How one reacts to the ongoing sex-gender cultural revolution in the West has become a kind of mock litmus test for one's humanity. Is it the final hole in the mighty Islamic dyke holding back millions of tortured souls in their Islamic prison? Can the millions of Muslims living in the secular West be liberated from their chains, freed after so many centuries of false bigotry?
This is how many happy western secular campers see things. It helps explain how the collective West became enamored by a bizarre ideology which urges men to be women, women – men, or some inbetween nonbinary status, where you can change your 'gender' any time you please, indulge in a whole potpourri of sexual techniques, all in the pursuit of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. If you can force Islam to accommodate that, you've done the trick.
Islam has always been a romantic lure for westerners fed up with materialism. Scott Kugle, author of Homosexuality in Islam: Critical reflection on gay lesbian, and transgender Muslims (2010) and Living out Islam: Voices of gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims (2014), is one. It's a safe bet that Scott is also openly gay. And he has done his homework, searching out any reference to those Muslims who fall outside the 'hetero patriarchal binary'. Part of the western LGBTQII (his version) attack, though from the inside, as a Muslim convert, as Siraj al-Haqq (lamp of truth).
On the surface, it looks pretty clear where Islam stands. Lot's tribe, as the dwellers of Sodom and Gomorrah are labelled, were not just indulging in gay orgies, but making it the (tribal) norm, inviting/ demanding that all newcomers join in. They got their just desserts in the Old Testament/ Quranic fire and brimstone, God's punishment. So it's clearly a sin to live like that. So don't live like that! As the Quran is the source of Islamic law, the purists decided anyone suspected of any version of 'it' should be executed, as it certainly looks like a Major Sin, calling for capital punishment (hadd). But a rain of salt, lots of thunder and lightning? We are not God, so we make due with stones. End of story, end of that particular sin.
But that means genocide and these sexual misfits keep turning up, so constant culling of all Muslims would hardly be an attraction to anyone looking for a spiritual path based on love. And a reading of Islamic history shows that there have been very few executions over the centuries. Apparently sexual deviants managed to live in peace, and that state of affairs continued right up until the Muslim world was invaded and occupied by imperialists eager to stamp their own cultures on what they dismissed as ignorant brown-skinned (or worse, black!) heathen. Near the top of their agenda was prohibition of the scourge of homosexuality, as newly defined by 19th c sexology. Yes, evidence of an approach to sex that let certain peccadilloes go unpunished, a general all-round lack of interest in industrial mass production and warfare, long religious holidays with lots of celebrating life – this was of course backward. The Muslim world needed western experience, western know-how, western militarism, western laws, western individualism.
Imperialism 101: Create the problem, then provide a solution. Pre-invasion, there were few 'laws' at all in the Muslim world (or anywhere outside the imperial order). The Ottoman caliph was distant and weak. Religion and custom ruled people's lives. Whatever hanky panky outside marriage there was, was carried out discretely. A sin is a sin, and your neighbours would give violators of social norms a good drubbing or haul him before a local imam if they were too public about their vices.
The important thing was to protect women. But too much protection is stifling, and western invasion at least meant literacy, education for both sexes, and this was/ is laudable. But what to do about the marginals of society? They got by before society was urbanized, regimented, with all our actions under the legal microscope, but they are now seized upon by the nice imperialists as their last civilizing mission. The 'civilizing' is in its death throes now, but still tries to education according to a new ideology where the marginals rule the roost, a kind of Saturnalia, a 24/7 festival of the underdog.
Muslims can abide exploitation and rule by unbelievers. There is no choice, living in the West. But when secularism starts to dismantle belief, then the red line is reached and Muslims fight back.
The bad news
Kugle's sifting through Islamic history and jurisprudence reveals that this whole debate took place at various times in Islamic history, starting with the time of the Prophet, the first caliphs, and the debate continued until at least the 12th c. There almost always was a place at the table for 'them', though it might be scraps. Deviants have been tolerated more or less, depending on the ruler.
