Why Does Gay Sex Scare Modern Muslims? It Didn’t in the Golden Age.

Apr 19, 2016

Photo credit: Shutterstock

By Maajid Nawaz

Half of British Muslims say being gay “should be outlawed.” Thus ran the headline in London’s Sunday Times this week. Even more opposed gay marriage, while almost half thought it was unacceptable for a gay or lesbian to teach their children.

These findings from an ICM poll will be presented in a Channel 4 documentary, What British Muslims Really Think, airing this Wednesday. The show will portray the growing divergence between mainstream Britain and its Muslim communities.

Poll after poll of British Muslims has revealed statistically significant levels of illiberal opinion. Polling methodology and data may contain errors, as some critics note, but this is only scientifically rectified by more data, not by defensive posturing. A 2009 poll by Gallup found that 0 percent of Britain’s Muslims believed homosexual acts to be morally acceptable. What previous polls have shown us time and again is more of the same. This latest ICM poll asked a slightly different question, about whether homosexual acts should be legal rather than viewed as morally acceptable. Despite half saying no, this time 18 percent did say being gay should remain legal. Progress? Well, if our baseline was zero, there could only ever be progress.

Such numbers ought to prompt an urgent conversation about why Europe is having trouble integrating its Muslim communities. And it is likely that the answer, in part, relates to rising neo-fundamentalist approaches to scripture among Muslims.

There was a time when it was not like this.

Traditionally, Islam was open to exploring beauty and sexuality, especially when Islamic culture flourished and Europe was in what were known as the Dark Ages. The Prophet Muhammad taught that “God is Beautiful, and loves Beauty.” The 11th century Andalusian scholar Ibn Hazm wrote “The Ring of the Dove,” a treatise on the different stages of love, including some rather explicit real-life stories.

It is true that many early Muslim scholars condemned homosexuality, and cited scripture to justify their position. But the themes of love and sexuality have been debated and discussed by Muslim theologians and artists for centuries. The word “homosexuality” is not even used in the Quran. In fact, it did not exist in the Arabic language. The modern Muslim conclusion that homosexuality is “unnatural” is therefore not based on anything in scripture.

The Quranic story of the prophet Lot is often invoked by religious-conservative Muslims to denounce homosexuals. But even here, there has been debate. A renowned traditional authority on the Quran, al-Kisa’i al-Kufi, took the view that the story of Lot referred to heterosexual men who raped other men.

The chapter of al-Nur (Quran 24:31) specifically recognizes “men who are not in need of women.” As the context of the passage shows, these are men who are not attracted to women. They may have been gay or asexual, but, by definition, they were not heterosexual men. They are also not judged or condemned anywhere in the Quran. The Prophet’s own example shows that he accepted men living around him who were called “Mukhannath,” seen to be “acting like women.”

This subtle early recognition grew to a point where it was open within the courts of various caliphs in the Muslim Golden Age. Abu Nuwas (756-814) was one of the greatest classical Arab poets. He flourished during the start of the Abbasid era Golden Age (750-1258), based in Baghdad.

As was normal during this period, sexual roles were only imagined in terms of active and passive participants, not as gay or straight sex, and what we would today describe as homosexuality was clear and present in this society.


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14 comments on “Why Does Gay Sex Scare Modern Muslims? It Didn’t in the Golden Age.

  • I continue to appreciate how Maajid Nawaz is going about his work. The cultural muslim (religious or not so) has a lot of high ground to reclaim and celebrate. So many aspects of Greek culture (my own cultural origin) passed wisely through their hands.

    I would only point out what the limits of common human decency are in these matters though. For me a razor is essential.



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  • From the article

    In response to this current climate of fear, and to the backdrop of ISIS thugs throwing gays off buildings in Syria, my organization Quilliam has commissioned an art exhibition at the Free Word Centre in order to throw open this debate by displaying some of the sexual diversity within past and contemporary Muslim tradition.

    Oh I like this. Edgy, provocative art.

    Phil,

    I continue to appreciate how Maajid Nawaz is going about his work.

    Yes, I’m watching his approach too. The guy has guts that’s for sure. All credit for that.



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  • 4
    Pinball1970 says:

    @Phil-rimmer

    “But.”

    Every time I watch this I guy I am impressed with him but the bottom line is he still believes a 6thC Arab spoke to angel that passed on an updated version of the bible.

