Power and Sexuality in the Middle East
by Bruce Dunne
Sex as Power; Denial as Safety
Sexual relations in Middle Eastern societies have historically articulated social hierarchies, that is, dominant and subordinate social positions: adult men on top; women, boys and slaves below. The distinction made by modern Western “sexuality” between sexual and gender identity, that is, between kinds of sexual predilections [and] degrees of masculinity and femininity, has, until recently, had little resonance in the Middle East. Both dominant/subordinate and heterosexual/homosexual categorizations are structures of power. They position people as powerful or powerless, “normal” or “deviant.” The contemporary concept of “queerness” resists all such categorizing in favor of recognizing more complex realities of multiple and shifting positions of sexuality, identity and power.
In early 1993, news of President Clinton’s proposal to end the US military’s ban on service by homosexuals prompted a young Egyptian man in Cairo, eager to practice his English, to ask me why the president wanted “to ruin the American army” by admitting “those who are not men or women.” When asked if “those” would include a married man who also liked to have sex with adolescent boys, he unhesitatingly answered “no.” For this Egyptian, a Western “homosexual” was not readily comprehensible as a man or a woman, while a man who had sex with both women and boys was simply doing what men do. It is not the existence of same-sex sexual relations that is new but their association with essentialistsexual identities rather than hierarchies of age, class or status.
A recent study of family and urban politics in Cairo suggests that social taboos and silences relating to sexual behavior provide a space of negotiability.1 They accommodate discreet incidents of otherwise publicly condemned illicit sexual behavior–adultery, homosexuality, premarital sex–provided that paramount values of family maintenance and reproduction and supporting social networks are not threatened. Such silences, however, leave normative constructions of licit and illicit sexual behavior unchallenged, sustain patriarchal family values, and legitimize patterns of sexual violence such as honor crimes, female circumcision and gay bashing.2
Also in 1993, an Egyptian physician affiliated with Cairo’s Qasr al-‘Aini Hospital informed me that AIDS and venereal diseases were not problems in Egypt because neither prostitution nor homosexuality exist in an Islamic country. While this statement may express conventions deemed appropriate for conversations with foreigners, it is profoundly ahistorical. Over the centuries, Islamic societies have accorded prostitution much the same levels of intermittent toleration, regulation and repression as their Christian counterparts and,until recently, have been more tolerant of same-sex sexual practices.3
Denying the existence of transgressive sexual practices helps obscure the ideological nature of “transgression,” making it difficult, for example, to see prostitutes as workers who support themselves or their families by performing services for which there is a social demand. Such denials also legitimize failures to respond effectively to public health concerns such as AIDS.4
Representations of Power and Sexuality
Western notions of sexual identity offer little insight into our contemporary young Egyptian’s apparent understanding that sexual behavior conforms to a particular concept of gender. His view, informed by a sexual ethos with antecedents in Greek and late Roman antiquity, is characterized by the “general importance of male dominance, the centrality of penetration to conceptions of sex [and] the radical disjunction of active and passive roles in male homosexuality.”5 Everett Rowson has found this sexual ethos “broadly representative of Middle Eastern societies from the 9th century to the present.” This is not to suggest that there has been an unchanging or homogeneous historical experience for the Arabo-Muslim world but rather to acknowledge both the remarkable continuity reflected in the sources and the need for research that would further map historical variations.6
Islam recognizes both men and women as having sexual drives and rights to sexual fulfillment and affirms heterosexual relations within marriage and lawful concubinage. All other sexual behavior is illicit. Whether the 7th century message of the Qur’an undermined or improved the position of women is much debated. There is more agreement that in subsequent centuries Muslim male elites, adopting the cultural practices of conquered Byzantine and Sasanian lands, construed that message to promote the segregation and seclusion of women and to reserve public and political life for men.
Social segregation was legitimized in part by constructing “male” and “female” as opposites:men as rational and capable of self-control; women as emotional and lacking self-control, particularly of sexual drives. Female sexuality, if unsatisfied or uncontrolled, could result in social chaos (fitna) and social order thus required male control of women’s bodies.7 The domain of licit sexuality was placed in service to the patriarchal order. The patriarchal family served as paramount social institution and the proper locus of sex, thus ensuring legitimate filiation. Its honor required supervision of women by male family members, while marital alliances among families of equal rank maintained social hierarchies.
Where men rule, sexes are segregated, male and family honor is linked to premarital female virginity and sex is licit only within marriage or concubinage. Those denied access to licit sexuality for whatever reasons–youth, poverty, occupation (e.g. soldiers), demographic sexual imbalances–require other sexual outlets. Such contradictions between normative morality and social realities supported both male and female prostitution and same-sex practices in Middle Eastern societies from the medieval to the modern period. Ruling authorities saw prostitution as a socially useful alternative to potential male sexual violence (e.g. against respectable women) and a welcome source of tax revenues, even as some religious scholars vigorously objected. According to Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, “institutional prostitution forms part of the secret equilibrium of Arabo-Muslim societies,” necessary to their social reproduction.8
Historical Social/Sexual Roles
In medieval Islamic societies, understood through their (male-authored) literature of morals, manners, medicine and dream interpretation, sexual relations were organized in conformity to principles of social and political hierarchy. “[S]exuality was defined according to the domination by or reception of the penis in the sex act; moreover, one’s position in the social hierarchy also localized her or him in a predetermined sexual role.”9 Sex, that is, penetration, took place between dominant, free adult men and subordinate social inferiors: wives, concubines, boys, prostitutes (male and female) and slaves (male and female). What was at stake was not mutuality between partners but the adult male’s achievement of pleasure through domination. Women were viewed as naturally submissive; male prostitutes were understood to submit to penetration for gain rather than pleasure; and boys, “being not yet men, could be penetrated without losing their potential manliness.” That an adult male might take pleasure in a subordinate sexual role, in submitting to penetration, was deemed “inexplicable, and could only be attributed to pathology.”10
Rowson explains the relation between gender roles and sexual roles in medieval Muslim societies by locating them in, respectively, distinct public and private realms. Adult men, who dominated their wives and slaves in private, controlled the public realm. Sex with boys or male prostitutes made men “sinners,” but did not undermine their public position as men or threaten the important social values of female virginity or family honor. Women, who could not penetrate and were confined to the private realm, were largely irrelevant to conceptions of gender; female homoeroticism received little attention. Effeminate men who voluntarily and publicly behaved as women (mukhannaths) gave up their claims to membership in the dominant male order. They “lost their respectability [as men] but could be tolerated and even valued as entertainers”-poets, musicians, dancers, singers. Men who maintained a dominant public persona but were privately submissive threatened presumptions of male dominance and were vulnerable to challenge.11
The articulation of sexual relations in conformity to social hierarchies represents an ideological framework within which individuals negotiated varied lives under changing historical conditions. Adult male egalitarian homosexual relations may have been publicly unacceptable, but there is evidence that, in the medieval period, men of equal rank could negotiate such relations by alternating active and passive sexual roles.12 In Mamluk Egypt, lower-class women could not afford to observe ideals of seclusion and secluded upper-class women found ways to participate in social and economic life and even used the threat of withholding sex to negotiate concessions from their husbands. Women in the Ottoman period went to court to assert their rights to sexual fulfillment (e.g., to divorce an absent or impotent husband).13 State efforts to repress illicit sexual conduct or promote social-sexual norms (e.g., by closing brothels or ordering women indoors) were sporadic, short-lived and typically occasioned by political circumstances and the need to bolster regime legitimacy.14
Reproduction of ideological Islamic sexual roles in the modern period has accompanied dramatic transformations, including the rise of modern state systems, Western colonial intervention, and various reform and nationalist movements. These complex processes have not significantly challenged the patriarchal values that undergird the sexual order or impaired the capacity of states, elites and political groups to deploy both secular and Islamic discourses in their support. Colonial authorities left existing gender relations largely intact, as did middle-class reform and nationalist movements. While secular legal codeshave been adopted in many countries, they have generally deferred to religious authority in matters of family or personal status laws. Both nationalist and Islamist discourses have invoked ideals of Islamic morality and cultural authenticity to control and channel change.15
Increased economic and educational opportunities for women and the rise of nuclear family residential patterns have eroded patriarchal family structures, with, for example, older forms of arranged marriages giving way to elements of romantic attachment. Nonetheless, as Walter Armbrust and Garay Menicucci suggest in their film discussions in this issue, the popular media constantly reaffirm that family interests and normative sexual behavior take precedence over individual romantic aspirations. Moreover, because regimes link their legitimacy to the defense of morality and the licit sexual order, opposition groups and ordinary people draw attention to the existence of sexually transgressive behavior to criticize a range of government policies.16 Thus, premarital and homosexual relations among Moroccan youth, in the context of AIDS prevention debates discussed in this issue by Abdessamad Dialmy, are attributed to the government’s failure to provide employment and, hence, access to marriage and licit sexual relations. Both official and oppositional discourses affirm sexual norms.
Sexual relations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, continue to be understood as relations of power linked to rigid gender roles. In Turkey, Egypt and the Maghrib, men who are “active” in sexual relations with other men are not considered homosexual; the sexual domination of other men may even confer a status of hyper-masculinity.17 The anthropologist Malek Chebel, describing the Maghrib as marked by an “exaggerated machismo,” claims that most men who engage in homosexual acts are functional bisexuals; they use other men as substitutes for women–and have great contempt for them. He adds that most Maghribis would consider far worse than participation in homosexual acts the presence of love, affection or equality among participants.18Equality in sexual relations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, threatens the “hyper-masculine” order.
Gender norms are deeply internalized.
A recent study of sexual attitudes among rural Egyptian women found that they viewedfemale circumcision as a form not of violence but of beautification, a means ofenhancing their physical differentiation from men and thus female identity.19 An informalstudy of men in Egypt found that aspirations to “hegemonic notions of masculinity” assisted in a continuous process of negotiating the nature of masculinity–the ability to provide for families or exercise control over women–in response to declining economic conditions.20 The persistent notion that women lack sexual control affords broad scope and social sanction to aggressive male sexuality. Women alone bear the blame–and the often brutal consequences evidenced by honor crimes–for even the suggestion of their involvement in illicit sexual activities. Suzanne Ruggi notes in this issue that honor crimes may account for 70 percent of murder cases involving Palestinian women. Honor crimes are also common in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.
Violence directed against male homosexuals appears to be on the rise. Effeminate male dancers known as khawals were popular public performers in 19th-century Egypt; today that term is an insult, equivalent to “faggot.”21 The 19th-century khawals may not have enjoyed respect as “men,” but there is little evidence that they were subjected to violence. Hostility to homosexual practices has been part of the political and cultural legacy of European colonialism. Today, global culture’s images of diverse sexualities and human sexual rights have encouraged the formation of small “gay” subcultures in large cosmopolitan cities such as Cairo, Beirut and Istanbul and a degree of political activism, particularly in Turkey. Although homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, Turkish gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals have been harassed and assaulted by police and sometimes “outed” to families and employers. Turkish gay activists have specifically been targeted. Effeminate male prostitutes in contemporary Morocco are described as a marginal group, ostracized and rejected by their families, living in fear of police and gay-bashers (casseurs de pédés). For some, as for Turkish transsexuals, prostitution serves as one of the few ways in which they can live their sexuality.22 Many homosexuals in Middle Eastern countries havesought asylum in the West as refugees from official persecution.23
“Queering” the Middle East
In noting the threat posed to the dominant sexual order by egalitarian sexual relationships, Malek Chebel acknowledges the great silence that surrounds the fact that widespread active male homosexual relations in Middle Eastern societies presuppose the widespread availability of passive partners.24 Demet Demir, a political activist and spokesperson for Turkish transsexuals, touches upon the same contradiction when she states, with reference to the popularity as prostitutes of Istanbul’s transsexuals: “These people who curse us during the day give money to lie with us at night.”25 Is this the “functional”–and misogynist–“bisexuality” described by Chebel above the mere substitution by men of other, available men for unavailable women? That view, which hardly explains the choice of a male or transsexual over a female prostitute, is entirely consistent with and sustains the ideology that places public or visible or audible men as sexually dominant.
Little attention has been given to the nature of these expressions of male sexual desirewhich, as Deniz Kandiyoti has noted, seem to “combine a whole range of masculinities and femininities.”26 There are, she suggests, generational and institutional dimensions to the production of masculine identities. Thus, men who are expected to be “dominant” in one context may experience subordination, powerlessness and humiliation in others, for example in relation to their fathers and to superiors at school or during military service. How does “masculinity” change meaning in these different domains? The complexity of questions of sexuality, identity and power are explored in this issue by Yael Ben-zvi who finds herself, in Israel, simultaneously privileged as an Ashkenazi Jew and marginalized as a lesbian. The aim of “queerness,” therefore, is to recognize identity as “permanently open as to its meaning and political use [and to] encourage the public surfacing of differences or a culture where multiple voices and interests are heard.”27
Bruce Dunne, an editor of Middle East Report teaches Middle East history at Georgetown University.
1 Diane Singerman, Avenues of Participation: Family, Politics, and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1997), pp. 92 and 100.
