Homosexuality in Islam

LGBT and Islam is influenced by the cultural-legal history of the nations with a sizable Muslim population, along with how specific passages in the Qur'an and statements attributed to the prophet Muhammad are interpreted. The mainstream interpretation of Qur'anic verses and hadith consider homosexuality and cross-dressing a sin. The Qur'an cites the story of the "people of Lot" (also known as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah), destroyed by the wrath of God because they engaged in "lustful" carnal acts between men.

In many Muslim-majority nations, such as Albania, Turkey, Bahrain, Jordan, and Mali, same-sex intercourse is legal by law, and in Albania there have been discussions about legalizing same-sex marriage.[1][2] Homosexual relations between females is legal in Kuwait, homosexuality acts between males are illegal. Lebanon has an internal effort to legalize homosexuality.[3] In the Muslim-majority countries of Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, homosexual activity carries the death penalty.[4] Some hadiths state that prophet Muhammad cursed transgender people.[5][6][7]

Homoerotic themes were present in poetry and other literature written by Muslims from the medieval period onwards and which celebrated love between men.[8] In modern times, Muslim-majority countries Albania, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone have signed a UN Declaration supporting LGBT rights in the General Assembly and/or the UNHRC.[9][10] OIC member-state Mozambique provides LGBT rights protections in law in the form of non-discrimination laws, and discussions on legally recognizing same-sex marriage have been held in the country.[11][12] Some Muslim scholars, such as Sheikh al-Islam Imam Malik, and Imam Shafi, believe that Islam disallowed homosexual activity.[13]

Islamic law

The Quran

The Quran contains seven references to "the people of Lut", the biblical Lot, but meaning the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (references 7:80–84, 11:77–83, 21:74, 22:43, 26:165–175, 27:56–59, and 29:27–33), and their destruction by Allah is associated explicitly with their sexual practices:[14][15]

“And (We sent) Lot when he said to his people: What! do you commit an indecency which any one in the world has not done before you? Most surely you come to males in lust besides females; nay you are an extravagant people. And the answer of his people was no other than that they said: Turn them out of your town, surely they are a people who seek to purify (themselves). So We delivered him and his followers, except his wife; she was of those who remained behind. And We rained upon them a rain; consider then what was the end of the guilty.”[Shakir)]

The sins of the people of Lot became proverbial, and the Arabic words for homosexual behaviour (liwat) and for a person who performs such acts (luti) both derive from his name.[16] There is, however, only one passage in the Qur'an which can be interpreted as prescribing a legal position, and is not restricted to homosexual behaviour - in fact it deals with public practice of adultery:[17]

“And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them. And as for the two who are guilty of indecency from among you, give them both a punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.”[Shakir)]

Several modern day scholars, including Scott Kugle, argue for a different interpretation of the Lot narrative focusing not on the sexual act but on the infidelity of the tribe and their rejection of Lot's Prophethood.[18]

The Hadith and Seerah

The hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammad) show that homosexuality was not unknown in Arabia.[19] Given that the Qur'an is vague regarding the punishment of homosexual sodomy, Islamic jurists turned to the collections of the hadith and seerah (accounts of Muhammad's life) to support their argument for Hudud punishment; these are perfectly clear but particularly harsh.[19]

Ibn al-Jawzi records Muhammad as cursing sodomites in several hadith, and recommending the death penalty for both the active and passive partners in same-sex acts.[20]

Sunan al-Tirmidhi, compiling his work two centuries after the death of Muhammad, wrote that Muhammad had prescribed the death penalty for both the active and the passive partner: "Whoever you find committing the sin of the people of Lut (Lot), kill them, both the one who does it and the one to whom it is done."[13] The overall moral or theological principle is that a person who performs such actions (luti) challenges the harmony of God's creation, and is therefore a revolt against God.[16]

Al-Nuwayri in his Nihaya reports that the Prophet is alleged to have said what he feared most for his community were the practices of the people of Lot (although he seems to have expressed the same idea in regard to wine and female seduction).[19]

Medieval jurisprudence

The four schools of medieval shari'a (Islamic law) disagreed on what punishment is appropriate for liwat. Abu Bakr Al-Jassas (d. 981 AD/370 AH) argued that the two hadiths on killing homosexuals "are not reliable by any means and no legal punishment can be prescribed based on them",[21] and the Hanafi school held that it does not merit any physical punishment, on the basis of a hadith that "Muslim blood can only be spilled for adultery, apostasy and homicide"; against this the Hanbali school held that sodomy is a form of adultery and must incur the same penalty, i.e. death.[16]