But any sexual activity outside marriage is a sin. That has not changed and, like Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, will not change without destroying the faith. To hope, plot, push for the serious faiths to decide to unsin a sin is to undermine them. But in our postmodern reality, 'sin' is just a literary device, a quaint metaphor, long ago replaced by secular laws and punishments. i.e., you can play God and decide what's good and bad through 'democratic' politics.
What do the Quran, hadith, history say about the love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name? The Quran does not condemn people but their actions, or rather you are judged when you die for your good/bad actions. Same-sex sex acts are sins. 'Love the sinner, not the sin' is the Catholic meme. Their eternal fate is left up to God. The real issue is punishment here on Earth. Islamic fiqh (law) became four schools over time and they all dealt with this thorny sin.
The strictest school is that of Maliki who argued by analogy with apostasy. I.e., a Major Sin, so execution, the same as for outright disbelief, but in lieu of fire and brimstone, stoning. The Shafii and Hanbali schools compair it to heterosexual fornication, so also stoning (lashes for unmarried). A recent case that Kugle analyzes was the public statement by a Dutch imam, Khalil el-Moumni (d. 2020), who made his Maliki point cogently, without fuss: sodomy/ homosexuality is an unnatural act of sex to satisfy one's passion. The growing acceptance, celebration of homosexuality in the West is just another sign of moral degeneracy, false freedom.
El-Moumni's sermons were published in Arabic, but some eager beaver translated the juicy bits and el-Moumni was hauled before a judge charged with a hate crime in 1998. Holland stands by its free speech so el-Moumni was let go (with a few 'lashes'), but he struck a chord, or rather dischord. Ironically, the gaylib credo -- homosex is just like heterosex and deserves equal time -- is using the same reasoning as Shafii and Hanbal, that homo and hetero are really just the same.
The Good news
That is the bad news. The good news is the Hanafi school, where hetero is seen as categorically different from homo. For marginals, there is no family, no lineage to protect, no sacred union of male and female. It's barely sex at all, a pale imitation. Ibn Hazm: 'This act is a kind of sexual intercourse in a bodily opening that has no relation to legal marriage and does not necessitate giving a dowry or determining parentage.'* In same-sex intercourse there is 'no penis to vulva penetration that can validate a marriage contract' and lead to procreation.
God's wrath with Lot's tribe is stirring stuff, but it clearly is a case of homosexuality gone berserk, become the norm. The 'tribe' as gays like to call themselves, celebrating their infamy. A society of sexual license where nothing is sacred, where angels can be raped along with everyone else. The tribe of Lot was punished not just for their abomination but also for their unbelief. Kufr. Apostasy.
There is no stoning in the Quran. Kinky is a sin, but a minor one, not threatening the family structure if kept in check. So lashes, banishment.** Hanafi argued that if a Major Sin hadd penalty is used and the sin/crime is not really Major, then you are harming/ killing the guilty party unjustly. Considering we don't really know what God has in mind where the Quran is vague, we should not kill lightly. As for strong hadith and sunnah, there is no clear, strong case re homosexual crimes.
The flowering of the Hanafi school reached its peak with the Zahiri school, sometimes considered a fifth school in Sunni Islam, in the 9-10th cc. Dawud el-Zahiri father and son ibn Dawud d.909 harked back to the Platonic model, the myth of the whole being split in two.*** Kugle argues this version is natural and civilly moral.
Rather than marriage as a sale contract where the wife becomes the husband's property (to protect and use), Kugle argues marriage (hetero or homo) should be seen as a partnership. But Platonic pederasty is not a long term partnership, not a partnership at all, and Socrates argues with Alcibiades that a chaste man-boy friendship is better than a sexualized relationship. Male-male friendship is the highest partnership. Male-female marriage is a sacrament. 'Greek love' is not the answer.