2 See Latefa Imane, “Un programme de sensibilisation et de soutien auprès de prostitués masculins,” Le Journal du SIDA 92-93 (December 1996-January 1997), p. 55.
3 See As’ad AbuKhalil, “A Note on the Study of Homosexuality in the Arab/Islamic Civilization,” Arab Studies Journal 1/2 (Fall, 1993), pp. 32-34.
4 See Malek Chebel, “La séparation des sexes engendre un masculin maghrébin,” Le Journal du SIDA 92-93 (December 1996-January 1997), p. 27.
5 Everett K. Rowson, “The Categorization of Gender and Sexual Irregularity in Medieval Arabic Vice Lists,” in Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub, eds., Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Ambiguity (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), p. 73.
6 Ibid., pp. 72-73.
7 See Judith Tucker, Gender and Islamic History (Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 1993), pp. 3-13; Steven M. Oberhelman, “Hierarchies of Gender, Ideology, and Power in Ancient and Medieval Greek and Arabic Dream Literature,” in J. W. Wright Jr. and Everett K. Rowson, eds. Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 66.
8 Hassanein Rabie, The Financial System of Egypt: A.H. 564-641/A.D. 1169-1341 (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 119; André Raymond, Artisans et commerçants au Caire au XVIIIe siècle (Damascus, 1973), pp. 508-09 and 527; Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, Sexuality in Islam (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985), p. 193.
9 Oberhelman, op. cit., pp. 67-68.
10 Rowson, op. cit., pp. 66-67.
11 Ibid., pp. 66 and 72-73.
12 Ibid., p. 66.
13 Huda Lutfi, “Manners and Customs of Fourteenth-Century Cairene Women: Female Anarchy versus Male Shar’i Order in Muslim Prescriptive Treatises,” in Nikki R. Keddie and Beth Baron, eds. Women in Middle Eastern History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), pp. 101 and 109-18; Tucker, op. cit., pp. 18-19.
14 Rabie, op. cit., p. 119; Raymond, op. cit., pp. 604-09.
15 See Tucker, op. cit., pp. 19-33.
16 Singerman, op. cit., pp. 93-94 and 100.
17 Huseyin Tapinc, “Masculinity, Femininity, and Turkish Male Homosexuality,” in Kenneth Plummer, ed., Modern Homosexualities: Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experiences (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 46; Singerman, op.cit., p. 99; Chebel, op. cit., p. 27.
18 Chebel, op. cit., p. 27.
19 Hind Khattab, Women’s Perceptions of Sexuality in Rural Giza (Giza, Egypt: The Population Council: Monographs in Reproductive Health 1, 1996), p. 20.
20 Kamran Asdar Ali, “Notes on Rethinking Masculinities: An Egyptian Case,” Learning about Sexuality: A Practical Beginning (The Population Council and the International Women’s Health Coalition, 1995), pp. 106-07.
21 Singerman, op. cit., p. 100.
22 Imane, op. cit., p. 55; Turkish Daily News, August 22, 1997; Amnesty International, Breaking the Silence: Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation (London: Amnesty International UK, 1997), pp. 26-27, 52.
23 Information provided to MERIP courtesy of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Asylum Project, San Francisco.
24 Chebel, op. cit., p. 27.
25 Turkish Daily News, August 22, 1997.
26 Deniz Kandiyoti, “The Paradoxes of Masculinity,” in Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfarne, eds., Dislocating Masculinities: Comparative Ethnographies (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 212.
27 Steven Seidman, “Introduction,” in Steven Seidman, ed., Queer Theory/Sociology, (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996), p. 12.
October 27, 2001
Gay Muslims in the Post-Attack World
by Kelly Cogswell
Al-Fatiha, the first organization for gay Muslims, grew out of Faisal Alam’s 1997 plea on the Internet: Is there anybody out there like me? Is anyone out there a gay Muslim? The response was tremendous, and after a year the small Internet community grew into an international foundation managed by volunteers, with six chapters in the U.S., two in Canada, another in London, and more on the way. Since September 11, Al-Fatiha has spent less time helping lgbt Muslims and their straight friends and families come to grips with sexual identity, than educating the gay community and gay media about Islam, and the historical and political context of the attack.
When I spoke with Alam, recently, in New York City, the young Pakistani-American AIDS activist was in the midst of a speaking tour decrying as simplistic rhetoric the views of some gay writers like Paul Varnell, who in “The New Culture War,” characterized the attack as a conflict of East versus West, and medieval Islam versus modernity. Alam’s refrain: Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Don’t blame all Muslims for what a very, very few did.
Like other Muslims, Al-Fatiha members have had to deal with a surge in hate crimes. Alam, who lives in D.C., said, “After September 11, almost everybody I knew that was not white was getting harassed. Most of it was verbal, go back where you came from, things like that. One of our members in New York called the police when his door was graffitied. They hauled him in for questioning.” Alam’s main concern is the erosion of civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad, and how it will affect gay people. In some places it can’t get any worse.
In Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia “homosexuals” are executed. “In Egypt [where homosexuality is supposedly not illegal] gay people are already defined as a threat to the state.” The 52 Egyptian men on trial for “obscene behavior” and “contempt for religion,” code language for being gay, are being tried in Egypt’s Special Emergency Court, set up to deal with terrorists. Prior to the attack, Al-Fatiha, working with gay Egyptians, brought world-wide attention to the case before the attack erased it from the media’s attention. In the closing arguments of the case on October 10, the main defendant, Sherif Hassan Farahat, was accused of being a member of Jihad, the Egyptian fundamentalist terrorist network, which closely related to Bin Laden’s terrorist organization. How he can be both an obvious “homosexual,” and a follower of the intensely homophobic fundamentalist group remains a mystery.
Given the Bush administration’s uncritical quest for allies, a number of dictatorships and sham democracies will be emboldened to use the current political upheaval to crack down on anyone they don’t like. U.S. security now, more than ever before, has become equated with our unsavory allies’ stability. At the same time, fundamentalist Muslims are using the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan to recruit new anti-American, pro-Islamist members who will be sure to indulge in further anti-gay campaigns.
In the U.S., the post-attack Muslim community could go either “left” and reformist, or “right” and fundamentalist, according to Alam. Until recently, the mainstream community, which by U.S. standards is overwhelmingly conservative, has been in denial about the existence of gay Muslims. Some are also struggling with the role of women. The first time “homosexuality” was addressed openly in the U.S. Muslim world was after gay Muslims marched for the first time last June in San Francisco’s Gay Pride. Members reported that at least six mosques had anti-queer sermons the following Friday. Al-Fatiha also got some attention after picking up a “fatwa,” or religious edict, from a fundamentalist Islamic group in Britain. “The very existence of Al-Fatiha is illegitimate and the members of this organization are apostates,” the decree said. “Never will such an organization be tolerated in Islam and never will the disease which it calls for be affiliated with a true Islamic society or individual. The Islamic ruling for such acts is death.”
Nevertheless, Alam is hopeful that U.S. Muslims will reject the fundamentalist trend. “We’re trying to make this our home. We like the freedom here. And we don’t want to seem like a foreign entity. Change will happen in the next few years,” he said, “when the second generation takes leadership positions. That’s when it will be interesting to see if we go right or left. I think that, after September 11, it’ll be left.”
The attacks have spurred at least a few U.S. Muslims to assess their own culture. In his essay “A Memo to American Muslims,” Dr. Muqtedar Khan, of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, and a professor at Adrian College in Michigan, questions those Muslim Americans who “love to live in the U.S., but also love to hate it,” who condemn Israel for anti-Muslim abuses, but not Muslim regimes like Saddam Hussein’s who slaughter thousands of their own people. He calls for U.S. Muslims to examine themselves, and rededicate their efforts to “harmony, peace, and tolerance,” instead of to “the culture of hate and killing.”
A few hardline Muslim voices in the U.S. can be heard justifying the attacks, some subtly, others overtly. However, most are like homegrown post-Columbine observers who distanced themselves and America from that massacre, declaring it an aberration, absolutely nothing to do with the larger culture, or even that of American high schools. Fundamentalist Christians, if forced to comment on the bombing of abortion clinics and gay bars, will only say that it is not very nice, but has nothing to do with them, before they launch into a tirade against godless baby-killers and queers. For blind-folded believers, there are no thorns in the rosebushes of Islam, or American culture, or Christianity.
Aside from self-examination, a significant factor determining the future of American Islam may be how that community responds to the increased anti-Muslim social pressures. An embattled community may become more conservative, rather than less, as Faisal Alam acknowledged. Before the attack, he said, the pressures of living as a cultural and religious minority in the U.S. were already visible on second generation immigrants. “There’s a large segment that is even more conservative than their parents. In fact many of their parents when they came were secular, and got more religious when they came here. Their children are far more hard-core religious than they would have been if they had stayed in a place like Pakistan, where Islam is not just exclusively religious, but cultural.
They turn to it here, where they have no cultural influence.” Faisal Alam was in Miami Beach preparing for the U.S. Conference on AIDS, when the airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “I was stuck in this resort on Miami Beach, seeing it on CNN. It was really surreal. At the same time, there was this hurricane coming.”
July 30, 1998
Male Homosexuality in the Arab World
(This article focuses only on male homosexuality. This reporter tried to interview females and to tackle the issue of female homosexuality, without results. Arab women are quite reserved and inhibited on this issue for fear of causing problems to their friends or families.)
Amman, Jordan – The issue of male homosexuality in the Arab world remains a taboo and untapped subject away from national debate. This tendency is not spoken about openly– though male-male friction is acknowledged. Nor is it legally recognized in these conservative societies. While the issue of recognizing male homosexuality is not totally different from other countries, male Arab homosexuality has indeed a different notion from that in the West. Gay activities are frowned upon in Islam but a set of cultural and traditional taboos has played a role in the acquiescence of much of these sexual activities if confined to a certain set of moral conducts.
That is to say, homosexual behavior may be overlooked but experiencing feelings of an emotional nature beyond sex makes a man gay and hence, a potential outcast. In a society where the family bond, “honor” and image are extremely important, many tend to follow the dictates and norms of society, even if this means living in conflict with their inner feelings.
Sex vs. emotions
Many Arab men make a distinction between sex and emotional attachment. Bruce Dunne, author of an article titled Power and Sexuality in the Middle East, believes that sexual relations in the Middle East are about power. He writes: “Sexual relations in Middle Eastern societies have historically articulated social hierarchies, that is, dominant and subordinate social positions: adult men on top; women, boys and slaves below…Both dominant/subordinate and heterosexual/homosexual categorizations are structures of power.”
Having pure, raw sex with another man and being the active partner doesn’t make a man gay. This notion of same-sex is also true in the West. It differs, however, with regard the application.
“Since the concept of same-sex relations does not exist in the Arab world, being ‘Gay’ is still considered to be a sexual behavior,” says Outreach Director of the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society, Ramzi Zakharia, in an e-mail interview. But according to Western definition, “that limits it to ‘homosexual’ behavior, which does not mean that the person is Gay. Just because you sleep with a member of the same sex does not mean you are Gay… it just means that you are engaging in homosexual activity. Once a relationship develops beyond sex (i.e: love) this is when the term gay applies,” adds akharia.
He believes that gays in the Arab world, unlike those in Western societies, “limit their activities to sex and rarely explore feelings beyond that,” experience.
Impressions from a European
European-born Marcus, who has been in Jordan for two months, has already noticed a remarkable difference between the Kingdom and his native country. While he says that the men he has met generally shy away from emotional intimacy mostly because they experience inner conflicts, these same men are capable of justifying a purely sexual experience.
Having sex (discreetly) is alright, and sometimes even seen as an exploit. It is therefore justified. Men holding hands or walking arm in arm are familiar scenes in Arab streets. In general men are more intimate with each other than they are in the West and a man without a woman at his side is not really seen as strange, Marcus observes. These scenes would not draw the eyes of passersby, but the same man-to-man intimacy could be outrightly interepreted in the West as a gay relationship. “It is much easier to meet men and be close to them here,” Marcus says.
Marcus, 29, is gay. He is in the country for the first time learning Arabic. Marcus preferred not to use his real name. Although he says he feels more at ease about being gay in Jordan than he does in his home town, he did not want his colleagues at work to read his name. Marcus says he feels comfortable approaching a man in Jordan with frankness about his desires. Even though the man may not be gay there is some sort of “understanding” at what is going on, and little or no offence would be taken. Some men interviewed in Jordan, however, appeared offended at the mention of this topic and they even refused to bring up the issue in general. When they did finally speak about homosexual behavior and gays– which they believed were the same– they spoke with repulsion and with harshness.
But Marcus says he has not yet experienced anything of this sort and life for a gay in Jordan is much easier in some ways. Back in his home, a man cannot easily approach or look at another man. “We have the legal recognition but we have a social taboo,” Marcus says.
Living a dual life
It may be easier to engage in homosexual behavior, but it certainly is not the case when emotions are involved. This Arab distinction of sex versus emotional attachment is largely derived out of a conflict with religion and tradition. Arab men engage in homosexual behavior, and don’t cross the realm of being gay in order not to morally hurt themselves or their families. These Arab men would prefer (though not because they really want to) to fit into society’s mold and they justify their sexual preferences as “something men do”, and not as “something I do because I am gay.”