    I can live with that, I work with people who thinks some 1stC jew walked on water.

    On the whole it does not change anyone’s life and some memes can fade away, it just that those two (Christianity and Islam) are particularly stubborn and they are affecting people’s lives.

    If Islam is going to work in Europe it will be people like him who will convince me it can work politically and socially.



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  • Pin #4

    His wiki entry is impressive. It ends, however, describing an Essex lad like any other, after the release of CCTV footage of him in a strip club during Ramadan having his stag do just before his second marriage-

    I never describe myself as a representative of Muslims in media, and speak as a liberal, who happens to be a non-devout Muslim, with a unique experience and insight into Islamist extremism.



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  • 6
    Pinball1970 says:

    @phil-rimmer

    I contradicted myself twice in that post I think you know what I was getting at

    I hope he is a good guy because I am sold

    I have no idea what a liberal muslim is or could be, part of me thinks he defending Asian/non white culture rather than Islam.

    He suffered a lot of racist abuse as a teenager.

    If he is cherry picking from the koran then he is discarding certainly more than he is picking

    Part of me also thinks he could be an atheist.

    Some priests continue to stay in the church once they realize they no longer believe any of the revelations in the bible.

    They stay for other reasons, to be close to the community, to help those in need- good guys.

    He comes across like this, he talks about people now, striving for a peace and does not bring Allah/Koran or Mohammed into the discussion like the majority of muslim speakers.

    Anyway I am watching this space.



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  • Cultural Muslims are an essential part of the solution to the problem of Islam with its high proportion of extremism in some of its national manifestations. Cultural Jewishness has worked very well. This allows families to stay together and share their holidays and broader cultural achievements and a binding identity.

    Religion runs the spectrum anyway. My go to religion as an example of an OK group are the UK Quakers. Their belief that humans are (and are required to be) the moral authors and not a few scraps of dogma extended beyond their parochial historical intention, is the essence of moral thinking. Half of them are agnostic. Still other religious are the nervous nellies who cannot face the prospect that we are pointless beings clinging by our fingernails to a rocky planet after some mindless physics accident 13.7 billion years ago. For me this is thrilling and open ended in the adventures ahead. For them its just scary and they need a cosmic cuddle. Religion can be as much an aesthetic.

    What is interesting is how other Muslim reform activists are converging on the idea of Cultural Muslims and winning over the mid ground religious. Ayan Hirsi Ali has softened in her righteous and rightful anger at Islam per se and sees in her latest book that the way down is the creation of a common pathway of contiguous and diminishingly religious states that are nevertheless Muslim and can accommodate families and communities.

    Building up alternates to Islam as signifiers of what it is to be Muslim is key to this process. Taking pride in keeping the intellectual lights burning through the Christian Dark Ages, sparking the Rennaisance, the first atheist poet, the first dismissal of souls with any personal distinction, will do very nicely, not least because these deserve all our thanks.



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  • The big question is what makes so many religious groups so rabid in their condemnation of homosexuality??? That behavior does not hurt anybody (except perhaps transmission of STD’s) Why are they so insanely against gays and lesbians??? Why? Why??

    What lurks as a possible cause is the condemnation of sex purely for pleasure. That is it! Pleasure of sex is an abomination unless approved by some preacher or minister of that religion and ONLY between one man and one woman. All else is a “sin.” Religious leaders gravitate to such extreme absurdities.



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  • phil rimmer

    But…?

    No, no, I have no buts about it. I want him to succeed. I’m rooting for him and others in this. My feelings about it are worry for his safety but of course he must be a very resilient person. More resilient than I am. I feel that way about all of the reformers; admiration and worry.



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  • Great, Maajid. Also, so good not to see that dreadful acronym LGBT or GLBT or whatever letters and their order is currently favoured by the identity politicians



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  • @net

    Off topic, but…..

    Oh to have been a fly-on-the-wall when the order L G B T was established. Imagine the infighting. No no, L just HAS to come first. Because. But, hey G includes L, doesn’t it, why do you lot need a letter of your own? Ah, of course, Because….

    And T only just made it into the club. Q got left out completely.



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  • 14
    Pinball1970 says:

    @cbrown Why do the religious hate gays?
    Hitchens mentions this is his book, “God is not great” in the interlude, “Why heaven hates ham”
    He suggests the theists who wish to punish the “sin” of homosexuality could have “a repressed desire to participate.”



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