Islam, at least as understood by Western society and culture does not seem particularly accepting of gays and lesbians within the greater Muslim community. It is surprising to realize, therefore, that the Quran and the Prophet Muhammed have very little – if anything – to say about gays and lesbians, and are entirely silent on the topics of sexual orientation and gay and lesbian relationships. Islam’s ultimate authority, therefore, unlike the Bible in Christian tradition does not condemn or forbid homosexual unions – unions that were not unheard of in Muhammed’s time. While it’s true that many predominately Muslim countries proclaim homosexuality as illegal with several even invoking the death penalty for those found guilty, attitudes are perhaps beginning to shift due to the constant and heroic actions of many gay and lesbian Muslims and their allies.
While the Bible condemns homosexual acts and behaviors in both the Old and New Testaments, the Quran is virtually silent on the matter, aside from the familiar story of Lut and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Prophet Muhammed was also silent on both sexual orientation and homosexual behaviors, although they were certainly practiced throughout his lifetime by those he knew. By understanding not only where the predominant view of homosexuality in Islam comes from but also the heterosexism inherent in much of Muslim culture, it is possible to trace these attitudes and map out a possible course of action to stop them. Surprisingly the West has a part to play in Islamic attitudes on sexuality and sexual orientation. A return to traditionalism and fundamentalism in Islamic culture, jurisprudence and authority, much like its counterpart in Western society, has forced a hardline approach towards homosexual behavior and sexual orientation. But fundamentalism in much of Muslim society – at least society that is not found in an Islamic or Shari’a state government – has not stemmed the tide of growing awareness and acceptance at a societal level. In Muslim communities not governed by a state-sanctioned or enforced Shari’a legal code, understandings about homosexuality and sexual orientation have begun to develop as more and more professionals have come out to denounce both reparative therapy and calls for perpetual celibacy for those in the gay community.
State-sanctioned persecution and repression are not the only obstacles to gay and lesbian Muslims, however. Many members of the gay community are marginalized, stigmatized and disowned by their families or communities upon coming out. In order for the gay community to gain acceptance in Muslim culture, therefore, it is imperative to not only confront the legal reality facing many members of the gay and lesbian community, but also the social reality inherent in coming out and attempting to live an authentic life. Many gay and lesbian Muslims mention being disowned, cut off or even facing violent retribution from their family members. It is unreasonable to assume that should sexual orientation be understood as involuntary and inherent under the law in Muslim countries that it would automatically be accepted on a societal or familial level as well. Much like the culture in many Western societies where homosexuality is being normalized on a daily basis, individual acceptance varies widely by not only religious norms but cultural ones as well. Acceptance for the gay community in any societal group is ultimately dependent upon shifts in thinking that cannot happen solely at the state level, but on the individual level as well.
As more and more courageous members of the LGBTQIA community step forwards and identify themselves in predominately Muslim communities, the louder their collective voices will become, and the more normalized homosexuality will be. Although the voices of fundamentalism may be loud, they are gradually being outdone by voices of compassion, science, reason and counter-apologetics. The conversations within family groups, cultural groups and societal groups are beginning to shift more towards acceptance and tolerance around the world, and the Islamic world at large is not immune from the change. Although it seems unlikely in the current divisive and cultural climate, the winds of tolerance are sweeping through the Muslim world one voice at a time, and it seems evident from similar trends that Muslim jurisprudence will find a way to accept sexual orientation eventually in much the same way as the United States has. Though those critical and opposed to equality may never completely fade, new generations are lending their voices to the change on a daily basis, often putting their lives on the line in the process. Ultimately this will result in the ability of Islam to respect the differences of their gay and lesbian members, and welcome them into the fold of Islam. When asking if Islam can evolve to accept their LGBTQIA members, the answer has to be yes because, in reality, it is already in process. Although progress is slow, the change has already begun.
AbuKhalil, Asad. “A Note on the Study of Homosexuality in the Arab/Islamic Civilization.” The Arab Studies Journal 1, no. 2 (1993): 32-34, 48.
Helie, Anissa. “Holy Hatred.” Reproductive Health Matters 12, no. 23 (2004): 120-124.
Jahangir, Junaid B & Hussein Abdul-latif. “Investigating the Islamic Perspective on Homosexuality.” Journal of Homosexuality 63, no. 7 (2016): 925-954.
Kugle, Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle. Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims. New York: NYU Press, 2014.
 Anissa Helie, “Holy Hatred,” Reproductive Health Matters 12, no. 23 (2004): 121.
 Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims (New York: NYU Press, 2014): 22.
 Ibid, 32.
 As’ad AbuKhalil, “A Note on the Study of Homosexuality in the Arab/Islamic Civilization,” The Arab Studies Journal 1, no. 2 (1993): 33.
 Ibid, 33.
 Kugle, 22.
 Junaid B Jahangir & Hussein Abdul-latif, “Investigating the Islamic Perspective on Homosexuality,” Journal of Homosexuality 63, no. 7 (2016): 934.
 Helie, 121.
 Kule, 38.
 Jahangir & Abdul-latif, 935.