If these same people were living in Western societies, they would most probably be gay and not only engage in homosexual sex. In the West, those who are gay will cross the homosexual boundaries, even if that means staying in the closet. In the Arab world, only some do. Many, however, live a dual life.
Indeed, several gay Arab men living in the US have said that when they return to their homes for long visits, they adapt to societal expectations of them as men, become “hypocritical” and engage in only homosexual behavior, if they do at all.
“They (Arab men) do not face friends/families or even themselves with the truth of their identity. Rather, the majority will carry on with society’s plans, get married, get the kids… and then either carry on sexual relations on the side… or vent out their sexual frustrations on Alcohol, Drugs, Spouse Abuse, and other negative and destructive behavior,” according to Zakharia.
Homosexuality for Arabs contradicts and even undermines the male, patriarchal image as a “macho” in Arab societies.
A non-typical Arab male?
One 26-year-old Lebanese of Palestinian origin living in Canada explains his conflict, similar to the feelings of many others like him. The following was received from him by e-mail and is printed without editing. He did not want his name used: I am a non-typical gay Arab male who grew up in Lebanon and then migrated to Canada. Non-typical, I say, because I find myself very different from the gay Arab men (gay men in general) that I know. And I know quite a few. I am able to find a trend in my behavior as I also recognize the common traits that I find in the men I am acquainted with. This leads me to believe that I am different and perhaps they are the norm.
In addressing my homosexuality I try to reconcile many things, namely religion, family, culture and image. Religion , in my mind, tells me not to over indulge. It also is a source of guilt and fear of God. I am Muslim but my friend tells me that my guilt is a Catholic guilt.
My parents raised me with a set of expectations that no matter how much I fight and how compromising my parents get, still is embedded in me. It is inherent that I must succeed. It is inherent no matter what my limitations are. Not to say that my parents will disown me or hurt me. They are very loving. Too loving sometimes. By too loving I mean that they foster dependence to a point that makes me feel controlled most of the time and safe the rest of the time.
Arab culture as I see it is two tier. One side is the culture itself which I love and want and am proud of, the other level is culture in the context of common society. Arabs are perhaps the most hypocritical ( in my view ) when it comes to values. The facade is that of religion and morality. Behind the closed doors is everything else. The two main things I pray one day will happen are that we will become assertive internationally and protect our rights, the other is that we will undo the sexism that we are notorious for.
The last aspect is image. This is personal. We can blame everyone but we must also look within. I look at myself honestly and I see a guy who does not entirely accept himself. This is the number one hindrance to change. I see myself being proud and then I see myself being quiet and complacent. I attribute that to me. I am not being up to the challenge of being gay. I see myself wanting a woman and children whenever I am acquainted with a girl who may be interested in me in the context of marriage. As I said I am non-typical or I choose to feel this way. I try to reconcile heterosexual values with homosexual life. I go in circles and I find that it all boils down to me as a person. I have to be happy. I find what makes me feel happy, what fulfills me and the rest just falls into place.
In brief, growing up I was a naive and chronically introverted kid with a lot of imagination and no support or anyone to share with. I was never really able to conceive what sex was in its biological sense until I was in Canada and was reading a lot. I did not know about anal sex until I read about it. I never experimented with other boys. The closest I got to that was physical play such as wrestling with my friend. How do you know the Earth is not flat until you are told it is not? When one looks at it, the Earth looks flat. Similarly society looks heterosexual.
This young man considers himself a non-typical Arab gay, but another young Arab man pointed out in a response to him that he was in fact typical: I am a non-typical gay Arab male you’re wrong. You ARE the typical Gay Arab male. Your post was very interesting. You reminded me what I was a few years ago, but also I realized that I didn’t advance so much!. When I go home or when I am with my family, I am exactly like you.
Homosexual sex is not new. It has been around in the Arab world for a long time. The problem is love. “Once you decide to explore your identity beyond sexual activity, once you decide to reject your patriarchal role… this is when you get in trouble,” Zakharia says.
In countries such as Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, society is slowly changing and emulating the West. With their proximity to Western culture and thought, and people being exposed to new concepts regarding gender roles and sexuality, platforms for debate on homosexuality are opening up. In Lebanon, society is slowly shifting from a Patriarchal model to a “nuclear” family model; this year’s attempt to introduce civil marriage is a prime example. Other post-Colonialist countries in the region are following, such as Tunis, Zakharia says.
February 5, 2002
Gay Life and Death in the Arab World –Persecution of homosexuals increases in the Middle East
By Kate Garsombke
Gays and lesbians living in the Arab world are struggling against an alarming wave of government persecution, according to human rights groups. But a growing network of progressive-minded Muslims is beginning to fight back.
As Penny Dale of One World Africa reports, eight Egyptian men were arrested for the “practice of debauchery” on January 19, and gay rights groups fear the men may be tortured while in jail. It’s a “steadily growing pattern of persecution,” claims the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a U.S.-based group that has decried the persecution of gays and people with HIV and AIDS worldwide.
Last year in Cairo, for example, 23 of 52 men convicted of “obscene behavior” were sentenced to five years of hard labor. Then, in December, two Egyptian university students who had responded to an undercover agent’s request for gay contacts in an Internet chat room were sentenced under the same law. And Saudi Arabia punishes convicted homosexuals with the death penalty – most recently on January 1, when three Saudi Arabian men were executed. The trial proceedings remain secret, according to the IGLHRC, and Amnesty International claims the executions may be part of the government’s “determination to continue its appalling yearly rate of executions.”
“The pattern is the same,” says IGLHRC Program Director Scott Long. “People suspected of homosexuality are picked up and accused of prostitution. Police use informers and the Internet to entrap victims.”
Homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited under Egyptian law, but statutes are based on Sharia, or Islamic law-which condemn it as an immoral act. According to the Al-Fatiha Foundation, an international group for gay Muslims, homosexuality is seen as sinful and perverted in most Islamic countries based on verses in the Qu’ran. But although mainstream Islam condemns homosexuality, the Al-Fatiha Foundation site claims “there is a growing movement of progressive-minded Muslims who see Islam as an evolving religion that must adapt to modern-day society.”
Groups like the Al-Fatiha Foundation and the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society lead the way with others, like the IGLHRC and Amnesty International in opposing the persecution of homosexuals in Arab countries.The IGLHRC publishes online action alerts urging people to send letters to governments in which persecution of gays exists.
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: The IGLHRC is a non-governmental organization that responds to human rights violations of GLBT people and anyone living with HIV or AIDS. ( http://www.iglhrc.org ) .
Al-Fatiha Foundation: An international foundation based in Washington, D.C., the Al-Fatiha Foundation is dedicated to Muslim GLBT issues by providing news, discussion groups, and background information on Islam’s view of homosexuality on their Web site. ( http://www.al-fatiha.net ) .
Ahbab, the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society: Claiming to be the “first gay Arab radio station,” the New York-based Ahbab features news, articles, and essays about gay Arabs. ( http://glas.org/ahbab ) .
Bint el Nas: In Arabic, the phrase “Bint el Nas” literally means “daughter of the people,” and is used to describe a woman or girl of good standing. The Bint el Nas Web site and its e-zine is designed for gay, bisexual, and transgender women who identify themselves ethnically or culturally with the Arab world, regardless of where they live. (http://www.bintelnas.org )
November 7, 2001
Pakistani-American Gay Muslim activist works to build ties
By Nahal Toosi
At some point during his two-week hospital stay in November 1996 after a nervous breakdown, Faisal Alam stopped living two lives and chose to live one. Alam is gay; he’s also Muslim. To the chagrin of major Muslim organizations, leading Muslim scholars and some family members, the 24-year-old Pakistani American is proclaiming that those two identities are compatible. “In my mind, I really view sexuality as being sacred and being a gift from God in many ways,” Alam said. “It’s the interpretation of religion in a society that makes sex and sexuality out to be such a big deal.”
This week, Alam, founder of Al-Fatiha, an international group for gay Muslims, will take part in a panel discussion in Milwaukee during the Creating Change conference, the country’s largest annual gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists. The conference, to be held at the Hyatt Regency, starts in Milwaukee today and ends Sunday. Alam probably wouldn’t have predicted his presence at Creating Change a decade ago. Once a model Muslim boy, Alam knew that most Muslims interpreted the religion as forbidding and condemning homosexuality. As in the Hebrew Bible, the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, includes the story of Lot, where men were punished for acting on their lust for other men.
“It’s not up to us to determine whether this action is a sin or not – It’s up to God,” said Imam Amin Amer, religious director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. “The Qur’an clearly states that God considers homosexuality as a great sin.” There are no “ifs and buts about it,” said Jamal Badawi, professor of religious studies and management at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “The issue of homosexuality is decided and decisive.”
But Alam and other gay Muslims aren’t convinced that the interpretations are appropriate or concrete, saying, for example, it is lust itself, not necessarily homosexuality, that is condemned. “Any sort of lustful act outside the concept of a committed relationship, of course it’s wrong,” Alam said. Alam’s family grew more religious after moving to a small Connecticut town when he was 10. But despite activism in his faith, Alam always felt “different.” Until he reached age 16, he didn’t even know the word to describe his sexuality. But he couldn’t escape it.
In his late teens, he began a relationship with a man, a twenty-something American convert to Islam. When the relationship ended, Alam went into denial. He became engaged, but his fiancee left, saying she felt that something was wrong. Eventually, a mentally ravaged Alam landed in the hospital. A year later, Alam turned to the Internet and found others in similar situations. Al-Fatiha, formed in late 1998, now has nine branches in three countries and has served some 2,000 people. Members vary in their approach to Al-Fatiha. Some, for example, stay celibate. Others use the group to re-affirm their faith. Alam’s growing stature as an advocate for gay Muslims has made him and his organization a target of death threats and anger.
His father and mother are still coming to terms with their son’s homosexuality, and he struggles to remain devout. But, especially since the media publicized his story, Alam has been hesitant to attend a mosque for fear of backlash. “There’s definitely a level of fear that is always in the back of my mind,” Alam said. “I don’t think my relationship with God is as strong as it was before, but I still have conversations with him.”
Al-Fatiha (the name means “the opening,” which is also the title of the Qur’an’s first chapter) hasn’t tried to force a showdown with major Muslim groups. But Alam expects the group to take more aggressive religious and political stances in the future. At this week’s conference, Alam, now a Washington, D.C. resident, plans to talk about tolerance and how the Muslim community has fared since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Islamic Studies on Homosexuality (1998)
Omar Nahas, M.A. – Is it possible for Muslims to talk about homosexuality in terms acceptable to their religion?
This is a primary question that needs to be answered if Muslims and non-Muslims are to discuss homosexuality and other related issues. It is also important for Muslims who want to discuss these issues among themselves for example, in conjunction with sexual education within the Muslim community. The YOESUF foundation is confronted with this question because it provides informational services on the theme of Islam and homosexuality.
In this paper I attempt to answer the above question. I begin with selected passages from Islamic sources relating to sexuality. Next, I will discuss views of same-gender-sex taken from Islamic literature. Thirdly, I present a thematic cataloguing of information concerning Islam and homosexuality. This systematic classification of the material is intended to make the subject more accessible and debatable for Muslims. Lastly, I defend this approach and close with a summary.
I. Selected Passages from Islamic Sources:
II. Islamic View on Homosexuality
III. a. Categories of information concerning Islam and homosexuality
III. b. Why this heading division
I. Selected Passages from Islamic Sources:
The term sexuality and homosexuality are not a term found in the Koran. However, the concepts of sexuality and homosexuality can be directly perceived from texts from the Koran. There are two separate words for heterosexual sex relations inside and out of Islamic wedlock: Nikah and Zina.
There is no separate or special word in the Koran for homosexual sex relations. The Koran calls the acts against the people, from the prophet Lot ‘sayi’at’ (a general term meaning ‘bad things’)II. What those acts exactly were, can be found in the texts of the Koran. One of them is penetrating (Arab: ya’tun) males. This sexual activity, forbidden by the Koran, is referred to in the Koran with the verb (ya’tun) and followed by a noun as object. In Islamic texts, (liwata) is the acceptable term for ‘penetrating males ‘.
Lesbian sexual acts are referred to with the same verb (ya’tun), only in the feminine form and followed by the noun (fahisha). This is a general term and means ‘great sin’. The term that Islamic scholars use for sexual relations between women (sihak) is not in the Koran but instead in the pronouncements of the Prophet. Islam considers Lesbian sexual acts (sihak) an unacceptable form of sexual activity (III-footnote).
This brief explanation from Islamic sources make clear how important it is to study Islamic terms if we want to study homosexuality from an Islamic perspective.
II. Islamic View on Homosexuality
In order to discuss homosexuality in a manner acceptable in Islam, I have taken stock of the views on homosexuality according to Islam and based on Islamic literature. This point of view can be divided into six points:
1) Muslim scholars unanimously agreement that Islam rejects homosexual acts. However, it only becomes punishable when anal sex occurs in public (or is obvious, meaning where others can witness it) IV.
