Same-Sex Love

Let’s talk about homosexuality, which my previous article does not. I actually don’t like the term “homosexuality,” and I prefer the title of this article, but I’m using the word here because I know you all are searching it when you’re looking for my legal opinions on this website.

No one, not even patriarchal scholars, will dispute that the story of Sodom involves rape. But there are two types of exegetes approaching the recitation: those who read the rape in Sodom as a primary sin, and those who read it as a secondary sin—secondary to the “sin” of same sex relations when projecting their agendas onto the Qur’an. The latter who identify rape in Sodom as a secondary sin are, quite frankly, self-invested and appalling in their implications. Aside from the moral depravity in downplaying how sinful rape is, a Muslim claiming that the story of Sodom is about same-sex relations and not rape is claiming that the Qur’an permits rape as long as it is the rape of women. They are free to state clearly that this is what they mean. They are also free to admit that according to their interpretation, all of the women punished in Sodom were punished because they, too, were commanded not to approach men and instead approach women, rendering their entire interpretation an advocacy of same-sex relationships.

The main verse commonly cited as “evidence” of the Qur’an’s supposed anti-LGBTQ position is 26:165-166 and its refrains (7:81, 29:29), and I want to take a moment to examine it here.

Do you approach males
among the worlds
and abandon what created for you
the God/dess of your spouses?
No! You are a people
transgressing.
—26:165-166

The verse is conveyed in an interesting structure. Rather than stating outright that the people of Sodom love/lust men besides women and that this is the transgression, the Qur’an asks a question. “Do you approach men lustfully besides women?” The recitation then proceeds to answer its question in the negative, affirming that the sin is (1) committed by heterosexual men and (2) rape, not homosexuality. This is consistent with the Qur’anic use of “bal”—“no!”: it is always to negate or correct a previously alleged belief. The sentiment in 26:165-166 is posed as a question, not a statement, and answered in the negative: the rapists of Sodom do not lust foreign men; rather, they subjugate them.

In other verses that adopt this question-answer structure, the translation often reads, “but rather/in fact”: And they said, “Our hearts are wrapped.” But, [in fact], Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so little is it that they believe. 2:88. The distressed proclamation, “No!” (bal) both emphasizes the direness of a situation and negates its misdirection: they may believe their hearts are wrapped, but really they have been cursed. Take the very next instance it happens in the Qur’an: Is it not that every time they took a covenant, a portion of them discarded it? But, [in fact], most of them do not believe. 2:100. They did not take a true covenant because they had not in fact ever believed. It’s interesting then that translators have chosen to do the opposite in verses concerning the activities in Sodom, in which they’ve frequently chosen the affirmative i.e. “indeed.”

A correct translation of 26:165-166 is “Is it that you approach men lustfully besides women? No! But rather, you are a people transgressing.” It is not out of the human emotion of love or lust that Sodom sins. It is out of a greed for power. The answer that the Qur’an provides to its question corrects the belief that the surah is about homosexuality. It is about rape. The question-answer structure of these Qur’anic verses is routinely a mark of compassion from the God/dess, a gesture that S/he would negotiate and consider human complications in worship.

My disciple Misha and I will be co-writing a full exegesis regarding this in June. Until then—

You can claim same-sex love is an abomination all you want, but don’t pretend your bigotry is sourced from the Qur’an. You’ll have to look elsewhere to justify it. And you do. No one who has argued with me has ever successfully been able to stay Qur’an-focused and resist venturing into pseudoscientific articles to find “support.”

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The Rapists of Sodom

were serial rapists, who drank heavily to fuel their crimes, attacked visitors in gangs, lusted after the power of angels, knew first hand of the God/dess but refused morality and cheated and lied and thieved. And raped. Raped. Over and over. In mobs.

Will religious leaders have you believe they were destroyed them for raping men instead of women? For an alleged sexual orientation? Are these “leaders” the depraved minds with whom you entrust your faith? The leaders who claim a beloved Prophet would offer his daughters to rapists?

