Religion

Religion

In this section we will review the teachings of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In each section we will look firstly at what the scripture teaches, before proceeding to see how the adherents of the faith have interpreted and applied such teachings.

 

Judaism and Homosexuality

The general Jewish opinion is that it is the sexual act and not the orientation that is forbidden. The Torah clearly forbids sexual acts between men. But the Jewish scriptures [1] are silent on same sex female relations, but there is some debate around the practice being forbidden in connection with Egyptian Lesbianism.

People belonging to the Jewish faith do not have an Old or New Testament, but their version of a written Old Testament is known as the Torah or the Tanakh. There is also an Oral Torah, which explains scriptures and provides interperatation of the Laws. Orthodox Jews believe Moses taught it to others, it remained in oral form and was compiled and written down in a document called the Mishnah. Later Jewish scholars such as Rambam and Rashi wrote commentaries compiled in the form of a Talmud.[2]

Torah

Genesis 19:6 And they shouted to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”[3]

Leviticus 18:23: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.”[5]

Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death—their bloodguilt is upon them.”[9]

Commentary on the Tanakh written by Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) states “That we may know them.” refers to homosexual actions, ie: “For the purpose of homosexuality as in: Who have never known a man.”[4]

Tur HaAroch, a commentary on the Torah, written by R’ Jacob ben Asher, comments on the above verses:

“And you are not to indulge in homosexual relations with another male. Nachmanides writes that the reason for the injunctions against sexual relations between males, and between man and beasts, are quite clear, seeing that G’d abhors such mismatching of His creatures. Such relations cannot contribute to the continued existence of the respective species, the only valid reason for indulging in the sexual act”.[6]

The Guide for the Perplexed, written by Maimonides (Rambam) comments on the above verse:

“The law about forbidden sexual intercourse seeks in all its parts to inculcate the lesson that we ought to limit sexual intercourse altogether, hold it in contempt, and only desire it very rarely.” [7]

Rabbi Shraga Silverstein writes in the Midrash Sifra:

“And if a man lies with a male as if lying with a woman, an abomination has been wrought by both of them. They shall be put to death; their blood is in them.” …R. Yishmael says: This comes to teach (something about lying with a male) and ends up being taught (something about lying with a female) — that there are two lyings with a woman (for liability, normative and non-normative). They shall be put to death by stoning. You say by stoning, but perhaps it is by one of the other death penalties in the Torah;”[8]

This is similar to the the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, one of the most learned commentators of the law, who states:

“And if a man lie with a man as with a woman, they have wrought abomination; both of them shall die by the stoning of stones.”[10]

The Babylonian Talmud has been translated into English by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz (internationally regarded as one of the leading rabbis of the 20th/21st centuries). His commentary on the work states:

‘From where do we derive the prohibition and punishment for homosexual intercourse with a male? It is as the Sages taught in a baraita with regard to the verse: “And if a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13): The word“man” excludes a minor boy. The phrase “lies with a male” is referring to any male, whether he is an adult manor whether he is a minor boy. The phrase “as with a woman [mishkevei isha],” referring to lying with a woman, appears in the plural. The verse teaches you that there are two manners of lying with a woman for which one who engages in intercourse with a woman forbidden to him is punished, vaginal and anal intercourse.’ [Talmud Sanhedrin Daf 54a][11]

Modern Jewish interpretation

In a research paper “Same-Sex Marriage and Jewish Law: Time for a New Paradigm?” Clinical Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Doron M. Kalir ‘proposes that the Torah (and Jewish law), read in context, accepts homosexuality and treats gay people as equal’.[12] Kalir further argues that:

“…Properly read, the relevant Biblical text was never intended to restrict sexual relations between consenting adults of the same gender; rather, its sole purpose was to prevent intra-family same-sex relations between males of the same household, as part of a more comprehensive code of incest. Such interpretation,” the article suggests, “is supported by the three organising interpretive principles of Jewish law, namely the notion that each person was created in the image of God; the duty to love your neighbour as yourself; and the understanding that the interpretation of the bible is not in the heavens, but rather in our hands.” [13]

In a similar vein, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi Tanya mentions in Chapter 23:

“But someone who is not in his contemporary (in keeping the commandments) and not close to him, for this person Hillel the Elder said be like the student of Aaron, who loved peace, loved all people and brought them closer to Torah. That is to say (that this is our task for) those people who are distant from God’s Torah. For there is a Mitzvah to hate them (those who sin) but also a Mitzvah to love them, and both (emotions) are correct. Hatred for the evil that is within them, and love for the good what is buried within them, that is the spark of God.”[14]

The first Lubavicher Rebbe writes with reference to Tanya Chapter 32:

“That we can hate the sin, but also must continue to love the sinner. This is consistent with the normative Jewish view. Thus, while we may abhor the sin of homosexuality, we must continue to love the homosexual, not matter what his behavior and sin (see Leviticus 19:18). We do not and cannot reject people as Jews and as individuals because of a particular sin. Those who violate the Shabbat, for example, (also guilty of death in the Torah) are not thrown out of the Jewish community or denied the ability to pray in the synagogue. Similarly, homosexuals who have sinned with acts of homosexuality may not be thrown out of the Jewish community or shunned.”[15]

 

Homosexuality: a Christian view

Christian scriptures are very clear when it comes to the topic of homosexuality. According to Nasrudin Subhi & David Geelan:

“Since the beginning of Christianity, most Christians have regarded homosexuality as morally wrong, which led to the position upheld today by most mainstream denominations such as Catholic, Orthodox, and also most Evangelical Protestant. According to Western religious views of homosexuality, debate about conflict between Christianity and homosexuality is easier to understand by separating the two main themes that are evident in the literature: nature and scripture.”[16]

Indeed, the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as a sin, as per the following statements:

Leviticus 18:22 ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

Romans 1:26; For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

Romans 1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

1 Timothy 1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

2 Peter 2:7 And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:

Jude 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

Much of the condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible stems from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. On this particular point, McClintock’s and Strong’s Biblical Encyclopedia state:

“Sodomy, an unnatural crime, consisting of the defilement of man with man, and thus differing from bestiality, which is the defilement of man with brutes. The name is derived from Sodom, in which city the crime was frequent. Sodomy was strictly forbidden in the Mosaic law, and was punishable with death (Le 20:13). Among the pagan nations of antiquity, as still in many heathen countries, this was a very common vice (Ro 1:27); the Greeks and Romans designated it by the term poederasty (see Wilcke, De Satyricis Romanis [Viteb. 1760]). In the early Church this was considered, not an ordinary, but a monster crime. The Council of Ancyra has two canons relating to this and similar crimes, imposing heavy ecclesiastical penalties upon offenders. St. Basil (Can. 62, 63) imposes the penalty of adultery, viz. twenty years’ penance; and the Council of Eliberis refused communion, even at the last hour, to those guilty of this crime with boys. There was an old Roman law against it, called the Lex Scantinia, mentioned by Juvenal (Sat. 2, 44) and others; but it lay dormant until revived by Christian emperors. Constantius made it a capital offence, and ordered it to be punished with death by the sword; while Theodosius decreed that those found guilty should be burned alive.”[17].

In the Bible, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is well known. Below are some of the key references relating to the Biblical condemnation of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah:

Genesis 13:13 But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.

Genesis 18:20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;

Genesis 19: 4-9 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Genesis 19:13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.

Deuteronomy 29:23 And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:

Deuteronomy 32:32 For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter:

Jeremiah 23:14 I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.

Isaiah 1:9 Unless the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

Jeremiah 49:18 As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the LORD, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it.

Romans 9:29 And as Isaiah said before, Except the Lord of hosts had left us a descendant, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah.

Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

Revelation 11:8 And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

What did Jesus say about homosexuality?

Jesus did not specifically say anything about homosexuality but he expresses a form of indirect condemnation of the practice, through reference to Sodom and Gomorrah:

Matthew 11:24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.

Further, Jesus clearly made reference to the heterosexual marriage system as well as divorce in the context of heterosexual couples, when he answered the Pharisees in the gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 19:4-6 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Homosexuality and the Church

In a Vatican memo considering the proposals to give legal recognition to homosexual unions, it is written:

“Since this question relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow are addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society. The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognised as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives. There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved”.[18]

The difficulties the Church has faced in reconciliation changes in public opinion to homosexuality, and their own historical stance on the matter, as well as what the Bible says, is captured well in the words of Pastor Robert Nugent:

‘Homosexuality is compared to a fishbone caught in the church’s throat that the church can neither eject nor swallow entirely. Authors in all denominations are questioning traditional church stances influenced by the model of clinical pastoral education. Most major denominations have made policy statements on homosexuality. Four such stances discussed here highlight some of the common issues denominations face in their reexamination of the subject. Homosexuals struggling for full acceptance in the church must confront the classical understanding of the human being and human sexual differentiation as these concepts have traditionally influenced the churches.’[19]

Homosexual activists are striving to change political, social and moral perceptions in order to gain social acceptance. However in this process many Christians have become penalised for their biblical beliefs on homosexuality. Only a few of many examples are listed below:

  • A devout Christian who was thrown off a university social work course after branding homosexuality a sin on Facebook has lost a high court battle.[20]
  • A Christian street preacher was arrested and locked in a cell for telling a passer-by that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God.[21]
  • A Catholic adoption agency lost a two-year battle to be excluded from laws that ban discrimination against homosexuals.[22]
  • Denmark forces churches to perform same-sex marriages[23]
  • Ontario Christian minister forced to conduct same-sex marriages or get sacked.[24]
  • States can require Christians to violate their faith in order to do business, affirming a penalty of nearly $7,000 for a photographer who refused to take pictures at a lesbian commitment ceremony in the state where same-sex marriage was illegal.[25]

Does this mean disapproving of homosexuality as a sinful act mentioned in the bible is homophobia? From this perspective, given that Jesus said to love others, but not to change the law, it would seem that he too would fall under the definition of being homophobic:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.

