Islam & Homosexuality: Muslim Perspectives

Muslim Perspectives

In October, I attended a panel discussion at George Washington University entitled Islam & Homosexuality: Muslim Perspectives. The room was packed, standing room only. There were four Muslim speakers and each approached the topic from a unique perspective, I found the discussion illuminating.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik’s portion of the discussion: (24:16)

The Panel

Dr. Amal Amireh of George Mason University: Began the discussion by introducing the idea that “talking about homosexuality is risky, but not talking about these issues is even riskier.” She stated that we cannot talk about Islam and homosexuality without being islamophobic, because framing the discussion in this manner treats Islam with undue exceptionalism for the discussion would be similar even if the talk had been titled more generally as Religion and Homosexuality or Christianity and Homosexuality.

Trying to create categories of Islamic homophobia or Islamofascism is troubling, no other religion is treated in this exceptional manner. We do not  see anyone using the terms Christian fascism or Judeofascism, etc.

A side note: Dr Amireh mentioned that Jerusalem, which is a divided city, amongst the three major monotheistic faiths was united by hatred against the annual gay pride parade.

Imam Daayiee Abdullah of Al-Fatiha Foundation: The most bizarre and unorthodox set of comments came from Daaiyee Abdullah.

Daayiee Abdullah interprets the story of Lot as a story about heterosexual men using rape as a tool of power. He explained that he views hadeeth as stories to guide us, not to be taken literally, certainly not to harm people, especially since there are fabricated or inaccurate hadeeth.

He mentioned that “LGBTQ Muslims need to work towards justice for all, not just us.”  He mentioned three prominent Muslim thinkers that he believes are performing cutting-edge work today by reinterpreting Islamic texts: Amina Wadud, Khaled Abou Fadl, and Scott Kugle.

During the question and answer session, Daaiyee Abdullah, had an emotional outburst which received the largest applause of the night by the mostly non-Muslim crowd. Daaiyee Abdullah took exception to the framing of the discussion in terms of the prevailing heterosexual prism and how anything outside of that prism is presented as wrong. And that homosexuality is always presented as a test to be overcome, and so he asked, “if it is a test, what does a passing score look like?”

As a side note: Daaiyee Abdullah believes muta (short contract marriages) are permissible.

Dr. Hisham Mahmoud of Princeton University: Dr. Mahmoud presented the orthodox view of homosexuality primarily utilizing verses from the Quran and hadeeth. The verses in the Quran mention “three strikes against the people of Lot”:

1. They came to men with lust

2. They cut off the highways

3.They committed these acts in public gatherings

Lot offered his own daughters to the men of the town by saying that they were purer for them. There is a scholarly difference of opinion over what is meant by the word “daughters”, Dr. Mahmoud said the majority of the scholars believe this word refers more generally to the believing women of the town and not his biological daughters. But the men refused this heterosexual marriage/pairing in preference for homosexual ones.

He mentioned that homosexuality was not unknown or ignored in the works of classical Muslim authors but even so it was not condoned. Dr. Mahmoud mentioned one story from a scholar from Al-Andalus, Ibn Hazm’s (died 456AH) work The Ring of the Dove. Ibn Hazm, once attended a party where he saw two men clearly infatuated with each other so Ibn Hazm tried to alert the host through subtle lines of poetry but his host was unmoved. So Ibn Hazm tried again with blunter prose:

I have no doubt, of all mankind
You have the least suspicious mind,
Secure, as all good Muslims ought
To be, in faith, intention, thought.

Wake from your daydreams! Don’t you know
This very evening So-and-so,
A guest whom you invited in,
Committed a most grievous sin?

I think you ought to be aware
Men bend for other things than prayer,
And you have certainly taught me,
Not every one with eyes can see!

As for the punishment, Dr. Mahmoud said this is left to jurists to decide and that some consider homosexuality like fornication and/or adultery. He concluded by saying that homosexuality is a test to strive and struggle against for a Muslim.

Imam Johari AbdulMalik of Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center: The most robust talk of the night was given by Imam Johari.  I admit that I always like to hear Imam Johari speak, his knowledge, manner, and style of speaking is always clear, concise, and lively.

Imam Johari began by saying that a Muslim is one that submits his or her will to the best of one’s ability to the one who created us. He mentioned the hadeeth that “actions are [known] by intentions” and that we as Muslims must get our priorities straight. The priorities for a believer should be to seek that which is pleasing to Allah by an authentic understanding of scriptures. And that our primary relationship with everyone should be in relation to our creator and not in relation to a person’s race or sexual orientation.

