In a Spring 2007 issue of the Macalester Islam Journal, Nicole Kligerman described homosexuality in Islam as a “difficult paradox.” She argued that while there is a common perception in the West that Islam is homophobic, the impact of Western colonialism is, in fact, largely to blame for modern expressions of homophobia in Muslim societies.
In the almost ten years since Kligerman’s essay, homosexuality’s place in Islam continues to be seen as a “difficult paradox.” In the wake of the Orlando shooting on June 12, 2016, when Omar Mateen killed forty-nine people in a gay nightclub, public discussions about Islam’s accommodation of the LGBT community have increased. Among the most engaging of these discussions is Mobeen Vaid’s article “Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Quranic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle,” published by Muslim Matters on July 11, 2016.
Like Kligerman, Vaid discusses the “homo/hetero” binary as a contemporary Western phenomenon. In his article, he asks: “Did pre-modern peoples ever conceive of themselves as ‘heterosexual’ or ‘homosexual’? Did sexual proclivities ever enter into their conception of self? If we take what has been registered in historical record seriously, then the answer to both questions is ‘no.’” On this basis, Vaid argues that attempts to justify “homoerotic behavior” in Islam are tantamount to revisionism:
Islam, like other major world religions (with the very recent exception of certain liberal denominations in the West), prohibits categorically all forms of same-sex erotic behavior. Scholars have differed over questions of how particular same-sex acts should be technically categorized and/or punished, but have never differed over the fact of their prohibition. The full and unbroken Islamic consensus on this issue embraces all recorded legal schools, theological persuasions, and historically documented sectarian divisions.
The evidentiary basis underlying Islam’s categorical prohibition of liwāṭ (sodomy) and other same-sex behaviors lies in explicit proscriptive statements of the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth, the transmitted consensus of the Prophet’s Companions and Successors, and the documented unanimity of the Islamic legal tradition throughout the ages. Notwithstanding, the past decade and a half has witnessed the rise of Muslim reformist voices, primarily in the West, challenging Islam’s proscription of homosexual activity and calling for the religious affirmation of same-gender sexual expression, relationships, and identities. This challenge has consisted not only in a questioning of the probative value of the relevant ḥadīth evidence and a disregard for juristic and wider community consensus, but also in the assertion that the Qurʾān itself does not prohibit same-sex relations per se, but only homosexual rape motivated by inhospitality with intent to dishonor. It has been further argued that the Qurʾān should not be taken to prohibit same-sex behaviors categorically since it does not specifically address the abstract modern concept of “homosexuality” as an orientation or, for that matter, the notion of “sexual identity” more broadly.
The present article attends to such revisionist readings of the Qurʾān, particularly as pertains to revisionist efforts to accommodate homoerotic behavior as religiously permissible in Islam. Although a fair amount of research and effort have gone into addressing the Islamic tradition’s treatment of homoerotic behavior, analysis has often centered on juridical discussions concerning punishment, medieval poetry, and exegetical texts. The only sustained attempt to argue for the permissibility of same-sex acts in Islam to date has come from Scott Kugle in both his contribution to the 2003 anthology Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, entitled “Sexuality, Diversity, and Ethics in the Agenda of Progressive Muslims,” and his later book Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims (2010). Though this article will address both simultaneously, Kugle refers the reader in Homosexuality in Islam back to his previously published piece in Progressive Muslims for his full argument on certain points. Accordingly, Kugle’s Progressive Muslims piece will constitute the focus of this study, with Homosexuality in Islam serving as a point of departure for additional arguments not contained in, or altered since, the earlier piece.
But, while Vaid may believe homoeroticism cannot be accommodated by Islamic orthodoxy, he insists this does not amount to a rejection of inclusivity and moral pluralism. In his own words, “One may legitimately affirm the existence of sexual ‘diversity,’ just as Muslim scholars of the past did, as a trait present across an array of people, fully acknowledging that some people’s sexual impulses may predominate in one form or another (same-sex, opposite-sex, pederastic, etc.), but only with the all-important caveat that all are required to abide by God’s Law and to abstain from sexual acts that He has made illicit.”
Read Vaid’s full article here.