What does Islam have to say about homosexuality? It’s a question not infrequently asked of Muslims in the West. While contemporary western European attitudes towards same sex relationships have mostly evolved to the point of being positively celebratory there remain pockets of resistance to this newfound tolerance of what was once deemed a mental illness and a crime of moral turpitude. Whereas in bygone years promoting homosexuality (or any other form of non-conventional heterosexual relationship) was forbidden in UK schools (section 28), today the precise opposite holds true. Schools are now forced to provide education on LGBT lifestyles and promote their acceptance as on a par with heterosexuality. In such an environment those who hold – or are perceived to hold – to “traditional morality” are often the subject of intense scrutiny apropos their attitudes to sex and sexuality.
The Shariah (Islamic jurisprudence) is clear (despite the efforts of modern reformists) in its forbiddance of homosexual sexual relationships. While there is a difference of opinion on whether it constitutes a capital crime, all schools of thought agree upon it being from amongst the major sins and deserving of exemplary punishment. Naturally there are a rigorous due process safeguards surrounding the awarding of such sentences by the courts and in Islamic history they were the exception rather than the norm. Nevertheless, historically they served to relegate homosexuality to the status of a suppressed subculture in the Muslim world, albeit one that had a rich history, and which would periodically reach out from the shadows to leave its imprint on the cultural zeitgeist. While orientalists will wax lyrical on the poetry of Abu Nuwas and the pederasty of Ottoman and Safavid emperors it must be borne in mind that such behaviour was the exception rather than the norm and mostly the preserve of the nobility who, in keeping with the norms of the age, enjoyed a level of immunity from the strictures enforced upon the hoi polloi.
Given then that the Islamic scriptures forbid active homosexual relationships (as well as effeminate behaviour by men) what should be the attitude of Muslims in the West towards homosexuals? With respect to non-Muslim homosexuals I would argue it should be no different to our attitude towards non-Muslim in general. They are just as deserving of dawah and compassion for the purposes of softening their hearts to the truth of Islam. While not one iota of the Qur’an or Sunnah should ever be open to compromise, we must recognise that people are largely the products of their environment. An ideology that unleashes man’s carnal instincts from the bindings of spiritual restraint, which shifts the prerogative of moral judgement from the community to the individual, inevitably fosters societies with higher rates of sexual deviancy. Their moral degeneracy – and that of Western non-Muslims in general – is mitigated by the fact that they simply know no better. Our interactions with non-Muslim homosexuals ought then to be coloured by this understanding.
As for those who identify as “Muslim homosexuals” some clarity is first required as to precisely what it is that their homosexuality denotes. Those who deny the forbiddance of homosexual relationships (and it should be noted that acts serving as precursors to sinfulness are themselves forbidden) are denying definitive texts and consequently in danger of negating their iman. They should be warned, firmly but in the best manner and adducing all relevant proofs, that their position is untenable and effectively an abnegation of the shahadah [declaration of faith]. If they persist they should be denounced and shunned.
As for those who engage in homosexual sexual activity, be that sporadically or as permanent lifestyle choice, yet recognise it as a grave sin then they are ultimately no different to their heterosexual counterparts who engage in zina [fornication]. Though I grant it is only natural to feel an especial revulsion towards the former, being as it is a gross perversion of the sexual act involving the abuse of bodily organs and orifices, yet this should not preclude those who indulge in it from our compassion and from receiving their dues as fellow believers. Furthermore, it’s necessary to make a distinction between those who keep their wrongdoing private and those who act with brazen disregard for community sensibilities. The former should not be exposed to public contumely, for a Muslim is enjoined to conceal the sins of a fellow believer. The latter, by contrast, should be condemned publicly in order to prevent any sense of normalisation of their evil doing.
“Allah does not punish the general masses for the sins of the few evil-doers, until they see the evil apparent and they are able to forbid it (but they don’t). If they do that (not forbid the evil) then Allah will punish the general masses along with the few evil-doers.” [Ahmad]
Allah fashioned each of us individually, distinct in our desiderata, preferences and foibles. We each have a unique moral struggle to endure and are tested by God in our own unique way. Some of us find ourselves plagued by avarice and the concomitant desire for wealth acquisition by any means (including theft and fraud). Some struggle with dietary strictures especially with respect to the forbiddance of alcohol. For some maintaining the sanctity of their marital vows proves especially burdensome. And for some Muslim men their test lies in the suppression of their proclivity for sexual companionship with other men – those who fall short in this regard but keep their shortcomings hidden and repent are no different to any of the other categories of individuals who commit major sins.
Same-sex concupiscence is not in of itself a crime in the Shariah and it is entirely possible that some people are imbued with such an inclination from birth. The inclination to wrong doing and violating the divine decree is an established trait of humankind reaching all the way back to the very first man, Adam (as). To err is to be human, to desire to err even more so. The final category of “Muslim homosexual” then is the one who feels a strong sexual inclination towards other men yet fears his Lord and refrains from acting upon it. Upon this person is no blame. For some of these individuals, through counselling, they may in the end find release from such desires and sexual fulfilment through lawful heterosexual marriage. Sadly, in some cases this seems not to be possible. For such people the only advice is sabr and the knowledge that the reward for their patience is with Allah (swt) who will surely not disappoint them. A life bereft of sexual intimacy and the companionship of a spouse is undoubtedly a miserable one. While close platonic friendships and the camaraderie of other Muslims can somewhat mitigate it, the loneliness it inevitably entails will be deep and soul destroying. Those who, out of fear and respect for their Creator, endure such a trial with forbearance are spiritual mujahideen of the highest order. For such individuals I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration. They should certainly never be the subject of mockery and ridicule.
May the peace and blessing of Allah (swt) be upon Sayyidina Muhammad.
Addendum: Since publishing this piece somebody drew my attention to a small but important point that I had somehow managed to overlook. The use of the term “Muslim homosexual” is grotesque and condemnable regardless of any attached caveats or disclaimers. Nobody, after all, would even think of using terms such as “Muslim paedophile” or “Muslim adulterer” – and for good reason. If you have a severe inclination towards a particular type of fahashiya [shameful deed] then seek help for it in private do not proclaim it to all and sundry. This holds especially true in the current context where Muslims in the West are under immense pressure from the authorities and non-Muslim civil society groups to compromise their beliefs vis-a-vis LGBT issues.