Islam and Human Diversity

Published: November 1, 2011

 If God had willed, God would have made you one single community, but rather God brings whomever God wills within the divine compassion – yet the unjust oppressors have no guardian and no helper (Q. 42:8)

Islam in its essence, supports human diversity and celebrates every human being as a reflection of God’s will. The Qur’an, the holy book and the ultimate authority of Islam, doesn’t explicitly condemn homosexuality or transgender behavior. The Qur’an’s central message is solidarity with the oppressed and that God’s will works with those who suffer oppression. Many Muslims make presumptions when it comes to the issues of gender and sexuality and think that they already know “what the Qur’an says” without reflecting on whether they have based their opinion on patriarchal culture or their knowledge of the Qur’an and Islam. Modern reformists and contemporary interpreters of Islam, encourage believers to separate what is imposed by culture from what is essential to the faith, by ‘ijtihad’ – independent and original analysis based on intellectual effort and ethical discretion (in the interpretation of the religion).

The Qur’an and Alternate Sexuality:

Classical Muslim jurists and interpreters identify the Qur’anic narrative of the Prophet Lot’s struggle with his tribe (qawm lut) as addressing homosexual sex or more specifically male-to-male anal penetration. According to the Qur’an, Lot was commissioned as a prophet to the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He was sent to preach monotheism and stop the tribe from their lustful and violent acts. But the men of Sodom and Gomorrah rejected Lot’s authority, by trying to deprive Lot of the right to extend hospitality and protection to strangers and the poor. They also schemed for ways to reject Lot’s prophethood and his public standing in their community, by murder, robbery, public nudity, gambling, idolatrous worship and by performing coercive same-sex acts against the strangers, whom Lot hosted (as mentioned in Q. 29:29). God punished the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for their transgressions, by turning the cities upside down and stoning the entire city, putting an end to the lives of the people once for all. The Prophet Lot and his believers were protected by God and were asked to leave the cities the night before. Lot’s wife was also killed in the stoning, as she didn’t believe in Lot’s authority.

    God says “The tribe of Lot considered the warning a lie. We sent upon them a storm of stones [destroying all] except Lot’s family, for them we saved at dawn as a favor from us. In this way we reward those who give thanks. He [Lot] warned them of our violent retribution but they obstinately denied the warning. They strived to alienate his guest from him but we blinded their eyes, [declaring], “Now taste my punishment and my warning!” (Q 54:33-37)

The text that describes the story of Lot is often quoted out of context, as Islam’s condemnation of homosexuality and some fundamentalist interpreters even go to the extreme extent of ruling “stoning to death” as a punishment for homosexual acts. Modern interpreters believe that God sent upon the tribe of Sodom and Gomorrah, the storm of stones as they had disbelieved in Lot’s prophethood. They question, why women and children who didn’t engage in any sexual acts were also killed, if God stoned the cities as a punishment for male-to-male penetration. They ask if the immortality described in Lot’s story is specifically male-to-male penetration, then why Lot’s wife was also destroyed by God’s punishment? (her only misdeed was disrespecting Lot’s authority)

    God says “When our messengers came to Lot he was distressed on their account and felt he could not protect them, but they said, “Do not fear and do not grieve – we are rescuing you and your family, all except your wife, for she is one of those left behind” (Q. 29:33)

It is contemporary interpreters belief that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, were punished not for one specific type of immoral act, but was rather for their infidelity and rejection. They also interpret the specifics of the story, as male rape of men in particular and not homosexual acts in general. This is because, the tribe’s attempt to rape the men was motivated by their wish to reject the prophetic authority of Lot and assert their own egoistic status and power, rather than by sexual desire or bodily pleasure. According to these interpreters, Lot’s story is a critique of male sexuality driven by aggression and the urge to subjugate others by force, not of male homosexuality in particular. One can imagine the same story with guests who are female and it would exert the same force and convey the same moral message.
[Reference : Homosexuality in Islam by Scott Kugle]

There are few other exchanges between the Prophet Lot and his tribe men, that are interpreted by many in Islam as a condemnation of homosexuality. Again, these interpretations are to a large extent biased, motivated and provided to enforce patriarchal domination of heterosexual male Muslims. Some of such interpretations are also questioned by other minorities including women and racial minorities. All these are very brilliantly, logically, analytically, objectively handled by Scott Kugle in his book “Homosexuality in Islam: Islamic reflection on Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims”.

The story of Lot doesn’t address sexual acts between women. There are no other verses in the Qur’an that clearly and unambiguously address same-sex acts between women says Scott Kugle in his book. Same-sex acts between women, which is known in Arabic sources as shiaq or “rubbing”, is not used by the Qur’an. Similarly classical interpreters derived the term liwat, for sodomy (liwat- act of men of Lot’s tribe), but that has no mention in the Qur’an either. Nevertheless some interpreters have searched for reference to Lesbians in the following verse :

    As for those of your women who commit the immortality [al-fahisha], have four from among yourselves bear witness against them. If they do witness, then confine them [the women] to their rooms until death causes them to perish or until God makes for them a way [of release]. And for any two from among you who commit it, then punish the two of them, then if they repent and reform then leave the two alone, for indeed God is forgiving and merciful (Q. 4:15-16).

Modern interpreters challenge the assumption that this confusing verse condemns same-sex acts between women with the below arguments [Reference : Homosexuality in Islam by Scott Kugle]

    The term fahisha applies to many type of immoral acts including adultery, idolatry and financial dishonesty.
    Why should interpreters assume that the immortality discussed here to be sexual, especially when the grammatical plural “your women” clearly refers to a group of three or more women? (Arabic has specific construction for group of three or more women – hunna ,in contrast to a pair of people – huma, the pronoun hunna is used here.)
    The second line talks about “any two from among you” is not clearly directed against women (It could be two men or a man and a woman)
    Whatever immortality discussed here, it must be something that can be performed by a group of women together to the exclusion of men, and also by a pair of men or a twosome consisting of a man and a woman. It is hard to imagine such type of a sexual act.
    Most convincingly, the lines above and below these controversial verses talk about honesty in dividing inheritance to support orphans and the vulnerable. In that context, the immortality condemned here is more likely financial dishonesty and inheritance swindling than homosexual acts between two women or two men.

The Qur’an and Alternate Gender identity:

It is a basic part of Islamic teaching that God is absolutely non-dual and has none of the limitations or conditions that characterize human existence. The Qur’ran commends its believers to say,

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