I have incredible compassion for Prophet Lut. The circumstances through which his Prophethood was tried—interrogation and subjugation through rape—are described in the Qur’an itself as devices in a network of sins so horrendous they are unlike any crimes ever committed in the history of creation, and this is only among the sins the Qur’an dares to name. We also delivered Lut and he said to his people: “Do you commit lewdness such as no people in creation ever committed before you?” 7:80. It is for humanity through these ghastly trials that Lut is among those favored over the worlds (6:86).

Scholars miss the fact that the Qur’an alludes to other sins taking place in the city of Sodom that are so horrifying it is deemed best for humanity not to describe them, except to say that they were abominations. Instead, Muslims reduce the activity of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah to “consensual” sex between men, rather than to establishing a hierarchy via rape. This is because the story of Lut’s attempted redemption of his people is single-handedly a critique of patriarchy so embarrassing for patriarchal scholars that they are meekly left to resort to diverting attention to their homophobia instead in order to justify their bigoted, colonized beliefs.

To accomplish this, the male ulema offer a mendacious interpretation of the story of Lut: in what can only be described as a desecration of the Qur’an, your leaders gloss over the fact that all sexes in Sodom and Gomorrah are punished for having created and actively participated in a network of rape. They tactically remove verses from the context of subjugation via rape by hyperfocusing on verses that make any allusion to sex such as 7:81: “Do you approach the men lustfully besides the women; no, you are a people transgressing beyond bounds.” Subsequently what male scholars illegalize is not rape (because why would anyone want to do that), but same-sex intercourse.

But we use the Qur’an to explain itself, and the meaning of this line is elaborated in 26:165-166, which repeats and clarifies, “Do you approach the men of the world”—note here the reference to travel and travelers, which is important in the domination and subjugation of outsiders—“and leave what the God/dess has created of your mates?”— the additional sin of adultery in this gender-neutral use of mates rather than women, referring specifically to the spouses these men married already rather than women as a sex—“No. You are a people transgressing.” It is all of these sins combined—rape, subjugation, humiliation, xenophobia, adultery, and sexism—that comprise the horrific crimes of Sodom.

The Qur’an is very strategic in its delivery when recounting religious history. Any young girl reciting the Qur’an in her early childhood has a disorientating awareness that events are not only out of order but merging into each other. The story of Lut is told in parts over five to six surahs, and it is most notably interwoven with the story of Ibrahim (29:31-32). This is partly because Lut is the nephew of Ibrahim, as all Prophets were closely or very distantly related to one another, and partly because these interwoven stories inform each other. A significant commonality is that both Ibrahim and Lut deeply desired the presence of their children and had a hand in transforming the traditionally sacrificial roles of children.

Ibrahim, who interprets his dream calling him to sacrifice his son as being a vision from the God/dess, for the very first time requests his son’s consent to the sacrifice. This event and what follows—the declination of the sacrifice by the God/dess—marks the end of child sacrifice as a religious ritual in the tradition which Islam recites. Meanwhile Lut, in Sodom, is faced with rapists who are ready to break his door for access to his guests. Lut, whose daughters are grown and married, routinely expresses a profound loneliness. “Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could take refuge in strong support!” (11:80) Lut cries mournfully, because though he has Divine support he is yearning for the comfort of his family and specifically his daughters. He sounds at every turn of his devastation very much like a father who misses his daughters, a father who misses his children who have moved away.

It is why, when the rapists crowd outside of his home, wild in their intoxication (11:72) and in the habit of rape (11:78) and having heard that he has visitors, Lut claims quickly from his own wistfulness that it is not outsiders who have come to visit him, but his own daughters. The townspeople will not rape their own.

“These are my daughters. They are purer for you,” (11:78) Lut pleads urgently to the rapists attempting to force their way into his home, because the townspeople consider their own to be purer—and superior—to travelers. He submits to their logic in a vain attempt to reason with them.

