Pakistan, Islam and Homosexuality

Homosexual desire generally manifests itself in the parks and underground clubs of Pakistani cities. It is indeed ironic that moral condemnation serves to exacerbate an issue than alleviate it. Hiding from family members and peers, differently oriented persons venture out to separate their religious identity from their inner disposition and hence find themselves in internet chat-rooms looking for something they hopelessly fail to find. Many come to divorce the value system shaped partly by their faith in order to accept the other more pressing part of their existence, whereas others find themselves wearing a cloak of hypocrisy; after all the doctors of faith have sentenced them to gruesome punishments, so there is no hope of finding a solution to their concerns. In a nutshell, many gays and lesbians want the same mundane but loving relationships as their fellow responsible striaght citizens of Pakistan. Religious sermons and rulings prevent them from doing so, but in condemning gays and lesbians, such rulings only serve to encourage a culture of secret rendezvous which in turn perpetuates the homosexual stereotype.

The problem indeed stems from a lack of understanding of the issue by both religious and professional experts. Homosexuality is treated as a willful act of choice, an outcome of keeping bad company, a product of a lewd environment and at best a remnant of some childhood abuse. Moreover the entire discourse on the issue is fixated on one penetrative sexual act. Anecdotal evidence from the NWFP and from the reports on truck drivers seems to perpetuate the manner of the discourse, which makes it all the more difficult to get past the sexual act to really focus on the issue at hand. Cultural notions of the issue peppered with the fire and brimstone of the religious texts make the task quite difficult if not impossible for the rational members of the clergy and other professionals. To lend voice to alternate understandings and interpretations really requires a great amount of patience and determination in the presence of a forbidding scriptural legacy and the risk of being labeled as a deviant oneself.

However, the year is 2009; many Muslim voices have stirred the air with alternate opinions and thoughts. A whole range of scholars, theologians and activists that includes luminaries form across the globe like Abdel Nour Brado, Pamela Taylor, Siti Musdah Mulia, Ghazala Anwar, Siraj Kugle, Imam Daayiee Abdullah and Sheikh Muhsin Hendricks, to name a few, have strongly called for igniting the debate in Islam to find a just solution to the plight of religiously observant Muslim gays and lesbians. Some amongst them like Imam Daayiee have gone so far as to sanction Muslim same sex unions. However, all these heroic efforts and voices exist in freer societies of the world and the situation here in Pakistan is miles away from realizing the objective of Muslim same sex unions. It is then clear that the Pakistani discourse needs to revolve around addressing religious and cultural misconceptions on the issue.

The alternative voice in Pakistan in a predominantly Muslim context would revolve around clearing any misconceptions on the issue apart from addressing the scriptural prohibitions that are assumed to exist within the majority traditional Muslim circles. The first point that needs to be strenuously made is that anal sex is not synonymous with same sex relationships. Internet googling would indicate that many gay couples do not indulge in that activity let alone lesbian couples. In fact a sexual act cannot be tied with inner disposition whether gay or straight. After all many straight couples indulge in anal sex apart from those males that casually indulge in same sex behaviour out of sheer frustration or thrill. Yet, the act of anal sex does not assume as much of a taboo in the straight context as does it in gay context. In fact as undesirable as it may be in Shia jurisprudence, anal sex is permitted contingent upon the wife’s consent. It also needs to be clarified that men who have a predilection for casual encounters with other males are not necessarily gay, for a gay relationship goes beyond a five minute thrilling encounter toward a more holistic life that includes companionship in sorrow and happiness, in sickness and health, in youth and old age and through all the trials and tribulations that life has to offer.

The other misconception, that a person’s inner constitution or orientation is willfully created, needs to be done away with. There is a constellation of biological, hormonal, prenatal etc., studies that are increasingly asserting sexual orientation to be biologically determined and which are exhaustively documented in Dr. Qazi Rahman’s book Born Gay. It may also help to remember that eminent physicians like Al Razi, Qusta Ibn Luqa, Hunain Ibn Ishaq, apart from several Muslim authorities had no qualms in accepting a biological basis for some forms of homosexuality. Indeed, a whole Muslim school argued that passive homosexuality was a result of the maternal ‘sperm’ prevailing over the paternal ‘sperm’ at conception.

It would also be instructive to note that the issue at hand is that of nurturing a same sex relationship as responsible and respectable members of a mosque, community or society and that the issue is definitely not about seeking some license or certificate for mere sexual gratification. As such gay and lesbian issues revolve as much around every day mundane life issues as those of the usual straight couples in society. Of course gay and lesbians also have to deal with prejudice and discrimination like any other minority be it Ahmadis, Christians or Ismailis living in Pakistan. Hence the issue at stake is the right (haqq) to have a same sex relationship within the confines of religion and as responsible citizens of Pakistan.

