Quranic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle

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I.     Introduction

Islam, like oth­er major world reli­gions (with the very recent excep­tion of cer­tain lib­er­al denom­i­na­tions in the West), pro­hibits cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly all forms of same-sex erot­ic behav­ior.[1] Schol­ars have dif­fered over ques­tions of how par­tic­u­lar same-sex acts should be tech­ni­cal­ly cat­e­go­rized and/or pun­ished, but have nev­er dif­fered over the fact of their pro­hi­bi­tion. The full and unbro­ken Islam­ic con­sen­sus on this issue embraces all record­ed legal schools, the­o­log­i­cal per­sua­sions, and his­tor­i­cal­ly doc­u­ment­ed sec­tar­i­an divi­sions.

The evi­den­tiary basis under­ly­ing Islam’s cat­e­gor­i­cal pro­hi­bi­tion of liwāṭ (sodomy) and oth­er same-sex behav­iors lies in explic­it pro­scrip­tive state­ments of the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth, the trans­mit­ted con­sen­sus of the Prophet’s Com­pan­ions and Suc­ces­sors, and the doc­u­ment­ed una­nim­i­ty of the Islam­ic legal tra­di­tion through­out the ages. Notwith­stand­ing, the past decade and a half has wit­nessed the rise of Mus­lim reformist voic­es, pri­mar­i­ly in the West, chal­leng­ing Islam’s pro­scrip­tion of homo­sex­u­al activ­i­ty and call­ing for the reli­gious affir­ma­tion of same-gen­der sex­u­al expres­sion, rela­tion­ships, and iden­ti­ties. This chal­lenge has con­sist­ed not only in a ques­tion­ing of the pro­ba­tive val­ue of the rel­e­vant ḥadīth evi­dence and a dis­re­gard for juris­tic and wider com­mu­ni­ty con­sen­sus, but also in the asser­tion that the Qurʾān itself does not pro­hib­it same-sex rela­tions per se, but only homo­sex­u­al rape moti­vat­ed by inhos­pi­tal­i­ty with intent to dis­hon­or. It has been fur­ther argued that the Qurʾān should not be tak­en to pro­hib­it same-sex behav­iors cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly since it does not specif­i­cal­ly address the abstract mod­ern con­cept of “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” as an ori­en­ta­tion or, for that mat­ter, the notion of “sex­u­al iden­ti­ty” more broad­ly.

The present arti­cle attends to such revi­sion­ist read­ings of the Qurʾān, par­tic­u­lar­ly as per­tains to revi­sion­ist efforts to accom­mo­date homo­erot­ic behav­ior as reli­gious­ly per­mis­si­ble in Islam. Although a fair amount of research and effort have gone into address­ing the Islam­ic tradition’s treat­ment of homo­erot­ic behav­ior, analy­sis has often cen­tered on juridi­cal dis­cus­sions con­cern­ing pun­ish­ment,[2] medieval poet­ry,[3] and exeget­i­cal texts.[4] The only sus­tained attempt to argue for the per­mis­si­bil­i­ty of same-sex acts in Islam to date has come from Scott Kugle in both his con­tri­bu­tion to the 2003 anthol­o­gy Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims: On Jus­tice, Gen­der, and Plu­ral­ism, enti­tled “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics in the Agen­da of Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims,” and his lat­er book Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam: Crit­i­cal Reflec­tion on Gay, Les­bian, and Trans­gen­der Mus­lims (2010). Though this arti­cle will address both simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, Kugle refers the read­er in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam back to his pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished piece in Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims for his full argu­ment on cer­tain points. Accord­ing­ly, Kugle’s Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims piece will con­sti­tute the focus of this study, with Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam serv­ing as a point of depar­ture for addi­tion­al argu­ments not con­tained in, or altered since, the ear­li­er piece.

The cur­rent arti­cle begins by eval­u­at­ing the con­cep­tu­al basis for Kugle’s Qurʾānic revi­sion­ism. This includes his deploy­ment of the notion of “sex­u­al­i­ty,” Islam’s pur­port­ed “sex pos­i­tiv­i­ty,” and the Qurʾān’s cel­e­bra­tion of diver­si­ty, to which Kugle attempts to assim­i­late a diver­si­ty in sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions and relat­ed prac­tices. After eval­u­at­ing this foun­da­tion, we pro­ceed to review Kugle’s cri­tique of the tafsīr tra­di­tion, and in par­tic­u­lar the inter­pre­ta­tion of the Lot[5] nar­ra­tives record­ed in the work of the famous ear­ly exegete Muḥam­mad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923). From this, we tran­si­tion into Kugle’s pro­posed revi­sion­ist hermeneu­tic, which makes use of both what he calls a “seman­tic analy­sis” and a “the­mat­ic analy­sis,” eval­u­at­ing the sources used to devel­op both heuris­tics. Final­ly, we review the con­tri­bu­tions of the dis­tin­guished Andalu­sian jurist and bel­letrist Ibn Ḥazm of Cor­do­ba (d. 456/1064), whose approach and lit­er­al­ist method­ol­o­gy Kugle claims to endorse. The read­er should note that the present arti­cle fol­lows Kugle’s own order of pre­sen­ta­tion (par­tic­u­lar­ly in his 2003 piece), which con­tains a num­ber of pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions pri­or to tak­ing up the ques­tion of the peo­ple of Lot in the Qurʾān. Accord­ing­ly, rough­ly the first half of this arti­cle attends to Kugle’s con­cep­tu­al, ter­mi­no­log­i­cal, and oth­er pre­lim­i­nar­ies, while the sec­ond half (as of “IV. Kugle and the Qurʾān” below) ana­lyzes his attempt­ed reread­ing of the Lot nar­ra­tive.

II.     Sexual Orientation, Homosexuality, and Sexuality as Categories

In his Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims chap­ter, Kugle begins by artic­u­lat­ing the “inte­gral rela­tion­ship between spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and sex­u­al­i­ty,”[6] lat­er posit­ing Islam as a “sex-pos­i­tive”[7] reli­gion, par­tic­u­lar­ly when com­pared to oth­er, osten­si­bly more repres­sive and prud­ish, faiths. Kugle but­tress­es this view of a pur­port­ed­ly sex-pos­i­tive Islam on the basis of sev­er­al con­sid­er­a­tions, includ­ing: (1) the inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty of sex­u­al­i­ty and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty in Islam; (2) the Qurʾān’s treat­ment of the Adam­ic fall as result­ing from a shared fail­ing of both Adam and Eve, rather than from sex or sex­u­al desire per se; and (3) the Qurʾān’s affir­ma­tion of “diver­si­ty” as part of God’s signs, a diver­si­ty which Kugle will argue should be extend­ed to diverse sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions and relat­ed erot­ic prac­tices.

Kugle pro­ceeds to affirm sex­u­al­i­ty as “an indi­ca­tor of our core being, a sex­u­al­i­ty which inter­weaves thoughts, desires, moti­va­tions, acts and psy­cho­log­i­cal and men­tal well-being,” a def­i­n­i­tion bor­rowed from Momin Rahman’s Sex­u­al­i­ty and Democ­ra­cy.[8] Kugle lat­er points to the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­tin­gency of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty as a cat­e­go­ry, engag­ing with essen­tial­ist and con­struc­tion­ist respons­es to the homo/hetero bina­ry and sug­gest­ing “queer” (in the 2003 piece) as a supe­ri­or neol­o­gism for describ­ing “sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions and prac­tices”[9] that are dis­tinct from the more com­mon het­ero­nor­ma­tive sex­u­al­i­ty.[10] A sim­i­lar argu­ment appears in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, where Kugle remarks (cor­rect­ly) that the Islam­ic tra­di­tion nev­er expressed a con­cep­tion of “sex­u­al­i­ty” that exact­ly par­al­lels mod­ern psy­cho-social cat­e­gories, in which one’s sex­u­al­i­ty is inter­pret­ed as a psy­cho­log­i­cal mark­er and a cen­tral part of one’s being.[11]

Kugle uncrit­i­cal­ly endors­es con­tem­po­rary terms and cat­e­gories relat­ed to sex and sex­u­al iden­ti­ties[12] that stand at the core of his entire argu­ment. Yet the will­ing­ness to approach such cat­e­gories from a crit­i­cal per­spec­tive is an unavoid­able pre­req­ui­site for any seri­ous dis­cus­sion of the rela­tion­ship between the Sharīʿa and same-sex acts in Islam. Kugle is cor­rect to note that the homo/hetero bina­ry is a recent one and can be account­ed for as a prod­uct of moder­ni­ty. In this regard, one in fact finds a lay­er of com­plex­i­ty when address­ing the enter­prise of “sex­u­al­i­ty” in the pre-mod­ern tra­di­tion (both Islam­ic and oth­er­wise) that is con­sid­er­ably more nuanced than the con­tem­po­rary West­ern notions of “sex­u­al­i­ty” and “queer” that Kugle endors­es. In both the notions of “sex­u­al­i­ty” and “queer,” there is an undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed con­glom­er­a­tion of desires, moti­va­tions, psy­cho­log­i­cal well-being and, cru­cial­ly, acts. These def­i­n­i­tions elide any mean­ing­ful dis­tinc­tion between incli­na­tions and behavior—the very dis­tinc­tion which is, how­ev­er, most rel­e­vant to the dis­course and moral val­u­a­tion of the Sharīʿa. In addi­tion, Kugle treats sex­u­al­i­ty and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion as pre­de­ter­mined, essen­tial, and immutable, a claim dis­put­ed even in con­tem­po­rary queer stud­ies cir­cles.[13] Though the exact date of the emer­gence of the homo/hetero bina­ry is dif­fi­cult to pin­point, his­to­ri­ans tend to agree that it emerged some­time in the late 19th cen­tu­ry.[14] Some con­struc­tion­ist schol­ars have fur­ther argued that the con­cep­tu­al cat­e­gories of “gay” and “straight” were devel­oped in order more clear­ly to locate sex­u­al irreg­u­lar­i­ty as a dis­tinct psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion.[15]

Though not the main focus of this paper, it is impor­tant to dis­tin­guish between the con­struc­tion­ist and essen­tial­ist approach­es pre­cise­ly because of the way in which Kugle employs the con­test­ed essen­tial­ist con­cep­tion of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in ser­vice of his project, a con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion that can only anachro­nis­ti­cal­ly be applied to the Islam­ic tra­di­tion.[16] Although Kugle acknowl­edges debates over the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­tin­gency of the term “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” and the cor­re­spond­ing con­cep­tu­al cat­e­go­ry, he ulti­mate­ly endors­es “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” and “het­ero­sex­u­al­i­ty” as ade­quate cat­e­gories for con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal make­up of human beings in the sex­u­al and affec­tive realms. Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is pre­sent­ed as nat­ur­al and fun­da­men­tal­ly innate to one’s make­up. Accord­ing­ly, just as God cre­at­ed all human beings with defin­able char­ac­ter­is­tics that are cel­e­brat­ed as part of this God-giv­en diver­si­ty (e.g., vari­a­tion in col­or, gen­der, etc.), so too should homosexuality—though not, con­spic­u­ous­ly, bisex­u­al­i­ty[17]—be cel­e­brat­ed as yet anoth­er dis­crete trait demon­stra­tive of human diver­si­ty. More­over, because homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is pre­sent­ed as an entrenched psy­chic state that lies “deep in the core of the human per­son­al­i­ty,”[18] cri­tiquing it as “un-Islam­ic” would, for Kugle, be akin to denounc­ing a person’s skin col­or or gen­der as un-Islam­ic: just as one can­not select one’s bio­log­i­cal sex or the pig­men­ta­tion of one’s skin, one does not choose his or her sex­u­al dis­po­si­tion.

In eval­u­at­ing this set of claims, we must begin by ask­ing what is meant by Kugle’s descrip­tion of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty as innate or nat­ur­al. If by nat­ur­al Kugle is refer­ring to the pop­u­lar claim of genet­ic sub­stan­ti­a­tion (he alludes vague­ly to the claimed find­ings of mod­ern sci­ence with­out, how­ev­er, cit­ing any par­tic­u­lar stud­ies),[19] it should be not­ed that there exists no proven defin­i­tive epi­ge­net­ic mark­ing that cor­re­lates to same-sex attrac­tion or that sup­ports the notion of straight­for­ward bio­log­i­cal deter­min­ism for sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion.[20] Even if research were to appear at some point iden­ti­fy­ing a genet­ic mark­er that cor­re­sponds to same-sex attrac­tion, it is unclear by what prin­ci­ple such a cor­re­spon­dence could be used as a moral jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for act­ing upon said genet­ic pre­dis­po­si­tions in Islam­ic Law. A recent study claims, in fact, that human males have a “genet­ic, evo­lu­tion­ary impulse to cheat.”[21] Should Islam—or any oth­er eth­i­cal sys­tem for that matter—therefore per­mit adul­ter­ous rela­tions on the basis of this find­ing? Com­ment­ing on this study, Daniel Haqiqatjou asks, “Based on this, would there be a need to cat­e­go­rize peo­ple into iden­ti­ty groups or com­mu­ni­ties based on that [i.e., a genet­ic propen­si­ty for cheat­ing]? For exam­ple, would those with a greater pull to cheat self-iden­ti­fy as “extra­sex­u­als” with every­one else iden­ti­fy­ing as “intra­sex­u­als”? Would there be “extra­sex­u­al pride parades” and an “extra­sex­u­al rights move­ment” that would demand that Islam­ic and Catholic schools make space for “alter­na­tive (read, ‘adul­ter­ous’) lifestyles” and give voice to loud and proud cheaters? Would refusal by these insti­tu­tions then be stig­ma­tized as “extra­pho­bia”?”[22]

Alter­na­tive­ly, if what is meant by the claim that homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is nat­ur­al or innate is that peo­ple with same-sex attrac­tions expe­ri­ence those feel­ings out­side of their per­son­al elec­tion and con­trol, then it can read­i­ly be con­ced­ed that peo­ple do not gen­er­al­ly choose their dom­i­nant sex­u­al attrac­tion. How­ev­er, feel­ings that arise inde­pen­dent of one’s con­scious choice are not imme­di­ate­ly deemed “nat­ur­al” in many oth­er instances, and if they are, it is cer­tain­ly not, for that rea­son, auto­mat­i­cal­ly deemed moral­ly valid that they be act­ed upon. In fact, the Islam­ic tra­di­tion often speaks of temp­ta­tion as stem­ming from the self (nafs)—an ingrained part of one’s being if there ever was one—and the over­tures of the self are char­ac­ter­ized as requir­ing dis­ci­pline and con­trol. For exam­ple, God states in the Qurʾān that man was cre­at­ed “anx­ious” (halūʿ)[23] and “weak” (ḍaʿīf).[24] Else­where, He says that man is a crea­ture made “of haste” (min ʿajal).[25] And in a ḥadīth, the Prophet (pbuh) is report­ed to have stat­ed that the Fire is sur­round­ed by temp­ta­tion and desires (ḥuf­fat al-nār bi’l-shahawāt).[26] Accord­ing to anoth­er ḥadīth, the Angel Gabriel was com­mand­ed to look at the Fire, after which he said to God, “By Thy Hon­or, none shall enter it.” God then ordered that the Fire be sur­round­ed by plea­sures and instruct­ed the Angel to look at it once more. Upon see­ing the temp­ta­tion and plea­sures sur­round­ing the Fire, Gabriel remarked, “By Thy Hon­or, I fear none shall be saved from it but that all shall enter it.”[27] Despite con­sti­tut­ing part of our human dis­po­si­tion, temp­ta­tions, the over­tures of the nafs, and our inher­ent impa­tience and anx­i­ety are not things that we may use as an excuse to suc­cumb to sin. Oppo­site-sex attrac­tion, for exam­ple, is expe­ri­enced by most men and women, but its pres­ence does not legit­i­mate casu­al inti­ma­cy, kiss­ing, or even hug­ging, for that mat­ter, out­side of an Islam­i­cal­ly valid legal rela­tion­ship. Addi­tion­al­ly, the impulse to lie, steal, or cheat may strike reg­u­lar­ly and with­out con­sul­ta­tion. All such impuls­es may be con­ceived of in some way as “nat­ur­al” (and they cer­tain­ly befall us absent any con­scious choice), yet act­ing on them is nonethe­less pro­hib­it­ed. As such, indi­vid­u­als strug­gling with same-sex desires may take com­fort in know­ing that they are not unique in being bur­dened with pow­er­ful dri­ves that nonethe­less must be dis­ci­plined and restrained.

