Book Review: Homosexuality in Islam

I must admit that I, like most people, thought Islam inherently condemns homosexuality and transgender behavior. I assumed homophobia is deeply rooted and justified in Islam and that is the justification for some Muslim countries to have extreme punishments for same-sex acts. Scott Kugle challenges such assumptions in the very first chapter of the book, asking Muslims whether such presumptions are based on the patriarchal culture in which they were raised or based on their knowledge of Islam. He says it is important to separate what is imposed by culture from what is essential to the faith, by ‘ijtihad’ – independent and original analysis based on intellectual effort and ethical discretion (in the interpretation of the religion). And that is exactly he has done with this extensively researched, incredibly well written book.

Scott Kugle is a research scholar in Islamic studies who has held positions at Duke University, the University of Cape Town, and Swarthmore College. He is familiar with Arabic text and has read almost all the Islamic scriptures, including the Qur’an, the Hadith, and Islamic laws like the Shar’ia and the Fiqh. Instead of relying on one translation of the scriptures, Kugle has used multiple translations and his own knowledge of Arabic to understand the essence of these texts. In the very first chapter he clearly and convincingly establishes his groundwork, explaining his approach and the reasons behind his book. A young man from Moracco flees his country and overstays his tourist visa in the US, facing deportation. Worried about the extreme homophobia he faces in his home country, the young man seeks asylum in the US. The author is called in as an expert witness to talk about homophobia in Islamic countries, which also inspires him to write this book. Titled “Islam on Trial”, this introductory piece is a fascinating and moving read.

In Chapter 2, Scott discusses the Qur’an, the ultimate authority of Islam. He says the central message of the Qur’an is solidarity with the oppressed and that God’s will works with the oppressed. The story of Prophet Lot and the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is often quoted by Muslims to say that Islam condemns homosexuality. Scott analyzes these verses from the Qur’an and several other verses to show that such assumptions are simply not true. His analysis is not one-sided or defensive, but very logical, objective and clear. This chapter should be an eye-opener for Muslims across the world.

In the next two chapters he talks about the Hadith (reports of things the Prophet Muhammad said or did, that were verbally passed down) and the Fiqh (the Islamic legal reasoning). It is very liberating to read how the author disqualifies many of the false, motivated, biased interpretations that have been provided mainly to enforce the patriarchal domination of the heterosexual male Muslim. Chapter 5 takes a reformist approach and suggests the Shar’ia law can be reformed to accommodate same-sex marriages.

Chapter 6 is dedicated to transgender Muslims. The author explains how the Qur’an clearly and unambiguously affirms that transgender and other gender variant people are indeed created by God to celebrate human diversity. His example from the Qur’an about the Sun (female according to the Qur’an and the Arabic language) and the moon (male) and how they merge to form day and night and how it relates to gender ambiguity is a very beautiful read. Kugle also exposes how patriarchy has always used transphobia as a tool to condemn homosexuality.

Throughout the book, Kugle also gives insights on how Muslims from different parts of the world understand and practice Islam in various interpretations and how present day LGBT Muslims find peace, comfort and strength in their religion.

The book has its limitations and Kugle discusses them openly and honestly in the introduction. If you read the title carefully you will notice that bisexuals are left out of the book and the author’s research. Kugle attempts to explain why, but it is not convincing. I can only imagine how isolated and left out Muslim bisexuals would feel after reading the author’s opinion. Disappointing!

The tools and techniques he provides to approach sacred texts is actually not just limited to Islam. The book speaks volumes about the dedication, sincerity and honesty with which Scott Kugle has approached the topic. Overall, this book is a brilliant and thought-provoking read.

Scott Kugle’s Homosexuality in Islam is a must read for Queer people of all faiths (not just Muslims) and also for feminists, atheists and other minorities that challenge patriarchy.

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South Indian, Sambar lover,Subramanya Bharathi fan, Rebel, Bleeding heart liberal, Writer, Dreamer, Die-hard romantic and Queer. Twitter: @shrisadasivan

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