Friday, October 26, 2012

Islam, Homosexuality, and the Bed of Procrustes, Pt. 1

One of my peers recently told me the story of how one of his students had indicated, quite unthinkingly, his (i.e. the student's) acceptance of the death-penalty against homosexuals in his own (unspecified, but Muslim and Middle-Eastern) country. The crux of my peer's tale lay in the tension between free expression and the limits of decency within a learning environment, but what caught my ear was a tossaway comment to the effect that the student had later come to realize that murderous homophobia was alien to legitimate Muslim teaching.

I'm going to wander out on a speculative limb and presume that my peer's conviction is not based in a deep understanding of Muslim history, practices, Koran, etc. I could be wrong about this, but based on my knowledge of his past, his field of expertise, and his interests, it seems likely that he has no more than a novice's understanding of Islam.

Your essayer is similarly passingly familiar with the content of that Abrahamic religion.  Still, in my ignorance, I'd like to point out that plausible endorsements of both homophobia and violence exist in the text of the Koran. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is retold in 'The Heights,' 7:80-84 (Penguin Classics; trans. N.J. Dawood):

And Lot, who said to his people: "Will you persist in these lewd acts which no other nation has committed before you? You lust after men instead of women. Truly, you are a degenerate people."

Compare to Genesis 19 in the Christian Bible, which is forever cited by Christian homophobes as evidence of the Bible's contempt of homosexuality. The Koran's version of the story is even more explicit about the fact that God's destruction is a punishment for the "degenerate" sin of men lusting after men.

Ditto for violence: in an oft-cited passage from 'The Cow,' God (the first-person narrator of the Koran), admonishes believers to "Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love aggressors." With that caveat, He continues:

Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is more grievous than bloodshed. But do not fight them within the precints [sic] of the Holy Mosque unless they attack you there; if they attack you put them to the sword. Thus shall the unbelievers be rewarded: but if they mend their ways, know that God is forgiving and merciful.

Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme. But if they desist, fight none except the evil-doers. (2:190-194)

It's difficult to read this passage without finding a qualified endorsement of violence. (Note: obviously I'm cherry picking here. I think that's okay, since my goal is not to make broad statements about the overall message of the Koran.)

So while the text of the Koran lacks an explicit command to "Kill homosexuals," it does provide support for both homophobia and limited violence. I'm sure there are more relevant passages that I'm missing; my goal is simply to demonstrate that execution of homosexuals is not in obvious conflict with the text of the Koran. Nor is it in obvious conflict with the text of the Haddith (see my superficial evidence here), and there is clear precedent for violence, homophobia, and violent homophobia in historical and contemporary Islam (and also clear precedent for "public celebration of male-male love"; I'm by no means suggesting that Islam is monolithically-coherent on the subject).

(Check back tomorrow for Pt. II of this article.)
(UPDATE: read Pt. II here.)


yoseph leib said...

Sure, but the conflagation of Homosex as the main offense of Sodom (as opposed to the more traditional sense of their selfishness and greed and institutionalized abuse and rejection of the poor, from which their gayness was just a symptomatic expression of, like in the Maoist/Marxist myth) and the call to violence OVER THAT, and over any consensual bedroom violation, is very anathematic to Islam, following all the Suras dismissing the mosaic sexual taboos as ultimately peripheral and trivial, like the similar dietary ones, of which only the pork taboo remains (as opposed to the bug, camel and shellfish ones, also noteably called "abominations" ostensibly, biblically.)

As if to say: modern wahabism has it's own, ultimately nontraditional control trips, notably prohibition on Hashish and Opium as well as queer taboo, because of what those things symbolize now, as far as Western Liberal "decadence," and that is the most of what is culturally threatening to the cultural tribal hegemony and structure, not just whatever Mohammed was once sensetive to. Right?

KC said...


I'm not sure I follow your train of thought. My main point was just that it's not entirely ridiculous to interpret the Koran such that it endorses violent homophobia. I'm not saying that IS the/a correct interpretation, just that there are sections of the text which at least appear to support that interpretation.

I should also point out that my essay doesn't (or barely) address(es) any extra-Koranic traditions in Islam, such as the Haddith or the "modern wahabism" you refer to. I've tried to make a narrow point about honesty and textual exegesis, rather than a broad point about Islam.