Homosexuality and transgenderism in the Quran

You can often get questions or comments from Muslim students about homosexuality in Islam. They generally claim that homosexuality is banned by the Quran. But if you continue to ask, they often do not know the statements and they get stuck in "it is just not allowed, it is haram" .
It is true that there are a number of quotes in the Quran referring to the story of Sodom which seem to prohibit sex between men. But there is more to say about it.

Summary

The Quran mentions sex between men several times, almost all of them in the context of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which after the city inhabitants demand sexual access to the messengers sent by God to the prophet Lot (or Lut). The Quranic story is almost the same as the version in the Bible. Later explanations of the Quran agreed that the "abomination" alluded to by the Quranic passages was attempted sodomy (specifically anal intercourse) between men. The sins of the people of Lut later became proverbial and the Arabic words for the act of anal sex between men such as “liwat” and for a person who performs such acts “Luti”; both derive from the name Lut, although Lut was not the one demanding sex.
Some modern gay and lesbian Muslim activists disagree with the equation of this rape story with homosexual relationships.
Scholars point out that Muslims' views on sexual diversity have become much more conservative in the last century, while Islam has for centuries been much more tolerant than Christianity. In addition, colonialism and opposition to Western exploitation has created a general reluctance against many things that Muslims consider Western (and corrupt). Homosexuality is then used as an argument to show how corrupt the West is.
Gay, bisexual and lesbian Muslims have become increasingly visible in recent years. They often say that we should not condemn each other that way and that Allah himself has created diversity.
In information provision, teachers and advisers must think carefully about the position from which they are doing this. If you are a Muslim yourself, you have a very different position than if you have a different belief or do not believe. And then the choice of whether or not to comment on the Quran and other Islamic regulations is not self-evident. You can only do that if you know are an expert on Islam. Even then, make sure not educate with a judgmental view of Islam. For non-Muslim teachers and activists we recommend not to get drawn into a religious discussion but to enter into a dialogue about democracy and how we can live together while dealing well with differences.
The Wikipedia page on LGBT in Islam is quite comprehensive about the Quran, the other religious texts and the historic and social context

Quotes from the Quran

Homosexuality is rejected in a number of places in the Koran. A few examples: ("Lut" is the same as "Lot" in the Bible)

  1. Sura 7: 80-81: "And Lut said to his people: Will you commit a horror that none of the world's inhabitants have committed for you?"
  2. 7: 81-82: "You approach men with lust instead of women. No, you are a people who go beyond the limits." (also translated as: "You are excessive people")
  3. 7:84: "And we (Allah) let rain fall on them. Look how that was the end of the wrongdoers."
  4. 11:80: "They answered: you (Lut) know that we are not entitled to your daughters and you know what we want."
  5. 11:83: "When our (Allah's) command came, we turned that city (Sodom) upside down and rained layer upon layer of clay on it."
  6. 11:87: "And his people rushed to him (Lut); they had committed bad deeds before. He said: people, here are my daughters, they are cleaner for you. Fear then God and do not disgrace me for my guests. " (by abusing the messenger of Allah)
  7. 15:16: "And for those among your wives who are guilty of fornication, call up four of you as witnesses against her, and if they testify, lock her up in her house until her death, or until Allah gives her a And if two of you are guilty of this, punish them both. And if they repent and improve, then leave them alone, for Allah accepts repentance and is full of grace." (This verse about “zina” is generally interpreted as a prohibition against any sex outside of marriage and does not relate to 2 women).
  8. 11:79: "They said: You (Lut) know that we are not entitled to your daughters and you know what we want."
  9. 21:75: "And to Lut we (Allah) gave wisdom and knowledge. And we delivered him from the city that acted abominably. They were indeed an angry and rebellious people."
  10. 26: 166: "You approach the men of all creatures!"
  11. 26: 167: "And you leave your wives your lord created for you!"
  12. 26: 169: "He (Lut) said," Really, I despise your conduct. "
  13. 27:55: "And Lut, said to his people, do not commit immorality against your better judgment!"
  14. 27:56: "Do you lustfully approach men instead of women? No, you are an ignorant people."
  15. 27:59: "And we (Allah) caused a rain to come upon them, and the rain was terrible for the warned."
  16. 29:30: "Do you men approach with lust and rob you on the road, and even commit atrocities in your meetings? But the answer of the people was nothing more than that they said: bring the punishment of Allah upon us as you the truth speaks. "
  17. 29:31: "He (Lut) said:" help me, my lord, against the people who cause disaster. "
  18. 29:32: "And when our messengers brought the news to Abraham, they said, We will destroy the people of this city; for its inhabitants are evil." (literally: "unjust")
  19. 54:37: "And they tried to disgrace their guests (by asking them to have sex with them). Then we took their eyes off their eyesight. Then taste my punishments and my warnings."