There were varying opinions on how the death penalty is to be carried out. Abu Bakr recommended toppling a wall on the evil-doer, or else burning alive,[22] while Ali bin Abi Talib ordered death by stoning for one "luti" and had another thrown head-first from the top of a minaret—according to Ibn Abbas, this last punishment must be followed by stoning.[19]

Rulings by modern scholars of Islam

Many scholars of Sharia, or Islamic law, interpret homosexual activity as a punishable offence as well as a sin. There is no specific punishment prescribed, however, and this is usually left to the discretion of the local authorities on Islam.[23] Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, a contemporary Mauritanian scholar, has argued that "[even though] homosexuality is a grievous sin...[a] no legal punishment is stated in the Qur'an for homosexuality...[b] it is not reported that Prophet Muhammad has punished somebody for committing homosexuality...[c] there is no authentic hadith reported from the Prophet prescribing a punishment for the homosexuals..." Hadith scholars such as Al-Bukhari, Yahya ibn Ma`in, An-Nasa'i, Ibn Hazm, Al-Tirmidhi, and others have impugned these statements.[24]

History of homosexuality in Islamic society

Medieval era

Increasing prosperity resulting from Muslim conquests in the centuries following Muhammad's death, was accompanied by what some Muslims bemoaned as a general "corruption" of morals in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a privileged few, combined with the continuance of and regularization of polygamy and concubinage, severely restricted the sexual opportunities available to young men. Such opportunities were only opened via jihad or through some form of illicit sex.

Therefore, in spite of its condemnation by religious authorities, homosexuality persisted in a subterranean manner. And it seems to have become less of a rarity as the process of acculturation sped up. Information relating to the development of music and song reveals the presence of mukhannathun, who were apparently for the most part of foreign origin. The arrival of the Abbasid army to Arabia in the 8th century seems to have meant that tolerance for homosexual practice subsequently spread more widely under the new dynasty. The ruler Al-Amin, for example, was said to have required slave women to be dressed in masculine clothing in the hope of inducing him to adopt more conventional morals.[19]

There are other examples from the following centuries. The Aghlabid Emir, Ibrahim II of Ifriqiya (ruled 875–902), was said to have been surrounded by some sixty catamites, yet whom he was said to have treated in a most horrific manner. Caliph al-Mutasim in the 9th century and some of his successors were accused of homosexuality. The popular stories says that Cordoba, Abd al-Rahman III had executed a young man from León who was held as a hostage, because he had refused his advances during the Reconquista.[19]

Mehmed the Conqueror, the Ottoman sultan living in the 15th century, European sources say “who was known to have ambivalent sexual tastes, sent a eunuch to the house of Notaras, demanding that he supply his good looking fourteen year old son for the Sultan’s pleasure. When he refused, the Sultan instantly ordered the decapitation of Notaras, together with that of his son and his son-in-law; and their three heads … were placed on the banqueting table before him”.[25] Another youth Mehmed found attractive, and who was presumably more accommodating, was Radu III the Fair, the brother of the famous Vlad the Impaler, “Radu, a hostage in Istanbul whose good looks had caught the Sultan’s fancy, and who was thus singled out to serve as one of his most favored pages.” After the defeat of Vlad, Mehmed placed Radu on the throne of Wallachia as a vassal ruler. However, Turkish sources deny these stories.[26]


According to the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World

Whatever the legal strictures on sexual activity, the positive expression of male homeoerotic sentiment in literature was accepted, and assiduously cultivated, from the late eighth century until modern times. First in Arabic, but later also in Persian, Turkish and Urdu, love poetry by men about boys more than competed with that about women, it overwhelmed it. Anecdotal literature reinforces this impression of general societal acceptance of the public celebration of male-male love (which hostile Western caricatures of Islamic societies in medieval and early modern times simply exaggerate).[27]

In a tradition from the Arabian Nights, a collection of myths and folk tales, Muhammad was said to have warned his followers against staring at youth because of their beauty: "Be careful, do not gaze at beardless youth, for they have eyes more tempting than the houris."[28]

Modern day

During the Ottoman Empire, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1858, as part of a wider reforms during the Tanzimat.[29][30]

Despite the formal disapproval of religious authority, the segregation of women in Muslim societies and the strong emphasis on male virility leads adolescent males and unmarried young men to seek sexual outlets with boys younger than themselves—in one study in Morocco, with boys in the age-range 7 to 13.[31] Men have sex with other males so long as they are the penetrators and their partners are boys, or in some cases effeminate men.[32] Liwat is regarded as a temptation,[33] and anal intercourse is not seen as repulsively unnatural so much as dangerously attractive. They believe "one has to avoid getting buggered precisely in order not to acquire a taste for it and thus become addicted."[34] Not all sodomy is homosexual: one Moroccan sociologist, in a study of sex education in his native country, notes that for many young men heterosexual sodomy is considered better than vaginal penetration, and female prostitutes likewise report the demand for anal penetration from their (male) clients.[35]