2) Islamic punishment for anal sex in public varies according to the situation. There is a light and a heavy punishment.
3) The Juridical tradition has written that anal sex can only be punished if four witnesses saw the actual penetration with their own eyes and are prepared to act as witnesses VI. The sanction is actually against having sex in public, because the punishment is also applicable to heterosexual acts in public.
4) The rule about ‘four witnesses’ weighs heavily. An accusation by someone without four witnesses (as evidence) is also punishable VII.
5) Above all, the Islamic law is only applicable for Muslims who live in a country with an Islamic tradition and where Islamic law in implemented VIII.
6) The Islamic view of homosexuality doesn’t limit itself to strict statutory regulation. Islam recognizes that the sex drive is inherent in everyone. Islam has complete views concerning feminine and masculine homosexuality.
The above rules and summaries come from Islamic literature, written in Arabic and discussed in the Koran. Comparable summaries can be found in various Koran exegeses and other Islamic sources, in the languages of the Moslem world. These ideas are familiar with those who know Islam, regardless of origin.
The six points, seen in their entirety, give a rather negative impression of the Muslim viewpoint on homosexuality. Besides this view is a more positive one of the nuances and specifications from these concisely formulated points. These nuances and specifications can be found in the Islamic literature itself. The YOESUF Foundation and the people who work in an emancipatory yet Islamic way of discussing homosexuality will certainly give attention to these nuances in the coming years.
The image surrounding Islam and homosexuality depends upon the way in which people manage the above mentioned rules in discussion. When people stress the punishability of homosexual sex (as discussed in the point one) and negate the condition of public acts and the nature of human sexuality, they draw a much more negative picture than Muslim scholars intended. Both the four witnesses’ rule and the pre-condition that Islamic law is only applicable in strict Islamic countries are very important. These laws have no consequences for the gay and lesbian lives (of Muslim or non-Muslims) in the Netherlands, the West or in not very strict Muslim countries.
This viewpoint is indeed Islamic but not practiced by all Muslims in their daily lives. Islam is practiced and interpreted in different ways by Muslims from different cultures. In Turkey and in Egypt, the religion is the same but the people give it different meaning. The local cultures give Islam its own Turkish or Egyptian flavor.
In daily practice, people from the same culture have different opinions on the subject. Islamic scholars and sexual freedom fighters try to influence these opinions in a number of ways. But because homosexuality is not a word found in the Koran, the discussion quickly becomes difficult. Even intellectuals with Islamic backgrounds use the same terms but give them different meanings. The term ‘al Shuzuz al Jinsi’ (literally translated as ‘the sexual deviation’) is used by Arabs (incorrectly) as a synonym for homosexuality.
The general public does not understand the literal translation for homosexuality ‘Aljinsiya al mithliah’ or ‘Junusiyya’. As a result, the Arabic newspaper (Aljisr) in the Netherlands uses the more negative ‘al Shuzuz al jinsi’ instead of ‘Junusiyya’. The consequences of this are obvious IX!
It is possible to relativize these consequences in the context of the emancipation process, but the difference in the meaning of the different terms which are wrongly used as synonyms remains too great to be acceptable. That shows the importance of researching the origins of the perception of homosexuality as a sexual deviation in order to make discussion possible.
Hereby is the difference between the Islamic view of homosexuality and the cultural viewpoint of Muslim cultures on this subject clearer; Islam considers homosexuality a sin but many Muslim cultures view it as a sexual deviation as well as a sin.
In addition to the aforementioned, there are also less well-known nuances for Muslims concerning homosexuality. Because these give a more positive image of homosexuality, they are unfortunately viewed with suspicion. Advocates of this line of thought are suspected of all sorts of ulterior motives and often oppressed. For example, Mohammed Jalal Kishk’s book of stories entitled Muslim’s Ideas About Sexuality X. The author gives his views on sexuality and homosexuality in paradise. Because of its rosy descriptions, the book first had to be examined by an Islamic commission chosen by al- Azhar XI. The commission was objective enough to release the book. But the Egyptian media was ruthless in its contempt the book, the members of the commission and Al- Azhar University.
The above examples, especially the last, clearly illustrate that homosexuality can be discussed in Muslim circles, but it remains a sensitive subject. This sensitivity must be kept in mind, especially when providing informational services on the homosexuality. Information must not clash with Islamic values and it should be made clear that Islamic ideas are respected, whether people personally agree or not. To achieve this, it is important to be open to advice and criticism from Islamic scholars and from the Muslim community. Above all, the information that is provided must be clear on the sources of that information.
The trick is now to develop information services geared towards emancipation and also sensitive to these other delicate aspects. Classifying the information gives insight into the subject matter and the method of study. The aim of this is to reduce the reservations that Muslims may have concerning the theme ‘homosexuality and Islam’.
I have developed the following categories in order to thematically address the information.
III. a. Categories of information concerning Islam and homosexuality
I have organized the information into seven categories, each of them focuses on one aspect of the whole theme. Short articles (about one page) about different aspects of the specific themes of each category are researched, translated and edited. These articles contain answers found in Islamic sources to frequently asked questions.
The categories are:
1) Questioning homosexuality?
– Homosexuality in Islamic texts
– Lesbian relationships in Islamic texts
– Same sex love in Islamic texts
– Sexual acts and variations
– How do Muslims who believe in the ban on homosexuality function within this ban (examples from literature)
2) Generally speaking, how does the Islamic society feel (and behave) about gay and lesbian sexuality?
– To what extent is homosexuality accepted by Islamic society
– Muslims ideas about passive and active role division
3) How does the Islamic law (sharia) affect gays and lesbians?
– The punishability of homosexuality (M-M and F-F)
– The various sanctions
– The applicability of the criminal punishment of homosexuality
– The meaning of these Islamic laws for everyday life in Muslim countries and the consequences for non-Muslim countries.
4) To what extent does Islam determine the lives of Muslims and what influence does it have on their sexual identity?
– Basic concepts of Islam
– The various manifestations of Islam
– The relationship between Islam and the cultures of Muslim countries
– Islam and sexuality in general
– Gender related problems in Islamic texts
5) What image do people have of Islam and homosexuality?
– The mutability of an image
– Reactions to articles and pronouncements of Muslims and non-Muslims on the subject of homosexuality
6) Modern challenges for the Muslim and non- Muslim worlds in the area of homosexuality.
– The use of condoms and HIV prevention by Muslims
– Gay sex tourism in the Muslim world
– The migration of gays and lesbians
– Human rights and homosexuality
7) What methodology do we use in this day and age to discuss homosexuality?
– Modern scientific approach to sexuality (the alpha and the beta sciences)
– Western models
– Islamic models
In this synopsis, two themes come out ‘Questioning homosexuality’ and ‘The Islamic law’. These two points seem to overlap one another. The first discusses the relation between God and the Individual; the responsibility for ones behavior lies with the individual. Society is not responsible for what occurs in private. The second theme is concerned with the relationship between society and the individual. In this case, responsibility for individual acts lies with the individual and society (where these acts occur). Society involves itself with the consequences of these actions on society. From an Islamic point of view, the differences are certainly legitimate and this nuance is a conscious choice in order to make the subject more accessible to Muslims.
III. b. Why this heading division
1) The division into seven blocks of information is informed by the view of homosexuality in Islamic literature. The seven themes can be further researched, added to and expanded.
2) The division into themes should lead to a more accessible and ordered view of homosexuality and Islam. The information can easily be made into a booklet (a reference book).
2) These themes can aid discussions of emancipation and the Muslim community. The separation of themes one and three is already a step in the right direction. The difference between what is actually sinful, the punishment of certain acts, and the applicability of Islamic law can positively affect the way Muslims talk about homosexuality.
4) This thematic organization streamlines questions asked. People sometimes have vague and general questions about Islam and homosexuality. The thematic organization helps to clarify people’s questions.
5) This organization gives non-Muslims a clearer idea of Islam and thus develops more understanding.
There is an approach to discussing homosexuality that is acceptable to Islam. The Islamic view of homosexuality and the exploration of the elements of this view lead to a thematic organization of the information on ‘Islam and homosexuality’. This approach is accessible and works in an emancipatory way.
This paper is written by Omar Nahas, for YOESUF Foundation. 1998.
I. See ‘The Index of Koran Words, Fouad abd el-Baki, Published by ‘dar el-jil’, Beirut 1945. This is a standard text with many re-prints.
II Koran 11:78, Sorat Hoed.
III See Fi Zilal el Koran, Sayed Kotb, pp. 598, Dar el-Shoroek 1988 Beirut. A well known explanation of the Koran, reprinted several times.
IV This sentence is taken from the book Sexual Education in Islam, pp78, Othman al Tawil. Dar al- Furkan Publishers, 1992
V Taken from the book, Zam Al liwat, pp 64. Written by Imam al Agerri ca. 360 according to the Islamic calendar. Newest edition Maktabat al- Koran Cairo, 1990.
VI see above note
VII see Fi Zilal, pp. 2429-
VIII see Fi Zilal, pp.2007- 2013.
IX see Aljisr: July 1998, pp. 5.
X the book is in written in Arabic.
XI Al Azhar is an influential Islamic university in Cairo
January 13, 2002
Gay Muslims Face a Growing Challenge
by Robert F. Worth
In late September, two F.B.I. agents visited the home of Ramzi Zakharia, a Palestinian Muslim who lives in Jersey City. He said they told him they had heard that he had posted subversive comments on a Web site, including some that were critical of United States foreign policy. The interview had barely begun when Mr. Zakharia offered what he saw as a defense: he is gay. He could hardly be an Islamic terrorist, he said, when he lives in a way that fundamentalists view as the height of Western corruption. “If the Taliban knew about me, I’d be on their top 10 list,” he joked. The agents laughed with him.
But for Mr. Zakharia and other gay Muslims living in the United States, the joke is a bitter one. Viewed as potential terrorists by some Americans since Sept. 11 because of their religion, they are reviled even by mainstream Muslims because of their sexual orientation. “We really felt caught in between,” said Faisal Alam, the executive director of Al-Fatiha, a group for gay Muslims founded in 1997 in Washington. “The last thing you could do was call the mosque for help.”
In most Islamic societies, homosexual behavior is a crime, punishable in some cases by death. Even in the United States, many Muslims say they cannot be openly gay for fear that they would be rejected by other Muslims or attacked by extremists. Members of Al-Fatiha and the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society of New York say they have been threatened and harassed by people accusing them of debasing Islam. Many Islamic religious authorities refuse to even discuss homosexuality; while one imam at a New York City mosque with a reputation for liberalism said he did not consider it a sin, he would not say so on the record for fear of becoming a target.
Although reconciling their sexual and spiritual life has always been difficult, several gay Muslims said the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath have driven them more deeply than ever into a double life. “I have one friend who goes through phases when he is ultrareligious – he won’t return calls from us, he goes to the mosque every day,” Mr. Zakharia said. “Then suddenly he goes back to a gay lifestyle. There is no in between.” Some are resigned to the belief that their impulses are evil, and regard the holy month of Ramadan as an opportunity to redeem themselves, several gay Muslims said. “They stop having sex or drinking, and these are men who would ordinarily be out at the clubs every night,” said Tarek, a gay Muslim in New York who, like others, asked that his last name not be used.
“They live with an internalized rejection, and they think that if they are good enough during Ramadan, God will be easier on them for the sins they commit the rest of the year.” Muslim clerics are far from the only people who are hostile toward homosexuality.
In October, an Associated Press photograph that appeared in newspapers showed a Navy crewman on an aircraft carrier standing next to a bomb on which the words “Hijack this” and a crude antigay slur had been scrawled. Yet to be both Muslim and gay may be particularly challenging, because unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam is still inseparable from culture and politics in many countries where it is practiced.
“It’s a whole way of life, dictating everything from your politics to what you wear to how much dowry you give your wife,” Mr. Alam said. “To say you’re going to change one part of it is to shake the whole foundation, for many orthodox Muslims.” That perceived threat is reflected in harsh penalties in many Arab and Islamic countries. Under the Taliban, people found to have engaged in homosexual behavior had a brick wall collapsed onto them.
This was done several times in the last several years, according to international news reports and Taliban radio and newspaper sources. Other countries are similarly severe. Yet if the United States represents freedom and safety to gay Muslims, many of them also say they have been shocked and upset, since Sept. 11, by their fellow Americans’ ignorance and disrespect toward Islam, even among other gays. “There was an explosion of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the gay community after 9/11,” said Abdullah, who runs an e-mail service for gay Muslim men in Washington that has about 350 active members. “You heard people saying, ‘We’ve just got to kill those Arabs,’ that kind of thing.”
Several said they had been offended by articles in the gay and mainstream press suggesting that Mohamed Atta and other hijackers may have been motivated by repressed homosexual rage. For the most part, gay Muslims say they have resigned themselves to keeping their sexuality secret. But a few are following in the steps of the Western gay liberation movement, defending the notion that Islam and homosexuality can be reconciled.