As a devout follower of the OT, Jesus followed and supported the Mosaic law which included a clear condemnation of homosexuality as mentioned in Leviticus 18:22; 20:13. Jesus gave guidance to his followers in many matters of faith. Had he felt that the scriptures of the OT were outdated or irrelevant in relation to homosexuality he would have surely mentioned it. It’s not as if he was oblivious to the Greco-Roman world around him who did indulge in homosexuality. Instead Jesus said:

John 5:46-47 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.

To love Jesus and to love everyone is understood by many Christians as an encouragement to be compassionate to everyone as a means of enabling people to be guided. This does not do away with the prohibition of homosexuality, though. Through love, compassion and sincerity, many Christians believe society can be guided to the logical reasons behind the prohibition of homosexuality and its harms.

 

Islam and Homosexuality

Principles of Religion

Religious beliefs operate with different underlying assumptions to those held by society today, and when one appreciates religious assumptions, one immediately recognises why, at their core, religious adherents will always regard non-heterosexual behaviours as fundamentally at odds with religion.

Religious teachings – the three Abrahamic ones that particularly come under scrutiny for their positions on sexuality – hold that the universe with all its beauty and order was designed by a Higher Intelligence who is worthy of all praise. This is a fundamental, foundational belief of these major religions that can never be done away with without destroying the edifice of these religions entirely. From this fundamental belief emerge some natural consequences: If the Universe was ordered and designed by a Higher Intelligence who is Praiseworthy in the definitional sense, then the faculties which such a Being has endowed upon humans – sexuality among them – must have been bestowed intentionally, and for a particular purpose. After all, as all the major scriptures affirm, God’s actions are deliberate and meaningful, not vain or purposeless, since these would constitute a blot on the character of the Divine.

But if our faculties, such as sexuality, were given to us to be used in a particular manner, then it naturally emerges that there must be a “right way” and a “wrong way” to exercise such faculties. After all, what would free will amount to, and the entire architecture of religious belief in accountability, if the possibility for “wrong” use of a faculty were not there? In religious terminology generally – and explicitly so in Islamic terminology – this, and this alone, is what constitutes “sin”. Sin is the use of a faculty – be it sexuality, forgiveness, anger, generosity, kindness, retribution etc – in a manner that is contrary to the purpose for which God has given it to us. Sin thus constitutes the misuse of a faculty we have been given.

The Purpose of Sexuality

When we understand this framework, which has its roots in the fundamental religious belief that God has created all things, our sexuality included, purposefully, then we can appreciate why non-heterosexual behaviours will always necessarily clash with the essence of religious thought. This is because even a cursory glance at scripture will inform us that the primary purpose for which the Creator has endowed humans with the sexual faculty is for reproduction.

Indeed, one can appreciate this viewpoint even from a non-religious, secular Darwinian perspective. From an evolutionary perspective, there is little doubt that the purpose for which women find taller, well-built men attractive, is in relation to the woman’s vulnerable condition when bearing, giving birth to and rearing children. Similarly, men’s attraction to women has been demonstrated1 to be related to their perceived breastfeeding capability (classically shaped breasts), their lack of pregnancy (low hip/waist ratio) and their ability to give birth safely (gynecoid pelvis).

The Quran in particular makes this link between the provision of mates and the production of children, explicit:

And Allah has made for you mates from among yourselves, and has made for you, from your mates, sons and grandsons, and has provided you with good things. Will they then believe in vain things and deny the favour of Allah? (Quran 16:73)

The verse seems to ask a basic question to humanity: Do you not see that the purpose of the sexual faculty is the production of children and the perpetuation of the human species? Will you then deny such a grace and favour by opting for what is “vain”, namely, that which is impotent to producing life, by pursuing such sexual gratification as can never produce offspring? While the Quran places sexuality firmly in the context of reproduction it does however acknowledge the reality that sexuality also serves as a means of companionship and happiness:

And one of His Signs is this, that He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that surely are Signs for a people who reflect. (Quran 30:22)

Yet this is given throughout Islamic literature as a purpose secondary to the primary purpose of reproduction. Thus, when addressing the question of the compatibility of religious belief with non-heterosexual behaviours and orientations, we must keep this basic fact in mind: Religious scriptures unanimously regard sexuality as serving the primary function of reproduction, above and beyond their second and tertiary roles as means of comfort, companionship, and love. Non-heterosexual behaviours will always therefore, in principle, fall foul of this basic rule, since non-heterosexual sexual behaviours cannot produce offspring. As such, they will always be regarded as “sinful” by virtue of misdirecting the sexual faculty into unproductive relationships. It is an inevitability that springs from the very foundation of religious belief.