In addi­tion, we must rec­og­nize the cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal con­tin­gency of the con­cept of “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” as a mod­ern West­ern devel­op­ment. Did pre-mod­ern peo­ples ever con­ceive of them­selves as “het­ero­sex­u­al” or “homo­sex­u­al”? Did sex­u­al pro­cliv­i­ties ever enter into their con­cep­tion of self? If we take what has been reg­is­tered in his­tor­i­cal record seri­ous­ly, then the answer to both ques­tions is “no.” This is not to say that pre-mod­ern per­sons did not write about love or pos­sess sex­u­al incli­na­tions (even ones direct­ed to the same sex), but rather to say that the pres­ence of those desires was nev­er viewed as con­sti­tu­tive of one’s very iden­ti­ty. By con­trast, mod­ern West­ern soci­eties pigeon­hole indi­vid­u­als at a young age into one of two (or more) sex­u­al “ori­en­ta­tions” that they must self-iden­ti­fy as at the risk of being “inau­then­tic” to the very “core of who they are.”

Mus­lims soci­eties also dif­fer from the mod­ern West in that, in a great many times and places, they seem not to have found the pres­ence of (at least cer­tain kinds of) homo­erot­ic desires par­tic­u­lar­ly excep­tion­al, and often ver­si­fied their per­va­sive­ness and allure in medieval poetry—a real­i­ty Kugle acknowl­edges when he states, “When one looks through the his­tor­i­cal and lit­er­ary records of Islam­ic civ­i­liza­tion, one finds a rich archive of same-sex sex­u­al desires and expres­sions, writ­ten by or report­ed about respect­ed mem­bers of soci­ety.”[28] Such attrac­tions gen­er­al­ly took the form of adult male infat­u­a­tion with a “beard­less youth,” or amrad (pl., murd / mur­dān), who had not yet out­grown the fin­er physique and smooth skin of a male not yet ful­ly matured.[29] (Adult male-male sex­u­al desire and expres­sion are, by com­par­i­son, rel­a­tive­ly mar­gin­al in this same lit­er­a­ture.) A crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion Kugle fails to men­tion, how­ev­er, is that Mus­lim schol­ars nev­er affirmed homo­erot­ic behav­ior—as clear and dis­tinct from homo­erot­ic attrac­tions—to be any­thing oth­er than rig­or­ous­ly pro­hib­it­ed (ḥarām) from a nor­ma­tive reli­gious per­spec­tive. Indeed, the very fig­ure that Kugle ref­er­ences in his cita­tions, Muḥam­mad b. Dāwūd al-Ẓāhirī (d. 297/909), son of the epony­mous founder of the Ẓāhirī legal school who wrote the Kitāb al-Zahra and lat­er con­fessed unre­quit­ed feel­ings of love for a young male com­pan­ion of his, nev­er act­ed on the desires he pos­sessed. Instead, the Kitāb al-Zahra insists on the impor­tance of gov­ern­ing one’s sex­u­al desires through pious restraint and speaks of the “mar­tyr­dom of chasti­ty.”[30] In a very real sense, Ibn Dāwūd al-Ẓāhirī may present an ear­ly paragon for many Mus­lims strug­gling with same-sex attrac­tion today as he con­ced­ed his own affec­tion for anoth­er male yet, despite those propul­sions, main­tained God-con­scious­ness (taqwā) and remained moral­ly upright by refus­ing to express such feel­ings in the form of pro­hib­it­ed acts of phys­i­cal con­sum­ma­tion. This con­duct in the face of moral strug­gle is often not­ed in al-Ẓāhirī’s biogra­phies as a point of praise, with some cit­ing a con­test­ed tra­di­tion of the Prophet Muḥam­mad (pbuh) that states, “Who­ev­er loves pas­sion­ate­ly (ʿashiqa) but remains chaste, patient, and keeps his love a secret and dies, dies as a mar­tyr,”[31] a tra­di­tion that al-Ẓāhirī would recount on his death bed.[32]

Like Ibn Dāwūd al-Ẓāhirī, Ibn Ḥazm, a fel­low mem­ber of the Ẓāhirī school, wrote his own bel­letris­tic work on the top­ic of love enti­tled Ṭawq al-ḥamā­ma, or The Ring of the Dove. In this work, Ibn Ḥazm attends not only to male-female sex­u­al attrac­tion, but to male-male and male-boy attrac­tion as well, a fact that Kugle adduces as part of his revi­sion­ist argu­ment in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam. The pres­ence of this con­tent in Ṭawq al-ḥamā­ma has led to spec­u­la­tion on the part of some West­ern schol­ars that Ibn Ḥazm was him­self a “homo­sex­u­al” inso­far as his dom­i­nant sex­u­al attrac­tions were con­cerned.[33] Be that as it may, Ibn Ḥazm was unwa­ver­ing in his com­mit­ment to the cat­e­gor­i­cal Qurʾānic pro­hi­bi­tion of same-sex behav­iors affirmed by the con­sen­sus view of Mus­lim schol­ar­ship, as not­ed by Lois A. Gif­f­en in “Ibn Hazm and the Tawq al-Hama­ma,” where she says:

Ibn Hazm, in deal­ing with cas­es of love, makes no essen­tial dif­fer­ence between instances of pas­sion­ate attachment—man for man (or youth), boy for girl, man for woman (or maid­en), or vice ver­sa. (Homo­erot­ic attach­ments between women are not a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion.) As long as a sto­ry reveals some aspect of the nature of love and the psy­chol­o­gy of lovers, it is most valu­able grist for his mill. Whether the behav­iour [empha­sis mine] of the lover or the lovers has his approval, sym­pa­thy, pity or con­dem­na­tion is quite anoth­er thing.[34]

Camil­la Adang reach­es much the same con­clu­sion as Gif­f­en in her review of Ṭawq al-ḥamā­ma, where she states that Ibn Ḥazm held that the only “law­ful form of inter­course for a man is with­in wed­lock, or with a slave-woman he owns. For a woman, only inter­course with her hus­band is law­ful.”[35] Of note is not sim­ply that Ibn Dāwūd al-Ẓāhirī and Ibn Ḥazm main­tained this con­sen­sus view on lic­it and illic­it sex­u­al behav­iors in Islam, but that nei­ther of them seem to have viewed homoerotic—and specif­i­cal­ly pederastic—sentiments as par­tic­u­lar­ly aber­rant in and of them­selves. On the con­trary, both were only too aware of their pres­ence, but were con­cerned more point­ed­ly with main­tain­ing the behav­ioral stan­dards of sex­u­al con­duct estab­lished by rev­e­la­tion, which calls for chasti­ty as a rule and which per­mits sex­u­al rela­tions only with­in explic­it­ly delin­eat­ed, legal­ly defined rela­tion­ships between a male and a female. We will revis­it Ibn Ḥazm in a forth­com­ing sec­tion, as his view that male-male anal inter­course (liwāṭ)—though cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly prohibited—does not con­sti­tute a ḥadd crime fig­ures promi­nent­ly in Kugle’s argu­men­ta­tion in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam.

III.     Sexuality in the Islamic Discursive Tradition

As dis­cussed in the pre­ced­ing sec­tion, the con­cep­tu­al frame­work of the Sharīʿa presents an under­stand­ing of sex­u­al desire and con­duct that diverges con­sid­er­ably from essen­tial­ist notions of ori­en­ta­tion and dis­po­si­tion cur­rent­ly pop­u­lar in the West. Far from being pre­de­ter­mined or immutable, sex­u­al predilec­tions are con­ceived with­in a frame­work that accounts for their gen­er­al het­ero­gene­ity vis-à-vis human expe­ri­ence. Indeed, any indi­vid­ual may feel attrac­tion toward anoth­er, and the pres­ence of that desire is not essen­tial­ized into any defin­ing iden­ti­ty. Rather, eth­i­cal val­u­a­tions focus on what remains with­in the purview and con­cern of the Sacred Law, name­ly, gov­ern­able actions. Such actions, how­ev­er, include actions of the heart and mind (aʿmāl al-qalb), since one’s thoughts are essen­tial to inter­nal­iz­ing prop­er con­duct as they influ­ence both a person’s actions and his soul. It is in this regard that Mus­lim schol­ars have empha­sized the impor­tance of self-con­scious­ly align­ing one’s thoughts with the Will of God. Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111) states in his famous tract on hap­pi­ness, “The aim of moral dis­ci­pline is to puri­fy the heart from the rust of pas­sion and resent­ment, till, like a clear mir­ror, it reflects the light of God.”[36] In a ḥadīth report­ed in mul­ti­ple col­lec­tions, the Prophet (pbuh) is report­ed to have spec­i­fied how God adju­di­cates the deeds of man: intend­ing a good deed and per­form­ing it earns man­i­fold rewards, intend­ing a good deed but not being able to car­ry it out earns a sin­gle reward, intend­ing to sin but then refrain­ing for the sake of God earns a sin­gle reward, while intend­ing to sin and fol­low­ing through with it earns a sin­gle pun­ish­ment.[37] In com­ment­ing on this ḥadīth, Ibn Rajab al-Ḥan­balī (d. 795/1393) remarks that the reward for one intend­ing a sin that he does not car­ry out is exclu­sive­ly for the one who aban­dons this sin for the sake of God.[38] He fur­ther delin­eates that the intent behind aban­don­ing the sin could itself con­sti­tute a sin­ful deed, even with no accom­pa­ny­ing act of the limbs, such as when a per­son leaves a sin mere­ly for fear of what peo­ple might think.[39] More­over, even one who intends to sin and allows that inten­tion to set­tle in his heart such that it becomes a firm res­o­lu­tion but lat­er aban­dons that intent with­out rea­son may be con­sid­ered sin­ful, for allow­ing the sin to set­tle con­sti­tutes an act of the heart. Ibn Rajab reg­is­ters diver­gent views among the schol­ars on this issue.[40] But schol­ars did not stop at sim­ply cau­tion­ing against sin­ful thoughts; they stressed the impor­tance of praise­wor­thy ones as well. Accord­ing­ly, hav­ing a good opin­ion of God (ḥusn al-ẓann bi’Llāh) was some­thing the Prophet (pbuh) urged upon believ­ers, instruct­ing us to be con­fi­dent in God’s response to our prayers[41] and nev­er to lose hope in God’s Mer­cy.[42] Thoughts and inter­nal mus­ings, there­fore, are hard­ly with­out con­se­quence, and though one may not nec­es­sar­i­ly have com­plete juris­dic­tion over his or her thoughts, the deci­sion to fix­ate upon those thoughts or to dis­pel them is, in prin­ci­ple, amenable to con­trol. This ongo­ing process of self-reg­u­la­tion and cog­ni­tive eval­u­a­tion is cen­tral to the Islam­ic moral and spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion, where the prac­tice of spir­i­tu­al mat­u­ra­tion focus­es on shep­herd­ing peo­ple to a place where they come to con­ceive of the world in a way that coin­cides with the demands of faith and the plea­sure of God Almighty.

To be clear, I am not sug­gest­ing that some­one can sim­ply “think” him­self out of spon­ta­neous same-sex desires, but instead posit­ing that the poten­cy and fre­quen­cy of those desires can be atten­u­at­ed to make the moral and spir­i­tu­al strug­gle a more man­age­able one. When, how­ev­er, one accepts “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” not only as a sub­stan­tive con­cep­tu­al cat­e­go­ry but as a cen­tral mark­er of one’s very iden­ti­ty, then the need to reg­u­late or some­how tem­per one’s same-sex desires will inevitably be con­ceived of, and inter­nal­ized as, liv­ing with a “dou­ble con­scious­ness” or “being unfaith­ful to one’s true self,” if not down­right “oppres­sive.” But if we dis­pense with the con­tin­gent cat­e­go­ry of an essen­tial­iz­ing homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, then indi­vid­u­als spon­ta­neous­ly expe­ri­enc­ing same-sex attrac­tion can more read­i­ly sit­u­ate their own strug­gle with­in the con­text of sim­i­lar strug­gles, and not con­ceive of it as an excep­tion­al con­di­tion call­ing either for espe­cial stigma­ti­za­tion, on the one hand, or full embrace and “val­i­da­tion” on pain of being “untrue to one’s core self,” on the oth­er. For this rea­son, Mus­lims should reject the essen­tial­iz­ing and con­fin­ing cat­e­go­ry of “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” (and its many cog­nates) altogether—particularly when tout­ed as the basis of a per­son­al “gay” or “queer” iden­ti­ty (as opposed to being strict­ly descrip­tive of one’s sex­u­al inclinations)—and instead remain faith­ful to the more flex­i­ble, and truer, con­cep­tu­al cat­e­gories under­ly­ing Islam’s own dis­cur­sive approach to sex­u­al­i­ty.