It is not so much the penetration as the enjoyment that is considered bad.[36] Deep shame attaches to the passive partner: "for this reason men stop getting laid at the age of 15 or 16 and 'forget' that they ever allowed/suffered/enjoyed it earlier." Similar sexual sociologies are reported for other Muslim societies from North Africa to Pakistan and the Far East.[37] In Afghanistan in 2009, the British Army was forced to commission a report into the sexuality of the local men after British soldiers reported the discomfort at witnessing adult males involved in sexual relations with boys. The report stated that though illegal, there was a tradition of such relationships in the country, known as "bache bazi" or boy play, and that it was especially strong around Kandahar. This should be compared with the famous episode of T. E. Lawrence's homosexual rape in Revolt in the Desert.


Raphael Patai in The Arab Mind, has argued that among some Arabs and Turks homosexuality can be justified as an expression of power. The “active homosexual act is considered as an assertion of one’s aggressive masculine superiority, while the acceptance of the role of the passive homosexual is considered extremely degrading and shameful because it casts the man or youth into a submissive, feminine role”.[39]

In France, the first Islamic same-sex marriage was celebrated on February 18, 2012.[40] A gay-friendly mosque was opened in Paris in November 2012,[41] and some French Islamic organizations[42] are supporting religious same-sex marriage.

The first American Muslim in the US Congress, Keith Ellison said in 2010 that all discrimination against LGBT people is wrong.[43] He further expressed support for gay marriage stating:[44]

I believe that the right to marry someone who you please is so fundamental it should not be subject to popular approval any more than we should vote on whether blacks should be allowed to sit in the front of the bus.

In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed its first resolution recognizing LGBT rights, which was followed up with a report from the UN Human Rights Commission documenting violations of the rights of LGBT people.[45][46] The two world maps of religions of the world and the countries that support LGBT rights at the UN give an impression of the official attitude towards homosexuality in the Muslim world.

Opinion polling

In a study on the global acceptance of homosexuality by Pew Research Center, released June 4, 2013 it is stated:[47]

The survey of publics in 39 countries finds broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union, and much of Latin America, but equally widespread rejection in predominantly Muslim nations and in Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and in Russia.
Age and views on homosexuality
Country 18-29 30-49 50+

should be accepted’’

 %  %  %
Malaysia 7 10 11
Turkey 7 9 10
Palestinian territories 5 3 --
Indonesia 4 3 2
Jordan 5 1 1
Egypt 3 2 3
Tunisia 3 2 1
Pakistan 2 2 2

Legal status in nations

In many Muslim-majority nations, such as Albania, Turkey, Bahrain, Jordan, Indonesia and Mali, same-sex intercourse is not forbidden by law, and in Albania there have been discussions about legalizing same-sex marriage.[1] Homosexual relations between females are legal in Kuwait but homosexual acts between males are illegal. Lebanon has an internal effort to legalize homosexuality.[3]

Homosexual relations are a crime in Saudi Arabia and Iran. The death penalty is currently in place in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, northern Nigeria and Yemen.[48][49]

The legal situation in the United Arab Emirates is that it is illegal and can get you the death penalty, but some regions just give jail time, mutilations, and fines. In Bahrain, homosexuality between two consenting adults aged 21 and above is legal. In Qatar, Algeria, Uzbekistan and the Maldives, homosexuality is punished with jail time or fines. This has led to controversy regarding Qatar, which is due to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Human rights groups have questioned the awarding in 2010 of the right to host the competition, due to the possibility that gay football fans may be jailed. In response, Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, joked that they would have to "refrain from sexual activity" while in Qatar. He later withdrew the remarks after condemnation from rights groups.[50]

In Saudi Arabia, while the maximum punishment for homosexual acts is public execution, the government will generally use lesser punishments—e.g., fines, jail time, and whipping—as alternatives, unless it feels that individuals are challenging state authority by engaging in LGBT social movements.[51] Iran is perhaps the nation to execute the largest number of its citizens for homosexual acts. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Iranian government has executed more than 4,000 such people.[52]

In Egypt, openly gay men have been prosecuted under general public morality laws. (See Cairo 52.) On the other hand, homosexuality, while not legal, is tolerated in Lebanon.