A few more hadeeth were mentioned: The hadeeth of Aisha radiyAllahu anha: that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam first called the people to belief in Allah, if he had begun by forbidding fornication, drinking alcohol, etc. no one would have followed him.

Hadeeth of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam: Three things lead to destruction: Thinking you know better than everyone else, following your desires, and miserliness.

Imam Johari used the analogy of pork and how he knew from the days before his Islam that pork “tastes sweet” and that no one raised as a Muslim that has never eaten it can tell you that “pork is nasty” and in a similar fashion, if a someone says, “gay sex is nasty,”  just ask them, “how do you know?” Otherwise, the are speaking without knowledge.

Sexuality is intended to be a private affair, sexual transgressions like adultery, fornication, and homosexuality require four witness, meaning there had to be a level of openness like PDAs (public displays of affection). Imam Johari does not believe that the Quran sanctions violence against gays.

Imam Johari knows many Muslims that are living with sexually transmitted diseases particularly HIV, who are afraid to seek help or assistance in the Muslim community due to the stigma attached to HIV as a “gay disease.” He mentioned that, “It’s time to get past our homophobia to help human beings.”

David Katana, a gay DC council member was called a “faggot” by a Muslim man. Amazingly, Katana said that he did not feel minimized nor degraded by the comment because he knew from Imam Johari that that kind of behavior is not Islam.

From the Storehouse:

Imam Johari: Preparation and Words

Imam Joahri: On NPR


  1. I fail to understand the concept of Muslim “perspectives” on homosexuality. Since a Muslim is obliged to “submit” to the Will of Allah, in fact, the only Muslim perspective should be that which complies with the one and only authoritative source on the subject– the word of Allah (swt) as it is delineated in His book the Holy Qur’an.

    Furthermore, for those who require further elucidation on the subject–I would recommend an insightful article by Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Fawzan entitled “The Evil Sin of Homosexuality.” It appeared in Volume 12, issue 3 (June/July 2000) of Al Jumuah magazine.

    1. It’s okay Hajjah, as one of our teachers says, “Don’t worry, if you can’t or don’t understand something, if it’s not on your plate, don’t eat from it.”

      Clearly, as it witnessed by the varied panel discussion and with a look into our Muslim communities, not every has the same opinion on every issue.

      Do you have a link to that article so I can post it here?

    2. Again, a Muslim submits only to the Will of Allah. Therefore, a Muslim’s stance on the matter of homosexuality is not a matter of opinion.

      Please contact “Al Jumuah” magazine for copies of the article I cited above.

      Assalaamu Alaikum

    1. That’s a good question Jatdin, not sure I have any or all of the answers. I posited an argument in my post An Argument for the Constitution that Dr. Sherman Jackson and others have also put forward that it may very well be inconsistent and hypocritical for Muslims to demand religious freedom and other First Amendment rights while trying to use our religion in the American context to deny rights to others.

      I also think when if we hear unfair or mean-spirited jokes and stereotypes that we not allow them to go unchallenged in our presence in order to make people more cognizant of their words and their potential impact. Religious leaders have a role to play in choosing their words more carefully to not perpetuate stigma or more precisely to not alienate individuals that may be struggling with any number of situations from their faith. It always amazes me on what issues people speak with harshness or sympathy. People are often so lax and sympathetic towards issues like missing salah, wearing hijab, taking interest, etc. I assume as a way to keep that person in the fold and encourage repentance but on other issues it’s as though we don’t even consider the humanity and human plight of the individual at all.

      Imam Johari mentioned in his part of the talk that he knows of Muslim men suffering alone and in silence due to the stigma associated with AIDS, how terrible it is that the discourse in our community prevents people from seeking assistance or leads them to be shunned.

  2. Listen, my fellow brothers and sisters in Islam, Allah has showed us the good and the bad ways and we know it for sure, so it is up to us to decide. Each and every none knows there is judgment day and every one is entitled to his or her own grave. There is a saying that “u can take a horse to the riverside but can never force it to drink”. So live your life well and enjoy ur after life well.


    1. I agree with you on this, Jamila. *grin*

      Thank you for sharing the outcome of the talk. It must have been fun and stimulating intellectually to attend it.

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