Unlike con­tem­po­rary West­ern notions of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, the tax­on­o­my of the Qurʾān and Sun­na reflects not a par­tic­u­lar set of con­tin­gent, his­tor­i­cal­ly and social­ly bound sen­si­bil­i­ties, but rather estab­lish­es an inde­pen­dent, divine­ly insti­tut­ed con­cep­tu­al and nor­ma­tive frame­work for guid­ing Mus­lims’ approach to ques­tions of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty in any age. Terms such as shah­wa (desire), fāḥisha (iniq­ui­ty, gross inde­cen­cy), farj (sex­u­al organs), buḍʿ (gen­i­talia; inter­course), liwāṭ (sodomy), maʾbūn (the recep­tive part­ner in homo­sex­u­al sodomy), ḥarth (tillage), nikāḥ (mar­riage), nasl (fam­i­ly lin­eage), ʿif­fa (con­ti­nence, chasti­ty), and oth­er terms are all indige­nous to the Islam­ic dis­cur­sive tra­di­tion as based on rev­e­la­tion and, there­fore, right­ly deter­mine the frame of ref­er­ence in terms of which Mus­lims have always nav­i­gat­ed ques­tions of desire, sex­u­al acts (same-sex or oth­er­wise), chasti­ty, and relat­ed mat­ters. Kugle protests the use of the terms liwāṭ (‘sodomy’) and lūṭī (‘sodomite’) in Islam­ic legal lit­er­a­ture as run­ning con­trary to a lit­er­al com­mit­ment to the Qurʾān. Although he is cor­rect that the Qurʾān does not employ the spe­cif­ic nouns liwāṭ or lūṭī, let alone con­tain a spe­cif­ic term direct­ly cor­re­spond­ing to “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” as a mod­ern social con­struct under­stood to reflect the “core of one’s iden­ti­ty,” this argu­ment is lit­tle more than a red her­ring. The Qurʾān also con­tains no terms that exact­ly ren­der con­tem­po­rary notions of “rape,” “con­sent,” and “sex­u­al assault,” but sure­ly Kugle would reject the alle­ga­tion that any talk of a nor­ma­tive Qurʾānic per­spec­tive on these top­ics amounts to no more than an ille­git­i­mate pro­jec­tion onto the text that runs con­trary to a com­mit­ment to the “lit­er­al speci­fici­ty of the Qur’an as rev­e­la­tion.”[43] The fact that the Qurʾān does not use spe­cif­ic terms cor­re­spond­ing direct­ly to mod­ern-day “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” and “sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion” does not, there­fore, mean that it con­tains no nor­ma­tive doc­trine relat­ed to the sub­stan­tive con­tent implic­it in these terms.

More to the point, Kugle nowhere jus­ti­fies how the abstract, sub­jec­tive, and cul­tur­al­ly con­tin­gent notion of “sex­u­al iden­ti­ty” can jus­ti­fi­ably be wield­ed to over­ride an explic­it tex­tu­al pro­hi­bi­tion of dis­crete sex­u­al acts that Mus­lims con­sid­er to be divine­ly revealed (and hence objec­tive, absolute, and unchang­ing). The fact of the mat­ter is that the Islam­ic tra­di­tion employs no term for dis­tin­guish­ing per­sons exclu­sive­ly on the basis of inter­nal sex­u­al desire or “ori­en­ta­tion.” Per­sons are not brand­ed as for­ni­ca­tors mere­ly on account of their desire to for­ni­cate. Like­wise, per­sons who expe­ri­ence same-sex attrac­tions are not brand­ed with any unique label, sin­gled out from all oth­er types of persons—whether, as we have stat­ed, for the pur­pos­es of pathol­o­giza­tion and stigma­ti­za­tion or for those of cel­e­bra­tion and “affir­ma­tion.” Although the com­par­i­son between for­ni­ca­tion and homo­sex­u­al behav­ior may be per­ceived as offen­sive to cur­rent West­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties, Islam­ic norms and sen­si­bil­i­ties con­sid­er all forms of mis­di­rect­ed attrac­tion as unde­sir­able. Addi­tion­al­ly, because rev­e­la­tion and the Sharīʿa based on it are exclu­sive­ly pre­oc­cu­pied with objec­tive acts and not with vague, sub­jec­tive notions of ori­en­ta­tion or dis­po­si­tion, the pre­dom­i­na­tion of cer­tain desires over oth­ers is imma­te­r­i­al in deter­min­ing the legal qual­i­fi­ca­tion (ḥukm) assigned to objec­tive dis­crete acts. Indeed, in the realm of sex­u­al­i­ty, the car­di­nal legal axiom (qāʿi­da fiqhiyya) regard­ing sex­u­al behav­ior in Islam­ic Law is: al-aṣl fī al-abḍāʿ al-taḥrīm, that is, all sex­u­al acts are pro­hib­it­ed by default except those explic­it­ly per­mit­ted by Sacred Law.[44] Accord­ing­ly, even per­sons who expe­ri­ence unelect­ed and exclu­sive same-sex attractions—such that mar­riage, for instance, may not be a viable option for them giv­en their lack of any erot­ic attrac­tion to the oppo­site sex—are nev­er­the­less sub­ject to the objec­tive para­me­ters of the Law and required to observe absti­nence if nec­es­sary. The prospect of absti­nence has been char­ac­ter­ized by some revi­sion­ists as undu­ly onerous—even prej­u­di­cial­ly burdensome—on per­sons who expe­ri­ence same-sex desires and attrac­tions, but in real­i­ty the sit­u­a­tion of such per­sons is not cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from the require­ment of celiba­cy that applies to mul­ti­tudes of peo­ple who are unable to mar­ry for any num­ber of rea­sons. Not every desire has a per­mis­si­ble out­let, and there are many cir­cum­stances that may pre­vent indi­vid­u­als from being able to reg­u­lar­ize sex­u­al rela­tion­ships even in oppo­site-sex con­texts (pover­ty, dis­ease, looks, hap­pen­stance, etc.). To men­tion an exam­ple that has received some atten­tion as of late, Mus­lim women liv­ing in the West have lament­ed a num­ber of fac­tors that have con­tributed to the recent emer­gence of spin­ster­hood: unsup­port­ive par­ents, a rapid­ly clos­ing win­dow for fer­til­i­ty, and few eli­gi­ble Mus­lim bach­e­lors.[45] Giv­en these cir­cum­stances, should Mus­lims aban­don the juris­tic con­sen­sus pro­hibit­ing Mus­lim women from mar­ry­ing out­side the faith? The answer is “no.” Like per­sons expe­ri­enc­ing same-sex attrac­tions, such per­sons fall under the oblig­a­tion to pre­serve their chasti­ty, abide by the dic­tates of the Sacred Law, and observe absti­nence.

Addi­tion­al­ly, because Kugle is con­cerned with sub­jec­tive notions of dis­po­si­tion and ori­en­ta­tion, he fails to account for the myr­i­ad terms indige­nous to the Islam­ic tra­di­tion that are used in ref­er­ence to acts that today would be referred to as “homo­sex­u­al,” includ­ing ʿamal qawm Lūṭ (‘the act of the peo­ple of Lot’), liwāṭ (‘sodomy’), mulāwaṭa (syn­onym of liwāṭ), and oth­er such vari­ants that cor­re­late the sex­u­al indis­cre­tions of Sodom to those that resem­bled them after­wards, name­ly, homo­sex­u­al inter­course between men. One would, in effect, have to dis­miss the entire cor­pus of Islam­ic schol­ar­ship if each and every term employed there­in required explic­it spec­i­fi­ca­tion in the Qurʾān with no lat­i­tude for alter­na­tives. “Uṣūl,” “sun­na,” “ḥadīth,” “fiqh,” and numer­ous oth­er tech­ni­cal terms indige­nous to the Islam­ic sci­ences are not men­tioned in their wide­ly known tech­ni­cal sens­es in the Qurʾān, yet no one would doubt their legit­i­ma­cy and appro­pri­ate­ness for con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing and nam­ing cen­tral aspects of Islam­ic reli­gious dis­course. Terms such as “liwāṭ” and “lūṭī” are no excep­tion.

Kugle objects that the terms liwāṭ/lūṭī were pop­u­lar­ized “in lat­er times,”[46] but how much lat­er? In one ḥadīth, the Prophet (pbuh) is report­ed to have said, “God has cursed who­ev­er car­ries out the actions of Lot’s peo­ple (man ʿami­la ʿamal qawm Lūṭ).”[47] It is dif­fi­cult to date with pre­ci­sion when this term was first employed, but the phrase “ʿamal qawm Lūṭ” is used in the exeget­i­cal work of al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923), appears in sev­er­al ear­ly ḥadīth reports, and is employed in juris­tic works dis­cussing whether or not male-male anal inter­course is sub­ject to a divine­ly stip­u­lat­ed pun­ish­ment (ḥadd), and if so, on what grounds. The term liwāṭ appears lat­er in Ibn Manẓūr’s (d. 711/1311–12) famous dic­tio­nary Lisān al-ʿArab,[48] which was writ­ten in the seventh/eighth cen­tu­ry hijra, and numer­ous works there­after, though of course the terms liwāṭ/lūṭī do not rep­re­sent any depar­ture from the phrase “ʿamal qawm Lūṭ” but are mere­ly deriv­a­tives there­of and are not employed in any cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent sense. In a ḥadīth attrib­uted to Ibn ʿAb­bās report­ed in the canon­i­cal col­lec­tion of Abū Dāwūd, Ibn ʿAb­bās uses the term “lūṭiyya” to refer to sodomy.[49] In anoth­er report large­ly grad­ed as weak (ḍaʿīf) found in the col­lec­tion of Ibn Mājah, the Prophet (pbuh) is report­ed to have cau­tioned against direct­ing the term lūṭī toward anoth­er man on pain of receiv­ing twen­ty lash­es.[50] The authen­tic­i­ty of these spe­cif­ic tra­di­tions is less impor­tant here than the fact of their dat­ing to at least the ear­ly third cen­tu­ry of the hijra. Even if one were to dis­miss them as fab­ri­ca­tions, the inclu­sion of both tra­di­tions in works col­lect­ed in the ear­ly third cen­tu­ry estab­lish­es the exis­tence of the term lūṭī in this ear­ly peri­od, though it should be men­tioned that “ʿamal qawm Lūṭ” as a term sig­ni­fy­ing sodomy fig­ures more promi­nent­ly in the ear­li­est juris­tic works. The point here is that although schol­ars have employed vary­ing terms when dis­cussing same-sex acts, the sub­stance and mean­ing of the terms were always used unam­bigu­ous­ly in ref­er­ence to one and the same act. This is no dif­fer­ent than, say, the fact that the sci­ence of Islam­ic the­o­log­i­cal beliefs is referred to alter­na­tive­ly as “ʿaqī­da,” “uṣūl al-dīn,” “ʿilm al-tawḥīd,” and oth­er terms—none of which are men­tioned in the Qurʾān or report­ed on the author­i­ty of the Prophet (pbuh), all of which were “inno­vat­ed” at a lat­er date, yet all of which refer to one and the same essen­tial real­i­ty that no one would deny is part and par­cel of the Islam­ic reli­gion. Kugle’s quib­ble with the mere ter­mi­nol­o­gy at play is, there­fore, entire­ly irrel­e­vant to the dis­cus­sion of the sta­tus of same-sex acts in Islam.

Kugle also presents the lack of explic­it pun­ish­ment in the Qurʾān for sex­u­al acts between two men or two women as fur­ther proof for their per­mis­si­bil­i­ty. We must note, how­ev­er, that the Qurʾān also does not stip­u­late an explic­it pun­ish­ment for rape, incest, bes­tial­i­ty, necrophil­ia, and a host of oth­er sex­u­al acts agreed upon by con­sen­sus to be immoral and pro­hib­it­ed. Can one there­fore assume the Qurʾān’s endorse­ment, or even tac­it per­mis­sion, of these acts as well?

It is also here that we arrive at anoth­er prob­lem­at­ic aspect of Kugle’s fram­ing: one may con­cede that the Islam­ic tra­di­tion may be read as “sex pos­i­tive,” as Kugle avers, but that pos­i­tiv­i­ty must be qual­i­fied in con­crete terms. What does it mean to be a “sex-pos­i­tive” faith? The pur­suit of sex­u­al plea­sure in Islam is, in fact, viewed as laud­able only with­in the con­fines of very specif­i­cal­ly delin­eat­ed cir­cum­stances[51] (all of which are invari­ably male-female), out­side of which sex­u­al activity—particularly pen­e­tra­tive intercourse—constitutes an offense that actu­al­ly fig­ures among the most seri­ous that one can com­mit in the faith. This is a crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion that Kugle goes out of his way to dis­re­gard, fre­quent­ly trans­lat­ing and rep­re­sent­ing ḥadīth reports, state­ments of schol­ars, and vers­es from the Qurʾān as advo­cat­ing sex­u­al release and cel­e­brat­ing sex­u­al plea­sure in their own right, irre­spec­tive of the con­text or avenue through which such release occurs, or of the gen­der or legal rela­tion­ship between the per­sons involved—both of which con­sid­er­a­tions are, how­ev­er, crit­i­cal to the religion’s own delin­eation of lic­it and illic­it sex­u­al acts.

Take, for exam­ple, the intro­duc­to­ry pas­sage that Kugle quotes from Made­lain Farah’s trans­la­tion of al-Ghazālī’s “Book on the Eti­quette of Mar­riage” from his Revival of the Reli­gious Sci­ences. Kugle repro­duces the pas­sage faith­ful­ly from Farah’s trans­la­tion (with the excep­tion of a few minor edi­to­r­i­al changes), with one notable excep­tion: the orig­i­nal phrase “sub­ject­ing crea­tures to desire through which He drove them to tillage (ḥirātha) [empha­sis mine]”[52] has been altered by Kugle into “sub­ject­ing crea­tures to desire through which God[53] impelled them toward sex­u­al inter­course [empha­sis mine].”[54] What is lost in this “emen­da­tion” is the direct impli­ca­tion and mean­ing of the term ḥirātha, which lin­guis­ti­cal­ly denotes cul­ti­va­tion or tillage (used as a metaphor for sex­u­al inter­course) and, as such, can only refer to a (law­ful) sex­u­al rela­tion­ship between a male and a female (i.e., the only type of rela­tion­ship that can pos­si­bly con­sti­tute an act of “cul­ti­va­tion” or “tillage,” name­ly, through the pos­si­bil­i­ty of con­cep­tion). In his Com­pan­ion to the Qur’an, W. M. Watt explains ḥirātha as “a devel­op­ment of the prim­i­tive metaphor which com­pares sex­u­al inter­course with the sow­ing of seed, and speaks of chil­dren as the fruit of the womb.”[55] This point is absolute­ly essen­tial, as cul­ti­vat­ing land and till­ing soil direct­ly evoke imagery of what a land can poten­tial­ly yield. Although Islam­ic Law allows cer­tain meth­ods of con­tra­cep­tion to avoid preg­nan­cy,[56] just as it does not restrict legit­i­mate sex­u­al enjoy­ment between law­ful male and female part­ners to pen­e­tra­tive inter­course alone, the mes­sage here is quite clear that sex­u­al rela­tions are only law­ful and praise­wor­thy when they occur with­in a par­a­dig­mat­i­cal­ly pro­cre­ative[57] (and there­fore nec­es­sar­i­ly oppo­site-sex) con­text. The impor­tance of prog­e­ny and lin­eage is fur­ther expound­ed upon by al-Ghazālī in the sen­tences imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the excerpt cit­ed by Kugle:

Then He glo­ri­fied the mat­ter of lin­eage, ascribed to it great impor­tance, for­bade on its account ille­git­i­ma­cy[58] and strong­ly denounced it through restric­tions and rep­ri­mands, mak­ing the com­mis­sion there­of an out­landish crime and a seri­ous mat­ter, and encour­ag­ing mar­riage through desire and com­mand.[59]

Lat­er al-Ghazālī states, “The first advantage—that is, pro­cre­ation—is the prime cause, and on its account mar­riage was insti­tut­ed [empha­sis mine]. The aim is to sus­tain lin­eage so that the world would not want for humankind.”[60] It should be not­ed here that despite the “sex pos­i­tive” moniker Kugle applies to Islam, the Islam­ic tra­di­tion is res­olute in its absolute and uncom­pro­mis­ing denun­ci­a­tion of sex­u­al rela­tions in any con­text not express­ly per­mit­ted by Sacred Law. Chasti­ty is a chief attribute of belief and virtue, while licen­tious­ness is reproached and cen­sured.[61] Illic­it sex­u­al inter­course (zinā) is one of the few reli­gious pro­hi­bi­tions for which God has man­dat­ed a ḥadd penal­ty, indi­cat­ing that sex­u­al activ­i­ty falling out­side of the sanc­tioned para­me­ters is not only spir­i­tu­al­ly dele­te­ri­ous but social­ly dam­ag­ing to the moral fab­ric of the com­mu­ni­ty as well.