The Argument from Infertility

It is asked by some at this juncture as to whether it is deemed impermissible in Islam to marry a person who is known to be infertile, since this too would violate the primary principle of the sexual faculty, the legitimate Islamic expression of which is permitted only within the confines of marriage. The answer to this is yes, it is deemed undesirable to marry a person who is known to be infertile, but not outright forbidden. On this matter, one hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him) states:

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told men not to marry infertile women. It was narrated that Ma’qil ibn Yasaar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said: I have found a woman who is of good lineage and beautiful, but she cannot have children. Should I marry her? He said: No. Then he came to him a second time, and he told him not (to marry that woman). Then he came to him a third time and he said: “Marry the one who is loving and fertile, for I will be proud of your great numbers before the nations.” (Narrated by al-Nasaa’i (3227) and Abu Dawood (2050). Classed as saheeh (authentic) by Ibn Hibbaan (9/363) and by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb {1921})

From this hadith, scholars of jurisprudence in Islam have affirmed marriage to a man or woman known to be infertile as “undesirable” or makrooh. It is not explicitly forbidden. The reason for this may be as follows: Firstly, to make it forbidden would imply that continuing marriage to a person who is discovered, during the course of the relationship, to be infertile, is itself forbidden. This would result in the rapid dissolution of marriages through divorce (a practice permitted but to be avoided unless absolutely necessary in Islam) between otherwise loving couples, and would result in severe psychological harm of all parties concerned. It would result in harm more than anything. Secondly, in Islam, a man is permitted to marry up to four wives, under certain proviso conditions of equal treatment and financial capability. If such a man wishes to marry a second time, having borne children through his first wife, then he may choose to marry an infertile woman who hopes simply for a loving relationship and for the companionship of marriage. To render marriage to her as sinful on account of her infertility would be to prohibit what is considered in Islam to be a virtuous act.

The Argument from Infertility is made so as to equate two things, while they are in fact different. A homosexual couple who are otherwise reproductively healthy but cannot have children because of biological incompatibility, as is the case between two men or between two women, is not the same as the a heterosexual couple who are reproductively unhealthy, and thus unable to have children. A heterosexual couple suffering a reproductive disease are not infertile because of their heterosexuality, while a homosexual couple are infertile because of their biological, gendered incompatibility, not because of any reproductive ill-health. Thus, the heterosexual infertile couple constitute the exception that proves the rule. In the case of the homosexual couple, infertility is the rule.

Gay-Marriage

By now it should be obvious why gay-marriage is not permitted in Islam. Since gay-relationships are not recognised as legitimate expressions of sexuality, on account of their failure to satisfy the primary purpose of sexual relationships, gay-marriage is not even a consideration. But there is another point to be made here as well. Gay-marriage legislation is often referred to as the “Equal-Marriage Law”. In 2013 when such legislation was enacted in the UK, proponents of gay-marriage would often refer to it as a means to bring equality into marriage-legislation, by granting equal status, privileges and rights to homosexual relationships as much as heterosexual relationships enjoyed. The premise of the argument was that since homosexual and heterosexual relationships are equivalent and equal to one another, they should be afforded equal recognition by the state.

From an Islamic perspective, homosexual and heterosexual relationships are not equal to one another. A relationship that produces new life, as heterosexual relationships in general do, cannot be regarded as “equal” to a relationship that can never produce new life. To say so would be to declare that the production of life and the non-production of life are equal to one another. Inequality consists of judging two things to be equal when they are not, just as much as it consists in calling two things unequal when they are the equal.

And indeed, whether from the individual perspective or from the perspective of society, gay-marriage can never be regarded as “equal” to heterosexual relationships. Is there any mother or father on Earth who would say that having children has not changed their entire outlook on life, and fundamentally altered the nature of their relationships with their partner? And from the societal perspective, it becomes clear that the precipitous falling off of the birth-rate, were a sizeable percentage of the population to become gay (say, 20% to 30%), would result in economic catastrophe within the next generation, while no similar harm would happen to society if 100% of individuals were heterosexual.

Marriage has historically been the institution to regulate the roles and responsibilities attendant on the production of children. One could argue that marriage no longer serves that purpose in modern society as many couples choose to have children out of wedlock. Nevertheless, heterosexual marriage is a form of relationship which secures the continuation of the human species and the perpetuation of the next generation of a nation’s citizens. As such, it should rightly be afforded a distinction apart from other relationships – sexual or not – that are unable to serve such important purposes. Otherwise, the consequence for society ultimately, is the breakdown in the institution of marriage, which is the best model [27] for raising the next generation. The weakening of such an institution ultimately harms society as a whole.

Homosexuality in the Quran and Hadith

A Word of Caution: What is Sharia?