Cultural acceptance

While Iran has outlawed homosexuality, Iranian Shi'a thinkers such as Ayatollah Khomeini have allowed for transsexuals to change their sex so that they can enter heterosexual relationships. This position has been confirmed by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is also supported by many other Iranian clerics. The state will pay a portion of the cost for a sex-change operation.

In India, where Muslims form a large minority, the largest Islamic seminary (Darul Uloom Deoband) has vehemently opposed recent government moves[53] to abrogate and liberalize laws from the British Raj era that banned homosexuality.[54] However, consensual gay sex is not a criminal offense as per recent court judgement.[55] In the UK, a Gallup poll showed that none of the 500 British Muslims polled believed homosexuality to be "morally acceptable", compared with 35% of the 1001 French Muslims polled.[56] A 2007 survey of British Muslims showed that 61% believe homosexuality should be illegal, with up to 71% young British Muslims holding this belief.[57] According to a 2012 poll, 51% of the Turks in Germany, who account for nearly two thirds of the total Muslim population in Germany,[58] believe that homosexuality is a sickness.[59]

Gender variant and transgender people

In Islam, the term mukhannathun is used to describe gender-variant people, usually male-to-female transsexuals. Neither this term nor the equivalent for "eunuch" occurs in the Qur'an, but the term does appear in the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad, which have a secondary status to the central text. Moreover, within Islam, there is a tradition on the elaboration and refinement of extended religious doctrines through scholarship. This doctrine contains a passage by the scholar and hadith collector An-Nawawi:
A mukhannath is the one ("male") who carries in his movements, in his appearance and in his language the characteristics of a woman. There are two types; the first is the one in whom these characteristics are innate, he did not put them on by himself, and therein is no guilt, no blame and no shame, as long as he does not perform any (illicit) act or exploit it for money (prostitution etc.). The second type acts like a woman out of immoral purposes and he is the sinner and blameworthy.[60][unreliable source?]

Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except for Thailand. It is sanctioned as a supposed "cure" for homosexuality, which is punishable by death under Iranian law. The government even provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance and a sex change is recognised on the birth certificate.[61]

Homosexuality laws in majority Muslim countries

According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) seven countries still retain capital punishment for homosexual behavior: Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. The situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is that is punished by corporate or capital punishment, depending on the region.[62]

Country Laws against homosexuality Penalty Same-sex Unions Laws against discrimination Adoption Comments
Afghanistan Yes Death No No No The country is undergoing a period of relative chaos due to the continuing battles between NATO forces and the resurgent Taliban. The death penalty is enforced in some areas of Afghanistan.[63] The Penal Code from 1976 in force, stipulates long imprisonment for adultery and pederasty.[64] See LGBT rights in Afghanistan.
Egypt No* Prison No No No In Egypt, openly gay men have been prosecuted under general public morality laws. (See Cairo 52.) OR?? [65] and LGBT rights in Egypt.
Indonesia No*[2] No No *Homosexuality is legal outside of Aceh province.[2][66] See LGBT rights in Indonesia.
Iraq No* No No *No provisions of the current Iraqi criminal code deal with homosexuality. The U.S. occupation restored the criminal code back to its original 1969 edition. Before 2003, the criminal code was amended in 2001 to include the death penalty for homosexuality. However currently, death squads are operating in the country killing gays.[67] See LGBT rights in Iraq.
Malaysia Yes Fine to 20 years No No Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was himself charged (but later acquitted by the Court of Appeal) for engaging in homosexuality, has called for their repeal. Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.[68] However, during Mahathir's term as Prime Minister, he warned gay ministers in foreign countries not to bring along their partners while visiting the nation.[69] See LGBT rights in Malaysia.
Nigeria Yes* 5–14 years / death No No *Areas under Sharia have instituted death for men and women. Any content, advocating groups or associations, support, talking to, marriage, etc., regarding LGBT persons can land you in jail for at least four years.[70] See LGBT rights in Nigeria.
Pakistan Yes* 2 years to life No No
Turkey No No No
Uzbekistan Male only* Fine* to 3 years* No No *Besoqolbozlik (Only applies to anal sex),[71] page 43 of.[65]