Perhaps the most well known of those is Mr. Alam, whose Al-Fatiha is the only organization specifically representing gay Muslims in this country. He said he conceived of the group five years ago, shortly after suffering a nervous breakdown that he attributed to his realization that he was gay. As a teenager, he had worked as a volunteer with Muslim youth groups, and he refused to abandon the religion. After an Internet search for other gay Muslims, which met with resounding silence, he created his own e-mail list, sending it to Muslim student groups. He said people began joining instantly, though it took months for others to find the courage to post their own messages.
Since then, the group has grown quickly, with nine chapters in three countries and about 200 active members. “Our mission is to try to help Muslims to reconcile two identities they cannot keep together,” Mr. Alam said. One key to doing that is challenging the notion that Islam absolutely forbids homosexuality. There are seven references in the Koran to the “people of Lot,” or the Sodomites, whose destruction is explicitly associated with their sexual behavior.
There is also one passage that has been taken to suggest a legal prohibition against homosexuality, and it is relatively mild: “And as for the two of you who are guilty thereof, punish them both. And if they repent and improve, then let them be. Lo! Allah is relenting, merciful.” Some other Koranic verses prescribe much harsher punishments for other sins, like fornication, which merits 100 lashes. There are other, harsher sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad about homosexuality.
Yet Mr. Alam said that in Islam, as in Christianity, homosexuality’s status is ultimately a matter of interpretation. He added that homosexuality is woven into many features of Islamic history and culture, perhaps in part because of stricter gender segregation than is common in the West. It is mentioned in “The Thousand and One Nights” and other literary works of the Arab world.
And Western writers from André Gide to William S. Burroughs have described the Muslim countries of North Africa as places where gay travelers could indulge their passions more freely than they could where they lived. Still, homosexual behavior has always been clandestine. That may have more to do with Islam’s general insistence on discretion in sexual matters than any specific animosity toward homosexuality, said Feisal Rauf, the imam of the Al-Farah mosque in TriBeCa. Others are less open-minded.
Last year, a London-based extremist group called Al-Muhajiroun issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, declaring that any member of Al-Fatiha was an apostate, and that the punishment for apostasy is death, Mr. Alam said. Because of such threats, he said, Al- Fatiha has kept all details of its meetings secret until shortly beforehand, and has asked for and been given police protection in some cases. “We’re challenging 1,400 years of dogma,” Mr. Alam said. “There’s bound to be a battle.”
April 9, 2002
To Be Gay and Muslim
by Heidi Dietrich
For Salman Husainy, an autumn drive four years ago was the moment of truth. Sitting in the passenger seat of his sister Shaheen’s car, he blurted out what he’d long known but kept hidden. “I’m gay,” Husainy said. Shocked, Shaheen crashed into the car in front of her. The minor accident didn’t cause any damage, and Shaheen parked the car on the side of the road so they could talk. “Are you sure? We don’t have any gay people in our community,” Shaheen said. Like most Muslims, Shaheen had never imagined that someone praying beside her at the mosque could be gay. Since Islam teaches that homosexuality is wrong, gay members often keep their sexual orientation in the closet.
Gay Muslims aren’t the most visible group, but they also aren’t insignificant: of the one to three million Muslims living in the United States, an estimated 10 percent are gay. Some, like Husainy, have come to terms with their homosexuality. For others, confessing their sexual orientation remains a distant dream. They fear shaming their family and losing respect at their mosque. “Honestly, I do feel that it’s wrong,” said Sheikh Mustafa during a web chat. Mustafa is a gay Muslim living in Singapore. “Islamic teaching prohibits gay activities. I’m trying to be straight to be close to Allah. I’m praying very hard.”
Iftekhar Hai, Director of Interfaith Relations for the United Muslims of America, says that homosexuality is unnatural. He points to a verse in the Quoran where the prophet Lut says “For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing.” “According to the scripture, there’s no doubt,” Hai said. “It’s not right and proper.” Gay Muslims look for alternative interpretations to Islam’s view on homosexuality. One gay Muslim is training to be an imam, or religious scholar, in Washington D.C. He prefers to go by Abdala because other Muslim scholars don’t know he’s gay. Abdala hopes to use his education to help fellow gay Muslims come to terms with their sexuality.
“I’m training to be an imam so I can provide a better service of how to live in this society,” Abdala said. Abdala does not believe that the Quoran condemns homosexuality. He explains that in the religious text, men are punished for raping and abusing other men ‘ not for engaging in consensual sex. “I’ve always challenged scholars because they’re heterosexual and that’s why they interpreted it that way,” Abdala said. “I think I’m breaking new ground.”
Still, Abdala acknowledges that he hasn’t been open about his homosexuality in training. His instructors have said that being gay is going against good ethics and morals. He worries that coming out would hurt his chances of graduation. Even Abdala has difficulty confronting fellow Muslims about his sexual orientation. Abdala has good reason to worry. Traditional Muslim scholars don’t accept alternative interpretations to the Quoran. Hamza Yusuf, a Muslim scholar at the Bay Area’s Zaytuna Institute, condemns those who try to find new meaning in the holy text.
“If one considers it acceptable in Islam [to be gay], then he or she is not considered to be a Muslim by consensus of the scholars,” Yusuf said. “On this I know no debate whatsoever.” Gay Muslims, unable to turn to religious leaders, look for alternative support networks. Messages posted on Al-fatija, a support group and web site for gay Muslims, reveal the complexities of being gay and Muslim.
“Looking for a Lesbian friend and maybe marriage,” reads the heading on one personal from a gay man seeking a show marriage. “I’m in a four-year relationship with my partner whom I love dearly, but there is also my family who is on the other side pushing for marriage,” the author writes. “I feel like a rag doll in the middle of a tug of war, and for all of you who are in the same boat, you know what a difficult position this puts us in…I’ve come to realize that I cannot be the only one in the world in this predicament. So if you are a lesbian Muslim in a similar situation, I’d love to talk to you, and maybe we could help each other out.”
Muslims feel obligated to marry and produce children. The traditional family structure emphasizes extended family, and Islam advocates populating the world with more Muslims. “The pressure builds because you’re supposed to extend this family,” said Ghalib Dhalla, a gay Muslim and author. “There’s a lot of cherished hopes that I can’t consummate.”
Since many gay Muslims remain in the closet, they are an elusive group. When asked for a number, gay Muslims throw out ten percent (the estimate given to gays within the general population), but all admit that it’s tough to pin down. At an Al-fatija conference in San Francisco last year, about 250 gay Muslims attended. Many spoke of Al-fatija communities in their own towns. The group can’t be used as a measuring tool, however, since Al-fatija members are only one portion of the gay community. Joining requires a level of personal acceptance that some gay Muslims haven’t achieved. Personal experience doesn’t reveal much more. Unlike race, religion isn’t obvious to someone cruising the gay night scene. When Dhalla visits a Los Angeles gay bar, he’ll nod to fellow South Asians. Are they Muslim? Dhalla doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.
“Gay culture is not so much about religion as much as what appeals to you visually,” Dhalla said. Many gay Muslims prefer a low profile, and they aren’t about to announce their religion and background at a bar or club. When A. Khan spies fellow South Asians at gay bars in San Francisco’s Castro district, they often avoid him. “They want to be anonymous,” Khan said.
Salman Husainy no longer wants to be anonymous. He’s come a long way in the last seven years. As a freshman at UC Irvine, Husainy didn’t know that gay Muslims existed. Husainy spent his early years in Pakistan, where his only introduction to gays was the hijras: hermaphrodites who dress in women’s clothing and perform at weddings. Hijras are both ridiculed and feared in Pakistan. Laughing behind the performers’ backs is okay, but beware of angering one of them — the entertainers can give curses or blessings at birth ceremonies and weddings.
Beyond the hijras, gay relationships are kept in the closet in Pakistan. Section 377 of the Pakistani penal code says that two men practicing intercourse can be stoned to death, but the rule is rarely implemented. More often, gays are ostracized from friends and family. Husainy and his family moved to the United States when Husainy was 13. When he entered high school, his friends began dating. Husainy knew he wasn’t interested in girls, but he didn’t know what “gay” meant. Since Muslims often don’t date until they’re ready for marriage, he wasn’t pressured by his parents to find a girlfriend. His peers were a different story.
Wanting to fit in with the rest of his friends, Husainy took dates to winter balls and prom. He never made sexual advances. On double dates with friends, the other couple would make out while Husainy made excuses. I need to get home, I have to get up early the next morning…. “I never went out with those girls again,” Husainy says.
Husainy started college at 20. One day after class, a male friend asked him out to coffee. At the cafe, the friend admitted that he was gay. “Are you?” he asked. Husainy had no idea what he meant, and told him no. Remembering that first coffee date, Husainy says, “Denial is wonderful.” Denial could only take him so far. Husainy became severely depressed as he realized his attraction to men. He believed that gay men wore women’s clothing. They went to hell. Husainy didn’t want to be one of them. A picture in Husainy’s photo album captures that time in his life. He’s a good 50 pounds overweight, and though he smiles at the camera, Husainy says that he was torn up inside. “I was so depressed,” Husainy recalls. Relief from his isolation came gradually. One day, he visited the gay and lesbian center at UC Irvine. “What’s your sexual orientation?” a center staff worker asked him. “Straight,” Husainy responded automatically. He couldn’t be gay, not with his family and his community. How could he bring shame to those he loved? How could he defy the Quoran?
One day at the gay and lesbian center, Husainy stumbled across a group called Trikone. Trikone, created as a support network for South Asian gays, produces a magazine and organizes social events. Husainy was ecstatic. He couldn’t believe that there were other people like him. That night, he drove an hour and a half to meet someone from the group. He had so many questions: how do you cope? What about your parents?
Husainy had discovered an entire community and dating pool. With a fellow South Asian, he could share his love for Hindi music and cinema. They could understand how he related to his family and why if his mother calls, he has to go, even if he has other plans. As Husainy grew more comfortable with his homosexuality, he realized that he wanted to stop leading a double life. His family needed to know.
After initial shock — and that minor fender bender — Shaheen provided needed moral support. “If that’s what you are, stand up for it,” Shaheen said. Shaheen was easy. His parents were another matter. He decided to prepare them for the news. Husainy showed his family a Lifetime movie about Greg Louganis, the Olympia diver who was gay and had AIDS. He told his parents that he was interning at an AIDS center in Orange County. “You have to be careful with those kinds of people,” his mother said.
On Thanksgiving weekend, Husainy carefully scripted an introduction to his announcement. When he sat down with his parents, though, the script went right out the window. “There are all sorts of people,” Husainy said. “I’m gay.” His parents asked what that meant, and Husainy tried to explain. His mother was horrified. “You need to go to the mosque every day and pray,” she said. “We should have never brought you to America. You got this disease.”
His father stepped in. “Wait,” his father said. “Husainy is our son. We must learn.” Learning came gradually. Husainy went back to college. When his parents called, they avoided the topic. Husainy always brought it up. “How are you doing?” he’d ask. “Do you want me to send you literature?” On another visit home, his father pulled him aside to talk. “There are so many diseases out there,” his father said. “You need to be safe.” “Are you talking about safe sex?” Husainy asked, incredulous. In the Muslim community, safe sex conversations aren’t the norm. Husainy assured his father that he protected himself. His father was relieved, and Husainy was encouraged that he’d brought it up. “From that day on, it was more open,” Husainy recalls. Inside his parent’s household, Husainy could be gay. “At least he’s not disabled,” his father reasoned
At the mosque, it was a different story. His parents worried that their son would bring the family shame. “Have a low profile,” they urged him. “Don’t go to gay pride parades. Don’t get on TV.”
Husainy has followed their wishes. He doesn’t advertise his homosexuality at the mosque. Close friends know, but the mosque’s leaders do not. Husainy feels lucky. He estimates that among South Asian gays he knows, half are out and half are still closeted. He won’t encourage someone to come out to their family, though. “It’s up to the individual,” Husainy said. “If they feel that they won’t be thrown out of the home. They need to assess that.” |
Just as Husainy’s own parents were growing comfortable with his homosexuality, Husainy sprang another shocker on them: soon, they’ll be grandparents. Husainy, who is 27 now, is ready for a family. He will be the father and sperm donor, and the child will live with its two lesbian mothers, B.J. Jogia-Sattar and Kamila Abdul-Sattar.
Jogia-Sattar, who is half Hindu and half Muslim, will bear the child. She’s a self-described tomboy and the breadwinner for the couple, and has a three inch tattoo on her arm of two naked women in the shape of an ebony tree. Abdul-Sattar, who was raised in a Muslim household, will stay home and take care of the child. Though she won’t bear the baby because of a medical condition, she prefers motherhood to the work world. Since Husainy is the most religious of the three, the child will attend his mosque.
Will the Muslim community accept a child with two moms and a gay father? Husainy, Jogia-Sattar and Abdul-Sattar can’t be sure. They do know that when Husainy takes the child to the mosque, his sexual orientation will be known. “When I go with my baby in my hands, I want to be honest,” Husainy said. “I have to take the risk.” The baby’s mothers acknowledge that the mosque could become a problem for the child. “We agree that we should do what’s best for the baby,” Jogia-Sattar said. “If there’s discrimination at the mosque, the baby shouldn’t go.”