A word of caution is to be sounded prior to the elucidation of Islamic pronouncements on homosexuality. Many imagine “Sharia law” to be an alternative legal system, and that the Islam advocates for this alternative legal system to be enforced throughout the world. This is false.

The word “Sharia” refers to every teaching of the Holy Quran, from praying five times a day, speaking the truth and worshipping the one God, to the legalistic punishments mentioned in the Quran. However, it should be noted that where the Quran gives guidance to the Prophet of Islam on legal matters relating to social crimes, the punishments mentioned are not prescriptive for all Muslims and for all societies. Not at all. The Quran, it should be considered, was revealed in full over a period of 23 years to a developing community of believers, whose new moral framework was being developed steadily by the Prophet of Islam. All these injunctions, such as the injunction against alcoholic consumption, gambling etc., were not revealed on day one, right from the beginning. Rather, as the Prophet of Islam developed and elevated the moral standard of Muslims, so too were rules and regulations introduced that reflected their new, lofty, moral standards. It was not the introduction of the laws that brought reformation to the Arab people. It was the Prophet of Islam’s lofty moral standard that enabled them to bring about a change in their behaviour, such that when the law was introduced, it only enforced the existing moral standard in society.

An interesting example of this relates to alcohol. One companion of the Prophet of Islam, Umar, urged the Prophet of Islam to prohibit alcohol because he saw it as a vice. The Prophet of Islam refused to do so, saying that God had not commanded him to prohibit it yet. This demonstrates that some Muslims were already at a standard where they eschewed many matters that had not yet been prohibited by the religion. Indeed, the Muslims had an inkling, by virtue of the moral education the Prophet of Islam had given them, that alcohol was something to be shunned. Thus, prior to its prohibition, we read the following instance:

Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, addressing the people in Medina, saying, “O people, Allah is alluding to a command for wine. Perhaps Allah will soon reveal an order regarding it. So whoever has some of it should sell it and benefit from it.” We waited for some time until the Prophet said, “Verily, Allah the Exalted has forbidden wine. Whoever knows this verse and has some of it should neither drink it nor sell it.” The people then brought whatever they had with them into the streets of Medina and poured it out.

That the people themselves readily complied with the injunction, and that 1400 years later, the most alcohol-abstinent countries are Muslim nations [26], tells us how powerful was this method of reformation. Compare this to the failure of alcoholic prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century, which did not utilise similar methods of education prior to legal enforcement.

Thus, the Sharia is not a prescription to be applied blindly, willy-nilly, in all situations and circumstances.

Laws must reflect the prevailing societal capacity to bear them. By Islamic theological standards, the society created by the Prophet of Islam in Medina was the most moral society that ever existed and which ever will exist. Thus, we can say that the Qur’anic pronouncements of the Sharia constitute the most severe laws that God permits to be enacted on any society. Therefore, any society that enacts more severe laws for the same social problems the Quran provided the Prophet with legislative guidance for (except, perhaps, as a temporary exceptional measure) is in effect claiming that their society is at a greater moral standing than the society crafted by the Prophet’s own moral influence.

In light of this explanation, we shall now look to what the Quran taught the Prophet of Islam as regards homosexuality in the society he had crafted through moral education.

Homosexual Attraction not a Sin

Islamic teachings do not permit anyone to persecute another for their sexual feelings. The Quran condemns the people of Sodom and Gomorrah not for their homosexual attractions but for their homosexual acts, among other sins:

And We sent Lot; he said to his people, ‘You commit an abomination which none among mankind has ever committed before you. Do you indeed come lustfully to men and cut off the highway for travellers? And you commit abomination in your meetings!’ But the only answer of his people was that they said, ‘Bring upon us the punishment of Allah if thou speakest the truth.’ (Quran 29:29-30)

It should be noted that the Quran lists the people of Sodom and Gomorrah as worthy of punishment for three separate acts:

  1. Homosexual acts
  2. Highway robbery of travellers
  3. “Abominations” in meetings, thought to refer to displays of public sexual acts

In this verse, homosexual attraction is notable by its absence. To act upon homosexual attractions is deemed sinful, but the attractions themselves – much like a temptation to any sin – if resisted, become acts of virtue. Thus the Prophet of Islam explained:

Verily, Allah has recorded good and bad deeds and He made them clear. Whoever intends to perform a good deed but does not do it, then Allah will record it as a complete good deed. If he intends to do it and does so, then Allah the Exalted will record it as ten good deeds up to seven hundred times as much or even more. If he intends to do a bad deed and does not do it, then Allah will record for him one complete good deed. If he does it then Allah will record for him a single bad deed. (Sahih Bukhari 6126)

Private vs Public Acts

People often ask the question: What does it matter to anyone else if two men or two women enjoy sexual relations in the privacy of their bedrooms? This is precisely the Islamic position, not only with respect to homosexuality, but also in respect of adultery and fornication. These acts are not punishable unless committed in public; this indeed is why the Quran stipulates that these acts must be witnessed by a minimum of four honest, reputable individuals. In the case of adultery or fornication, if the individual bringing forward the charge for the crime is unable to produce four reputable witnesses to the act, they themselves become liable to punishment for the crime of slander. Bringing forward such claims therefore, is not an easy matter.