While Pakistani law and its implications for gays and lesbians must be the subject of another discourse, it should be appreciated that the two principal sources of faith – the Qur’an and Sunnah – are silent on the issue of same sex relationships as well as inner constitution. What the Qur’an does address is sexual activity in the context of the people of Lot. In fact according to most exegetes and jurists, all verses – (7:80-81; 26:160-166, 27:54-55, 29:28-29) – in this context specifically refer to anal intercourse between males. The verses are also clear that the sexual act was an outcome of violence and coercion, and this understanding is confirmed in the numerous texts of Tabari, the Jalalyn commentaries, and the Qisas Al Anbiya by both Al Kisai and Al Rawandi. The words of the verse ‘you come to males in lust besides females…’ alludes to the predominant heterosexual nature of the recipients of God’s message in Lot’s tribe. Hence, given the fact that at most 4% of the population is gay, apart from archaeological findings that same sex relationships existed prior to the people of Lot, supports the alternate thesis that the Qur’anic verses are not addressing same sex relationships but acts of violence and coercion perpetrated by predominantly heterosexual people. A glimpse of such horrific conduct has perhaps been documented about the Abu Ghraib prison where Iraqi detainees were subjected to shameful and forced acts.

So far as the Hadith on the issue are concerned, most of them are suspect or weak as none of them are found in the relatively more authentic books of Bukhari, Muslim and Malik’s Muwatta. This brings a traditionally devout Muslim to the entire corpus of Islamic jurisprudential literature wherein widely ranging opinions have usually been formulated and have been observed to evolve with time.  The Hanafi school, for instance, departed from the other three schools by strongly negating any capital punishment on same sex conduct relegating any punishment to no more than 39 lashes. Ibn Hazm, three centuries after Imam Abu Hanifa, distinguished non penetrative sexual acts from anal intercourse and prescribed no more than 10 lashes for those. Four centuries after Ibn Hazm, scholars at Al Azhar understood the word ‘venial faults’ in verse 53:32 as specifically referring to non-penetrative sexual acts, stating that such minor sins even if deliberately and repeatedly committed could be compensated for by supererogatory works.

Based on the evolution of Muslim thought and the richness in traditional Muslim scriptural debates would it be too much to ask the thoughtful and rational members of the Muslim clergy to review the case of gays and lesbians based on the principles of compassion and fairness? Muslim scholarship has never been static, it has always responded dynamically to different situations in various times. It is mindful of the plight of its adherents and finds ways to alleviate their suffering as it has in the past by allowing transsexuals to undergo gender reassignment surgeries and by allowing intersexuals to marry members of either gender, based on their inner constitution. If societal taboos are cast aside, perhaps a very strong case for same sex unions could also be developed based on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence. The fact that Islamic jurisprudence recognizes sex as a basic need coupled with the rule that ‘Necessity trumps prohibition’ points toward a possible institution of Muslim same sex unions.

Both the clergy members and other professionals perhaps need to realize that gays and lesbians do not drop out of thin air but come from good homes where they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles apart from being teachers and students To use the words of a scholar, ‘They too stand in prayer by night and whole-heartedly spend in the way of God by day. They too love their neighbour the way they love their own selves. They might be nearer to God than many of the righteous we see around us.’ Clergy members, doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, activists and other experts may all need to realize that it is not for any conformity to nifty ideologies that this issue needs to be resolved but simply on the basis of compassion and fairness to people who, while being different, worship the same God as we do, who are our brothers and sisters in faith and as such deserve the same respect and rights (haqooq) as we do.


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8 Responses

  1. J. Smith at | | Reply

    Although coolly and clearly written, this essay deals with an incendiary topic. Thus, it is fortunate that the writer carefully bases the discussion in experiences familiar to almost everyone. In addition, our attention is directed to accepted authorities when we are asked to consider faith based principles of charity, social acceptance and respect.

    With broad strokes, this essay charts a spiritual journey that we might take, and the tasks to be done along the way when we do. Islam has the intellectual tools and precedents needed to leave behind destructive concepts and behaviors. Dealing with the issue of sexual identity and orientation, the essay is a healthy challenge.

  2. B. Khan at | | Reply

    Great article. It’s incredibly refreshing for this U.S.-based Pakistani reader to see a take on homosexuality that isn’t immediately negative or condemning. I look forward to future issues of Chay.

  3. Fakirs Canada at | | Reply

    Sin implies choice. Does anyone choose to be gay? I think not. Homosexuality may well indicate that something went wrong in the child’s development. Some studies suggest that exposure to hormones from birth control pills or other drugs while in the womb may have a significant influence on the child’s sexual orientation. So homosexuality cannot be said to be normal. But, to call it a sin is cruel. And cruelty is a sin.

  4. beenish at | | Reply

    wonderful article…..finally there are some people who can discuss such issues calmly rather agressively

    i represents many people but it will still take time for ANY society to accept such people around them.