The fact that Islam lim­its its pos­i­tive appraisal of the sex­u­al life to dis­crete divine­ly sanc­tioned acts that occur with­in a par­a­dig­mat­i­cal­ly pro­cre­ative con­text is fur­ther elu­ci­dat­ed in the ḥadīth of the Prophet (pbuh), in which he states, “And in inter­course (buḍʿ)[62] there is [the reward of] char­i­ty.” Upon hear­ing this the Com­pan­ions were stunned and inquired how such a reward was pos­si­ble when all one did was sat­is­fy his desires (shah­wa), to which the Prophet (pbuh) respond­ed by explain­ing that had one sat­is­fied his desires in an illic­it man­ner, he would have been sin­ful; there­fore, by sat­is­fy­ing one’s desires in a sanc­tioned man­ner, one is reward­ed.[63] In anoth­er ḥadīth, the Prophet (pbuh) is report­ed to have said, “Who­ev­er guar­an­tees me what is between his two jaws and what is between his two legs, I shall guar­an­tee him Par­adise (man yaḍ­man lī mā bay­na laḥyay­hi wa mā bay­na rijlay­hi aḍman lahu al-jan­na).”[64] In mul­ti­ple places in the Qurʾān, God prais­es the one who guards his or her pri­vate parts, even includ­ing this in one verse among the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ter­is­tics of belief for which Par­adise is reward­ed as an inher­i­tance.[65] Else­where, He instructs believ­ing men and women to low­er their gaze as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure against sex­u­al mis­con­duct.[66] The impli­ca­tion of these teach­ings is quite clear: chasti­ty is a dif­fi­cult (but essen­tial) virtue to uphold and restraint a chal­leng­ing (but like­wise essen­tial) eth­i­cal imper­a­tive to enact. When one is able, through Divine Grace (tawfīq), to real­ize such a virtue suc­cess­ful­ly, he is reward­ed by God gen­er­ous­ly in the Here­after with Par­adise. Toward this end, Ibn Ḥazm remarks in Ṭawq al-ḥamā­ma, in a chap­ter enti­tled “Of the Virtue of Con­ti­nence”:

The finest qual­i­ty that a man can dis­play in love is con­ti­nence: to abstain from sin and all inde­cen­cy. For so he will prove him­self to be not indif­fer­ent to the heav­en­ly reward, that eter­nal bliss reserved by God for those who dwell in His ever­last­ing king­dom, nei­ther will he dis­obey his Mas­ter Who has been so gra­cious to him, in appoint­ing him to be a crea­ture wor­thy to receive His com­mand­ments and pro­hi­bi­tions, Who sent unto him His Mes­sen­gers, and caused His Word to be immov­ably estab­lished with him—all this as a mark of His care for us, and His benev­o­lence towards us.

The man whose heart is dis­traught and his mind pre­oc­cu­pied, whose yearn­ing wax­es so vio­lent that it over­mas­ters him, whose pas­sion desires to con­quer his rea­son, and whose lust would van­quish his reli­gion; such a man, if he sets up self-reproach to be his strong tow­er of defense, is aware that the soul indeed “com­mands unto evil” (Qur’an XII 53). […]

How then shall it be with a man whose breast enfolds a pas­sion hot­ter than blaz­ing tamarisk, whose flanks con­vulse with a rage keen­er than the edge of a sword, who has swal­lowed the draughts of patience more bit­ter than colo­cynth and con­vert­ed his soul by force from grasp­ing at the things it desired and was sure it could reach, for which it was well pre­pared, and there was no obsta­cle pre­vent­ing its attain­ment of them? Sure­ly he is wor­thy to rejoice tomor­row on the Day of Res­ur­rec­tion and to stand among those brought near to God’s throne in the abode of rec­om­pense and the world of ever­last­ing life; sure­ly he has a right to be secure from the ter­rors of the Great Upris­ing, and the awful dread of the Last Judge­ment, and that Allah shall com­pen­sate him on the Day of Res­ur­rec­tion with peace, for the anguish he suf­fers here below![67]

With respect to the Qurʾān’s treat­ment of “diver­si­ty” (ikhtilāf), Kugle’s dis­qui­si­tions on homo­sex­u­al­i­ty fail to account for fair­ly obvi­ous qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ences between the types of diver­si­ty cel­e­brat­ed in the Qurʾān, such as vari­ant trib­al, eth­nic, and nation­al group­ings on the one hand, and homo­sex­u­al incli­na­tions-cum-prac­tices on the other—the for­mer of which bear no rel­e­vance to belief or action, where­as the lat­ter, par­tic­u­lar­ly where same-sex desires are trans­lat­ed into acts, fall under the direct scruti­ny of reli­gious val­u­a­tion. One may

legit­i­mate­ly affirm the exis­tence of sex­u­al “diver­si­ty,” just as Mus­lim schol­ars of the past did, as a trait present across an array of peo­ple, ful­ly acknowl­edg­ing that some people’s sex­u­al impuls­es may pre­dom­i­nate in one form or anoth­er (same-sex, oppo­site-sex, ped­eras­tic, etc.), but only with the all-impor­tant caveat that all are required to abide by God’s Law and to abstain from sex­u­al acts that He has made illic­it. Kugle goes to great lengths to demon­strate the Qurʾān’s recog­ni­tion of dis­parate sex­u­al dis­po­si­tions, includ­ing his men­tion­ing of Q. (al-Nūr) 24:30 that speaks of “men who are not in need of women,”[68] but that recog­ni­tion in no way ren­ders same-gen­der sex­u­al activ­i­ty per­mis­si­ble. Rather, it only sub­stan­ti­ates, if any­thing, the point that a recog­ni­tion of “sex­u­al diver­si­ty” can indeed, as has been the con­sen­sus of Mus­lims through­out his­to­ry, coex­ist with an absolute pro­hi­bi­tion of any sex­u­al act that occurs out­side the con­text of legal­ly sanctioned—invariably male-female—relationships.

IV.     Kugle and the Qurʾān

Hav­ing set the con­cep­tu­al basis for his revi­sion­ism, what then fol­lows is an elab­o­rate attempt by Kugle to prof­fer an inter­pre­ta­tion of the Qurʾānic dis­course on the peo­ple of Lot (qawm Lūṭ) accom­moda­tive of homo­sex­u­al prac­tice. The Lot nar­ra­tive appears in the Qurʾān on nine sep­a­rate occa­sions. The rel­e­vant cita­tions and pas­sages have been pro­vid­ed below in the Appen­dix, along with accom­pa­ny­ing syn­opses that briefly explain the vers­es in light of the exeget­i­cal tra­di­tion.

Of the nine pas­sages cit­ed, six make men­tion of male-male sex­u­al acts either explic­it­ly with words such as “you come unto men / males (taʾtū­na al-rijāl / al-dhukrān) instead of women,” or implic­it­ly by refer­ring to the con­text of Lot con­fronting his peo­ple out­side his home, entreat­ing them to fear God and to con­sid­er his daugh­ters who, on account of their female gen­der, are “pur­er” for them as mates (see Appen­dix, pas­sages a, b, c, e, f, and g). The three pas­sages that do not men­tion male-male sex­u­al acts are brief, typ­i­cal­ly ref­er­enc­ing Lot’s sta­tion as a pious mes­sen­ger of God as well as his people’s dis­obe­di­ence in gen­er­al terms (see Appen­dix, d, h, and i). Of the six pas­sages that do make men­tion of male-male sex­u­al acts, only the pas­sage in Sūrat al-ʿAnk­abūt men­tions the addi­tion­al indis­cre­tions of “cut­ting off the road” and “prac­tic­ing evil deeds in your assem­blies” (see Appen­dix, g). The remain­ing five pas­sages speak only about male-male sex­u­al acts to the exclu­sion of any oth­er wrong­do­ing, rein­forc­ing the notion that although the peo­ple of Lot may have had sev­er­al charges to their account, it is homo­sex­u­al inter­course between men that remains their emblem­at­ic crime. Pas­sages in Sūrat al-Aʿrāf, Sūrat al-Shuʿarāʾ, and Sūrat al-Naml make explic­it men­tion of “com­ing / com­ing with desire unto men instead of women” (see Appen­dix, a, e, and f), where­as the pas­sages in Sūrat Hūd and Sūrat al-Ḥijr recount Lot’s plead­ing with the peo­ple of Sodom to take “his daugh­ters” (often under­stood as the women of the tribe[69]) as mates instead of Lot’s male vis­i­tors (see Appen­dix, b and c).

It is also clear, when all these vers­es are tak­en togeth­er, that it is specif­i­cal­ly and exclu­sive­ly the same-gen­der aspect of the sex­u­al prac­tices of the peo­ple of Lot that is being con­demned in them. No men­tion is made—even by implication—of coer­cion, dis­hon­or­ing, or any oth­er fac­tor. The Qurʾān employs a rich vocab­u­lary of terms for indi­cat­ing force and aggres­sion, yet none of these terms appear any­where in the numer­ous pas­sages that address the sex­u­al prac­tices of the peo­ple of Lot. By con­trast, the only words that are used in this regard—and repeat­ed­ly at that—relate direct­ly to “sex­u­al desire” (shah­wa) prac­ticed by men on oth­er men instead of on women, mak­ing it unequiv­o­cal that the men of Sodom’s incrim­i­na­tion for sex­u­al malfea­sance was specif­i­cal­ly pred­i­cat­ed on the gen­der same­ness of their cho­sen sex part­ners. The plain sense of these vers­es is so clear and unequiv­o­cal that no exegetes have dif­fered over their inter­pre­ta­tion in that regard.

In argu­ing for a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Lot nar­ra­tives indul­gent of con­sen­su­al same-sex rela­tions, Kugle calls for an adher­ence to the “lit­er­al speci­fici­ty”[70] of the Qurʾān, accus­ing medieval jurists and the­olo­gians of inter­po­lat­ing their own prej­u­dices into exeget­i­cal and legal texts. Kugle rests his Qurʾānic hermeneu­tic on two inter­pre­tive meth­ods, which he refers to as a “seman­tic analy­sis” and a “the­mat­ic analy­sis.”[71] It is after per­form­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion with­in these two ana­lyt­i­cal con­texts that he then attempts to dri­ve home his con­clu­sion. I will here attempt to engage Kugle’s hermeneu­tic on its own terms and to inter­ro­gate both ana­lyt­i­cal frame­works, as well as Kugle’s employ­ment of them as part of his inter­pre­tive revi­sion­ism. In the final sec­tion of the arti­cle, I will address Kugle’s use of the fig­ure of Ibn Ḥazm as part of his revi­sion­ist project.

Kugle and al-Ṭabarī’s Method of “Definition and Substitution”

Kugle sets the stage for his seman­tic analy­sis by review­ing the famous exeget­i­cal work of Muḥam­mad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) as an exam­ple of a ten­den­tious “het­ero­nor­ma­tive” read­ing of the Qurʾān. Kugle eval­u­ates al-Ṭabarī’s treat­ment of Q. (al-Aʿrāf) 7:80–81, which reads: “(80) And (men­tion) Lot, when he said to his peo­ple, ‘Do you com­mit iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) such as none in cre­ation have com­mit­ted before you? (81) For you come with desire unto men instead of women. Nay, you are a peo­ple trans­gress­ing (beyond bounds).’” Kugle cites selec­tive­ly from al-Ṭabarī’s work, accus­ing him of the curi­ous charge of “def­i­n­i­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion” in which al-Ṭabarī alleged­ly defines the nature of iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) men­tioned in the verse on his own whim and then sub­sti­tutes that sub­jec­tive def­i­n­i­tion into his exe­ge­sis of the Qurʾān.[72] Kugle trans­lates al-Ṭabarī’s com­men­tary of Q. 7:80–81 as fol­lows:

The trans­gres­sion [fahisha] that they approach, for which they were pun­ished by Allah, is “pen­e­trat­ing males sex­u­al­ly” [ityan dhukur]. The mean­ing is this: it is as if Lut were say­ing “You are, all of you, you nation of peo­ple, com­ing to men in their rears, out of lust, rather than com­ing to those that Allah has approved for you and made per­mis­si­ble to you from the women. You are a peo­ple that approach what Allah has pro­hib­it­ed for you. There­fore you rebel against Allah by that act.” That is what the Qur’an means by going beyond the bounds [israf] when Lut said, You are a peo­ple who go beyond all bounds.[73]

A full trans­la­tion of al-Ṭabarī’s com­men­tary, how­ev­er, ren­ders the fol­low­ing (Qurʾānic vers­es are set in bold­ed ital­ics):

When he said to his peo­ple – when he said to his peo­ple from Sodom, and to them Lot was sent – Do you com­mit iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) – the iniq­ui­ty that they approached and for which God pun­ished them is pen­e­trat­ing men sex­u­al­ly – such as none in cre­ation have com­mit­ted before you? – none had com­mit­ted this inde­cen­cy in the world pri­or to them – Ver­i­ly you come with desire unto men instead of women. Nay, you are a peo­ple trans­gress­ing (beyond bounds) God is inform­ing [us] as to what Lot con­veyed to his peo­ple, and his rep­ri­mand­ing them for their actions: indeed you all, O peo­ple (ayyuhā ‘l-qawm), approach men from their rears with desire (shah­watan) rather than com­ing to those whom God has approved for you and made per­mis­si­ble to you from among women. – You are a peo­ple trans­gress­ing (beyond bounds)you are a peo­ple that approach what God has pro­hib­it­ed to you, insub­or­di­nate in your actions. And that is prodi­gal­i­ty (isrāf) in this mat­ter.[74]

Far from Kugle’s accu­sa­tion of a prej­u­di­cial or whim­si­cal process of “def­i­n­i­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion,” al-Ṭabarī faith­ful­ly inte­grates these vers­es of the Qurʾān with a sim­ple and straight­for­ward expla­na­tion of their meanings—in fact cit­ing none oth­er than the Qurʾān itself in clar­i­fi­ca­tion of its own import. Kugle objects to al-Ṭabarī’s gloss­ing of the iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) in ques­tion as “com­ing with desire unto men instead of women.” Instead, he urges his read­er to under­stand the term fāḥisha in its most gener­ic and ety­mo­log­i­cal­ly lit­er­al sense, devoid of the very con­text in which it is found. A full read­ing of Q. (al-Aʿrāf) 7:80–81, how­ev­er, shows Lot accus­ing his peo­ple of com­mit­ting an unprece­dent­ed inde­cen­cy, one which is iden­ti­fied in the very next verse of the Qurʾān itself as “com­ing with desire unto men instead of women.” Kugle strains in his attempt to decou­ple these two vers­es from each oth­er and to divorce them from their imme­di­ate con­text, sug­gest­ing that “iniq­ui­ty” (fāḥisha) here could mean absolute­ly any type of inde­cent or uneth­i­cal behav­ior and that al-Ṭabarī, like the com­mu­ni­ty of Mus­lim exegetes and jurists for a mil­len­ni­um after him, made the “mis­take” of read­ing these two vers­es sequen­tial­ly (which, Kugle avers, results in a mere “spec­u­la­tive asser­tion” on their part), and as they appear in mul­ti­ple places in the Qurʾān. In addi­tion, Kugle’s charge of “def­i­n­i­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion” makes even less sense when one con­sid­ers al-Ṭabarī’s exeget­i­cal method, one that is faith­ful to the text of the Lot nar­ra­tive as it appears in the Qurʾān itself, with min­i­mal actu­al com­men­tary of his own. Far from inter­po­lat­ing his own words and expres­sions, al-Ṭabarī does noth­ing but quote from the Qurʾān itself in order to elu­ci­date the mean­ing of Q. 7:80–81. It is shock­ing that Kugle dis­miss­es as biased het­ero­sex­ist inter­po­la­tion on the part of al-Ṭabarī words and phras­es that are, in fact, none oth­er than the words of God Him­self drawn from the very same pas­sages which al-Ṭabarī is com­ment­ing.