The child may face discrimination within the families. While Husainy’s parents have grown to accept the idea, Abdul-Sattar’s conservative Muslim family pretend like the pregnancy process isn’t happening. “My father said that he wouldn’t accept the baby and my mother was very angry and upset,” Abdul-Sattar said. “It’s hard. It’s very hurtful.” Raising a child with three parents could prove complicated. The three plan to have family meetings once a month. If they can’t all agree on a decision regarding the child, they will see a neutral mediator. Jogia-Sattar points out that they don’t know where Salman’s life will take him, and if he finds a serious partner, they will have to decide how that man will fit into the baby’s life.
Yet nothing can diminish the excitement of becoming a parent. “I am so ready to be a dad,” Husainy said. “I think I can be a good role model for any child.”
As Husainy sits in his Los Angeles office and looks at the old picture of himself, unhappy and overweight, it’s obvious how far he’s come. Now, he counsels women on welfare at a mental health clinic, and his colleagues all know that he’s gay. As his coworkers prepare to head home for the night, he sticks his head into the hallway. “Alice, let me see the dress! You look hot, honey!” he says, doing a little dance move. Stepping back in the office, he explains, “She’s going clubbing tonight and she’s wearing the black dress.”
He flips through the photo album, and his eyes linger on a picture of himself and a young man reclining on a couch. “I just started dating him,” he says. It’s noted that he’s cute. “I know!” he says gleefully. “I am so excited!” At that moment, he sounds like anyone starting a new relationship, giddy with the promise of new love. Salman Husainy is gay and Muslim, and he’s okay with it. His family, though reluctantly, has become okay with it too.
Husainy has achieved acceptance within his family, but the larger Muslim community might be another story. To most straight Muslims, being gay is just plain wrong. “I’ve been told by my Muslim friends about how sinful homosexuality is, but I never think it’s true,” said Abdul Razak Kollikathara, a gay Muslim from San Jose. As a religious scholar, Hai knows the Muslim community. He says that being gay is a taboo among Muslims, and attitudes aren’t likely to change. “99 percent of Muslims feel that it’s wrong because the Quoran says so,” Hai said.
Abdala, the gay Muslim training to be an imam, counters that most Muslims have only been exposed to narrow viewpoints on homosexuality. “They’re unable to think for themselves,” Abdala said. “There’s a blind following.” With more exposure and education, Abdala feels, Muslims could see the Quoran’s take on homosexuality in a different light.
Some gays remain skeptical that Islam will ever accept homosexuality. Oakland resident A. Khan believes that gay Muslims are a bunch of hypocrites. Khan is gay, and while he was raised as a Muslim, he has denounced his faith. “Where in the Quoran does it say that it’s okay to suck dick but wrong to eat pork?” Khan said. “It’s just the usual bullshit you get from people trying to reconcile their homosexuality with spirituality.” Khan grew up in Pakistan and came to the United States at age 22. He says that in Pakistan, sex among men is common, but they don’t label themselves as gay. As long as the men marry and have children — fulfilling their duties — they can sleep around on the side.
Ghalib Dhalla explained that it depends on who is administering the sexual act. “If I get blown, I’m not gay,” Dhalla said.
A. Khan began to realize that he was more attracted to men than women in high school. He tried to ignore the feelings and remained a devout Muslim, praying five times a day. He believed that he had a sickness that needed to be cured.
When Khan started college in Pakistan, he met a couple of professors who were atheists. He started reading the works of atheist authors, and realized that all those years of praying and crying to God hadn’t done anything for him. Khan’s parents were beginning to pressure him about marriage, and his father tried to pair him with a cousin who lived in Austria. “That’d be a nightmare,” Khan said. “I’m not about to make a huge sacrifice, and I’d also be ruining a girl’s life because I could never love a girl.”
Khan left Pakistan on his own at 22, and in eight years, he hasn’t been back. He received asylum in the United States. As attorney general, Janet Reno added a clause to immigration law which offers asylum for those who will be prosecuted in their home country based on their sexual orientation. Khan says that he’d feel threatened in Pakistan because he’s vocal about his homosexuality and his atheism. “I could be beheaded or hanged,” Khan said. “If I said something blasphemous and a mob killed me, they can’t be held accountable.” A. Khan hasn’t told his parents that he’s gay or that he’s an atheist. He has no immediate plans to do so. When he confessed his sexual orientation to two educated friends in Pakistan, they were horrified.
“If my friends, who are highly educated and from my generation, find this difficult to accept, my god, my parents? Who are in their late fifties and not very educated?” Khan said. Telling his parents that he’s an atheist would be even worse. “Even if I’m leading an immoral life and sleeping with boys, there’s hope,” Khan said. “But with this, I’m giving God the finger. It would hurt them that their son is going to hell.”
The divide between Khan and his parents is tough, but Khan says that being in America makes it easier. Many of his American friends aren’t close to their extended families. Khan is active in Trikone and often engages in religious discussions with fellow South Asians. He says that he’s given up trying to convince his Muslim friends that what they’re doing doesn’t make sense. “They don’t want to give up their desires but they want to hold onto the security blanket of God,” Khan said.
Khan has rejected Islam, but he faces the same obstacles as religious gays in coming out to a Muslim family. Gay Muslims must consider not only themselves, but also how their homosexuality will reflect upon their families. San Jose resident Abdul Razak Kollikathara hasn’t told his family that he’s gay, and he worries about how the news would affect them. He hashes out the problem over a latte and pot of tea in a Palo Alto coffee shop one evening. Although Kollikathara is unemployed at the moment, he dresses stylishly in a button down and slacks, blending in well with the cafe’s yuppie after-work crowd.
Sipping his coffee, Kollikathara explains his background. He grew up in a Muslim family in India, and all of his siblings are in arranged marriages. His sisters married very conservative men. Kollikathara believes that if he came out to his sisters and their husbands found out, it could be grounds for divorce. “The problem with coming out is the shame that it’d bring to the family,” Kollikathara says. Honesty is important, but so is family. Kollikathara stares into his coffee, wanting answers for a question that has no easy solution. “Maybe I could come out to my sisters and say don’t tell your husbands,” he ponders. Moments later, he changes tracks. “Coming out — it’s just not worth it.”
Iftekhar Hai welcomes the reporter into the front hallway and waits while shoes are slipped off. It’s evening, and his house smells of spicy Indian food. A group sits cross legged on the floor of the living room, singing and strumming sitars. Hai whispers that his wife is one of the singers, and she comes here every week for her music lesson. The Quoran lesson takes place in a room down the hallway. He has brought along two copies of the book, and the beginner-friendly text includes an index which lists “homosexuality” and provides page and verse numbers. To Hai, each verse stands as proof that being gay is wrong.
Halfway through the lesson, the woman of the house brings in a tray with Indian tea and baklava. Her head is covered with a pink shawl. She smiles, says nothing, and leaves the tray on a table. Hai rejects the baklava because his doctor has warned against sugar, but reaches for a tea cup. As he sips the tea, creamy from added milk, Hai explains that most homosexuals were abused when they were young. When they age, they become abusers themselves. “That is the norm,” he says. “You see, gay men lack the confidence to screw a woman good.” Iftekar Hai has never counseled a gay Muslim, and he doubts that anyone would admit such transgressions to a religious leader. “What would be the reason?” he asks. “Islamic people aren’t ready for this kind of thing.”
On a recent Saturday night, a group of South Asian gays have gathered for a Trikone potluck. Platters of rice, chicken curry, dumplings, and chips and salsa cover the dining room table. “We try with the food,” one of the men laughs, noting the lack of culinary-proficient women at such celebrations.
Traditional gender roles are still accepted by these decidedly untraditional men. Wine is poured into plastic cups, and bottles of beer are passed around. When plates are scraped clean, the lights are dimmed and a CD is popped into the stereo. A popular Indian song sounds from the speakers. Kollikathara hops out of his chair and whips off his black leather jacket to reveal a tight white sleeveless t-shirt. He walks over to a slim South Asian man, takes his hand, and leads him to the center of the living room. The two dance close as the rest of the men cheer from their sofa seats. After a brief intimate dance, Kollikathara is ready to get the party started. He ignores bashful protests and yanks men from the chairs and onto the dance floor. Pretty soon, inhibitions are gone, the music is rocking, and the South Asian gays are dancing and laughing. Here, it’s okay to be gay and Muslim. No explanations needed. No tears, no lost dreams, no cries that you’re going to hell. Just music, friends, and people who understand.
Heidi Dietrich is a freelance writer and is pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at Stanford University.
April 5, 2002
More acceptance for gay Muslims since 9/11: Activists call for dialogue on the definition of Islam
By Rhonda Smith
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have helped mobilize Muslims who hold more liberal views than their fundamentalist counterparts about social issues that range from racism to feminism to gay civil rights. At its core, this decentralized movement among Muslims across the U.S. involves publicly and privately sharing beliefs about Islam that go beyond the ideas espoused by Osama bin Laden and others who hold staunchly conservative, and often oppressive, religious views.
“Sept. 11 was a wakeup call for a lot of what I would call progressive or moderately minded Muslims who I frankly think are the majority of Muslims, particularly in the United States, if not the world,” said Amber Khan, a heterosexual Muslim and feminist in Washington, D.C Khan, who recently discussed the development on FaithMattersRadio.org, an interfaith talk radio program, said that after Sept. 11, Muslims like her “stood up and recognized the fact that we have to find our voice.”
There have been an unprecedented number of Muslims who are “speaking out, reaching out, and digging in,” she said. This means reading the Koran, questioning what is there, and engaging other people in thoughtful discussions. Gay writer and activist Ifti Nasim, co-founder of SANGAT/Chicago, a gay organization and support group for men and women from South Asian countries, agreed. The Pakistani native describes himself as a staunch Muslim.
“A lot of conservative Muslim leaders are reaching out to mainstream gay organizations now,” Nasim said. “I am very happy about this and shocked because I never knew they would be like this. It’s all due to Sept. 11.” Nasim, the author of “Myrmecophile,” a book of poems, said more “very hardcore” heterosexual Muslims attend SANGAT/Chicago meetings now. “They have started parading gays around,” he said, “and seem to be saying, ‘OK, as long as they own their own [businesses] and are not bothering anybody, we should not say bad things about them.'”
When Muslims and South Asians in Chicago held protests after Sept. 11 to speak out against the backlash Arab Americans and Muslims have faced in the U.S., Nasim said that Andy Hayer, an openly gay activist, led it. When Muslims in Chicago held a protest to focus attention on the recent deadly clashes in India between Hindus and Muslims, Nasim said, “Andy spoke, and I was leading the parade.” Although a growing number of Muslims in the U.S. are beginning to accept gays more than they did before Sept. 11, Nasim noted that “hardcore Muslims” are keeping their distance from the gay community.
“Among religious leaders, [homosexuality] is still a no-no,” he said. “The average Muslim might reach out to us, but hardcore religious leaders won’t reach out.” Nasim said he is warmly received when he goes to the mosque where he worships. He believes this is because he is a writer and activist, operates a newspaper and hosts a radio show. “They just think I’m pretending to be gay,” he said. “It’s like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'” Jennifer Rycenga, an openly lesbian associate professor of Comparative Religious Studies at San Jose State University in California, said this push among moderate and socially progressive Muslims to share other perspectives on Islam might have a favorable impact on discussions about homosexuality.
“What is happening in the Muslim world right now is a struggle for how Islam is going to be defined and who will get to do the defining,” she said. “If gay and lesbian Muslims propel themselves into being a part of that discussion, things will improve. If they are not included in that discussion, we could foresee disastrous results.” Khan said that in the United States, there have been more discussions in recent years about the role of gay and lesbian Muslims in the Muslim world.
“There is a struggle,” she said, “a question of, ‘How do we fit in theologically? Is there a way for us to retain our dignity as human beings, and are we also children of God?'” On San Jose State’s multicultural campus, Rycenga said a new alliance emerged after Sept. 11 between the Muslim Student Association, Chicano and Filipino students, and “some of our most radical queer students” who belong to a group known as Queer Revolution. Rycenga is an advisor for Queer Revolution.
“We found that we were the ones showing up at all the rallies and speaking up about what was happening in the drive to war,” she said. Nasim said many straight Muslims view gays as politically active and vocal about various civil rights issues. “They somehow found [gay activists] to be very sympathetic,” he said. “It is like they believe that if you are an underdog in society, you understand the plight of the other underdog.”
Rycenga said the multicultural student coalition began discussing issues related to “the loss of civil rights among certain populations and the demonization of various groups.”
“There were problems sometimes,” she said. “I think my Muslim students knew I was not about to convert to Islam, and about my concerns being an out lesbian.”
This semester Rycenga said coalition members plan to sponsor an event that would bring gay and lesbian Muslims to the campus. “We’re working on that but it’s a very, very careful operation,” she said. “We don’t want to hurt anybody or have anyone endanger themselves at this time.” One gay Muslim who has agreed to meet with students is Faris Malik, a white man who converted to Islam in 1998. The 36-year-old translator belongs to Al-Fatiha, a Washington, D.C.-based organization for gay Muslims.