The Zahiris argued that we should only use the clear apparent sense (zahir) of the Quran and reliable sunnah (the Prophet's life as a model). Kugle calls them liberal literalists. Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) was the most famous, a descendant of Andalusian Christians who converted to Islam. He was raised as a Maliki then Shafii, before becoming the leadeing Zahiri exponent. In Ibn Hazm's view, all agree that 'it' is a sin but the Lot story and reliable hadith don't make punishment clear. After all, the Lot story can't be literal.
So all that's called for is a ta'zir punishment, i.e., not scripturally mandated but dependent upon the ruler's discretion. No more than ten lashes. Procreation is a community obligation. (fard kifaya) not an obligation on the individual (fard 'ayn), so phony marriages are not necessary. This version of Islam is much nicer for marginals, as it doesn't promote killing, but it puts homosex in an honorless position, neither fish nor fowl, and it is still a sin, punishment at the will of the sovereign. Certainly not a sacrament worthy of honoring in marriage.
But Kugle jumps to a very different conclusion: that there should be fundamental equality in legal assessment between homo and hetero intercourse, with the exception that homo intercourse does not produce 'unwanted children which endanger the couple or threatens society.'**** It sounds like homosex is actually good for society, not producing anything either good or bad, assuming of course that homosex is first legalized.
The development of fiqh as Quran-based ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) by al-Shatibi (d. 1388) saw the purpose of sharia as promoting maqasid (fundamentals) and maslaha (public welfare). Kugle is motivated by public welfare in his reforming zeal. He sees the drift of Muslim gay youth to secular humanist values and the politics of human rights. Sharia must be reformed to meet secular human rights to keep the flock, the believers.
Quran, hadiths, sunnah, history
*Other than the mention of Lot's tribe, there are vague hints of actual male-male sex in the Quran, specifically Nisaa 4:15-16 relate to the fornication or adultery committed between people. But the punishment is equally vague: chastise them, punish so they reform. If they repent then forgive them. If they continue, turn away from them.
*Quran 42:50: or he gives both male and female [to whomever he wills] and causes to be barren [nonreproducing] whomever he wills. This is generally considered to refer to barren women, but could refer to all nonreproducing Muslims.
*Quran 24:31, 60 is a list harmless male attendants as those beyond all sexual desire. Min ghair uli al-irbah. No wiles with women. This is generall interpreted as old men, but given the context, also eunuchs and effeminate men (mukhannath). Yahya (John the Baptist) and Jesus are celibate prophets. God wills the norm of heterosex, so acting out otherwise is always a sin. Either a pathology/ sickness or just the act as sin.
*Mukhannath and eunuchs are categories which sound anachronistic, but adequately refer to the two main characterizations of same-sex males: genuinely effeminate males and others castrated (whether physically or emotionally) which make them immune to 'wiles' of women. The Prophet's Egyptian wife Maria had a eunuch slave. The other wives were jealous of Maria, who give birth to the Prophet's only son, which led to gossip that the eunuch was not a eunuch at all. The eunuch's bodily state was duly confirmed by Muhammad's nephew Ali.+ This is likely the origin of surah 66 al-Tahrim.
Eunuchs and mukhannath have acted as protectors of the graves of Muslim saints. They also have been entertainers. Their status was below men but above women. They were assumed to be celibate.
The eunuch, generally a slave to an elite woman, has a neither-nor gender position between female and male. The mukhannath and eunuchs stood in a row behind the men in prayer, in front of women. A human veil between genders. Not willfully acting as a woman.
As for women acting like men, there are exceptional women who can take on the role of mystic (Rabia of Basr d. 801), or act as a man when there is no male, as with Albanian burmesha (sworn virgin brides). It's much harder for women to 'scale up' but men can scale down easily, becoming ersatz females, though sterile.
*Quran 23: Successful are those believers who guard their genital openings furuj except before their spouses or right hand possess (slaves), but those who seek to go beyond that are surely exceeding the limits. So punishment for any excess is at the discretion of the ruler.