Lat­er, Kugle again cites al-Ṭabarī’s method of “def­i­n­i­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion,” this time to charge him with assert­ing that the sole con­tent of Lot’s prophet­ic mis­sion and pur­pose was to make the act of inter­course between men forbidden—with the impli­ca­tion that the pro­hi­bi­tion of this act would some­how be open to ques­tion just so long as it can be shown that it was not the only, or even the prin­ci­pal, rea­son why Lot was sent to his peo­ple. Kugle quotes al-Ṭabarī as stat­ing, “This approach [declar­ing anal sex between men hate­ful] was the con­tent of Lut’s prophet­ic mes­sage [risala]; his pur­pose was to make this act for­bid­den.”[75] Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this state­ment appears nowhere in the actu­al exeget­i­cal work of al-Ṭabarī. Instead, al-Ṭabarī remarks when speak­ing of Q. (al-Aʿrāf) 7:83 (“So We res­cued him and his house­hold, save his wife; she was of those who stayed behind”):

When Lot’s peo­ple reject­ed him—despite his many rep­ri­mands on account of the iniq­ui­ty they were com­mit­ting, and his con­vey­ing to them the mes­sage of his Lord con­cern­ing what was for­bid­den to them—with stub­born inso­lence, We saved Lot and his believ­ing fam­i­ly except his wife, for she was to Lot a deceiv­er and in God a dis­be­liev­er (kāfi­ra).[76]

Kugle attempts to paint al-Ṭabarī as so fix­at­ed on the pro­hi­bi­tion of anal inter­course between men that he was inca­pable of read­ing the Lot nar­ra­tive as any­thing else. And yet there is lit­tle evi­dence that al-Ṭabarī did any­thing oth­er than ren­der mean­ings that accord with the direct and obvi­ous import of the vers­es in ques­tion. At no point does al-Ṭabarī sug­gest that anal sex between men was the sole, or even prin­ci­pal, mis­sion for which Lot was com­mis­sioned. That said, even if al-Ṭabarī had assert­ed that Lot’s prin­ci­pal mis­sion was to erad­i­cate the trans­gres­sion of homo­sex­u­al sodomy, this would not be an alto­geth­er unrea­son­able con­clu­sion giv­en the Qurʾān’s repeated—and usu­al­ly exclusive—mention of “com­ing with desire unto men instead of women” with­in the con­text of the Lot nar­ra­tive. All exegetes acknowl­edged and cat­a­loged the diverse crimes com­mit­ted by the peo­ple of Sodom, but it was indeed same-sex acts between men for which they were most infa­mous and exeget­i­cal com­men­tary on the Lot nar­ra­tive has, unsur­pris­ing­ly, nev­er failed to reflect this. That over a thou­sand years’ worth of schol­ar­ship after al-Ṭabarī, and the entire com­mu­ni­ty of Mus­lims pri­or to him, con­curred with and echoed al-Ṭabarī’s read­ing of the Qurʾān on this point is dis­missed by Kugle as a sim­ple reflec­tion of how “dis­em­pow­ered” lat­er exegetes were from offer­ing alter­na­tive read­ings of the Lot nar­ra­tive. 

Kugle and Semantic Analysis

It is at this junc­ture, after hav­ing eval­u­at­ed the pur­port­ed inad­e­qua­cies of al-Ṭabarī’s clas­si­cal com­men­tary, that Kugle begins to pro­pose his own hermeneu­tic, one which starts with a seman­tic analy­sis. Kugle describes a seman­tic analy­sis as one that “does not trust a sim­ple trans­la­tion” but demands that words “become enmeshed in a web of rela­tion­ships to oth­er words” to gain a fuller under­stand­ing of terms in their Qurʾānic con­text.[77] Kugle states about seman­tic analy­sis:

This method gives a very “lit­er­al” read­ing of the text. It respects the word of the Qur’an not as defined by human author­i­ties who assign them mean­ings by def­i­n­i­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion, but rather as defined by their place­ment in rela­tion to oth­er words in the Qur’an itself.[78]

Kugle presents the arti­cle of Amreen Jamal, “The Sto­ry of Lut and the Qur’an’s Per­cep­tion of the Moral­i­ty of Same-Sex Sex­u­al­i­ty,” as the “first crit­i­cal attempt to reassess the Qur’an’s view of same-sex rela­tion­ships.”[79] In doing so, he reports Jamal’s con­clu­sion that the var­i­ous terms asso­ci­at­ed with the Lot nar­ra­tive are not exclu­sive to the peo­ple of Lot or to same-sex sex­u­al­i­ty. Jamal, for instance, demon­strates that terms such as fāḥisha (‘iniq­ui­ty’), shah­wa (‘desire’), and isrāf (‘prodigality’)—which appear promi­nent­ly in the Lot narrative—also appear in oth­er con­texts in the Qurʾān that refer to indis­cre­tions that are at times “het­ero­sex­u­al” (such as zinā, or male-female for­ni­ca­tion and adul­tery) and, in oth­er instances, to mis­deeds that are entire­ly non-sex­u­al in nature.

What Kugle fails to dis­close, how­ev­er, is the remain­der of Jamal’s con­clu­sions, many of which direct­ly under­mine his revi­sion­ist objec­tives. Jamal main­tains in her con­clu­sion that “[u]ndeniably, the moral terms asso­ci­at­ed with same-sex sex­u­al­i­ty in the Qur’an ulti­mate­ly give it a neg­a­tive eval­u­a­tion and deem it to be a sin. How­ev­er, these same moral terms are often used to eval­u­ate oppo­site-sex abom­i­na­tions such as adul­tery, for­ni­ca­tion and/or incest, as well as oth­er non-sex­u­al prac­tices, exam­ples of which have already been out­lined.”[80] It is remark­able that, even after she con­duct­ed a detailed, 88-page seman­tic analy­sis of no few­er than sev­en­teen vari­ant root words that appear in the sto­ry of Lot across four­teen dif­fer­ent Qurʾānic sūras, Jamal’s con­clu­sions regard­ing the “unde­ni­able sin­ful­ness” of same-sex sex­u­al­i­ty are not con­sid­ered pro­ba­tive by Kugle. Kugle’s appeal to seman­tic analy­sis is thus ulti­mate­ly mean­ing­less for his larg­er project. Far from sup­port­ing his effort to recast same-gen­der sex­u­al­i­ty as moral­ly neu­tral and reli­gious­ly legit­i­mate, an exhaus­tive seman­tic analy­sis of the Lot narrative—encompassing all of the oper­a­tive terms on which it is based as they are used through­out the Qurʾān—has led to the exact­ly oppo­site con­clu­sion.

Kugle’s Thematic Analysis

Kugle begins his sec­tion on the­mat­ic analy­sis by pro­vid­ing back­ground on this approach and artic­u­lat­ing how it dif­fers in com­par­i­son to clas­si­cal method­olo­gies. Accord­ing to Kugle, a the­mat­ic analy­sis accounts for the struc­tur­al nuances and dialec­tic of the Qurʾān more read­i­ly than clas­si­cal com­men­taries, which alleged­ly ignore this dynam­ic.[81] It is nev­er­the­less unclear how Kugle’s pro­posed the­mat­ic analy­sis dif­fers from Jamal’s effort to eval­u­ate the place­ment of recur­rent terms used in the Lot nar­ra­tive as found through­out the Qurʾān. Set­ting this aside, Kugle demon­strates the­mat­ic analy­sis by using the exam­ple of water and how, depend­ing on the con­text of the Qurʾānic pas­sage and larg­er scrip­tur­al theme, the term water may refer to “liq­uid H2O” or else­where pro­vide imagery as “rain­fall, seas, or a means of rit­u­al purifi­ca­tion.”[82] Kugle notes that by employ­ing a the­mat­ic analy­sis of water, we are forced to “exam­ine the way our economies destroy the envi­ron­men­tal inter­con­nect­ed­ness that is the appar­ent con­duit for Allah’s con­tin­u­ous cre­ation and pro­vi­sion.”[83] Kugle’s the­mat­ic analy­sis of water, how­ev­er, scarce­ly dif­fers from the con­clu­sions of clas­si­cal com­men­taries and the­olo­gians. Many spoke of water as pro­vi­sion and essen­tial to life and incor­po­rat­ed rain­fall, seas, and rit­u­al purifi­ca­tion into their works. None of Kugle’s con­clu­sions or inter­pre­ta­tions on this score can be clas­si­fied as revi­sion­ist, unprece­dent­ed, or unique­ly insight­ful.

After hav­ing accused clas­si­cal exegetes of ignor­ing the­mat­ic analy­sis entire­ly, Kugle turns to a dif­fer­ent clas­si­cal genre which he con­sid­ers illus­tra­tive of the very type of the­mat­ic analy­sis which he advo­cates. The genre in ques­tion, known as qaṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ[84] (lit. “sto­ries of the prophets”), is con­cerned with col­lect­ing avail­able reports about the var­i­ous prophets men­tioned in the Qurʾān and coa­lesc­ing them into flu­id, chrono­log­i­cal nar­ra­tives. To pro­vide heft to his forth­com­ing usage of qaṣaṣ com­men­tary, Kugle asserts that the prac­tice of telling sto­ries about the prophets was “just as old and just as authen­tic [empha­sis mine] as mak­ing explic­it com­men­taries on the Qur’an.”[85] Such a state­ment can only char­i­ta­bly be described as dubi­ous. In real­i­ty, the tra­di­tion of sto­ry­telling held very lit­tle author­i­ty in gen­er­al, and has nev­er held any at all in the fields of jurispru­dence (fiqh) or the­ol­o­gy (ʿaqī­da).

In the for­ma­tive peri­od of Islam, a cat­e­go­ry of preach­ers emerged devot­ed to ser­mo­niz­ing to the mass­es in an acces­si­ble method by way of sto­ries and nar­ra­tives. Referred to pop­u­lar­ly as “quṣṣāṣ” (‘sto­ry­tellers,’ sing. qāṣṣ), the aim of the sto­ry­teller depend­ed on con­text. In the bat­tle­field, he was a moti­va­tor; in the mosque, a heart soft­en­er; in the streets, an admon­ish­er or, at times, a per­former. Schol­ars have dif­fered with respect to the emer­gence of the quṣṣāṣ, with Khalil ‘Atham­i­na dat­ing their begin­nings back to “at least one gen­er­a­tion before the out­break of the first civ­il war in 657 A.D.”[86] With the expan­sion of Islam into for­eign ter­ri­to­ry, there appeared an urgent need to con­vey the teach­ings of the new reli­gion to peo­ples for whom the native Ara­bic of the Qurʾān was inac­ces­si­ble. To bridge this gap and to address new con­verts, quṣṣāṣ emerged in order to facil­i­tate instruc­tion, prin­ci­pal­ly about the Qurʾān and its nar­ra­tive sto­ries.[87] ‘Atham­i­na notes that “pious the­olo­gians exhib­it­ed a great degree of tol­er­ance toward the phe­nom­e­non of qaṣaṣ itself, although they them­selves con­sid­ered it a neg­a­tive inno­va­tion and a devi­a­tion from the rules of Islam­ic sun­na.”[88] Even­tu­al­ly, the genre of qaṣaṣ dete­ri­o­rat­ed into what Charles Pel­lat has described as fraud and char­la­tanism.[89] Sto­ry­tellers were cau­tioned against as they fre­quent­ly inter­posed spo­radic nar­ra­tives from unnamed sources, myths, leg­ends, and Isrāʾīliyyāt (patris­tic and midrashic tra­di­tions and folk­lore).[90] Though the Prophet Muḥam­mad (pbuh) per­mit­ted lis­ten­ing to tales and nar­ra­tions from the pre­vi­ous Abra­ham­ic com­mu­ni­ties, he cau­tioned his fol­low­ers nei­ther to accept nor to deny those nar­ra­tions whose con­tent could nei­ther be specif­i­cal­ly affirmed nor specif­i­cal­ly negat­ed on the basis of Islam’s own author­i­ta­tive revealed sources. (Isrāʾīliyyāt that flat­ly con­tra­dict­ed Islam­ic beliefs were, of course, to be reject­ed out of hand.)[91]

Preach­ers and schol­ars began doc­u­ment­ing qaṣaṣ nar­ra­tions in order to con­vey gen­er­al ben­e­fits, lessons, and morals, but the very authors of such works them­selves refrained from assign­ing their own nar­ra­tions any pro­ba­tive val­ue what­so­ev­er in the crit­i­cal fields of creed (ʿaqī­da) and jurispru­dence (fiqh). A well-intend­ed preach­er could take up the task of con­vey­ing sto­ries to the mass­es, but schol­ars were keen to ensure that the scope and preach­ing of the quṣṣāṣ did not infringe upon the pre­serve of prop­er schol­ar­ly author­i­ty, espe­cial­ly where the Prophet Muḥam­mad (pbuh), the nature and attrib­ut­es of God, and the rul­ings (aḥkām) of the Sharīʿa were con­cerned.[92] There is no work of fiqh that makes men­tion of a qaṣaṣ text as the prime evi­dence for deter­min­ing a legal rul­ing. There­fore, to claim that qaṣaṣ works were just as authen­tic as exeget­i­cal commentaries—particularly in the field of legal derivation—constitutes a seri­ous error that bespeaks a lack of famil­iar­i­ty with estab­lished Islam­ic legal norms and meth­ods. Prop­er exeget­i­cal (tafsīr) works, on the oth­er hand—and in sharp con­trast to works of qaṣaṣ—were authored by promi­nent schol­ars through­out the ages, includ­ing the likes of Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1116), al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209), al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273), and oth­ers. Walid Saleh has remarked that tafsīr “stands at the heart of the Islam­ic lit­er­a­tures pro­duced in any age,” lat­er describ­ing it as the “most impor­tant bear­er of reli­gious think­ing.”[93] It is for this rea­son that Gib­ril Had­dad has stat­ed that “[a]ll the great exegetes agreed on tafsīr as requir­ing mas­tery in the entire spec­trum of the Islam­ic dis­ci­plines.” None of this can be said for the genre of qaṣaṣ.

