person out, and Umar [a principal companion of Muhammad and second caliph] also turned out such and such person.

    Another hadith: Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas: The Prophet… 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.

    And so much for the “adultery” angle: Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas: If a man who is not married is seized committing sodomy, he will be stoned to death.

    More examples are to be found in other hadiths and classical Islamic law, Blaming this on British colonialism is quite disingenuous.

    1. Obada

      The article doesnt state that homosexuality is accepted in islam, it clearly states that they didnt prosecute and stigmatize them as harshly as they do now.

      1. ramy

        Thank you Obada for pointing out the obvious from the article.
        No one denied or is denying that sodomy is a sin in Islam (whether done to males or females). But before colonialism and modern identity politics, Muslim societies were extremely nuanced and diverse when it came to sexual preferences. The state was not used in the way it is used today, such as to codify peoples sexual identity or suppress their sexual identity. Rather, “homosexuality” wasn’t even clearly defined in society; and you can find many instances in Muslim literature and history about how same-sex encounters and trends existed within the social framework.
        But I think it’s asking too much for someone like Phil to understand this point. Phil would rather just project his own ignorance onto Muslims and onto the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters remaining (Comments are limited to 2000 characters. Approx 300 words)