in category Family, Gender and Sexuality

Are Islam's views on homosexuals and lesbians harsh?

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If such people don't harm others, shouldn't they be allowed to follow their inclinations?
1 Answer
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In a Nutshell:
There is a progressive myth "homosexuals" have been oppressed for millennia and it is only the West that has now recognised this and put an end to it. The reality is terms like homosexual, heterosexual and sexual orientation are modern Western social constructions (which is not to say that these categories are not experienced as real). Both religious and secular academics have made this point, while anthropologists, sociologists and intellectual historians have documented the cultural variance in conceptions of sex, sexuality and gender.

What is Islam's position on the matter?
As far as Islam's "oppression of homosexuals," we should note classical Islamic scholars did not have a conception of "heterosexuality" let alone "homosexuality" akin to other cultures, including Europe up until the late 19th century.

In Islamic law anal intercourse between two males (or female actions) done with sexual desire are forbidden. These sexual norms were on the books for centuries, despite the fact same-sex activity did occur in Muslim-majority lands throughout history.

Even though people were engaging in same-sex activity, they did not self-identify as "homosexuals" or as a separate category of people that could have even become a subject of systematic oppression.

So it begs the question, which narrative is more plausible?

For millennia across hundreds of different cultures across the globe, "homosexuals" - as a distinct, identifiable category of people within any given population have been subjugated and repressed and only the modern West of the past forty years or so has had the clear-mindedness and bravery to recognise this subjugation and "emancipate the homosexuals." The modern West, after all, is the most enlightened and moral of all peoples of all times, so it should come as no surprise that they would be the first to "discover" what literally 99% of humanity throughout human history was too stupid or too cruel to see.

For millennia across hundreds of different cultures across the globe, people have experienced the full gamut of sexual desire. Different cultures regulated the expression of those desires in different ways, but the satisfaction of same-sex sexual desire was almost universally prohibited on the basis of robust theories of human nature and sexual morality. Then the Enlightenment happens, religious and non-Western notions of human nature and moral reasoning are deemed "unscientific" and eventually discarded, effectively unmooring cultural practice from the grounding of tradition or moral principles embedded in a larger ethical view of human meaning and life.

Sanction of same-sex acts continues for a while due to cultural inertia, but little by little, attitudes change. What used to be moral deviancy is recast as a "psycho-pathological disorder" and then, finally, as just another normal, acceptable facet of a person's "sexual orientation," until "homosexuality" is recognised as such and no one can see why the "homosexual" should be constrained by "archaic" sexual mores.


To me, it is far more plausible that current views on same-sex behaviour are the product of changing cultural attitudes that have been dressed up in the language and conceptual framework of emancipation.

The alternative view, as expressed in the first narrative above, is nothing more than an ethnocentric, self-aggrandizing myth based on historical revisionism and a marked disdain for conceptual rigour and consistency.

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