Despite these glar­ing method­olog­i­cal errors, Kugle not only mar­shals qaṣaṣ lit­er­a­ture enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly as part of his revi­sion­ist epis­te­mol­o­gy, but con­se­crates it as the cen­tral piece in his effort to extract a more “reli­able” under­stand­ing of the Lot nar­ra­tive than what can be found in the estab­lished works of tafsīr. Toward this end, Kugle cites lengthy pas­sages from the qaṣaṣ work of Muḥam­mad b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Kisāʾī (active 5th/11th c.),[94] which he states “quotes from ear­li­er books that no longer exist.”[95] It is impor­tant to note that Kugle erro­neous­ly cites the al-Kisāʾī who wrote the qaṣaṣ work in ques­tion as ʿAlī b. Ḥamza al-Kisāʾī (d. 189/804), the famous trans­mit­ter of one of the sev­en canon­i­cal Qurʾānic read­ings, or qirāʾāt, and founder of an ear­ly school of gram­mar based in Kufa. Muḥam­mad b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Kisāʾī, how­ev­er, the author of the lat­er qaṣaṣ work in which Kugle anchors the bulk of his Qurʾānic revi­sion­ism, is by all counts an obscure fig­ure. Lit­tle has been record­ed about his life, his date of death is a mat­ter of great uncer­tain­ty, and no oth­er work has been attrib­uted to him aside from his afore­men­tioned qaṣaṣ col­lec­tion, itself a mar­gin­al and rel­a­tive­ly unknown work in the larg­er qaṣaṣ genre.

At any rate, in this less­er known al-Kisāʾī’s work, the Lot nar­ra­tive is pre­sent­ed in a sequen­tial, com­pre­hen­sive for­mat. The peo­ple of Sodom are report­ed to have been guilty of a vari­ety of crimes, includ­ing idol­a­try and myr­i­ad forms of gam­bling. Con­cerned about for­eign intru­sion dur­ing a time of famine, Satan appears to them in the form of a man scold­ing them for not hav­ing safe­guard­ed their orchards as they had their homes. He sug­gests that any for­eign intrud­er be accost­ed and raped via anal inter­course. Heed­ing Satan’s advice, the inhab­i­tants of Sodom become accus­tomed to such acts of vio­lence and inde­cen­cy until Lot appears to warn his peo­ple against them. Lot admon­ish­es the peo­ple of Sodom for their iniq­ui­ties, but to no avail. He remains with his peo­ple for some time, after which a group of angels appear in the form of men vis­it­ing the town. Lot takes the guests in imme­di­ate­ly, fear­ful for them of his people’s debauched cus­tom of pen­e­trat­ing men. Ulti­mate­ly, the men of Sodom learn of the guests’ pres­ence, charge Lot’s home despite his entreat­ing them to take instead his daugh­ters who are “pur­er for them,” at which point the angels reveal their true iden­ti­ty to Lot and invoke the pun­ish­ment of God upon the peo­ple of Sodom. Soon after, the town is destroyed.

It is worth tak­ing note of a glar­ing incon­gru­ence in Kugle’s epis­te­mol­o­gy. Else­where, he cri­tiques the ḥadīth tra­di­tion for hav­ing insuf­fi­cient­ly scru­ti­nized the pro­bity of indi­vid­ual ḥadīth reports.[96] Kugle laments that peo­ple nowa­days “cite hadith with­out dis­cussing the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the hadith’s chain of nar­ra­tion or judg­ing the authen­tic­i­ty of the report’s con­tent to assess what lev­el of cer­tain­ty can be attrib­uted to the knowl­edge the report con­veys.”[97] Ḥadīth, he laments, have become weaponized by “neo-tra­di­tion­al­ists” to fur­ther their own agen­da, care­less­ly and with­out any con­cern for their authen­tic­i­ty. Kugle belabors the well-known point that the major­i­ty of ḥadīth reports are clas­si­fied as non-defin­i­tive (ẓan­nī), in con­trast to the cer­tain­ty (qaṭʿiyya) of mass-trans­mit­ted (mutawātir) texts, a cat­e­go­ry under which falls the entire­ty of the Qurʾānic text in addi­tion to a rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of ḥadīth nar­ra­tions.[98] Indeed, Kugle makes much ado about the pur­port­ed “unre­li­a­bil­i­ty” of ḥadīth and how they mere­ly reflect a neo-tra­di­tion­al­ist “vision of ortho­doxy,” fur­ther charg­ing that the few still trained to scru­ti­nize ḥadīth cred­i­bil­i­ty today have “aban­doned their duty.”[99] In a ded­i­cat­ed chap­ter on ḥadīth in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam,[100] Kugle brings up rea­son after rea­son for reject­ing ḥadīth reports oth­er­wise des­ig­nat­ed ṣaḥīḥ (‘sound’)—a label he deems “opti­mistic”[101] and that mere­ly serves to make oth­er­wise ten­u­ous reports appear more reli­able than they real­ly are.[102] It is curi­ous indeed that Kugle reserves such great sus­pi­cion vis-à-vis the rig­or­ous­ly authen­ti­cat­ed reports adjudged ṣaḥīḥ by cen­turies of ḥadīth schol­ar­ship only to lay enor­mous evi­den­tiary weight upon qaṣaṣ mate­ri­als from an obscure late author lack­ing any chain of trans­mis­sion (isnād) or oth­er evi­den­tiary basis what­so­ev­er.[103]

To his cred­it, Kugle antic­i­pates such an objec­tion, refer­ring to it as a “pos­si­ble cri­tique” and aver­ring that some may refer to al-Kisāʾī’s account of the peo­ple of Lot as a “‘fic­tion­al’ sto­ry.”[104] He admits that crit­ics might “rush” to point out that al-Kisāʾī pro­vides no reports with nar­ra­tive chains extend­ing back to the Prophet or to the Com­pan­ions, dis­sim­u­lat­ing the fact that al-Kisāʾī in fact fur­nish­es no reports with nar­ra­tive chains at all.[105] Ply­ing qaṣaṣ mate­ri­als as reli­able and author­i­ta­tive, if not qua­si-apo­d­ic­tic, while casu­al­ly dis­miss­ing the major­i­ty of an entire genre of dili­gent­ly scru­ti­nized rev­e­la­tion­al statements—namely, ḥadīth—as mere­ly spec­u­la­tive, is both epis­te­mo­log­i­cal­ly inco­her­ent and rad­i­cal­ly at odds with the Islam­ic schol­ar­ly tra­di­tion under the rubric of which Kugle claims to be advanc­ing his cause. This epis­te­mo­log­i­cal hap­haz­ard­ness is yet anoth­er demon­stra­tion of how com­mit­ted Kugle seems to be to pro­mot­ing any­thing that advances his revi­sion­ist account, no mat­ter how ten­den­tious the source or inco­her­ent the method­ol­o­gy.

More­over, Kugle is selec­tive even when quot­ing from these dubi­ous sources, cit­ing only pas­sages that sup­port his goals and ignor­ing those that run counter to them. In his pre­sen­ta­tion of events, al-Kisāʾī cites Q. (Hūd) 11:78, “He said, ‘O my peo­ple, these are my daugh­ters; they are pur­er for you’ ” in con­junc­tion with the end of Q. (al-Ḥijr) 15:71, “‘if indeed you must act’,” then spec­i­fies, “mean­ing sex­u­al inter­course.”[106] This pas­sage occurs after the peo­ple of Sodom dis­cov­er the pres­ence of the hand­some young men (in real­i­ty angels) resid­ing at Lot’s home. When the men demand that Lot release his guests to them for sex­u­al pur­pos­es, Lot responds by offer­ing his daugh­ters instead, stat­ing that they are “pur­er” for them than his (male) guests. It is in this con­text that al-Kisāʾī inter­prets the puri­ty men­tioned by Lot as relat­ing to sex­u­al inter­course, direct­ly imply­ing that oppo­site-sex acts hold a puri­ty that same-sex acts inher­ent­ly do not. Yet Kugle fails to cite this pas­sage from al-Kisāʾī’s account. He is also selec­tive in his choice of qaṣaṣ works. Why, for exam­ple, is the renowned qaṣaṣ work of the famous Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373) ignored? Is it because Ibn Kathīr in that work states, “[The peo­ple of Sodom] invent­ed an iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) that none among the chil­dren of Adam had pre­ced­ed them in com­mit­ting by pen­e­trat­ing men sex­u­al­ly (ityān al-dhukrān) of all crea­tures, leav­ing what God had cre­at­ed of right­eous female ser­vants”?[107]

Rec­og­niz­ing the ten­u­ous and rather fick­le nature of the nar­ra­tive trans­mit­ted in the work of al-Kisāʾī, Kugle attempts to but­tress his “the­mat­ic analy­sis” with anoth­er qaṣaṣ work, this one by the 6th/12th-cen­tu­ry Shi­ite author Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī (d. 573/1177). Unlike the qaṣaṣ of al-Kisāʾī, al-Rāwandī’s qaṣaṣ work con­tains tra­di­tions with accom­pa­ny­ing chains of trans­mis­sion (isnād). There are two tra­di­tions that Kugle cites for his pur­pos­es, both of which he rep­re­sents mis­lead­ing­ly. The first tra­di­tion begins with the Prophet (pbuh) ask­ing the Angel Gabriel “why and how the peo­ple of Lut were destroyed.”[108] Gabriel responds by men­tion­ing that the peo­ple of Lot did not clean them­selves after excret­ing, did not puri­fy them­selves after enter­ing into major rit­u­al impu­ri­ty (janā­ba), and refused to share food gen­er­ous­ly with oth­ers. The ḥadīth as pre­sent­ed in con­text, how­ev­er, does not offer the fore­go­ing as an exhaus­tive list: it makes no men­tion of high­way rob­bery nor of “com­ing with desire unto men instead of women,” both explic­it­ly (and, in the case of the lat­ter, recur­rent­ly) high­light­ed in the Qurʾān. Nonethe­less, Kugle uses this obvi­ous­ly par­tial listing—for are we to con­clude that high­way rob­bery is not a crime either since it too is absent from this listing?—in order to estab­lish the “true” infi­deli­ty of Lot’s peo­ple: greed, avarice, cov­etous­ness, and the like, delib­er­ate­ly exclud­ing same-sex inter­course in direct con­tra­dic­tion to the lit­er­al word­ing of the Qurʾān to which he claims such unwa­ver­ing alle­giance. Kugle then men­tions a sec­ond tra­di­tion in al-Rāwandī’s work that speaks of the greed and avarice of Lot’s peo­ple, report­ing that the peo­ple of Sodom engaged in sex­u­al acts as a means of deter­ring trav­el­ers as well as impe­cu­nious and des­ti­tute peti­tion­ers. It was not, Kugle puts forth, con­sen­su­al sex among men, but vio­lent rape, of which the Sodomites were guilty.

In respond­ing to this line of argu­ment, it is impor­tant to bear in mind al-Rāwandī’s loca­tion as a medieval Shi­ite schol­ar. As in Sun­ni schol­ar­ship, Shi­ite schol­ars would not con­sid­er al-Rāwandī’s qaṣaṣ nar­ra­tions any­where near as pro­ba­tive as the author­i­ta­tive Shi­ite ḥadīth col­lec­tions known as the Four Books (al-kutub al-arbaʿa), Nahj al-balāgha, Risālat al-ḥuqūq, or one of the many oth­er pri­ma­ry texts that form the cen­tral cor­pus of the Shi­ite tra­di­tion. In addi­tion, Kugle applies absolute­ly no scruti­ny what­so­ev­er to the nar­ra­tions he cites from al-Rāwandī. Are they sound? How have they been grad­ed by schol­ars? What is known about their trans­mit­ters? Kugle reveals none of this infor­ma­tion.

Sec­ond­ly, Kugle is guilty yet again of selec­tive cita­tion. He makes no men­tion of the tra­di­tions sur­round­ing the ones he cites that make explic­it men­tion of same-gen­der inter­course among the iniq­ui­ties of the peo­ple of Lot. These tra­di­tions include the fol­low­ing:

Abū Baṣīr reports from one of the two, may God’s bless­ings be upon them, con­cern­ing the verse “Do you com­mit iniq­ui­ty (a-taʾtū­na ‘l-fāḥisha)”: Iblis came to them in the image of an effem­i­nate youth wear­ing fine cloth­ing. He exhib­it­ed attrac­tion toward them, direct­ing them to have inter­course with him [as the pas­sive part­ner] and they did so. Had he direct­ed them to be the pas­sive part­ner, they would have refused, but instead they grew to enjoy it. Then he left them as they were, and they con­tin­ued [hav­ing inter­course] with one anoth­er after that.[109]

As can be seen, the fore­go­ing tra­di­tion bears no resem­blance to the nar­ra­tive Kugle is attempt­ing to advance. It paints same-sex inter­course as a phe­nom­e­non engen­dered by Satan and alleges that it pre­dom­i­nat­ed among youth (shabāb). Will Kugle grant this tra­di­tion legit­i­ma­cy as well? Fur­ther­more, the nar­ra­tion men­tions noth­ing of rape or coer­cion what­so­ev­er. In fact, it explic­it­ly states that the youth grew to enjoy this activ­i­ty and that they con­tin­ued to prac­tice it with each other—clearly in a con­sen­su­al and mutu­al­ly plea­sur­able manner—after Satan’s depar­ture. It also paints tak­ing plea­sure in the pas­sive role in anal inter­course (i.e., assum­ing the role of maʾbūn) as par­tic­u­lar­ly repug­nant to the nat­ur­al con­sti­tu­tion, or fiṭra, yet some­thing that one can nev­er­the­less grow to enjoy through repeat­ed acts of indul­gence.

In addi­tion, Kugle mis­reads the sec­ond tra­di­tion he cites as being a com­men­tary on the peo­ple of Lot, where­as in real­i­ty it is a com­men­tary on the poten­tial out­come of unre­strained avarice. The tra­di­tion states that if avarice is not con­trolled, one may even­tu­al­ly end up as sex­u­al­ly unbri­dled as the peo­ple of Lot. Kugle trans­lates the end of the tra­di­tion as stat­ing, “They would rape them (fada­hahu) with­out sex­u­al need, in order to dis­hon­or them. They per­sist­ed in this behav­ior until they began to search out men and force them­selves on them [empha­sis mine].”[110] A prop­er trans­la­tion of the tra­di­tion, how­ev­er, ren­ders: “They would rape the vis­i­tor (faaḥūhu) with­out desire (shah­wa). They per­sist­ed in this behav­ior until they sought out men and pro­vid­ed them com­pen­sa­tion (yuʿṭū­na ʿalay­hi al-niḥal).” In con­text, although the peo­ple of Lot are ini­tial­ly described as suf­fer­ing from rapa­cious­ness, it is this same consumption—namely, of their own wealth and possessions—that leads them to rap­ing vis­i­tors of the same gen­der, an act in which they engage over and over to the point that they then engage in con­sen­su­al same-sex inter­course among them­selves there­after. Avarice, greed, same-sex forcible inter­course, and same-sex con­sen­su­al inter­course all fall equal­ly under the oppro­bri­um of this nar­ra­tion. In fact, engag­ing in same-sex behav­ior with mutu­al con­sent and plea­sure is, if any­thing, depict­ed as the ulti­mate moral out­rage to which the oth­ers can even­tu­al­ly lead if left unchecked.