Every exegete in history before me has interpreted 11:78, 15:71 to mean that Lut is offering his daughters to the rapists rather than suggesting to Sodom that it is his daughters who are his guests, not angels. But Lut’s daughters are never present in the text. They do not live with him and the Qur’an offers only ghostly references to them. What is happening is clear: far from offering his visibly absent daughters to rapists, Lut is attempting instead to convince the crowd that his guests behind the doors are his own daughters, not foreigners. His daughters do not reside with him; they belong to different houses. It is easy then that he passes them off/refers to them as visitors. “So fear the God/dess, and do not shame me in front of my guests!” he cries. In front of his daughters, whose shame in the eyes of the townspeople is worthy of considering. “Is there not among you a single right-minded man?” (11:78)

The rapists dismiss this notion. They would not be there if Lut were with his daughters. “We have no use of your daughters; you know what we want,” (11:79) they snarl back to him, and their disbelief that his daughters were visiting him adds to the misery of the situation. It is then that Lut resolves to sigh, “Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could betake myself to support,” (11:80) because he is, in fact, alone, without his daughters, the sole protector of his guests on this “distressful day” (11:77). His wife, quite evidently, is of no help.

Lut’s yearning for familial support is why, when the angel messengers reveal themselves to him, they order him to take his daughters and leave the city (11:81). His wife is to be left behind with the rest of the rapists, who are treated with showers of “brimstone, hard as clay, layer after layer” (11:82, 54:35). Lut’s people are not the only ones who have been destroyed for irreversible damage upon the earth. Prophet Shu’ayb warns, “And, oh, my people! Let not my dissent cause you to sin, lest you suffer the fate of the people of Noah or of Hud or of Salih, nor are the people of Lut far off from you!” (11:89) And yet it is only in this example of Lut that jurists attempt in vain to show homosexuality is a sin.

Yet the Qur’an describes over and over again the full extent of these crimes as patriarchal violations of the utmost malevolence. “Do you indeed approach men, and cut off the highway? And practice evil even in your councils?” (29:29) the verses read in outraged devastation, for the people of Sodom twisted an expression of love into a device of suppression, an act of inexcusable violence.

Analogous to soldiers weaponizing rape in war in order to subdue and interrogate the enemy as tools of sexual domination and humiliation, the crimes of Sodom were of married heterosexual men aggressively using their power over vulnerable populations—namely, those who were in a state of travelling, of temporarily being without homes and susceptible in this transitional state.

This is all of course misogyny: another, very violent example of woman-hating against which the Qur’an rails. Visitors, like prisoners in our contemporary colonizing systems, were raped to strip them of their masculinity, because that is how patriarchy works. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the wars in which xenophobes rape to subjugate the populations whose nations they’ve invaded… that is Sodom.

Your scholars will not admit this to you. They will imply to you instead without knowing, that Lut committed this very crime when he offered his daughters to rapists, slandering the purer actions of the Prophet against him. They will have you believe it was honorable of him. They will twist acts of love into violent weapons of war to justify their hatred. Nor are the people of Lut far off from you indeed.

But how could you know?

A man described me as “thoughtful” recently after speaking to me for five minutes. I’m always surprised when people develop ideas about my character in such a short period of time. How does he know? We had not been discussing anything that would outright reveal this.

This perplexity isn’t new. I’ve also had teachers describe me as “intelligent” or “proficient” before I ever even submitted any assignments to them, but I always chalked that up to a racial bias—it’s flattering, but ultimately undesirable and isn’t really about me.

This instance was of course less insidious. The man had described me as “beautiful and thoughtful,” and though the former rather than to outward appearance could have spoken to my character as well, the latter most certainly must have spoken to character, and I’m wondering still how he’d arrived to that conclusion.

I have always been very suspicious of first impressions. I value my intuition and encourage others to trust theirs, but I’m also hyperaware of when “intuition” is in fact bias, and I rarely form words out of my first impression of others as to not lend it authenticity. This is casually fascinating to me.