  5. Shehzada at | | Reply

    It is certainly a reality that most of human traits are determined during the pregnancy, and using of pills as well as domination of mother’s sperm may decide the sexual orientation of the child. For instance, some females are very hairy due to high level of male hormones. On the contrary, some males have quite smooth with little or no hair on face, chest and other parts of body, and hence maintain low testorone level. Similarly, small and inadequate size of penis or breasts also reveals low sexual propensity towards the members of opposite gender, and inner inclinations towards the same sex. If a male has small size, which cannot satisfy a female, then should he spend his life in agony of loneliness provided he is neither allowed to masturbate, nor permitted for homosexual companionship, nor does he marries at all to reproduce through natural method. It is really startling state of affairs and must be pondered upon to remove the gloomy and disappointed situation of the humans.

  6. Shehzada at | | Reply

    Pakistan is the country of hypocrites, who secretly exploit both girls and boys for their sexual gratification and lust, but whenever their opinion regarding the honour of woman or homosexuality is required, they condemn sexual exploitation and extra-marital relations. The traditions vehemently abhor extra marital sexual relations of all types without discrimination, though forced sex is most condemnable one. It means even extra marital heterosexual relations are also forbidden and prohibited in Islam along with homosexual relations. Several traditions state that forced homosexual relationship, as was the custom of the people of Lot, is highly condemnable and shameful. Anyway, scholarly research and debate is required for that, as my opinion does not carry even the slightest weight.

    Regarding low testorone level, doctors and medical specialists could be consulted to remove physical, psychological and medical deficiencies through therapies, medications and other remedies.

  7. Phunk Factor at | | Reply

    When I first read this article a few days ago I couldn’t help but relate to it on so many levels. I remember when I first realized I was gay, I had so many questions for God and the people around me….but I was too scared to ask anyone because I thought I was the only one having these weird thoughts!

    I took to the Internet chatrooms just like the author did and found it littered with guys hunting for sexual gratification…..i had many questions that needed answering but the chat rooms opened even more questions for me to search an answer for…i couldn’t find answers for any of them anywhere and it drove my absolutely crazy!!!

    It was only with time that I started feeling easy with my situation and was not looking for a ‘cure’. It came from within but once I got easy, I realized that people around me won’t be kind to this development and fearing rejection I have ever since been carrying around this secret! Now I have simply stopped caring…i don’t care who thinks what about my sexuality….it’s my business and I’m going to deal with it as I please! It has changed my perception about the religion but I can’t separate myself from my beliefs or God. I can only hope and pray that people will realize that we’re not any different from straight people….and treat us with the same respect, love & care!

  8. Komal at | | Reply

    This article is well-intentioned, but comes across as conservative and heterocentric. For example, the claim that moral condemnation does not help to alleviate ‘an issue’ conversationally implies that homosexuality is a problem in need of alleviation. It also involves the use of the expression ‘differently oriented’, which sets up heterosexuality as the norm and defines homosexuality in relation to it.

    Additionally, the two main arguments are fallacious and concessionary toward homophobia and heteronormativity. The first is the argument: ‘homosexuality is innate, and homosexual sexual desire and romantic love are not under the volitional control of homosexual people; therefore, homosexual people should be accepted/homophobia is bad/homosexuality is morally acceptable’ (I’m not sure which of those the exact conclusion is, so I put all three). This is a fallacious argument that conflates the factual question of the origin of sexual orientations with the normative question of what sexual orientations or sexual behaviour are acceptable, and what human rights people of different orientations have. If homosexuality is morally okay or good, then why does it matter (to the morality of it) whether it is innate or not? And why does the origin of the orientation matter at all to whether or not we have human rights?

    Suppose it was a choice: so what? And suppose it could be changed: so what? Surely nobody thinks that all characteristics that are the result of choice are bad. And surely nobody thinks that anything that can be changed ought to be changed just because it can be. One would have to presuppose that homosexuality is bad to conclude that making the choice to be homosexual is bad, and that presupposition is what we should be challenging.

    The second argument is an appeal to the religiosity of homosexual people. While many of us are spiritual and religious, not all of us are. There are homosexual atheists and agnostics, as well as homosexuals who are rather dry and not particularly interested in matters of the spirit. Further, even among those of us who are spiritual, not all are Muslims. The important thing is that we do not have to be any of these things in order to have basic human rights. Our human rights do not depend on our being amazing characters or admirable people: they depend on our having a basically human consciousness and being, and being members of a community within which these rights are manifest. Even if we were all wretched and vicious, we would still have the same rights as straight people. And we do not need to plead for these rights being respected or for people accepting us: we can rightly demand it, and the burden is on everyone else to respect us and not to violate our rights.

    A final small point: while all of us (people in general) are similar in some respects, we are not all the same, and we do not have to be to be deserving of fair treatment and respect. Gay people ARE different from straight people (in some ways anyway), but this doesn’t make it okay for them to oppress us.

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