The question of Islam’s views on LGBTQ+ rights is an especially sticky situation, especially in today’s current political and cultural climate. Both Muslims and the Queer community alike tend to avoid the controversial subject, so when we’re told uncomfortable things about one group or another, we wonder, do they really believe that?
As a Muslim, I’m going to try to clear the air a little because it’s easy to be afraid of people we don’t know. It’ll be a difficult conversation, so bear with me, but difficult conversations don’t mean that a rewarding conclusion isn’t in the future. Beyond the brambles, we might come to better understand and respect one another.
So, before I start, I want to say, yes! It’s okay to ask the Muslims around you questions. I can guarantee that we are happier discussing your criticisms than tiptoeing around a subject and pretending it doesn’t exist. If your intention is to understand or clarify your viewpoints, never hesitate!
So, what does Islam say about homosexuality?
Most Muslims assert that homosexuality is a sin based on some choice verses from the Quran about the story of Prophet Lot at Sodom:
Chapter 8 “The Heights,” Verses 80-81: “And Lot, when he said to his people, ‘Do ye approach an abomination which no one in all the world ever anticipated you in? Verily, ye approach men with lust rather than women- nay, ye are a people who exceed.’”
Chapter 29 “The Spider,” Verse 29: “‘Do you really lust after other men, abuse the travelers, and practice immorality openly in your gatherings?’ His people’s only response was to say mockingly: ‘Bring Allah’s punishment upon us, if what you say is true.’”
Ouch. That hurt.
But let’s look at it more closely.
If we learn the context of these verses, we come to know that Sodom was a wealthy biblical city located on a trade highway where many travelers and merchants often stopped to rest during their journeys. Prophet Lot, the nephew of Prophet Abraham, was tasked with the divine order to uphold hospitality towards guests and foreigners. However, the Sodomites were guilty of several sins: practicing coerced heterosexual as well as homosexual intercourse with foreigners, upholding socially and economically unjust laws that promoted social discrimination, and considering xenophobia as justified in their idolatrous beliefs. Temple priests would often subject vulnerable men to coercive sex with aristocrats and also instituted the temple prostitution of virgin women as a form of mandatory religious worship.
Because of this specific context, many Muslims wonder, was the sin that the Sodomites were punished for really homosexuality, or coerced homosexuality and rape? Many Muslims base their support for Queer rights on this ambiguity. (If you are interested in a more in-depth look into this interpretation of the verses, feel free to read Muhsin Hendrick’s “Islamic Texts: A Source for Acceptance of Queer Individuals into Mainstream Muslim Society”: https://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/muhsin.pdf)
But, what about this other verse?
Chapter 4 “The Women,” Verse 21: “And if two (men) of you commit it [adultery], then discipline them both; but if they turn again and amend, leave them alone, verily, God is easily turned, compassionate.”
The “it” in this sentence refers to the crime of adultery. Adultery, in Islam, is prohibited to preserve the Islamic value of modesty and dignity. Marriage is considered the divine and legally rightful avenue for sexual desire. Why is modesty so stressed in Islam? Well, different cultures have different values, so what you consider “proper” or “respectable” might not be the same to others. Morality is relative.
So, if the verse is saying that a same sex couple having sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage is just as sinful as a heterosexual couple having sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage, doesn’t that mean Muslims should be the biggest advocates for same-sex marriage?
Again, the ambiguity of these Quranic verses allows Muslims reconcile their support of Queer rights with Islam. They may also base their support on hundreds of other verses that discuss the beauty of diversity in humanity and upholding respect for all of God’s creations.
On the other hand, Muslims who take a more literal interpretation of these verses and choose not to support LGBTQ+ rights will still oftentimes assert their respect for other people’s lifestyles regardless. After all, the word ‘Islam’ is literally derived from the Arabic word that means ‘peace.’ Violence should never be acceptable unless it’s to fight oppression.
Chapter 1 “The Cow,” Verse 256: “There is no compulsion in religion.”
Chapter 109 “The Disbelievers,” Verses 1-6: “Say, ‘Oh ye nonbelievers, I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship what I worship. I will never worship what you worship, nor will you ever worship what I worship. You have your way, and I have my way.”
Evidently, the Quran is filled with ambiguity open for interpretation and rethinking. Unfortunately, the process of analyzing the Quran is held in great prestige, and students of Islamic texts often have to undergo years of training before they can be considered qualified scholars. This makes the system of religious analysis and interpretation highly elitist, exclusive, and inexorable. But, if there is one thing that all Muslims can agree about from the Story of Lot, it’s that justifying excessive violence, coercion, oppression, or discrimination in religion is wrong. Religion should not be a tool with which to beat others with; it should be a place of solace for those who choose to turn to it.