4:25 [muḥ’ṣanāti]: Consent is Integral to the Qur’an

When I was writing my exegesis, “Polygamy is haraam.” I remembered a conversation I had with Orbala ages ago in which I had demanded to know why the supposed permissibility of polygyny did not conventionally extend to polyandry. She responded that polyandry, the marriage of one woman to multiple men, was explicitly forbidden in the Qur’an (a view she has now revised). This was attributed to Qur’anic verse 4:24, which reads across translations as, “haraam to you are women [who are married],” which is one of way saying a woman cannot marry more than one man.

This is a… questionable translation. I’d always wondered why the term “muḥ’ṣanāt,” translated in 4:24 as “women who are married,” was also used in reference to enslaved women in the verse that follows, especially since several translations of 4:24 add “except those your right hands possess,” creating a dynamic that (1) contradicted itself and (2) incidentally made polyandry permissible by the same logic because the verse would then permit an enslaved woman to marry multiple men.

Take a look down this center column to observe the selectivity in translating “muḥ’ṣanāt”:

“Muḥ’ṣanāti” clearly cannot mean married women and simultaneously mean chaste women. It cannot mean free women and simultaneously mean enslaved women. Regard part of 4:25, for an illustrative demonstration of why this doesn’t work:

So marry them [enslaved women]
With the permission of their families
And give them their bridal due
In a fair manner,
They should be muḥ’ṣanāti and not committing secret
immoralities.

Then when they [enslaved women] are married,
if they commit adultery,
then for them is half of the punishment
that is on the [free, unmarried] muḥ’ṣanāti women.
—4:25

Notice the placement of the word and its functions. Common translations render muḥ’ṣanāti as meaning free women even though in the very same verse muḥ’ṣanāti is referring to enslaved women. The translation of this word consistently chances, sometimes even contradictorily, in order to fit what best suits the whims of male translators, because they don’t understand what it means.

Male scholars don’t know what muḥ’ṣanāt means. They don’t understand. This conclusion is the optimistic one. Realistically, they do know what it means, because they translate the word and its variations differently when the pronoun is a masculine one, in which case it miraculously alludes to a noble “refrain.”

Muḥ’ṣanāt are women who restrain or do not consent, and specifically women who have the power to restrain and deny or provide consent. This is what it means in every instance. In every. Single. Instance. It is the only uniform meaning. It is what it means throughout all of these aimed translations: “chaste” “refrained” “guarded” etc.

Consider 5:5, which permits marriage to Christians and Jews [muḥ’ṣanātu].

And [lawful in marriage are] […]
muḥ’ṣanātu from among those
who were given the Scripture
before you.
—5:5

As is obvious, muḥ’ṣanāt does not reference sexual restraint specifically, which is why it is so dynamic in its usage throughout the Qur’an. It can refer to religious restraint. In this context (5:5), muḥ’ṣanāt means women who refrain from or do not consent to converting to Islam, rather than women who are “chaste” as male translators so love to convey this word. But whether or not the context is sexual or perceived it be, muḥ’ṣanāt always signifies the power to withhold consent.

In fact, verse 4:25 itself tells us how to define muḥ’ṣanāti. Notice in the excerpt of 4:25 that men must ask permission (“with the permission of their families”) because “you are believers of one another”—which male scholarship often assumes must indicate that free women are the subject here and there has been a transition mid-verse (because why should they ask permission regarding enslaved women). Make no mistake the subject is still enslaved women; they are referred to as believers earlier in the same verse (fatayātikumu l-mu’mināti). The Qur’an challenges the perception of social hierarchy and dismisses it as being a petty invention of the earthly realm, upholding enslaved women as equal and worthy as free men. The dynamics in this verse confirms that muḥ’ṣanāti describes women who are of a state of power to withhold consent.

In this way too, the function of the word and its true meaning importantly interrogates male responsibility and accountability. If an enslaved woman is not in a state of power to withhold consent, which she never is, then according to 4:25, society has not empowered her to qualify as muḥ’ṣanāti and the man who has taken that power from her cannot wed her.

