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Homosexuality in Islam: why is it considered a taboo in the Muslim world?

According to a survey conducted by Channel 4 in 2016, more than 52% of all British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal.

Homosexuality is banned across the Muslim world and carries a death penalty in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan and Mauritania. But, how do the attitudes of British Muslims differ towards homosexuality from those living in Muslim countries?

What does the Qur'an teach us?
“O people, we created you all from a male and female
And made you into different communities and different tribes
So that you should come to know one another
Acknowledging that the most noble among you
Is the one most aware of God.”
Qur’an 49:13

This verse implies that the most respected in the eyes of God is the one who believes the most in God and His sayings. It also serves as a warning for all Muslims to be socially tolerant, and be accepting of all humans regardless of their social class, caste or creed.

And, it includes sexual orientation too. A gay and heterosexual Muslim are equal, except that whoever is the true believer in God (taqwa) is the most revered by Him.

While many Muslims often recite the above-quoted verse to fight social evils such as ‘racial superiority’, ‘ethnic chauvinism’, and ‘class arrogance’, progressive Muslims view it as ‘a call to justice’ that goes way beyond it’s explicitness to chauvinism, social stigma attached to homosexuals, and gender injustice.

So, why do many consider it a taboo?

Homosexuality has been among the most contentious social issues in the world, as per the public discussions around the acceptance and the legislation of civil partnerships or marriages. Cross-national surveys conducted on the attitudes of people demonstrate the subject of homosexuality remains a heated topic in society.

For the people who do raise their voice against such norms and traditions, the outcome can be shocking. Nevertheless, you cannot ignore the fact that it took the rest of Britain a sexual revolution, a lot of activism, art and cinema along with some major social and political intervention to get to where this community is in terms of its legal rights.

Muhammad Zahoor Chishti, Imam of Madina Mosque & Islamic Centre Oldham says about Homosexuality & Muslims today: "In Islam, anal sex is prohibited in heterosexual marriages, therefore, it’s the sexual act that is an abomination as transmitted in many ancient faith traditions. 

Urges and feelings towards the same gender are not policed in Islam nor to be exposed with any malicious intent. 

Anyone who publicly chooses to be in a same-gender relationship then their freedom of choice will not be threatened by Muslims by breaking the law. 

Those who choose not to endorse homosexual relationships due to their cultural-religious values seeing this union as unnatural, immoral or sinful should not be automatically assumed to be homophobic or a criminal threat in any way. 

Homosexuality is not permitted in Islam, as is the case with the majority of the other religions. However, Islam does not permit people to abuse, prosecute those who commit acts of homosexuality. We need to be sensitive towards the concerns of young people regarding their sexuality and to provide them with the necessary support and care they require to grow and become healthy members of society.”

The traditional schools of Islamic legislation based on Quranic verses and Hadith, and influenced by Islamic scholars, consider homosexual acts as unlawful and a grave sin. The Qur’an mentions the story of the “people of Lot” destroyed by the wrath of God because they indulged in illicit sexual acts between men.

Numerous scholars and commentators maintain that the Qur’an and Hadith rule unambiguously against same-sex relations. This pioneering study states that there is far more expression to the matter than most believe.

New interpretations

Lesbian, gay and transgender Muslims approach the Qur’an with a dual strategy of resistance and renewal. They resist previous interpretations but advocate on behalf of new interpretation that is arguably better — more accurate, more insightful, or more ethical — than previous interpretations.

Transgender, lesbian, and gay Muslims focus on verses that affirm their presence in God’s message, in moments when the Qur’an values diversity and pluralism within human communities, both on a universal plane and in specific discussions of the Prophet Muhammad’s community in Medina. Between renewal and resistance, they celebrate the fact that changing historical conditions open new opportunities to generate insights into the meaning of the Qur’an, meaning that was always there but was obscured by the limitations of previous conditions.

Although one can argue that the interpretation of the Qur’an is limited by the political and social commitments of human beings who are often weak and fallible when they are involved in such interpretations, one cannot say that Islam is actually against homosexuality but it is rather the guardians of the religion — the so-called mullahs and imams who have interpreted it as per their convenience and the satisfaction of the traditional Islamic societies.

There has been no significant progress towards gay rights in the Islamic world so far. However, for gays to achieve more rights within Muslim communities non-gays will also have to back the cause, for a real gay movement to happen in the near future. Change for homosexuals can only be achieved in the Muslim world when the public and governments are willing to support the issue by waving the flag of gay rights and not condoning homophobia and its horrifying impact.

Featured image: Tinxi / Shutterstock.com

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