Hadiths, sunnah. The hell-fire hadiths about homosexuals quote the Prophet as calling for stoning, but they are weak hadiths. No rulings occurred during the Prophet's life. The same with reports condemning transgender behavior. The best known reliable hadith is from Bukhari: Umm Salama's eunuch Hit before battle advised capturing the 'daughter of Khaylan who comes with 4, leaves with 8 (folds of flesh).' i.e., sexy. The Prophet banished this joker. Some transmitters ignore the context, arguing it is a blanket condemnation of all mukhannath.++ Kill? No. A blanket ban? Weak hadith only. The Prophet called for execution only of those who don't pray. i.e., for apostasy.
The first execution supposedly for homosexuality was a tribal rebel during the Ridda (apostasy) wars under the first caliph Abu Bakr. But Fujaa was a murderer, a brigand, a rebel, much like Lot's tribe, and Abu Bakr was trying to end the rebellions appealing to broader morality.
Historically, in the 13th c Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire, another category arose in India/ Pakistan of the hijra, or third sex. A female in a male body. An unman. This category actually corresponds to the 19th c early theory of homosexuals as a third sex, a woman's mind in a man's body, which is also the basis of transgender theory, though in the Islamic version the homosexual, including hijra, is below the male and above the female. Our obsession with sexual equality now prohibits such a structural analysis but it fits reality as seen through an Islamic lens, and does not claim equal status with the hetero norm. There are more than 10m hijras, in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
As for transgender today, Shia ijtihad in Iran allows male to female gender reassignment. Complete with a new passport. An Egyptian fatwa in 1988 addressed the case of Sayyid/ Sally who applied to be readmitted to her studies after a male to female sex change operation. Modern surgery can 'clarify intent of God'. But the fatwa was muddled and is not legally binding in any case, and sex change is no longer possible in Egypt.
Almost half of Muslims follow the Hanafi school, including Asia, where homosexuality has traditionally been more acceptable. So the upshot is homosexuality is a sin/ crime but punishment is not based on clear Quran pronouncements. Disciplinary punishment is enough. Maliki, Shafii, Hanbali, and Jafari schools settled on stoning to death for mature men. The Zahiri argued that neither the Quran nor the Prophet make execution obligatory punishment, so it is wrong. The Prophet clearly forbade killing except for hetero adultery, disbelief, and murder. That does not condone homosexual acts. Eunuchs/ mukhannath should be celibate. Their trial in life.
Kugle calls his version of a reformed sharia 'Islamic humanism'. A balance of rational and nonrational dimensions of the personality. Humanism to counter the destruction of colonialism and Islamic fanaticism. God did not create individuals to fit an ideological regime. We are given the responsibility to alter the social order to foster the goal of human flourishing. We are all equals in faith. The goal is to become 'fully' human.
But why 'humanism'? Humans as the be-all and end-all? Yes, balance, counter imperialism and fanatacism. But where is sin? Humanism essentially denies sin, sees everything human as open to rational debate. What's good/bad is purely utilitarian.
No. The goal is the 'straight path' to union with the divine. Which means avoiding sin as much as possible, which means avoiding sex outside marriage. All sex. A tall order, but our social norms should be built to promote goodness, not humanism. Kugle's Islamic humanism is just as much an 'ideological regime' as is Islam. The key is keeping the ideology in tune with the straight path.
There is no rationale to justify same-sex marriage under Islam, but there's nothing to stop a secular contract and accept your lot as a really good Muslim (chaste) or accept your life as a sinner and not to promote or celebration your sin. I.e., try to be a little less gay. Muslim society allows gays but without the 'gay is good' propaganda. Think: Orban and Putin's emphasis on building the family as the basis of a healthy society, not individual license.
*Tafsir al-Jami'fi Ahkam al-Quran, vol. 7, p. 244.
**Quran 24:2, 15.
***Kugle, Homosexuality in Islam, p. 189.
+ibid., p. 250-1.