( Medium) – For anyone attuned to the Muslim American milieu, it is hard to miss how conversations around gender and sexuality have become major faultlines. As someone who was quite intimate with neo-traditionalist Islam, there seems to be an increasing conservatism that sees these issues as part of an apocalyptic agenda that infringes upon the purity and integrity of Islam. Such conversations seem to get lost in straw man arguments, demagoguery, and a growing collective paranoia.
While I knew this form of Islam was no longer working for me, I felt lost in how to reconcile my new theological direction with my need for Qu’ranic and jurisprudential intimacy. The myth that I internalized was that progressive Muslim scholarship is not serious, tainted by orientalist thought, and lacks reverential care for the Qu’ran and hadith (sayings of the Prophet ﷺ).
Thankfully, I was introduced to the work of Dr. Scott Kugle. It has catapulted me into an exciting new terrain, satiating my need for scholarly integrity and a prophetic spirit that meets the challenges of our times.
In his book “Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims,” Scott Kugle uplifts a sexually-sensitive interpretation of the Islamic tradition. He argues that the Qu’ran condemns same-sex acts only if they are exploitative or violent. The bulk of stigmatization of homosexuality is found in hadith interpretation and fiqh (Islamic law). The main approach of this seminal book is to examine whether these hadith chains are legitimate and if the resulting interpretations are based on the spirit of the Qu’ran, or rather cultural attitudes of that time. Kugle argues that while the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ teachings critiqued patriarchal practices, after his death “Muslims inscribed patriarchal values deep into Islamic culture, allowing Islamic law to compromise the Qur’an’s ethical voice.”
Kugle exhaustively untangles Qu’ranic verses of the story of Lot that Islamic scholars utilize to condemn homosexuality. He brings forth a lineage of Qu’ranic mistranslations that cemented in the early canonization of the Islamic tradition. He then examines the hadith that supposedly attribute homosexuality to sin and criminality. Kugle cites early scholars who comment on how various hadith reports in which the Prophet ﷺ is pictured “announcing a death penalty for homosexual intercourse are not reliable, as they appear not to have originated with the Prophet himself but rather with a second-generation follower of the Prophet (a follower prone to exaggeration, fabrication, and ideological extremism). Reports in which the Prophet is pictured as describing the damnation of homosexuals in the afterlife are not reliable, as so many of them are demonstrably forgeries that the whole class of reports stands discredited.”
Unfortunately, these forged hadith were collected in major canons used by jurists that were disseminated in important jurisprudential text, poetry, historical commentary, and eventually, through sermons and literature, rooting themselves in the Islamic collective. This is complicated by how jurists engaged a cluster of hadith that deals with what appears to be a transgender companion. This companion was named Hati and is referred to as mukhannath or what early Islamic scholars describe as an “effeminate man.” Kugle explicates how the mukhannath hadith were so grossly taken out of context, that what appeared to be a prophetic wisdom of protecting and sanctifying the privacy of women’s spaces, devolved into a punitive condemnation of gender expression. As Kugle remarks, “for lesbian, gay, and transgender Muslims, such [textual] alterations could mean quite literally the difference between life and death.” These fossilized interpretations inform laws within some Muslim-majority countries that respond to queerness with imprisonment, violence, and death.
In chaplaincy and spiritual care, we must confront the fact that LGBTQ youth are many times more likely to take their own life than their non-queer peers. The good news is that when queer youth are in affirming communities and spaces, these rates drastically decrease. (Source: Trevor Project) It is for this reason, clergy and activists should lift up sexually-sensitive interpretations of the Islamic tradition.
Healthy interpretation is the bedrock of beautiful religious expression.
It is reported that the noble Imam ‘Ali, the great cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, “gathered the people and brought out a copy of the Qur’an and as he touched the book he exclaimed, “O Qur’an, speak to the people!”
The people gathered around ‘Ali, saying, “O ‘Ali, do you mock us? It is only paper and ink and it is we [human beings] who speak on its behalf.”
To this, ‘Ali stated, “The Qur’an is written in straight lines between two covers. It does not speak by itself. It needs proper interpreters, and the interpreters are human beings.” (Kugle, 111)
In the spirit of this, queer Muslims and allies have utilized frameworks within liberation theology to lift up life-affirming interpretations of the Qu’ran. As Kugle explains, “The Qur’an encourages solidarity with the oppressed and this is an essential component of its message. It is inseparable from the divine charge to act with justice and responsibility. The Qur’an calls those who are oppressed al-mustad‘afun fi al-ard or those who are held down.”
The Qu’ranic injunction towards an ethic of justice is rooted in celebrating diversity: “O people, We created you all from a male and female and made you into different communities and different tribes, so that you should come to know one another, acknowledging that the noblest among you is the one most aware of God.” (Q. 49:13)It is through the knowledge of and tending to difference, that humanity is ennobled and draws nearer to God. This noble diversity is also a celebration of the innate uniqueness to which God fashioned us: “O human being, what has deceived you from your generous Lord who created you, well-shaped you, and balanced set you and into whatever form God desired God composed you?” (Q. 82:6–8)
To protect and celebrate the full texture of humanity is to take on the mantle of vicegerency and the Qu’ranic spirit.
May we imbibe the breathtaking path of the Beloved ﷺ, and the stunning wisdom of his lovers!
Click here to read my full academic review of “Homosexuality in Islam” by Scott Kugle and other sexually-sensitive Islamic works.
Reprinted from Medium) with the author’s permission.