By Junaid Jahangir, New Age Islam
6 October 2020
Conservative Muslims believe that verses 7:81, 26:165-166 and 27:55 are clear in their prohibition of homosexuality. However, gay Muslims argue that these verses condemn male rape perpetrated by men, who are generally assumed to be straight.
To support their position, conservative Muslims read the verse using an atomistic approach, which means that they quote the verse without regard to the allied verses that inform the narrative of the people of Lut. Based on the online translations of the Qur’an, they quote verse 7:81 as follows.
Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.
They refer to men and women generally and argue that approaching men with desire constitutes transgression. On the other hand, gay Muslims question that if the categories of men and women are accepted generally, then why did men, who are generally interested in women, pursue other men with desire?
Sustaining their line of inquiry, they argue that the men and the women in the verse have been particularized through definite nouns by the use of the prefix “al”, so the verse contains the words “alrijal” for men and “alnisa” for women.
They apply a holistic approach by invoking the context informed by verses 15:70 and 29:29. The former refers to the people prohibiting Lut from offering hospitality to travellers and the latter refers to highway robbery and evil deeds in public assemblies. Additionally, verses 26:165-166 use the word “Azkwajikum” that refers to the wives/mates of the people of Lut.
Based on this context that is supported by Tasfir (exegetical literature), gay Muslims argue that the men referred to are the hapless travellers and the women are the wives of the people of Lut. Therefore, they argue that the Qur’an is condemning the people of Lut for approaching vulnerable travellers with desire for their worldly possessions and/or for sexual conduct, when their basic needs were being met with their God given spouses. The Mufassireen (exegetes) like Zamakhshari (d. 1144) viewed this desire as animalistic devoid of any affection or compassion.
Even if the context of the people of Lut is ignored, and these verses are upheld as universal for all times and places, verses 7:81, 26:165-166, 27:55 can be read as depicting men, generally assumed to be straight, pursuing other men with animalistic desire instead of being content with their spouses, who would have been generally receptive to their sexual advances.
Nowhere does the Qur’an mention that the men they approached were receptive to their advances. Based on the exegetical writings of Muslim scholars like Abu Hanifa (d. 767) and Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) who argued that no man willingly submits to being anally penetrated unless he suffers from the Ubna (anal itch) disease or for financial aims, it becomes quite clear that the depicted approach of the men is oppressive (Zulm based) and therefore transgressive (sinful) in nature.
While the above illustrates how gay Muslims read the verses on the people of Lut, it does not explain why the verses on the people of Lut were revealed when Muslims were facing oppression from the haughty Meccans in Mecca. Surely, verses related to Muslim law were revealed in Medina whereas Meccan verses dealt with the needs of the fledgling Muslim community.
One is hard pressed to understand the significance of the verses when the Prophet never dealt with a case of homosexual conduct in his lifetime, which put the Companions in a quandary when they began to face such cases after his death. Indeed, based on the Arab norms of Muruwwa (manliness) in the desert, any homosexual conduct would have been suppressed. For instance, in the case of Abu Jahl, it is alleged that he satisfied his receptive anal intercourse need with stones instead of submitting to another man. Therefore, the asbab al Nuzul (occasions or circumstances) for the revelation of the verses on the people of Lut demand a proper illustration.
One explanation comes from an Ahmadi Tafsir. While the Ahmadis share the general Sunni and Shia position on the prohibition of homosexual conduct, their exegetical literature provides a comprehensive reflection of the narrative on the people of Lut. Their exegesis shows how these verses were revealed to comfort the Prophet in the face of intense opposition from the Meccans.
The Tafsir draws parallels between Lut and the Prophet. Lut had two daughters Ritha and Ra’raba who were married to the townsfolk. Likewise, the Prophet’s daughters, Ruqayyah, Zaynab and Umm Kulthum were initially married to the Meccans. Just as the people of Lut had forbidden him from outsiders, the Meccans too had prohibited the Prophet from outsiders lest he should form alliances with them.
The Tafsir indicates that the verses were revealed to comfort the Prophet that just as Allah had saved Lut and his daughters from the people, so too He would come to the aid of the Prophet. It draws parallels between the blinding of the people of Lut and the strong gale during the battle of Badr that drove into the faces of the Meccans blinding them. Moreover, just as the town of the people of Lut was turned upside down, so too the Meccan social order was eventually turned upside down when the haughty Meccans slid down the social scale and the poor Muslims rose in prominence.
In essence, while conservative Muslims believe that the passages on the people of Lut are about the prohibition of homosexual conduct, the alternative reading avoids such an obsession with anal intercourse. Based on the linguistics of classical Arabic, the context, the circumstances of revelation and the exegetical literature, it is more reasonable to conclude that the verses are about the Zulm (oppression) of the people of Lut and the haughty Meccans and that the verses were revealed to comfort the Prophet that just as Allah had saved Lut so too He would come to his aid in the face of intense opposition and oppression.
Junaid Jahangir is an Assistant Professor of Economics at MacEwan University. He is the co-author of Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions. With Dr. Hussein Abdullatif, a paediatric endocrinologist in Alabama, he has co-authored several academic papers on the issue of same-sex unions in Islam.
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