Those of you reading for a while know I’ve arrived to this conclusion before.

(And let refrain those
who do not find means
for marriage, until the God/dess
enriches them.

You mustn’t compel
the woman to need
who wishes to be independent. –24:33)

4:24 is not making haraam to men women who are married. It is making haraam to men women who refuse to marry them.

When an exegesis is substantial, it is validated in every shade of the Qur’an. A similar sentiment graces verse 24:60:

And women who have menstruated
and do not desire marriage
then it is not upon them any blame if they
cast aside their garments,
not displaying their adornments. It is better
if they modestly refrain [yastaʿfif’na].

There is an assumption among male translators that the “modest refraining” is in reference to casting aside garments, that women who do not desire marriage needn’t dress modestly but it’s “better” if they should. However, it is clear to me that “should modestly refrain” refers to refraining from marriage, as it is this desire to refuse or not consent to marriage that is the subject of the verse. It is better for them to refrain from marriage because their souls have not consented to marriage. This is, demonstrably, consistent to variations of the root of what is translated to mean “restrain” “guard” or “remain chaste” which signifies the power to deny consent.

The Oath Possesses Your Right Hand

Shortly after reading my article regarding polygamy, a beloved friend of mine (shoutout) maintained that “the responsibility possessing your right hand” should remain “the responsibility your right hand possesses” (translated across all other versions as “what your right hands possess”) because it is grammatically the right hand that is doing the possessing. I could see her perspective, and frankly, she has studied Arabic in greater depth and detail than I have.

But I disagree.

Structurally, the fragment reads word-for-word, “what possessing your right hands” or “mā malakat aymānukum”—there shouldn’t be a dispute that the “what” refers to a responsibility or an oath. It does not refer to directly to women, if the fact that means what and not whom weren’t clear. The Qur’an itself provides this antecedent by employing the form l-aymāna (oath) and yamīnuka (rightfully possesses), describing the nature of the “right hand” as responsibility. I feel that this is a crucial point that every exegete has overlooked.

However, translating the structure into English doesn’t require an inversion for its meaning to remain intact, even when Arabic inverts the subject-object orientation. We say things like this English all the time, particularly in modern and even contemporary poetry. Years ago, I penned the line in a poem, “Braves sudden movement, eye to eye.” Simplified, the object is structured as the subject, even though conceptually it is the eye that is doing the meeting.

In fact, since most translations of the Qur’an are not casual English, I find it very interesting that translators choose to invoke the inversion to make the phrase casual (and in their minds, I’m sure, clearer) when that is not its state, rendering it a judgment call and a deliberate decision considering the flexibility of the original phrase in Arabic. It’s true that in English we don’t speak in the language of poetic inversions of casual statements, but neither are Qur’anic English translations informal.

Translating “mā malakat aymānukum” as “what [oath] is possessing your right hands” honors the fluidity of the phrase in Arabic, whereas English interrogates for clarity in the ownership via subject-object orientation, which is already a philosophically imposed assignment. The implications of the oath being the object rather than the subject, particularly when we incorrectly understand (what) to mean “women” and not “oath,” are drastically grave in English.

Placing the responsibility as possessing the right hand in English emphasizes women as the entitled subject, rather than men as the entitled subject: you have rights rather than he has control. Arabic, however, lulls of a quality of possessive uncertainty.

I floated this past my love Zeina, a native Arabic speaker. “It’s both right?” I asked her at an obscene hour of the night when she certainly should have been asleep. “It’s more fluid in Arabic whereas in contemporary English it means two very distinct things.”

“Yes it is both. I’ve never thought about it that way. I think both work grammatically.”

Since in the inverted English the ownership is over an oath or promise or responsibility and not women, I’m not married to either structure in translation. In fact, there are also benefits, like the relief of responsibility from the marginalized, when the phrase is structured as the right hand doing the possessing. But in case anyone is married to either, I present this reasoning for my maintaining the Arabic structure in the English translation.