Lesbian sex

There is no clear prohibition of sex between women in the Quran. Some exegetes think it is “zina” (the punishable crime of sex outside of marriage, but other say can be seen as a sin but not as a crime that deserves a religious (hadd) punishment

Transsexuality

Transgenderism does not occur in the Quran. There are convictions of effeminate men (possibly eunuchs) and "women who imitate men" in the Hadith. Allegedly, Mohammed banished effeminate men, but did not kill them because they were also believers. In Islam there is a debate about whether transgender people imitate the opposite sex (which is considered reprehensible) or whether they are in the wrong body. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1987 authorizing sex operations. Nevertheless, Muslim transgender people in most Muslim countries (including Iran, even though they can get operations) still suffer from discrimination.

Different interpretations

A more free interpretation of the Quran is that Allah gives people their own responsibility to lead a good life. Clergy should not condemn this, that is the right of Allah alone. Like other forms of sex, homosexuality would only be bad when it comes to abuse, excess or violation of public honor.
Some modern gay and lesbian Muslim activists disagree with this interpretation, arguing that the people of Lot were destroyed not because of participation in same-sex acts, but because of misdeeds which included refusing to worship one God, disregarding the authority of the Prophets, and attempting to rape the travelers, a crime made even worse by the fact that the travelers were under Lot's protection and hospitality (for example: Kuggle, Scott, and Stephen Hunt."Masculinity, Homosexuality and the Defence of Islam: A Case Study of Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Media Fatwa."Religion and Gender 2, no.2 (2012):271-272).
Since the 1990s there have been more gay, bisexual and lesbian Muslims. They show that it is possible to be gay / lesbian and religious. They often avoid talking about the Quran, because it is so sensitive these days. But when they respond to this, they often emphasize that "Allah is infallible and has made us all different" (referring to Sura 5:48), and that "people should not judge each other, only Allah is allowed" (referring to Sura 49:11). More comments from and about gay Muslims can be found on Queer Jihad. Queer Jihad also has its own page on the Quran.

Dealing with judgmental views

It is good to realize that such "free" interpretations are not (yet) common in mainstream Islamic communities. The firm opinion is that the Quran texts have been passed on by Allah to Muhammad as literal truth and guidelines. Orthodox Muslims believe - just like Orthodox Christians - that "therefore" no discussion is possible about this. In such a context, information and dialogue on human rights related to sexual diversity becomes virtually impossible.
In education sessions for orthodox believers, teachers and counselors often avoid conversations “sacred” texts. Broadly speaking, there are four ways of dealing with religion-based convictions of homosexuality. The first two of them deal with the content of the conviction, the other two deal with desired behavior.

Dialogue about convictions
1. Discussion on the interpretation of "holy texts"
2. Discussion of the personal relationship with God/Allah

Dialogue about behavior
3. Discussion about diversity and human rights
4. Discussion of concrete daily manners and respect

The choice of strategy depends on who you are, what you know and the type of group you educate. If you are a Muslim yourself, you have a different position than if you have a different belief or no belief. And then the choice of whether or not to go into the Quran and other Islamic regulations and judgments is not self-evident. You can only do that when you are relatively expert in Islam. Anyway, you should never educate with a judgmental view of Islam. We recommend teachers and activists to engage in a dialogue about democracy (living together in a country with different opinions) and how we can live together practically and daily while dealing well with differences. It is also often helpful to "degay" the subject (to cite similar examples from other contexts; such as comparing Islamophobia to homophobia; we do not want either).

Overt of implicit Islamophobia

Many non-Muslim educators have been influenced by recent anti-Muslim rhetoric. Such rhetoric often claim that Muslims are backward, anti-emancipation and prudish.
It is important to consider that our own cultural values are comparable to Muslim values in many ways. What do we consider "improper" or "respectable"?
Many Muslim boys shower with pants on because even a casual look at their genitals is already considered haram (shameful / impure). This type of shame is not typically Islamic. If gay men or lesbian women kiss each other on the street or walk hand in hand, this is also seen by many native people as irritating or provocative. In some Christian circles, even saying that you are gay, bi or lesbian can be experienced as shocking and provocative. Blaming homophobia mainly on Muslim values is Islamophobic.
Teachers and activists will have to find a way in their classes with their students about how we deal with such feelings. In a democratic country you can feel everything and have any opinion, but you cannot express all your aversions disrespectfully or violently. So the point is to look for a social relationship where we treat our differences with respect.

Peter Dankmeijer

(page revised on 25 August 2019)