LGBT movements within Islam

Main article: Gay Muslims

The Al-Fatiha Foundation is an organization which tries to advance the cause of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims. It was founded in 1998 by Faisal Alam, a Pakistani American, and is registered as a nonprofit organization in the United States. The organization was an offshoot of an internet listserve that brought together many gay, lesbian and questioning Muslims from various countries.[72] The Foundation accepts and considers homosexuality as natural, either regarding Qur'anic verses as obsolete in the context of modern society, or stating that the Qu'ran speaks out against homosexual lust and is silent on homosexual love. In 2001, Al-Muhajiroun, a banned and now defunct international organization who sought the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate, issued a fatwa declaring that all members of Al-Fatiha were murtadd, or apostates, and condemning them to death. Because of the threat and coming from conservative societies, many members of the foundation's site still prefer to be anonymous so as to protect their identity while continuing a tradition of secrecy.[73] Al-Fatiha has fourteen chapters in the United States, as well as offices in England, Canada, Spain, Turkey, and South Africa. In addition, Imaan, a social support group for Muslim LGBT people and their families, exists in the UK.[74] Both of these groups were founded by gay Pakistani activists. The UK also has the Safra Project for women.

Some Muslims such as the lesbian writer Irshad Manji[75] and academic author Scott Kugle argue that Islam does not condemn homosexuality.[76] Kugle, South Asian scholar and author Ruth Vanita, and Muslim scholar and writer Saleem Kidwai even contend that ancient Islam has a rich history of homoerotic literature.[77]

There are also a number of Islamic ex-gay (i.e. people claiming to have experienced a basic change in sexual orientation from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality[78]) groups aimed at attempting to guide homosexuals towards heterosexuality. The StraightWay Foundation is a UK based ex-gay organization which works with homosexual Muslims who seek to eliminate their same-sex attractions.[79] Al-Tawbah is an Internet-based ex-gay group.[80]

See also

Rights activists




  • Duran, Khalid. Homosexuality in Islam, in: Swidler, Anne (ed.) "Homosexuality and World Religions" (1993). Trinity Press International, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. ISBN 1-56338-051-X
  • Endsjø, Dag Øistein, Sex and Religion. Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths. Reaktion Books 2011.
  • Kilgerman, Nicole (2007). Homosexuality in Islam: A Difficult Paradox. Macalester Islam journal 2(3):52-64, Berkeley Electronic press.
  • Khaled El-Rouayheb, Before Homosexuality in the Arab–Islamic World, 1500–1800 Chicago, 2009. ISBN 978-0-226-72989-3.
  • Luongo, Michael (ed.), Gay Travels in the Muslim World Haworth Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-56023-340-4.
  • Everett K. Rowson, J.W. Wright (eds.), Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic Literature New York, 1997
  • Arno Schmitt and Jehoeda Sofer (eds.), Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Moslem Societies Harrington Park Press 1992
  • Arno Schmitt and Gianni de Martino, Kleine Schriften zu zwischenmännlicher Sexualität und Erotik in der muslimischen Gesellschaft, Berlin, Gustav-Müller-Str. 10 : A. Schmitt, 1985
  • Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (eds.), "Islamic Homosexualities: culture, history, and literature" NYU Press New York 1997
  • Wafer, Jim (1997) "Muhammad and Male Homosexuality" in "Islamic Homosexualities: culture, history, and literature" by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (eds.), NYU Press New York
  • Wafer, Jim (1997) "The Symbolism of Male Love in Islamic Mysthical Literature" in "Islamic Homosexualities: culture, history, and literature" by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (eds.), NYU Press New York 1997
  • Vincenzo Patanè, "Homosexuality in the Middle East and North Africa" in: Aldrich, Robert (ed.) Gay Life and Culture: A World History, Thames & Hudson, London, 2006

External links

  • Islam and homosexuality: Straight but narrow, The Economist, Feb 4th 2012
  • Islam and Homosexuality, a two-volume anthology
  • Homosexuality: What is the real sickness? Illustrative Article from AbdurRahman.org
  • Islam's Stand on Homosexuality
  • Socialist Review
  • Imaan supports LGBT Muslim people, their families and friends (UK)
  • The StraightWay Foundation (UK)
  • Intolerant cruelty This special edition of Diabolic Digest explores the question of homosexuality in the Middle East.
  • Islamic law: (much) Theory and (just enough) Practice
  • Safra Project — Sexuality, Gender and Islam
  • Queer Sexuality and Identity in the Qur'an and Hadith, interpretation of Islamic texts in historical context
  • Sodomy in Islamic Jurisprudence (article in German; engl. Summary )
  • Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Moslem Societies by Arno Schmitt and Jehoeda Sofer (eds.), Harrington Park Press 1992
  • Islam and Homosexuality
  • Gay Travels in the Muslim World, an anthology of travel essays by gay Muslim and non-Muslim men; Luongo, Michael (ed.) Haworth Press
  • Islam and Homosexuality
  • at the Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology
  • Homosexuality in Urdu poetry: Tolerance in medieval India and early Islamic societies
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