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On Gay Pride in Islam

Most gay activists who wear the Islam label know the right path. They know in their heart that the Quran explicitly condemns their behaviour.


Sheharyar Shaikh - July 13, 2008

People should be very free with sex; they should draw the line at goats. ~ Elton John

About a week ago I received a news story of an interview of a prominent gay activist with a mission to reconcile his “gay-ness” and those of others with God’s final message of Islam. He established and now directs an organization whose objective is to empower gay Muslims. Welcome to al-Fatihah: A US-based non profit gay support organization founded in 1998 that started out as an online discussion group and now runs over ten chapters in three countries. Its founder, the 28-year old Faisal Alam, says that at the age of sixteen he began to realize that something was wrong – “something I didn’t have a word for”. Alam was attracted to his own gender. A few years later he began venting his homosexual urges at local gay clubs during his university days in Boston where he would be “Muslim by day and homosexual by night”. An engagement with a Muslim girl came to a crashing halt when she discovered “that there was something wrong with their relationship”. After a nervous breakdown in 1996, Alam started an online mailing list with a mission to “advance the cause of homosexual Muslims”. Today al-Fatihah boasts of thousands of Muslim members around the world. It has created a 12-member “scholarship committee” that has produced a booklet that challenges the “traditional interpretations” of the mainstream Muslims. For future it plans to create homosexual friendly curriculum and arrange workshops in Islamic schools and centres.

There is no secret concerning the existence of Muslim homosexuality in history. Even if in history it was mostly secret. The fact that homosexual Muslims normally kept their affairs hidden was a proof of their tacit self-admission that their orientation was not socially approved and/or divinely blessed. This is beginning to change. The contemporary homosexual activists, who often portray a flaming presence in the workplace and public arena, are now demanding their inclusion in our mosques, religious schools and centers.

And yes, we have all heard the recent arguments in support of homosexuality. Some cite animal species that engage in homosexual acts in order to prove that it is natural behaviour. However several animal species also eat their young and their own excrements. The Quranic worldview portrays angels of possessing reason but no desire; and of animals having desire but no reason. So why must humans look towards the animal kingdom for sexual guidance? Others claim that homosexual behaviour is part of one’s genetic makeup and thus should be excused. There is no concrete evidence to prove that homosexuality is congenital. If it were so, we would not see cases of identical twins, who share the same genetic makeup, exhibiting opposite sexual orientations. Furthermore, if a homosexual could justify his behaviour by referring to his genetic programming, what would prevent a committer of incest or bestiality to also justify his behaviour on similar grounds? The society would have to cater to such claimants – because hey, it’s genetic! Even if the ever-so-evasive “gay-gene” is discovered some day, the fact that homosexual behaviour must uncontrollably result from it will remain to be proven.

"I believe that most gay activists who wear the Islam label know the right path. They know in their heart that the Quran explicitly condemns their behaviour. But instead of admitting their wrong and seeking help from God to overcome their inclinations, and we all have inclinations, they commit further sin by seeking to legitimize their behaviour in Islam."

The homosexual groups like Iman, al-Fatihah, etc, not only want the mainstream Muslims to accept them as they are but, also, most appallingly, bring Islam and the Quran as evidence in support of their behaviour. Islam backs their homosexuality, they insist. Alam claims that “Islam has…never intruded into the bedroom of its followers” – a blatent lie. “We are fighting ...1400 years of interpretation”, says Alam, laying the blame squarely on “straight, homophobic men” in charge of textual interpretation. Pervez Sharma, the gay director of the documentary “A Jihad for Love”, profiles two Turkish lesbians in his movie who he describes in an interview as “sufis”. What travesty! Is it the same Sufism that goes at lengths to teach one restraint over one’s carnal desires and direct one’s love towards God? Some advocates cite “homoerotic” poetry of the Sufi tradition to lend legitimacy to an Islam-approved idea of homosexuality. Do they not know that the traditional Sufi masters used metaphors and similes to express their love for the religion and religious symbols, not clandestine homosexual relationships? Hence recurring words like “wine” stood for divine love; “the cupbearer” for the Prophet (S); “the beloved” for God/the Guide; “the lover” for the poet himself, etc. Sharma’s comment in an interview that “the Wahhabis and the Tablighis have looked down upon the Sufis” is also incorrect. While it is true that Wahhabis (properly known as the Salafis) warred against Sufi innovations, the Tabligh movement on the other hand seeks inspiration from age-old Sufi ideas and practices.