…And those who calumniate chaste woman but bring not four witnesses — flog them eighty stripes and do not admit their evidence ever. (Quran 24:5)

A quick note should be made here that rape does not fall into the same category as adultery, fornication or homosexuality. Four witnesses are certainly not needed, and the Prophet of Islam on one occasion had a rapist from among the Muslim community executed simply on the testimony of the female victim:

Narrated ‘Abdul-Jabbar bin Wa’il bin Hujr: That his father said: “A woman was raped during the time of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) did not enforce punishment upon her, but he enforced it upon the one who had done it to her.” And the narrator did not mention him assigning a dowry to her. (Jami`at-Tirmidhi 1453)

The punishment enforced on the man was different to the ordinary punishment of public acts of adultery or fornication, that is, lashing. In this case of rape, the man was punished with execution. In another narration, the incident is clarified:

Narrated ‘Alqamah bin Wa’il Al-Kindi from his father: “A women went out during the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) to go to Salat, but she was caught by a man and he raped her, so she screamed and he left. Then a man came across her and she said: ‘That man has done this and that to me’, then she came across a group of Emigrants (Muhajirin) and she said: ‘That man did this and that to me.’ They went to get the man she thought had had relations with her, and they brought him to her. She said: ‘Yes, that’s him.’ So they brought him to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), and when he ordered that he be stoned, the man who had relations with her, said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I am the one who had relations with her.’… (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1454)

Returning to the matter at hand, public acts in Islam fall into a different category of harm than private acts. On the importance of privacy in the home, the Quran is quite clear:

“O ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own until you have asked leave and saluted the inmates thereof. That is better for you, that you may be heedful. And if you find no one therein, do not enter them until you are given permission. And if it be said to you, ‘Go back’ then go back; that is purer for you. And God knows well what you do.” (Quran 24:28-29)

O ye who believe! avoid most of suspicions; for suspicion in some cases is a sin. And spy not, nor back-bite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his brother who is dead? Certainly you would loathe it. And fear Allah, surely, Allah is Oft-Returning with compassion and is Merciful. (Quran 49:13)

It should be noted that the Quranic injunction above in Chapter 24 makes no distinction between houses belonging to Muslims or non-Muslims. The Prophet of Islam reinforced this teaching with his own sayings, in the following narration:

Narrated Sahl bin Sa’d As-Sa’idi: A man peeped through a hole in the door of Allah’s Apostle’s house, and at that time, Allah’s Apostle had a Midri (an iron comb or bar) with which he was rubbing his head. So when Allah’s Apostle saw him, he said (to him), “If I had been sure that you were looking at me (through the door), I would have poked your eye with this (sharp iron bar).” Allah’s Apostle added, “The asking for permission to enter has been enjoined so that one may not look unlawfully (at what there is in the house without the permission of its people).” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 83, Number 38)

Similarly, his followers adhered to this teaching strictly. The example of the 2nd Khalifa of Islam, Umar r.a is quite instructive. He ignored the drinking of alcohol of a particular individual, because he had learned of it by accidentally spying on him:

Abdur Rahman ibn Awf reported: He would patrol the city at night with Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, and on one occasion they were walking when the lamp of a household caught their attention. They approached it until they heard loud voices inside the door. Umar grabbed the hand of Abdur Rahman and he said, “Do you know whose house this is?” He said no. Umar said, “This is the house of Rabia ibn Umayyah ibn Khalaf and they are inside drinking wine right now! So what do you think?” Abdur Rahman said, “Indeed, I think we have done what Allah has prohibited for us. Allah the Exalted said: Do not spy (49:12) and we have spied on them.” So Umar turned away and he left them alone. (Al-Mustadrak ‘ala as-Saheehain 8198)

Thus, we should understand the teachings of the Quran on homosexuality in the context that they refer not to private acts in the privacy of one’s home, but to public acts. Teachings and prohibitions against public displays of sexuality, it should be noted, apply both to heterosexual displays and homosexual displays, with the Quran coming down more heavily on heterosexual public sexual acts than homosexual ones.

Quranic Injunctions on Sexual Acts

Heterosexual Acts

We have already recounted partly the punishment in Islam for public acts of adultery and fornication. To make clear, the Quran stipulates at the opening of the 24th chapter that the punishment for adultery or fornication committed by free individuals in such a way that four reliable individuals become witness to it, it being a somewhat public event, the guilty are to be striped with one hundred lashes. The punishment for a married slave girl in 4:26 is half of that, at fifty stripes. The punishment for a person who brings forward a charge of adultery or fornication without producing four witnesses, is eighty stripes, for slander (24:5). Indeed, the Quran refers to the individuals accused in such a case as “chaste women”; the chastity of individuals being presumed until proven guilty.

