Normally when you ask an Imam (a religious scholar) what is “Islam” they will respond with “Islam is peace”, “Islam is the straight path”, etc., etc. Then when you ask about homosexuality in Islam, the answer will range from “it is forbidden” to “it is unnatural”, “it does not exist”, or “it is a grave sin”. Some imams may even go on and clarify of the different various punishments for homosexuals, depending where they are from in the Middle East. For example, in Saudia Arabia, the normal penalty for homosexuals caught in the act is to either be beheaded in a public square or to have a wall collapse on them. In Iran–which practices a different branch of Islam–the penalty is lighter. One either has the option of therapy (sometimes this involves electro-therapy), sex change (half paid by the government), or to be hung in a public square. Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, in accepting his “Humanitarian Award” in 1999 given by the National Council of Christians and Jews, stated that:
Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption… No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.
It should be noted, however, that outside of Africa, Iran, and the Arabian peninsula homosexuals are not often persecuted (meaning executed). Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, technically has no national law against homosexuality though the government maintains a “sensitivity” to that topic. Islam of course is not alone in this. Cuba and other former Communist countries in the Eastern Bloc also prescribed the death penalty since homosexuals represented a “decadent bourgeois” lifestyle. Most of Christian Africa, notably Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, as well as segments of Orthodox Jews still prescribe the death penalty.
Generally speaking, much to the disappointment of the Commission on Elections, the Philippines does not have a law–either secular or in the adat (traditions followed by Muslim indigenous peoples)–that specifically makes homosexual conduct “illegal” or prescribes specific punishments. Actually, adat in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines traditionally stated that there were more than two genders thus the term “Third Sex” is more acceptable in those countries than say in Western Europe. This can also be explained in the way Islam was brought to Indonesia which later would affect Islam in the Philippines. Islam in Indonesia was a negotiated process. The rulers of the various Indonesian kingdoms accepted Islam but only certain segments or what the Wali Sanga (Nine Saints) called “ship building”. The rulers adopted the trappings of Islam (the frame of the ship) while retaining the customs and certain ancestral beliefs to be incorporated as “adat” which then was incorporated into their own “shariah” or legal code. Thus there was more tolerance of not only other religious groups, but branches within Islam notably Sufis and Shiites. This would later influence the way Islam came into the Philippines. This is one of the reasons why Islam in Indonesia and the Philippines is different than Islam in the Middle East, much to the displeasure of certain Middle Eastern scholars. Malaysia was also influenced by the Wali Sanga but now have become deeply influenced with conservative Indian and Saudi Arabian innovations thus has moved to criminalize homosexuality as well as ethnic cleansing their history of anything non-Sunni Islamic.
Like their other monotheistic counterparts, Islamic imams use the story of Lut (Lot) and Sodom to explain why homosexuality is a grave sin. The specific Qu’ranic verse is:
And (We sent) Lut when he said to his people: What! Do you commit an indecency which any one in the world has not done before you? (7:80)
The key words are “any one in the world has not done before you”. The city of Sodom probably existed around 1800 BCE, whereas the lovers King Neferkare Pepy II and General Sisenet are believed to be dated around 2300 BCE. The tomb of the same sex Egyptian couple Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep is also dated around 2450 BCE. All of these existed before Sodom so same sex practices were definitely done way before Sodom. We also have depictions of Mesopotamian walls and Greek pottery also showing homosexual practices earlier than 1800 BCE. Again, affirming whatever was going on in Sodom was not new under the sun and already existed in art at least in that region for thousands of years.
The other favorite verse is:
Most surely you come to males in lust besides females; nay you are an extravagant people.(7:81)
This verse brings up the same problems with translations as Christians have. The word ‘Fahisha’ has been translated denote indecency in verse 7:80, and the word ‘extravagance’ or ‘transgressing bounds’ has been used in 7:81, it is important to understand that both these words are related. According to Abdul Majid Daryabadi, (Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an Translation and Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, Volume I. Pakistan: Darul-Isha’at Urdu Bazar, 1991: pg. 310) the word ‘Fahisha’ as follows:
…in its general significance is ‘an excess; an enormity; anything exceeding the bounds of rectitude.’ but when particularized, signifies ‘adultery or fornication’
This means that indecency and extravagance are in fact interrelated, as both are referring to a practice conducted in excess, especially in violation of laws. Therefore, one can infer that the “sin” of Sodom was either excessive adultery beyond the bounds of what is lawful or another activity which was being done in excess perhaps boastfully. Verse 29:29 is a bit more clear:
What! Do you come to the males and commit robbery on the highway, and you commit evil deeds in your assemblies?
What is committed in assemblies is not really known. It could be anything from election fraud to gambling or some mass kinky orgy. But here again while it clear that God was pretty much more upset at the robberies than what was going on in the assemblies or else that would have been mentioned first. One can deduce from the verses that Sodom was conducting a lot of various activities, including adultery and robberies, which basically ticked off God. The truth of the matter is that there is no clear Quranic verse which prescribes punishment for homosexuality or bisexuality. It is only in the Hadith, or Sayings of the Prophet, that the worst verses against homosexuals, Jews, women, etc. are found. The Hadith does not have the same wieght as the Qur’an as the Qu’ran is believed to be a revelation whereas the Hadith are sayings or proverbs that supposedly come from the Prophet (though there are many disputes which are actually from the Prophet and which ones were simply out of context or made up). Unlike the Hadith, the Qur’an has a number of verses that state that diversity is a good thing. For example:
And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors; most surely there are signs in this for the learned. (30:22)
O people, we created you from a single pair of male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant. (49:13)
In other words, diversity in Islam should be a good thing. It’s part of distinctions. Just as according to the Islamic faith, God created various tribes, nations, tongues, and colors, perhaps God also created various sexual orientations and human relationships.
Those verses are often ignored but are consistent with biology. After all diversity is a biological fact. Insofar as homosexuality and bisexuality are concerned, researcher Bruce Bagemihl has shown that homosexual behavior has been observed in nearly 1500 species, ranging from orangutans to dolphins. So again, homosexuality and bisexuality are part of diversity and is natural since it is found in nature in thousands of species.
The fact of the matter is that the real threat the religious right of the various monotheistic faiths is not homosexuality or even sin. It is the fear of the loss of control. As Daw Suu Kyi said, “Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely. It is the fear of losing power that corrupts absolutely”. Diversity in itself represents a threat to control. Questioning textual meanings is questioning their authority to interpret according to their own ideas. It is far easier to tell people to do this and do that, to wear a beard, to look like a 7th century Arab, behead this person or that person, than to encourage debate and dialogue which in time would lead to a real understanding. The real theological issues whether for Christians, Muslims, or Jews is not about the nature of God, but on the nature of power–who has it and who will use it. Priests, imams, rabbis, etc. all need to perpetuate their version of the “City of God”, a hierarchy on earth as it is in heaven, particularly an all male hierarchy composed of a “chosen people” (e.g. Arabs for Islam, Jews for Judaism, and Anglo-Europeans for Christians). Homosexuals, women, people of color, and people who differ from their opinions (i.e. freethinkers) do not fit into their views of the City of God unless money is involved. If these matters were truly issues about theology or morality, the various prophets of the monotheistic faiths have already clarified those matters–above all else love and let live.