All this still leaves a fair­ly impor­tant loose end which Kugle needs to square away with the revi­sion­ist nar­ra­tive he is attempt­ing to con­struct: Lot’s daugh­ters. Why did Lot offer up his daugh­ters to the peo­ple of Sodom when they came with sex­u­al intent for his male guests? In order to rec­on­cile this verse with the rest of his account, Kugle attrib­ut­es the offer­ing as a type of hos­pi­tal­i­ty extend­ed by Lot to his guests. To put it in oth­er words, Kugle is ask­ing us to believe that Lot was so trou­bled by the pos­si­bil­i­ty of vio­lent gang rape against his guests as reflect­ing poor­ly on his hos­pi­tal­i­ty as a host that he was ready to offer up his own daugh­ters to be raped by the peo­ple of Sodom instead! Kugle describes this ges­ture as a type of sac­ri­fi­cial offer­ing that demon­strates the sacred need to defend unfa­mil­iar guests over one’s very kith and kin.

Rec­og­niz­ing the implau­si­bil­i­ty of such an inter­pre­ta­tion, Kugle reveal­ing­ly aban­dons this read­ing in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, where he enquires, “Would any­one believe that a Prophet would offer his daugh­ters to assailants intent on rape, as if their rap­ing women would make them ‘pure’?”[111] Kugle’s indig­na­tion at such a read­ing is extra­or­di­nary, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en that he him­self had pro­posed this very inter­pre­ta­tion only a few years pri­or. In Kugle’s ear­li­er Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims piece, he states, “When Lut offers up his fam­i­ly mem­bers (who hap­pen to be female daugh­ters) in exchange for his guests (who hap­pen to be male vis­i­tors), he dis­plays in most extreme terms the sacred­ness of pro­tect­ing guests who are ele­vat­ed even above the sta­tus of off­spring.”[112] The revised hermeneu­tic in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty fails even to acknowl­edge this pri­or posi­tion. It makes no effort to rec­on­cile the two, or per­haps to offer a rea­son as to why Kugle has mod­i­fied his pri­or inter­pre­ta­tion. As an alter­na­tive “exe­ge­sis,” he now insists in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty that Lot was mak­ing a “sar­cas­tic com­par­i­son” intend­ed to demon­strate the vile nature of the assailants’ ill intent.[113] Despite his best efforts to offer a more cred­i­ble read­ing of the Lot nar­ra­tive, Kugle leaves his read­er with yet anoth­er far-fetched and most improb­a­ble inter­pre­ta­tion. In this revised sce­nario, Lot’s men­tion­ing of his daugh­ters as being “pur­er” for the men is mere­ly tongue-in-cheek and not intend­ed to be tak­en lit­er­al­ly. That Lot’s daugh­ters are female is pre­sent­ed as mere­ly acci­den­tal, with any focus on gen­der being put at the feet of sex-obsessed the­olo­gians bent on sup­port­ing their het­ero­sex­u­al­ist tribe—and this charge, despite the fact that the Qurʾān itself so unmis­tak­ably links the female gen­der of Lot’s daugh­ters to the one and only rea­son on account of which they are “pur­er” for Lot’s peo­ple as sex­u­al part­ners than his male guests.

Kugle’s reworked nar­ra­tive is thus high­ly implau­si­ble in that it does not square with the vers­es of Lot in the Qurʾān and relies exclu­sive­ly upon spu­ri­ous lat­er tra­di­tions from dubi­ous sources, cit­ed selec­tive­ly and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed. Fur­ther­more, Kugle’s project requires a com­plete dis­missal of hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of past and present schol­ars as sim­ply prod­ucts of a “het­ero­nor­ma­tive econ­o­my” that became too dom­i­nant for any­one to oppose. It is, in brief, a revi­sion­ism that falls short and ulti­mate­ly fails to con­vince in its attempt to con­struct an alter­na­tive read­ing of the Lot nar­ra­tive.

V.     Comparing Homosexuality in Islam with Progressive Muslims Piece

Kugle’s orig­i­nal piece in Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims was writ­ten in 2003, sev­en years pri­or to the pub­li­ca­tion of his ded­i­cat­ed work Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam (2010). It is inter­est­ing to observe the incon­gruities between the two works, a few of which have been men­tioned in the pre­ced­ing sec­tions. For one, Kugle main­tains the impor­tance of review­ing Qurʾānic themes, but makes no men­tion of qaṣaṣ works in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. Al-Kisāʾī and al-Rāwandī make no appear­ance in this lat­ter work—in stark con­trast to the Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims piece in which these two qaṣaṣ works form the back­bone of his the­mat­ic analy­sis. In addi­tion, Kugle in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty now main­tains that the peo­ple of Lot were not sim­ply guilty of sex­u­al assault, but of infi­deli­ty as well. In this regard he writes:

The men who attacked Lot’s guests with the intent to rape them had wives and chil­dren, as they do the men in lust besides the women [min dūn al-nisā’], as the Qur’an (27:55) empha­sizes through its gram­mar. It makes def­i­nite both “the men” whom they are sex­u­al­ly assault­ing and “the women” with whom they already have sex­u­al rela­tion­ships. That the Qur’an makes these nouns def­i­nite (with al- or “the”) alerts the atten­tive read­er to the speci­fici­ty of Lot’s con­dem­na­tion. […] Their sex­u­al assault was dri­ven by their infi­deli­ty and their rejec­tion of their Prophet.[114]

Con­trary to what Kugle asserts, the gram­mar of these vers­es makes no indi­ca­tion at all that the men guilty of anal­ly pen­e­trat­ing oth­er men nec­es­sar­i­ly had wives or chil­dren. Kugle seems to assume that the Ara­bic def­i­nite arti­cle works just like the Eng­lish one (i.e., alif + lām = “the”), which (in Eng­lish) always refers to a spe­cif­ic, as opposed to a gener­ic, ref­er­ent. That the Ara­bic def­i­nite arti­cle, in con­trast, can and often does refer to a gener­ic class and not to a spe­cif­ic referent—as in the Latin lan­guages and others—is an ele­men­tary point cov­ered ear­ly on in any clas­si­cal Ara­bic gram­mar or mod­ern uni­ver­si­ty Ara­bic course. Yet Kugle seems either to be igno­rant of this basic gram­mat­i­cal fea­ture of the Ara­bic lan­guage or to be obfus­cat­ing it delib­er­ate­ly in order to make a point that can­not be sup­port­ed by a gram­mat­i­cal­ly informed read­ing of the text. When, for instance, the Qurʾān states, “Ver­i­ly, man (al-insān) is in loss,” it is not refer­ring to one spe­cif­ic man, or to any par­tic­u­lar set of indi­vid­u­als, but instead to mankind as a class. In Ara­bic gram­mar, this ele­men­tary use of “al-” is referred to as the gener­ic def­i­nite arti­cle (alif-lām al-jin­siyya). Like­wise, when Lot says, “Do you come with desire unto men (al-rijāl) instead of women (al-nisāʾ)?” he says this not in ref­er­ence to any par­tic­u­lar women, but in ref­er­ence to women as a class (and, obvi­ous­ly, as dis­tinct­ly opposed to men as a class). Had Lot meant to ref­er­ence the men’s wives in par­tic­u­lar, he would have said “your women” or per­haps “your wives,” yet Lot says no such thing.

Kugle attempts to bol­ster the afore­men­tioned argu­ment by cit­ing Q. (al-Shuʿarāʾ) 26:165–166, which he trans­lates as, “Do you do males from the wide world and leave what mates God has cre­at­ed for you? Indeed you are a peo­ple exceed­ing in aggres­sion.” Accord­ing to Kugle, Lot is spec­i­fy­ing here that these men have mates (azwāj) to whom they are already mar­ried, such that they are guilty not only of sex­u­al­ly assault­ing men, but of mar­i­tal infi­deli­ty as well. Although the term “mates” (azwāj) can refer to spous­es, this word often occurs in the Qurʾān to refer to men and women being mates of one anoth­er as a nor­ma­tive prin­ci­ple (in con­trast to a real­ized fact). Both Q. (al-Rūm) 30:21 and Q. (al-Shūrā) 42:11, for exam­ple, state that God has “cre­at­ed (30:21) / made (42:11) for you mates from amongst your­selves (kha­laqa / jaʿala lakum min anfusikum azwā­jan).” Tra­di­tion­al exegetes make no men­tion of wives when com­ment­ing on the vers­es of Sūrat al-Shuʿarāʾ (26:165–166) cit­ed above, instead inter­pret­ing them as indi­cat­ing that the peo­ple of Sodom were sole­ly inter­est­ed in sex by anal pen­e­tra­tion to the exclu­sion of vagi­nal inter­course, such that they not only par­took in anal sex with men but with women as well.[115]

In addi­tion, if we attempt to under­stand this verse along­side the pas­sage where Lot offers his daugh­ters up for mar­riage [see Q. (Hūd) 11:78], then the notion that the men in ques­tion were already mar­ried becomes even less prob­a­ble. Pre­sum­ably, if the men of Sodom already had wives to whom they could turn, Lot would have sim­ply direct­ed them to go to these (already exist­ing) wives of theirs, rather than offer­ing them his own daugh­ters. More­over, when one con­sid­ers the com­mon inter­pre­ta­tion of “daugh­ters” in Q. 11:78 as “women of the town,”[116] this only rein­forces the con­clu­sion that the verse is speak­ing not of wives, but of women more generally—i.e., the women of the town—who were cre­at­ed, as a gener­ic class, to be spous­es for the men. That Lot’s peo­ple respond­ed to him in this pas­sage by say­ing, “You know well that we have no claim on your daugh­ters, and indeed, you know what we want,” only prob­lema­tizes the inter­pre­ta­tion of wives even fur­ther. The men’s “hav­ing no claim” on Lot’s daugh­ters has been inter­pret­ed by exegetes in var­i­ous ways. Al-Ṭabarī inter­prets it to mean that the men of Sodom were unin­ter­est­ed in mar­riage and as such had no claim upon Lot’s daugh­ters as sin­gle, mar­riage­able women.[117] Al-Zamakhsharī views the peo­ple of Sodom as hav­ing spurned male-female sex­u­al acts so com­plete­ly that they held mar­riage and male-female rela­tions, in terms of nor­ma­tive belief and social prac­tice, to be false and wrong (bāṭilun mad­hha­ban wa dīnan), while accept­ing male homo­sex­u­al inter­course as legit­i­mate and right (ḥaqq).[118] Al-Rāzī attrib­ut­es the men’s “hav­ing no claim” on Lot’s daugh­ters to a lack of sex­u­al inter­est in women giv­en their exclu­sive desire for men.[119]

Giv­en the lack of any prece­dent in the tafsīr tra­di­tion main­tain­ing that the men of Sodom had wives, the com­mon use of azwāj in non-mat­ri­mo­ni­al con­texts, and Lot’s offer­ing of “his daughters”—be it his lin­eal descen­dants or his “spir­i­tu­al daugh­ters,” the women of his town—to the men of Sodom, it is high­ly improb­a­ble that Kugle’s inter­pre­ta­tion could be con­sid­ered a valid ren­der­ing of the mean­ing of the verse in ques­tion. This is yet anoth­er inci­dence that demon­strates Kugle’s will­ing­ness to force his own agen­da onto the text: he approach­es the Qurʾān with a set­tled con­clu­sion in mind and manip­u­lates his inter­pre­tive approach when and as need­ed to arrive at already pre­de­ter­mined views. 

VI.     Ibn Ḥazm and Homosexuality in Islam

Set­ting the alle­ga­tions of infi­deli­ty aside, Kugle’s most sig­nif­i­cant addi­tion to Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam is the famous Andalu­sian jurist and lit­ter­a­teur Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064) of Cor­do­ba. Ibn Ḥazm is cen­tral to the book, with his name appear­ing repeat­ed­ly in every chap­ter. Draw­ing from Ibn Ḥazm’s legal trea­tise al-Muḥal­lā fī sharḥ al-Mujal­lā, Kugle presents his cho­sen hero as gal­lant­ly con­fronting an ossi­fied legal tra­di­tion in need of a rad­i­cal make-over. Describ­ing Ibn Ḥazm as a “sex­u­al­i­ty-sen­si­tive”[120] inter­preter of the Qurʾān, Kugle prais­es him time and again. Ibn Ḥazm’s inter­pre­ta­tions, Kugle asserts, are informed by “a sub­tle the­o­ry of human nature,”[121] unlike oth­ers who exhib­it no such under­stand­ing. Ibn Ḥazm is described as “fear­less­ly chal­leng­ing” the “con­clu­sions of com­mon piety and chau­vin­is­tic self-right­eous­ness.”[122] His eru­di­tion was so pro­nounced that he was “not only a jurist, but also an ethi­cist and lit­er­ary author.”[123] Kugle at times refers to Ibn Ḥazm as “our guide,” ide­al­iz­ing his posi­tions, method­ol­o­gy, and hermeneu­tic, which Kugle seems to want to claim as his own.[124]

Despite Kugle’s pre­sen­ta­tion of Ibn Ḥazm as the ide­al juris­tic cham­pi­on for those advo­cat­ing the mod­ern accom­mo­da­tion of same-sex behav­iors in Islam, Ibn Ḥazm’s views con­cern­ing the pro­hib­it­ed­ness of homo­sex­u­al activ­i­ty stand in direct oppo­si­tion to Kugle’s project, as, in fact, they con­form per­fect­ly with the juris­tic con­sen­sus regard­ing the uncon­di­tion­al illic­it­ness of such rela­tions. This view does not come through clear­ly in Kugle’s work, how­ev­er, as he presents Ibn Ḥazm’s endorse­ment of the con­sen­sus view on the pro­hi­bi­tion of same-sex acts as sub­or­di­nate to his break­ing with the dom­i­nant opin­ion as to whether or not the act of sodomy (liwāṭ)—though cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly forbidden—rises to the lev­el of a ḥadd crime. Although Kugle men­tions Ibn Ḥazm’s agree­ment with the juris­tic con­sen­sus regard­ing the pro­scrip­tion of male-male sex­u­al inter­course, this point stands as a side note to Kugle’s oth­er­wise lengthy com­men­tary on Ibn Ḥazm’s views on the issue of the ḥadd, replete with excerpts from al-Muḥal­lā giv­ing the read­er the impres­sion that Ibn Ḥazm was not sim­ply chal­leng­ing the dom­i­nant ḥadd rul­ing, but the very under­stand­ing of the Lot nar­ra­tive as in any way indi­cat­ing the cat­e­gor­i­cal pro­hi­bi­tion of same-gen­der sex­u­al inter­course.