What these verses demonstrate, especially the stipulation of four witnesses, is that the Quranic intention is not to persecute individuals who, despite having moral failings, keep them hidden from society, only indulging them in private.

Homosexual Acts

And those of your women who are guilty of lewdness — call to witness four of you against them; and if they bear witness, then confine them to the houses until death overtake them or Allah open for them a way. And if two men from among you are guilty of it, punish them both. And if they repent and amend, then leave them alone; surely, Allah is Oft-Returning with compassion and is Merciful. (Quran 4:16-17)

The Quran also requires similar standards of witnesses to homosexual acts. Here, if two women are found to have committed fahisha, translated as lewdness, with one another, they are to be kept under house arrest until such time as they choose to marry, this being the meaning of the term “or Allah open for them a way”. As regards men, mention of the four witnesses is not made, as it is a continuation of the previous verse, and the four witnesses are to be assumed as applying in this case also. The words “punish them both” are general in application, it being left to the authorities to stipulate the punishment. the latter half of the verse is clear however that if the individuals repent and amend, then the individuals should not be harassed by society, but left alone, in imitation of God’s attribute of compassion and mercy. The difference in the treatment between men and women is that according to Islam, men have a responsibility of providing for their family members through earning income. Confining them to their homes would therefore have a detrimental effect on their families.

The word in Arabic used in the phrase “punish them both” is fa-aathaahumaa. The word is used elsewhere in the Quran to refer not to a physical punishment but to denunciation and condemnation. Regardless, the words “punish them both” cannot refer to execution, since after execution, there is no possibility of repentance, and what meaning would the words “then leave them alone” possess, if they were already dead?

Stoning to Death?

Despite the Quran being clear on the punishments for both heterosexual and homosexual acts, there seems to have crept into the Muslims mindset the idea that both heterosexual acts of adultery or fornication, as well as homosexual acts, are to be punished with stoning to death. This is entirely false.

The basis of these ideas stem from four individuals who were stoned to death for adultery in the Prophet’s lifetime, according to the traditions (Hadith). Some of these individuals were executed before the revelation of these verses, and in such cases where the Prophet of Islam had not yet received the Islamic teachings on a matter, he would follow the dictates of the Torah. Since the Torah stipulates stoning for adultery, these punishments were carried out. Once the teaching of the Quran on the matter was given, this practice ceased.

Others attribute stoning to death as a punishment for homosexuality on the basis of certain traditions found in the collection known as Tirmidhi. In one attributed statement, the Prophet of Islam is reported as saying:

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: That the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Whomever you find doing the actions of the people of Lot then kill the one doing it, and the one it is done to.”

There is great ambiguity in this statement. As explained above, the Quran recounts three crimes of the people of Lot (as): highway robbery; homosexual acts; abominations in gatherings (presumed to refer to sexual orgies). This statement does not clarify which of these three is meant. Presumably it cannot refer to the first; why would victims of highway robbery be culpable? If this is taken to refer to homosexual acts, then this instruction goes against the instruction of the Quran, and since the Quran is primary in the hierarchy of the Sharia, this Hadith is necessarily superseded by the verse of the Quran given above.

Further, this collection is unreliable for use as the basis for such matters. Indeed, within the same book, one Hadith after another, we have the following sayings attributed to the Prophet of Islam:

Sufyan Ath-Thawri reported from ‘Asim, from Abu Razin, from Ibn ‘Abbas who said: “Whoever has relations with beast, then there is no legal punishment for him.”

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: That the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Whomever you see having relations with an animal then kill him and kill the animal.” So it was said to Ibn ‘Abbas: “What is the case of the animal?” He said: “I did not hear anything from the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) about this, but I see that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) disliked eating its meat or using it, due to the fact that such a (heinous) thing has been done with that animal.”

These narrations have been placed by the compiler side by side and are utterly diametrically opposed to one another, as if the compiler wanted us to understand that on such matters, there is little clarity. Perhaps one related to a time when the Prophet had not received any guidance on the matter, and the other related to a time when he had.

Other arguments, such as the supposed saying of the Caliph Umar r.a for stoning of adulterers are covered well here.

Conclusion

The Islamic teachings against homosexual behaviours seem cruel and harsh in light of modern-day attitudes to gay people. However, as highlighted above, its teachings were firstly a reduction on the severity of the Judeo-Christian position, and secondly, were not directed per-se at homosexuality. Rather, they were directed towards public displays of sexuality, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Indeed, given that on the one hand, adultery or fornication of a heterosexual nature, if performed publicly, receives a punishment of one hundred lashes, while acts promoting homosexuality through public, indecent acts by two males receives a non-specific penalty, we can say that the teaching as regards homosexuality is certainly less prescriptive, and carries within it greater scope for a more lenient position to be taken. The explicit command to leave such people be if they express remorse over their action (“and if they repent and amend, then leave them alone”), as compared to the sterner position to be taken with heterosexual individuals (“And let not pity for the two prevent you from executing the judgement of God” – 24:3) is an interesting juxtaposition.

