We also sent Lut : He said to his people : “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” Qur’an 7:80-81
In the post-modern era, when the issue of homosexuality is less of a taboo than say 50-60 years ago, homosexual people are still facing persecution, judgements and condemnation around the world. The degree of the persecution varies for different regions, countries and religions. The one religion that has had the most rigid stance on homosexuality is Islam. Being a Muslim myself it is hard to admit the fact that the level of tolerance seems to be much lower in Muslim-majority countries. Whether or not Islam prohibits homosexuality and the position of the Qur’an is a complex matter which can be discussed in a lengthy research. What is worth mentioning is the fact that earlier Islamic societies were less strict on this matter. Many of the poems have been addressed to boys while in some medieval Sufi texts it is unclear whether the beloved being addressed is a teenage boy or God, providing a quasi-religious sanction for relationships between men and boys (The Economist).
Despite that, the sad reality prevails. Gays in the Muslim world are still being pushed underground with draconian laws that satisfy the government. In those countries where the laws are moderate the society as well as the government finds other ways of harassing and persecuting homosexuals. As the chart below indicates even in those countries where homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed the government is still rigid.
Being gay and Muslim is, thus, the biggest taboo of today’s Muslim world. Being gay in the open is a challenge that homosexuals can only confront on the internet. Most of these discussions are initiated and led by those homosexual Muslims that are outside of these countries. While some legal historians claim that as a religious and governmental leader the Prophet did not punish homosexuals and argue that the norms and regulations about gay sex was composed long after his death, the majority still embraces the idea that homosexuality is a shameful sin. As a result those who are pushed underground have no other option left than leading a double life which is challenging, unfair and is a violation of their human rights. Those who do come out of the closet, due to religious and political reasons, are confronted with hostility. Note that in some of these countries (Iran for example) transsexuals are allowed to change their sex so that they can enter the traditional, right heterosexual relationships. The state even offers financial support for the operation. So, for the Iranian government it is a rather simple choice: “either transform physically or pretend to be normal i.e. heterosexual”.
One of the reasons why many issues exist today is because religion is not just a matter of personal belief and prayer. It goes further than that. It constitutes a public sphere that includes the entire nation itself. The western world trumpets its acceptance of homosexuality. However, what is important to remember is that the West arrived at its current stance through a gradual process. When the secularization of the Western civilization along with the emergence of the liberal attitude towards sex took place, it contributed to a more tolerant position on the subject. Ironically, some medieval Western writers condemned Islam’s tolerant and encouraging attitude towards sexual practices between people of the same sex (Sabine Smidtke). Unfortunately, the Muslim world has not developed the same vision so far. In the post-Arab Spring period with the religious figures gaining political power homosexuals are persecuted as never before even in the most aspiring democratic countries (kind of!) like Kazakhstan.
The Central Asian blogosphere today was blown by news from the Kazakh Parliament taking an initiative to criminalize homosexuality. Homosexuality is seen as “amorality of the highest degree” and the officials are now calling homosexuals to be considered criminals against humanity. Almaty, the old capital of the country, has 20 gay clubs which the government sees as a disgrace. Meanwhile, these clubs are only places where homosexuals can be open about their sexual orientation. These places are highly protected by their members as they face constant harassment and threats. Two years ago my roommate and I (both heterosexual) went to an only gay club in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan called “The Spike”. A very close friend of mine who happens to be Muslim is gay, a fact that he shares only with his closest friends. One has to have connections among the homosexuals to get into the club and he was ours. After the club the two of us sat into a taxi cab the driver of which verbally assaulted us thinking that we were lesbians. As we had been told later by our friend, that happens every time one catches a cab near the club. This is only a minor share of what Muslim gays have to deal with on the daily basis. The challenges the Muslim gays are confronted with seem to be increasing over time with little possibility for any kind of positive intervention from the governments. What is to become in another 20-30 years remains to be seen.
Human Rights Campaign. “Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Islam.” http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/stances-of-faiths-on-lgbt-issues-islam
Joanna Lillis. “Kazakhstan: Parliament Becomes Scene of Homophobic Rants.” Eurasian.net (May 28, 2013). http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67026
Schmidtke, Sabine. “Homoeroticism and Homosexuality in Islam: A Review Article.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 62 (1999): 260-266.
The Economist. “Straight but Narrow. Islam and Homosexuality.” February 4, 2012 (from print edition). http://www.economist.com/node/21546002