I believe that most gay activists who wear the Islam label know the right path. They know in their heart that the Quran explicitly condemns their behaviour. But instead of admitting their wrong and seeking help from God to overcome their inclinations, and we all have inclinations, they commit further sin by seeking to legitimize their behaviour in Islam. Ali Orhon, a Turkish homosexual who had a troubled marriage lasting ten months, is at least honest enough to admit that the Quran is anti-gay. “If there was any pro-gay interpretation, I would have seized on it”, he says. Yet consider Muhsin Hendricks, “the first gay Imam” from South Africa, who after graduating from a Pakistani madrasah and then coming out as gay, now counsels Muslim homosexuals in an effort to reconcile their Islam with their sexuality. “Let Allah be the judge in the end of the day” he says in an interview. But, Allah did judge, Mr. Hendrinks. The destruction of Lot’s people on account of their brazen homosexuality is mentioned over twenty times in the Quran. God’s displeasure towards Soddom is best reflected in the way they were destroyed; the land on which they dwelt was first pelted at night with “marked stones from Heaven” followed by the land being flung into midair, turned upside down and then smashed onto the ground crushing and burying everyone by sunrise (11:82, 15:74). Furthermore, God leaves the Soddomite region, in form of the non-life giving Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth surface (1,378 ft below sea level), as a warning and reminder to humanity to never repeat Soddom’s lowly and lifeless ways (37:137-138, 15:75-77). But see how Faisal Alam chooses to interpret the Soddom account. He makes the dishonest claim that Soddomites were destroyed because they were “stealing and were not hospitable to their guests”. Prophet Lot rebukes the townspeople at several Quranic instances for forsaking women in preference of men (27:55, 26:166, 7:81) – even offering his daughters for marriage (15:77). Moreover does it make sense that God of Islam would curb free heterosexual sex by enforcing stringent laws (24:2) but condone free homosexual sex? The verses clearly comment on the Soddomite involvement in consensual “filthy acts” (al-Khaba’ith) (21:74) especially during their parties and social gatherings (29:29).

Because no homosexual was ever punished by the Prophet (S) this proves, Alam reasons, that homosexuality is permitted in Islam. The Prophet (S) did not punish any homosexual because no homosexual was ever brought to him for judgement. All we have is reports of effeminate men called Mukhannathun (such as ad-Dalal, Tuways etc) in Jahili Arabia who resembled women in their gestures, manner of talk and gait owing to their natural disposition and therefore carried no blame. Only one such man is reported to have been banished by the Prophet to the suburbs of Medina for deliberately imitating women by wearing henna on his hands and feet (Sunan Abu Da’ud, Book 41, Hadith 4910).

Yet the legal efforts towards legalizing homosexuality are gaining momentum in the Islamic world, with Lebanon leading the struggle. Gay issues are freely shared in a popular weekly TV programme called “ash-Shater Yahki”. The Lebanese gay magazine “Barra” alleges 35 percent of Lebanese men to have had sex with other men. It is ironic that a nation only a short car-ride away from the Biblical region of Soddom should boast of “Acid – the first gay nightclub in the Middle East” among queer cafés, bathhouses, cinemas and bars. Who can forget the summer of 2006 when the first ever gay Arab rights conference organized by Helem, a Lebanese gay advocacy group currently active in a homosexuality legalization struggle, was held in Beirut for three straight days? But this is not to pick on Lebanon alone. The 2005-closure of a UAE nightclub for its gay night, the 2002-arrests of 52 alleged homosexuals on a pleasure boat in Cairo, reports of homosexuality occurring in religious madrasahs in Pakistan and other similar accounts disclose a disturbing trend: the Islamic World is undergoing softening attitudes towards illicit sex and sexuality, especially among its youth. “Imam” Hendricks cites only two options available for a Muslim homosexual: “leaving Islam or suicide”. We say there is, and always was, a third option: restraint and repentance – something not unfamiliar to the mainstream heterosexual Muslims of the world. But to attempt to justify homosexuality in the Quran and Hadith is not only dishonest, it also brings to question one’s status as a Muslim (This is not my fatwa. Please refer to fiqh on the issue).

Indeed the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has said, “Allah has forgiven my Ummah of the whisperings of their souls so long as they do not talk about it or act accordingly.”

And for those among us who are struggling with their nafs while admitting its shortcomings, there is perhaps no better verse than the following to bring hope to their situation:

Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (az-Zumar 39:53)

Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity. He can be reached at:

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