Finally, given the Islamic position on public vs private acts, we should remember that these commandments were never practised in such a way that permitted authorities to enter into people’s homes and violate their privacy. This is important, because it shows that Islamic teachings on these matters were not there to persecute individuals, but to prevent their spread as a normative behaviour in society.

REFERENCES

[1] Jewfaq.org. (n.d.). Judaism 101: Kosher Sex. [online] Available at: http://www.jewfaq.org/sex.htm#Homosexuality [Accessed 22 Oct. 2018].

[2] Jewfaq.org. (n.d.). Judaism 101: Torah. [online] Available at: http://www.jewfaq.org/torah.htm#Talmud

[3] Sefaria.org. (1985). Genesis 19:5. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.19.5?lang=en&with=Rashi&lang2=en&p3=Rashi_on_Genesis&lang3=en&p4=Rashi_on_Genesis.19.5.1&lang4=en

[4] Rashi (2009). Genesis 19:5. [online] Sefaria.org. Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.19.5?lang=en&aliyot=0&p2=Rashi_on_Genesis&lang2=en

[5] Sefaria.org. (1985). Leviticus 18:22. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.18.22?lang=en&with=all&lang2=en

[6] ben Asher, J. (1269). Tur HaAroch. [online] Sefaria.org. Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch?lang=en

[7] Sefaria.org. (1903). Leviticus 18:22. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.18.22?lang=en&aliyot=0&p2=Guide_for_the_Perplexed&lang2=en

[8] Sefaria.org. (n.d.). Leviticus 18:22. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.18.22?lang=en&aliyot=0&p2=Sifra&lang2=en

[9] Sefaria.org. (1985). Leviticus 20:13. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.20.13?lang=en&with=all&lang2=en&p3=Sifra&lang3=en

[10] Sefaria.org. (1862). Leviticus 20:13. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.20.13?lang=en&aliyot=0&p2=Targum_Jonathan_on_Leviticus&lang2=en

[11] Steinsaltz, R. (n.d.). Leviticus 20:13. [online] Sefaria.org. Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.20.13?lang=en&aliyot=0&p2=Sanhedrin.54a.29&lang2=en&w2=all&lang3=en

[12] Kalir, Doron M., “Same-Sex Marriage and Jewish Law: Time for a New Paradigm?” (2015). Law Faculty Articles and Essays. Paper 805.

[13] Kalir, Doron M., “Same-Sex Marriage and Jewish Law: Time for a New Paradigm?” (2015). Law Faculty Articles and Essays. Paper 805.pg.3

http://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/fac_articles/805

[14] Lookstein.org. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.lookstein.org/resources/homosexuality_amsel.pdf

[15] Lookstein.org. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.lookstein.org/resources/homosexuality_amsel.pdf

[16] Nasrudin Subhi PhD & David Geelan PhD (2012): When Christianity and Homosexuality Collide: Understanding the Potential Intrapersonal Conflict, Journal of Homosexuality, 59:10, 1382-1402

[17] McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online. (1880). Sodomy from the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.. [online] Available at: https://www.biblicalcyclopedia.com/S/sodomy.html

[18] Vatican.va. (n.d.). Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons. [online] Available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html#fn4

[19] Robert Nugent STM & Jeannine Gramick PhD (1989) Homosexuality:, Journal of Homosexuality, 18:3-4, 7-46, DOI: 10.1300/J082v18n03_02

[20] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/27/christian-felix-ngole-thrown-out-sheffield-university-anti-gay-remarks-loses-appeal

[21] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7668448/Christian-preacher-arrested-for-saying-homosexuality-is-a-sin.html

[22] Butt, R. (2018). Catholic adoption agency loses gay adoption fight. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/apr/26/catholic-adoption-agency-gay-lesbian

[23] LifeSiteNews. (2018). Denmark forces churches to perform same-sex ‘marriages’. [online] Available at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/denmark-forces-churches-to-perform-same-sex-marriages

[24] Baklinski, T. (2012). Ontario Christian minister forced to conduct same-sex ‘marriages’ or get sacked. [online] LifeSiteNews. Available at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/ontario-christian-minister-forced-to-conduct-same-sex-marriages-or-get-sack

[25] WND. (2012). Court: Christians can be ordered to violate beliefs – WND. [online] Available at: https://www.wnd.com/2012/06/refuse-to-photograph-lesbians-get-fined-7000/

[26] WHO Global Alcohol Report (2014): http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msb_gsr_2014_3.pdf; accessed April 21, 2019.

[27] Marriage Foundation Research page: http://marriagefoundation.org.uk/research/; Accessed April 21, 2019