Malik said Islam is “actually very positive toward homosexuality.”
“The current state of this situation now – where homosexuality is tolerated in the West and can get you beheaded in the East – is the opposite of the way it was 150 years ago,” he said. Mona Eltahawy, a Muslim feminist and freelance journalist born in Egypt, shared a similar view when she appeared with Khan on FaithMattersRadio.org. She said in some ways, Islam is not being interpreted today like it was in previous centuries.
“During [Mohammed’s] time, women engaged in battle, literary criticism, and in conveying his sayings to the community,” she said. Muslims believe there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. “I think Muslim male interpreters [of the Koran] these days have really narrowed down [the roles of women] to just a few,” Eltahawy said. Khan said the same is true of homosexuality. “I don’t know of any imam . or reform-minded scholar who has written anything that would create a theological understanding of a safety place for gays and lesbians,” she said.
Eltahawy has said, in the Washington Post and in other media outlets, that Muslims must take “a long hard look at where we are today with modern eyes.” They must analyze the state of Muslim “umma,” or community, she said, “and ask ourselves how did we reach the state of affairs that allowed someone like Osama bin Laden, out there in his cave in Afghanistan [with] a group of bandits, to claim to be speaking for us.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” she said. “They do not represent me, and I’m sure they do not represent millions of Muslims out there. But we’ve been silent for too long. We must speak out now and reclaim that position.” Nasim in Chicago agreed. “Osama bin Laden’s Islam is not the Islam we all practice,” he said. “I grew up [in Pakistan] with four sisters who went to school and college. I had never seen the kinds of things like in Afghanistan.
“A lot of Muslims are looking deeply into their hearts and thinking we should take back from Osama the damage he did to Islam,” he said. “Feminists are talking about this. [Muslims] are accepting me as gay a lot more since Sept. 11.”
News reporter Rhonda Smith can be reached at email@example.com
For More Information: Al-Fatiha, www.al-fatiha.net
Islamic Homosexualities: Interesting notes from Academic Books about Homosexuality and Islam
by Nathaniel Wandering
(Also see Professor Wandering’s resources on World Gay History at
(The following extensive notes are in reference to the Book’ Islamic Homosexualities’ by Nathaniel Wandering. Although they are fragmentary, they are very informative and insightful into the mysteries of Islam and homosexuality. The notes are broken down into each chapter.)
1) We should refer to Islam’s, not Islam, because the traditions in Africa, South East Asia, and Arab traditions are all quite different historically. 2) Variations in Islamic culture and history present variations in acceptance of same sex relations. 3) This book challenges the thesis of homosexuality as a modern, western phenomenon. The idea that identity and subculture are unique to the modern west is challenged here. 4) They agree that modern homosexuality emerged as a contained and institutionalized pattern which have some unique qualities. (object choice as the signifier of sexuality appears to be uniquely modern) But identity, group formation and lifestyle are not unique to modern, western homosexuality.
5) 2 kinds of modern homosexuality: 1) Gendered 2) orientational (sexuality designated by object choice) The gendered model of homosexuality is present throughout Islamic History 6) “The will not to know”: Chapter 2 – a common Islamic ethos of sexuality: avoidance in acknowledging sex and sexualities. 7) Honor & Shame: like the work of other scholars of the Mediterranean, it is the Public transgression of morals that is condemned here, not so much the condemnation of social transgressions themselves. Islamic law requires eyewitnesses to convict someone of certain moral “crimes.” 8) Avoidance of confrontation is an ideal of sorts. 9) As long as men conform to a role that is honored (being a husband or a father) it doesn’t matter if they have sex with other men or boys discreetly – As long as no one speaks about it
10) Shameful acts are considered an inherent part of human nature. No one talks about them – they are just a part of life. People respect the public role that other people play out, not the rumored stories that people hear about their neighbors and friends. 11) Like the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy, men in the Islamic world have wide latitude for opportunities for sex with other men, as long as they don’t make their relationships public. 12) There is no public arrangement for men to have premarital sex with women, so men have sex with boys because they can. 13) Anal lust is not considered unnatural, but actually is considered an acquired desire or an infectious disease: Men are afraid to do it because they might like it and become addicted to it. 14) Being sodomized is not necessarily a ruinous experience, but it can be ruinous to a man’s reputation.
15) Long history of lover/beloved relationships from Greek and Pre-Islamic Arab models. 16) This ideal was not always the actual reality: some men loved post-pubescent men. 17) Sometimes the boy who ideally should be the bottom would top the man. Roles were idealized, but not necessarily conformed to. 18) “Bisexuality” was the norm (Men married, but had relationships predominately with boys) but this convention was also not rigid. Some men had relationships with other men, some had long term relationships 19) Boy dancers: 8-16 year old, for sale in regions like Morocco until the 1920’s.
20) Homosexual roles were lexicalized and written about in Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Urdu and other languages. 21) Authors argue that this history should not be written off as a history of “acts” and “impacts” as David Halperin might want us to assume, but that these historical figures were situated in well defined cultural roles that were lexicalized and situated within a self conscious cultural context. Acts were not divorced from cultural roles in this context, but were vital in the understanding of one’s cultural role. 22) Egalitarian homosexuality is largely absent from this social landscape. 23) Egalitarian homosexuality is a historical possibility in Islam, but it is not present in the sources. 24) “Gay” relationships and identity have been imported from the west in recent years to some secular areas such as Turkey.
25) 1952 study at American University at Beirut: 38% of male Arab students acknowledged homosexual experiences. 1963 study found 44%. 26) In some regions, men married boys (Siwa, Libyan desert, 1936 report). 27) As Western consciousness of homosexuality has become popularized, Islamic men have practiced homosexuality less, feeling more shameful about it. 28) “Homosexual” is used now to refer to adult men who are passive to other men or who have adult male partners. Men who have “situational” sex or sex with boys are not considered homosexual
Will Roscoe, Chapter 2: Precursors of Islamic Male Homosexualities
1) Islam was more adept at accommodating diverse cultures than monotheistic Christianity. It even adopted the local sexual customs. 2) Islam inherited the regional patterns of status and gender differentiated sexuality that was predominant among this region. 3) Oikoumene: Mediterranean to Southeast Asia – the civilized world that shared trade and cultural exchange from the classic period of ancient Greece. 4) Hellenization and Romanization brought Greco/Roman sexual patterns to Egyptian, Syrian and Carthaginian cultures
5) Christian authors in Antioch (Syria) Carthage and the Mediterranean report the sin of men having sex with boys as a widespread problem. 6) Two factors prompted the ideal of man boy love in the region historically: 1) the unbroken continuations of man/boy love from Hellenistic/Roman period. 2) literate Muslims of 8th century extolled the virtues of man/boy love they found in Greek poetry 7) State Eunuchs and local folk eunuchs grew in number and influence from the Roman Empire, Particularly in the Byzantine period 8) Gali: Hellenistic & Roman cross dressing dancers who lived in wandering collectives. Self castrated. Sources – Cicero, Ovid, Martial, Seneca. 9) India: Hijra – wandering collective followers of Bahuchara Mata who bless newlyweds and newborn males. They are castrated (penis and testicles) by an expert while they chant the mother goddess’ name
10) The Hijra were not transformed into women, but are considered neither women nor men – they are sexually active with men, but are considered ‘impotent’ for women 11) The Hijra were well established feature when the British entered India 12) Various regions in what would become Islam already had cross dressers who were castrated – these individuals would evolve historically into eunuch advisors in the palaces of the caliphs. 13) In Africa, Egypt, Syria, Persian Gulf & Ottoman Empire – all had eunuchs during the rise of Islam that operated within the courts or even in the mosques, such as was the case in Jerusalem in the 9th century. 14) Chapter thesis: Islam sustained status differentiated and gender defined homosexuality, despite its regulation of gender roles, while Christianity suppressed homosexuality in the West, forcing all homosexual behavior to fall under the category of sodomy.
Chapter 4: Muhammad and Male Homosexuality
1) Quran – Muhammad’s text of the things god revealed to him. 2) Hadith – traditions or sayings attributed to the prophet 3) Islamic texts are generally thought to be hostile to homosexuality 4) In Islamic nations, secular solutions to social problems are perceived to come from colonial influence and hold little weight with the public.
5) For this reason, gays and lesbians in Islamic nations look for theological answers to questions of homosexuality to resolve the problem of hostility. 6) 7 references are made in the Quran to the story of Lot and the people of Lot (sodomites). Sodomy is perceived here as sex between two men or two women. (as opposed to a specific act) 7) The description of Muhammad’s view of homosexuality in the Hadith is inconsistent with his views in the Quran: Laws of the Quran are comparatively mild towards homosexuality leading to an impression of theological ambivalence. 8) The cosmic order of the Quran is intentionally incomplete. Man needs to engage in holy war to make other men submit to the will of God to complete the order. It is the duty of Muslim men to initiate non-Muslims into Islam by method of submission. The Nafs (non-Muslims) are conceptualized as passive males. This implies an erotic element of the holy war of submission. In a sense, initiation and submission into Islam entails conquering non-Muslims by sexual aggression: fighting passive sodomy with active sodomy. This is obviously a contradiction & supports keeping silence on the issue.
Chapter 5 Woman – woman love in Islamic Societies 1) This chapter presents a major weakness in the book. It is a short run-through of sources on woman -woman love that tell us very little about women, gender identity, male-female relationships, or even how woman – woman relationships fit within the context of the rest of the book. This is really a book about male homosexuality. To ignore that and call the book “Islamic Homosexualities” as if the book effectively covered male and female homosexuality is to suggest female homosexuality is congruent with male homosexuality. It is a major oversight and they would have been better off calling it Islamic male homosexualities. As Bernadette J. Brooten pointed out in her recent history Love Between Women – Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, “male scholars writing about sexual relations between males have generally overlooked the gendered character of same sex love.” If they included love between women in the context of this book, it should have been done to shed light on the male experience, or it should have been developed much further than it was. A chapter that analyzed male – female relations would also have been useful in this book if it shed light on male homosexual experience. It would help us to understand the dynamics of gendered homosexuality: if men are playing out gender roles in a homosexual relationship, having some understanding of what being a woman or a man meant in this culture would tell us something. 2) No mention of lesbian love in the Quran 3) The most common citing of lesbian love in literature: situational – Harem women were “driven to each others embraces” by the lack of male romantic partners. 4) Women did not leave written evidence of their feelings and behaviors, so we can’t assume what their feelings & behaviors were. 5) That’s all this 5-page chapter contains that’s worth writing about.
Chapter 6: The Symbolism of Male Love in Islamic Mystical Literature 1) Christian literature rarely represents the love of God in the context of a romantic relationship between two men (David & Jonathan are a rare exception) 2) It is so rare that these representations always become interpreted as “friendship.” 3) The love of God is almost always represented in heterosexual terms: Gnosis or Wisdom being female wisdom achieved by men, or the soul is represented as female in relationship to a male God. 4) Islam is more complex and has more possibilities for romantic representation. In Islamic mysticism there is a tradition of representing the love of God using imagery of romantic relationships between males.
5) Two common literary tropes: a) The Vision Complex: Writers discussed “Nazar,” gazing at a beloved male or “Shahid-bazi” (Persian for “witness play”) as a principle expression of male –male love that could not be consummated physically. Mystics said that nazar was gazing at one’s “heavenly twin” or witness. Some Arabic writers drew from this the conclusion that gazing at a beautiful youth was following orthodox Islamic doctrine, since “every beauty was derived from the universal beauty” b) The Passion Complex: A symbolic physical interaction in which the beloved is wounded or killed by his lover. (The sadomasochistic / erotic undertones of this trope matches the sexual relationship of the lover / beloved in love making: Pain of the beloved is a kind of transcending experience, a destruction of youth that allows for an initiation into manhood). The transcending of the beloved in this relationship is one of submission to God. 6) Evolution of love mysticism: The idea that God and man have a love relationship – this developed at the same time that erotic secular poetry was flowering.
7) Sufi “witness” idea: “he who meditates must meditate on form, since essence in itself is unknowable. 8) There is no way to prove that Sufi love mysticism was connected to actual erotic practices, but this already shows a different context from the Christian world. 9) Conservative Islamic theologians condemned the Sufi custom of contemplating the beauty of young boys, but the practice has survived in Islamic countries until only recent years.
10) Some of the erotic poetry of this period is ambiguous: you cannot make a distinction between an erotic and mystical meaning in the poetry. 11) In both Arabic and Persian Sufi traditions love between man and God is expressed in terms of man and a beautiful maiden or man and a beautiful youth. 12) Mansur al-Hallaj: Celebrated Sufi mystic writer: Poetry was not explicitly erotic, but strong homoerotic undertones. 13) Umar ibn al-Farid: Cairo mystic poet who achieved fame and was widely venerated but was accused by some theologians of heresy. (He writes of kissing his young male beloved, but it is unclear whether God is kissing the beloved, or he is). 14) 11th Century Persian literature (developed later than Arabic)
15) Shahid-bazi (“witness play”) – Some writers were accused of heresy for extolling this ‘religious practice’ while some extolled the practice without reprimands from others. 16) Pp. 118-126, great love poems. 17) Even mystic poets who ardently opposed erotic relationships between men wrote of male beauty and “pure” love between men. These same writers warned of the possibility of weakness and giving in to desire to another man. 18) This mystic love poetry could have been partly motivated by an attempt to mediate between Islamic anti-homosexual ideology and the reality of man-boy love. 19) What we see here is a whole dynamic for men recognizing and appreciating male beauty and even a fear of giving in to physical desire with other men that is absent from the Christian context. Boswell shows some examples of Christian writers who in the twelfth century expressed admiration for male beauty, but we see no evidence of circumstances similar to this. Here, male attraction to other men is woven into religious practice and is held up as an ideal. What we see is an absence of gender distinction when men observe beauty. All sex before marriage is sin, but gazing at any beauty was recognized by many as a divine experience, whether the beauty was of a maiden or a boy.
20) Things that they did not touch on in this book that I would like them to have, are the issues that Peter Brown raises in his book “The Body and Society.” In this book, Brown shows that for Christians, the body became a microcosm for the universal struggle between good and evil. By rejecting desire, Christians believed that they could participate in Christ’s victory and they would remake the world. The body became central in this struggle – it became the site where the war between good and evil was fought. I would like to have seen them discuss this in the context of Islam. I would like to know if the body was conceptualized in Islam congruent with the Roman concept – a thing to regulate not a thing to transform, as the Christians wanted. 21) This seems to be an important distinction between Christianity and Islam, for the maintenance of the homosexual tradition in Islam and the violent persecutions of homosexuality in the Christian West: Perhaps homosexuality became more of a central problem in the Christian context because religiosity was centered in the body, whereas in Islam, the body may have been subject to regulation but was not the site of religious struggle
Chapter 7: Corporealizing Medieval Persian and Turkish Tropes: 1) In much of Persian and Turkish literature that has been written off as love between god and man, the beloved is clearly a boy and not Allah. 2) Whirling Sufis: reveal that transcendent mystic experience can be achieved through the physical. This emphasis on the physical pathway to transcendent experience may have created the possibility for viewing sex as a transcendent experience. 3) The rest of the chapter shows examples of poetry that has been written off as love between man and god that is (at least in these translations) hard to believe that they are not poems between men and boys. Pp 133-140.
Chapter 8: Man Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain 1) Saying of Muhammad that took hold for many Arab men in Spain: “He who loves and remains chaste and conceals his secret and dies, dies a martyr.” This idea became translated by writers like Ibm Da’ud in his “Book of the Flower” to mean – “it is sufficient for a good Moslem to abstain from those things which Allah has forbidden, but to admire beauty, and to be mastered by love – that is a natural thing and comes not within the range of divine prohibition” 2) The purest of the pure Islamic followers who never have had illicit intercourse with men feel comfortable admitting their attraction to the beauty of other men. It is not an issue. Sex is another matter. 3) Islam and the law: supported execution for sodomy. 4) So we have a context of romantic adoration of boys which was perfectly acceptable socially, a religious / legal context of extreme persecution – this equals everyone proclaiming that their relationships with and adoration of boys was strictly platonic. But was it?
5) The erotic quality of poetry would appear to be an outlet where men could express their feelings in terms that were erotic but ambiguous. 6) Some of the poetry was explicitly erotic, revealing the strong tension between Islamic ideals and social reality. 7) The act of illicit sex was condemned, not sexual gaze, and not homoeroticism in poetry. This opened up possibilities for expression that were not present for Christians. 8) The erotic literature of Islam is similar to Greek Pottery in that we see here a widespread institution being represented in the sources. Obviously Greek pottery revealed an entirely different context for homosexuality than Islam, but the number of sources that show a culturally institutionalized pattern of homosexuality is similar. 9) Until 1492 when Arab power was surrendered in Spain, men wrote poetry about beloved boys.
10) ***As opposed to Christianity, Islam allowed its followers sexual access to slaves in the Middle Ages. This was explicit for female slaves and implicit for male slaves. The parallel with Rome is clear. Men who had from Roman times used slaves for sex (including male slaves) could continue in the Islamic context to do so. 11) But unlike Rome, the literature reveals that love frequently occurred between friends and acquaintances and strangers of equal rank as well as between slaves and owners. 12) Islam paradoxically forbade, allowed and exploited homoerotic desire, providing similarity to Judaism and Christianity in law, yet fostering a radically different literary, social and affective atmosphere. 13) Linked to chastity, homosexual love escaped condemnation.
Conclusion: 1) Pederasty has been the ideal, but not always the reality. 2) Beloved was ideally used for pleasure and ideally did not receive pleasure, but this was not always the reality. 3) Islam is more like Rome than Greece or Melanasia. 4) Like Greece and Rome, what a citizen did with slaves did not matter. (The choice slaves were Christian boys)
5) The Islamic distinction between slaves and citizens was not just “citizen – non-citizen” but “believer – non-believer” 6) Japan: Man / boy roles last as long as the relationship (some men maintain the “man – boy” relationship until one man is 60, the other 63). Islam has different words for adult male lovers: the relationship is no longer man – boy. 7) The sexual availability of boys and effeminate men in this culture protects female virtue (honor / shame idea) 8) Homosexual identity roles are present everywhere in Islamic languages 9) Homosexuality does not require medical / psychiatric labeling or capitalism to invent identities or subcultures
10) Modern homosexuality was not an invention that broke with the past, but in the Christian west, a breakdown of ancient categories took place. Islam carried on past traditions of man – boy love in a more restricted but congruent form. Christianity broke the roles of man – boy love down into one broad category – sodomy, which was later reconfigured as homosexuality. The old pattern of age, gender, status differentiated homosexuality shifted to object choice designated homosexuality with the rise of medical discourse. 11) The nation / state created the apparatus for social control and it imposed the Christian/medical category of homosexuality on social life, breaking down all other categories and distinctions for homosexual identity.
12) The thesis is that 1) we are not so different from Islam as social constructionists would have us think: our two traditions are linked and the Christian, capitalist west did not invent homosexuality 2) The idea that identity and subculture was invented in a post Freudian, capitalist west ignores the history of Islam and smacks of Western exceptionalism – identity and subculture were very present in the homosexualities of historical Islam 13) We need to rethink the emergence of “modern homosexuality” and consider more than just the Foucaultian emphasis on theepistemological inventions of the modern elite.
Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic Literature, JW Wright and Everett Rowson
Unfortunately this book was not very well written or very useful. The source material was slim. The book was composed of seven essays that critiqued homoeroticism in Medieval Arabic literature. The literature was explored within very narrow discussions of literary purpose without considering much of the social context or implications of the literature. The few texts explored in this book were examined for all of their literary nuances without much analysis of the broader implications of these nuances. When they were made, the references to social context were anachronistic, overly simplistic and at times completely misguided.
The information that was accurate was repetitive of things already stated by other authors and advanced scholarly knowledge of the subject very little. It was overall a poor effort that will be of little use to readers. I will record here the notes that I found useful from the book which will be sparse because there is so little that is of use from this book (and it repeats a lot of information that I have already learned from other sources).
1) Because of the polemic use by the west of Arab homoeroticism, Arab homoeroticism has been misread by historians in the west who have explored the subject 2) Abbasid Khamriya: Wine poetry. He mostly explores the work of Abu Nuwas, a leading poet of the Abbaid empire 3) (Just like Brett Hinsch, this set of authors who were affiliated with John Boswell show connections with his work: Strong interest in literature as historical source material, essentialist, some of the authors share his views of Christian ambivalence/celebration of homosexual diversity. Basically many of the worst aspects of Boswell’s works have been made worse by his students in this book) 4) Islam brought tribal communities of diverse religions and traditions into an urban society unified by one religion.
5) Style is very convoluted: “Discussions of the mythopoetic implications of homoerotic symbolism in the khamriya requires an etymological and hermeneutical base allowing a full philological introduction to the texts’ semantic complexity and paradox.” – So much work to say so little. 6) The author’s first essay makes the point that “Abu Nuwas and his contemporaries used homoerotic conventions, symbols and motifs to create satirical chaos in the early Abbasid courts. Speculating about the poets’ personal proclivities may be of interest to some, but it is time poorly spent. We do not know the poets needs or preferences.” 7) What we do know is “The early Abbasid poets like Abu Nuwas successfully deconstruct textual, theological and social hierarchical barriers dominating Arabic literature, politics and society.”
8) The author concludes that “It is true that most of this poetry was written to entertain paying patrons, but this does not lessen the sublime power of the work because the poets seem to go beyond courtly jest by undermining canonical texts and making textual interpretations weak, if not ridiculous. Such parody allows the poets to dominate their foes with a discourse that is simultaneously penetrating and pleasant.” 9) I do not know on what grounds the author can make the claim that the poets are able to dominate the power structure they were beholden to through poetic discourse. The homoeroticism of the poetry is clear, but the context, power relationships and implications of the poetry is left a mystery in this essay.
Second essay: Equally bad. Here is a summary of the main points – – During Abbasid rule, poetry shows that “Love had developed into a routine of versemaking that could dispense with felt emotion; the erotic vocabulary had all but lost its original meaning and could even be applied as a form of flattery.” Some of the elites in this culture viewed love and beauty as synonymous. “A significant segment of the intellectual leadership tried to teach that seeing love as beauty was the indispensable means for true fulfillment.”
Steven Oberhelman An essay that was mostly problematic, but a few useful and interesting points.
1) 3 ways that scholars have viewed history of sex up to now: 1) essentialist 2) social constructionist 3) feminist. 2) The feminist view: the materialist consequences of power relationships structured around sex are cross-cultural: men in totally unrelated cultures have historically dominated women. It is not the essence of men to have these relationships. Essence and social construction are irrelevant to the more important issue: ethics. Historians should look at sex to explore how it is used as a tactic of domination, not as social construction or essential reality. 3) The essay connects John Winkler’s work on the dream analysis of Artemidoris with Byazantine and Medieval Islam. 4) Artemidoris: Good dreams – in accordance with nature and convention. Bad dreams – in opposition to nature and convention
5) What is natural in sex is for a person of high status to penetrate a person of lower status 6) Byzantine dream books: a) Sex is defined as male penetration of a submissive partner (either sex) b) As a dream symbol, the erect penis represents power in all activities c) All dreams of penetration portend some kind of profit, goodness, or happiness d) The only sexual activity subject to condemnation is seduction of a married or holy woman e) Homoeroticism brings good, positive things if the man is the inserter partner f) If he dreams of being penetrated, he will be overpowered or humiliated
7) Achmet, Christian Greek dream interpreter from Syria or Turkey 10th, 11th cent. : a) Consulted books of Artemidoris b) Discussed specific dream symbols & their interpretations c) Dream is a good sign if the dreamer is the penetrator d) Submissive partners are males of a lower social class, eunuchs, young boys or slaves. e) Sex between men of equal status is not even mentioned
Dream book texts pp. 71-75 Paul Sprachman Literary and biographic representations of Muslim men falling in love with Christian boys was common This basic homoerotic tale was adopted by Persian authors centuries later Basic elements of the love story: “A boy in the full flush of adolescence, becomes the pitiless beloved, le beau garcon sans merci. He resists a Shaykh’s advances and remains an indelible symbol of forbidden love. The lover, enslaved by his love, is not to be blamed but pitied for his pathology.
The transformation of vocabulary associated with the boy’s faith into the language of seduction is an important part of the rhetoric of the tale. The pseudo-Abu Nuwas eroticizes emblems of the beloved’s Christianity: “Consecration” “pilgrimage” etc. The beloved is typically situated in a “monastery” where his lover cannot reach him. Here the lover poses as a priest; in Persian versions of the tale, he actually converts to Christianity, showing the depth and daring of his infatuation.” “Interfaith homoeroticism drives the lover to insanity and eventually to martyrdom. Homoeroticism occasions natural calamaties like drought and human ones like poverty.
New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (chapter 10 written by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at: www.al-fatiha.org
Other articles of interest can be found at: groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news
Muslim Yahoo Group: “Queer Muslim Revolution” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah, Barra
Gay Islam discussion groups:
More Lesbian and Gay Muslim Websites:
-Gay Middle East: http://www.gaymiddleeast.com/
-Social support group: Imaan.org.uk
-Web site aims for a broad-based reformation, social justice, gender equality, pluralism and free inquiry: www.muslimwakeup.com
-Arab Gateway–includes pages on gay Islam
-Making friends: http://www.muslimfriends.com/
-Safra Muslim Lesbian Project
Mithly.com website: http://www.mithly.com/main/mainpage.htm -“find true value in self-actualization and self-expression”
The majority of Muslim countries, including supposedly ‘liberal’ ones like Tunisia as well as dictatorships like Sudan, outlaw same-sex relationships. See full article (October 2000) at:http://www.newint.org/issue328/holy.htm
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