A plain read­ing of al-Muḥal­lā—includ­ing the very pas­sages in which Ibn Ḥazm chal­lenges the dom­i­nant view of liwāṭ as a ḥadd crime—demonstrates indeed that Ibn Ḥazm held same-sex acts to be cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly pro­hib­it­ed. For exam­ple, in respond­ing to the­olo­gians who dif­fered over the ques­tion of whether male anal inter­course amount­ed to a cap­i­tal offense, Ibn Ḥazm responds stat­ing, “The rul­ing [for anal inter­course between two men] is that when an evil (munkar) appears, it is nec­es­sary by the order of the Mes­sen­ger of God, may God’s peace and bless­ings be upon him, to alter that evil with one’s hands. There­fore, it is nec­es­sary to car­ry out dis­cre­tionary pun­ish­ment (taʿzīr) that the Mes­sen­ger of God pre­scribed, may God’s peace and bless­ings be upon him, and not to exceed that…”[125]

Else­where, in dis­cussing trib­adism (siḥāq), e.g., female-to-female gen­i­tal con­tact, Ibn Ḥazm states:

It has been trans­mit­ted by way of Mus­lim upon the author­i­ty of Abū Bakr b. Abī Shay­ba, who report­ed from Zayd b. Ḥubāb, who report­ed through [omit­ting nar­ra­tors] ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī Saʿīd al-Khu­drī, who report­ed from his father that the Mes­sen­ger of God, may God’s peace and bless­ings be upon him, said, “Let no man see anoth­er man’s ʿawra,[126] nor a woman see anoth­er woman’s ʿawra; [like­wise] let no man lie uncov­ered (yufḍī ilā) under the same sheet as anoth­er man, nor a woman lie uncov­ered under the same sheet as anoth­er woman.”[127]

[And] it has been trans­mit­ted [omit­ted nar­ra­tors] that ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd said, “The Mes­sen­ger of God, may God’s peace and bless­ings be upon him, for­bade two women from lying uncov­ered skin to skin beneath a sin­gle sheet, lest one describe the oth­er to her hus­band as if he saw her.”[128]

And it has been report­ed [omit­ted nar­ra­tors] that Ibn ʿAb­bās said, “The Mes­sen­ger of God, may God’s peace and bless­ings be upon him, cursed men who imi­tate (or take on the appear­ance of) women (al-mutashab­bi­hī­na min al-rijāl bi’l-nisāʾ) and women who imi­tate (or take on the appear­ance of) men.”[129]

These lucid pas­sages pro­hib­it two men from lying uncov­ered and in con­tact with each oth­er and two women from lying uncov­ered and in con­tact with each oth­er, for both are, like the oth­er, trans­gres­sions against God, and this is the same whether it ensues between two men or two women. If a woman uses her gen­i­talia [in inti­ma­cy with anoth­er woman], then the pro­hi­bi­tion is even greater and the vice expo­nen­tial­ly graver. Should a woman enter into her vagi­na oth­er than that which has been made law­ful of her husband’s puden­dum, or what is used to con­tain her men­stru­a­tion, then she has not pre­served her chasti­ty…[130]

Ibn Ḥazm pro­ceeds to state that in the case of sex­u­al acts between two women, dis­cre­tionary pun­ish­ment (taʿzīr) must be applied to dis­cour­age moral deprav­i­ty and pre­vent the pro­lif­er­a­tion of vice. Of course, al-Muḥal­lā is not the only text in which Ibn Ḥazm dis­cuss­es same-sex acts. In Ṭawq al-ḥamā­ma, in a chap­ter enti­tled “Of the Vile­ness of Sin­ning,” he states:

As for con­duct like that of the peo­ple of Lot, that is hor­ri­ble and dis­gust­ing. Allah says, “Will ye com­mit an abom­i­na­tion which no liv­ing crea­ture ever com­mit­ted before you?” (Qur’an VII 78). Allah hurled at the offend­ers stones of clay stamped with a mark (cf. Qur’an XI 84). Malik is of the opin­ion that both par­ties of this offence are to be stoned, whether they are mar­ried or not. Some of his fol­low­ers cite in sup­port of this doc­trine the words of God, touch­ing the ston­ing of the Sodomites, “And stones are not far away from those who com­mit iniq­ui­ty” (Qur’an VI 84): accord­ing­ly the stones are near to those who com­mit iniq­ui­ty after a like man­ner today. This is not how­ev­er the place to enter into a dis­cus­sion of the diver­gence of opin­ions held con­cern­ing this ques­tion. Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn al-Sari informs us that Abu Bakr burnt alive a man con­vict­ed of this offence; Abu ‘Ubai­da Ma’mar Ibn Muthanna relates that the name of the man so burnt was Shu­ja’ Ibn War­qa’ al-Asa­di; Abu Bakr burnt him alive because he allowed him­self to be used in sodomy.[131]

The intel­li­gent man has ample diver­sions to escape from the com­mis­sion of sins. Allah has for­bid­den noth­ing, with­out hav­ing pro­vid­ed for His ser­vants law­ful sub­sti­tutes, which are seem­li­er and more excel­lent than the thing pro­hib­it­ed. There is no God but He![132]

As can be seen from the afore­men­tioned pas­sages, Ibn Ḥazm, like those both before and after him, upheld the require­ment of sex­u­al restraint unless enact­ed with­in the reli­gious­ly legit­i­mate con­fines of (male-female) mat­ri­mo­ni­al or (male-female) own­er­ship con­texts. Oth­er­wise, sex­u­al appetite was some­thing that had to be dis­ci­plined, not indulged in and “accom­mo­dat­ed” on the basis of its mere pres­ence. So com­mit­ted was Ibn Ḥazm to this objec­tive that he called for dis­cre­tionary pun­ish­ment (taʿzīr) as a means to curb the pro­lif­er­a­tion of sex­u­al immoral­i­ty, including—very explicitly—all forms of same-sex erot­ic behav­ior. Although he dis­put­ed with oth­er schol­ars over their con­sid­er­a­tion of liwāṭ as a ḥadd crime due to his cat­e­gor­i­cal rejec­tion of ana­log­i­cal rea­son­ing (qiyās) in mat­ters of law, Ibn Ḥazm nev­er demurred on the ques­tion of whether or not same-sex sex­u­al behav­ior was pro­hib­it­ed. In fact he ener­get­i­cal­ly upheld this pro­hi­bi­tion, object­ing only to the appli­ca­tion of a ḥadd penal­ty for either sodomy (liwāṭ) or trib­adism (siḥāq)[133]—acts which he, along with all oth­er Mus­lim jurists, held to be not only sin­ful in the eyes of God but even pun­ish­able in this world as well, albeit accord­ing to the dis­cre­tionary pow­ers of the judge rather than as a divine­ly man­dat­ed ḥadd penal­ty.

VII.     Sloppy Scholarship

There are a num­ber of stray claims strewn through­out Kugle’s work that are sim­ply unsus­tain­able upon inves­ti­ga­tion. Thoug

h many could be list­ed, a few include:

  • Kugle’s claim that fusūq is syn­ony­mous with the wor­ship of idols.[134] Kugle argues that fusūq informs the term fāḥisha and that when one under­stands fusūq nor­ma­tive­ly as a rejec­tion of God and wor­ship­ing of idols, then fāḥisha must be viewed in this light as well. In real­i­ty, fisq and its cog­nates appear through­out the Qurʾān in var­i­ous con­texts. Q. (al-Māʾi­da) 5:108 uses the term fāsiqūn to speak of those who fal­si­fy oaths; Q. (al-Anʿām) 6:121 states that eat­ing meat over which God’s name has not been pro­nounced is fisq; Q. (al-Anʿām) 6:145 iden­ti­fies the con­sump­tion of blood, car­rion, and swine as fisq; and Q. (al-Māʾi­da) 5:47 states that judg­ing by a rul­ing oth­er than God’s is fisq. None of these vers­es per­tain to idol wor­ship.[135]
  • Kugle claims that Islam has accept­ed not only mat­ri­mo­ni­al rela­tion­ships (per­ma­nent, and in the case of Shi­ite law pos­si­bly tem­po­rary as well), but also slav­ery and, he claims, “less for­mal­ly legal­ized rela­tion­ships” [empha­sis mine].[136] In point of fact, no rela­tion­ships oth­er than the two men­tioned (mar­riage and own­er­ship) are per­mit­ted any­where in the Qurʾān, ḥadīth, or Islam­ic Law. Islam’s alleged “accep­tance” of “less for­mal­ly legal­ized rela­tion­ships,” which Kugle seems to want to use as a door to smug­gle in mod­ern-day homo­sex­u­al rela­tion­ships, is noth­ing but a fig­ment of his imag­i­na­tion.
  • Kugle states that the Qurʾān often uses the term fawāḥish (“iniq­ui­ties”) in the plur­al when relat­ing the nar­ra­tive of Lot,[137] when in fact the exact oppo­site is the case: the Qurʾān nev­er uses the plur­al fawāḥish in ref­er­ence to the peo­ple of Lot. Rather, it uses the sin­gu­lar fāḥisha each and every time—and in the imme­di­ate con­text of “com­ing with desire unto men instead of women.” Kugle’s intend­ed point here is that in using the plur­al fawāḥish, the Qurʾān is not sin­gling out the same-sex con­duct of the men of Lot’s peo­ple, but rather indict­ing a range of uneth­i­cal con­duct of which they were guilty. Although it is true, as pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, that the peo­ple of Lot were guilty of a num­ber of mis­deeds record­ed in the Qurʾān, it is only the sin­gu­lar fāḥisha that appears in the Qurʾān’s repeat­ed denun­ci­a­tion of the homo­sex­u­al prac­tices of the men of Sodom—their most oft repeat­ed and, there­fore, char­ac­ter­is­tic sin.

VIII.     Conclusion

There is an old Pak­istani adage that can loose­ly be trans­lat­ed as, “Those who can­not dance always say the floor is crooked.” This state­ment is often used to inveigh against those who suf­fer short­com­ings and con­se­quent­ly assign cul­pa­bil­i­ty for their short­com­ings to every­one (and every­thing) else. This adage cer­tain­ly applies in the case of Scott Kugle’s Qurʾān revi­sion­ism. The Qurʾān’s and the Sharīʿa’s pro­scrip­tion of homo­erot­ic behav­ior is, accord­ing to Kugle, to be explained away by iden­ti­fy­ing a panoply of “cul­prits” that must be blamed for hav­ing “mis­read” the Qurʾān and the Prophet­ic Sun­na through­out all of Islam­ic his­to­ry. It was the schol­ars of ḥadīth who failed to inspect tra­di­tions thor­ough­ly enough, the exegetes who were guilty of “def­i­n­i­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion,” the jurists who were unable to over­come their “dis­em­pow­er­ment” in the face of a dom­i­nant patri­archy, and the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty writ large that has failed to take the fore­go­ing cul­prits suf­fi­cient­ly to task.

As an alter­na­tive, Kugle pro­pos­es a hermeneu­tic that lacks any inter­nal con­sis­ten­cy and rests upon a num­ber of grave method­olog­i­cal infir­mi­ties. As I have demon­strat­ed in the fore­go­ing, much of Kugle’s argu­men­ta­tion relies on fre­quent­ly mis­lead­ing cita­tions from the clas­si­cal sources, the omis­sion of rel­e­vant mate­ri­als that run counter to his nar­ra­tive in favor of par­tial quo­ta­tions drawn selec­tive­ly from the most dubitable of sources, mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the posi­tions of the clas­si­cal jurists and oth­ers,[138] the trans­po­si­tion of mod­ern cat­e­gories onto the clas­si­cal lit­er­a­ture in a man­ner that dis­torts the mean­ing of this lat­ter when viewed in its own con­text, et al. In many instances, Kugle sim­ply dis­miss­es the estab­lished dis­ci­plines of Islam­ic law, the­ol­o­gy, and exe­ge­sis out­right while stak­ing enor­mous claims on a ten­u­ous body of late, unsourced qaṣaṣ mate­ri­als. Yet even this mate­r­i­al can only be ger­ry­man­dered into yield­ing the desired out­come when invoked selec­tive­ly and in a decid­ed­ly decon­tex­tu­al­ized man­ner. Kugle depends heav­i­ly on the con­tri­bu­tions of Ibn Ḥazm, but invokes his cho­sen stan­dard bear­er again selec­tive­ly and, once more, only when it suits his agen­da. As we have seen in the pre­ced­ing sec­tion, Kugle’s revi­sion­ist project is, in fact, explic­it­ly belied by Ibn Ḥazm’s own unflinch­ing con­dem­na­tion of all forms of homo­erot­ic behavior—even as he retains appar­ent sym­pa­thy for those sub­ject to same-sex and oth­er unre­quitable forms of love and desire. Kugle’s pre­car­i­ous han­dling of the source mate­ri­als is only com­pound­ed by numer­ous con­cep­tu­al incon­gru­ences, log­i­cal non sequiturs, and glar­ing con­tra­dic­tions, often at the most crit­i­cal junc­tures of his argu­ment. Most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Kugle’s stat­ed attempt to bypass the “spec­u­la­tive assertion[s]”[139] of the (entire) Islam­ic tra­di­tion in favor of an alleged­ly “lit­er­al” read­ing of the Qurʾān favor­able to homo­sex­u­al prac­tice yields an imag­i­na­tive recon­struc­tion of the peo­ple of Lot that is itself spec­u­la­tive in the extreme and that, despite Kugle’s insis­tence to the con­trary, fails to offer an even min­i­mal­ly plau­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion of the rel­e­vant Qurʾānic vers­es, the “lit­er­al speci­fici­ty”[140] of which he claims—against all evi­dence to the contrary—to be the champion.It should be clear by now that the revi­sion­ist read­ing of the Qurʾān Kugle offers in an attempt to accom­mo­date same-sex behav­ior as reli­gious­ly per­mis­si­ble in Islam has fall­en well short of its stat­ed objec­tive. The Lot nar­ra­tives in the Qurʾān are sim­ply too clear and their mean­ings too obvi­ous for this brand of hermeneu­tic adven­tur­ism to be any­thing oth­er than a non-starter. In Islam­ic Law, mat­ters such as the cat­e­gor­i­cal pro­hi­bi­tion of homo­sex­u­al behav­ior con­sti­tute what schol­ars have termed maʿlūm min al-dīn bi’l-ḍarūra, that is, mat­ters “known by neces­si­ty to be part and par­cel of the faith.” God is One, Muḥam­mad (pbuh) is His Mes­sen­ger and final prophet, prayers are required five times a day, fast­ing is oblig­at­ed in the month of Ramadan, and oth­er foun­da­tion­al beliefs and prac­tices are all includ­ed with­in this cat­e­go­ry. The pro­scrip­tion of same-sex behav­ior, too, falls with­in this category—right along with the well-known and undis­put­ed pro­hi­bi­tion of oth­er acts like for­ni­ca­tion, adul­tery, drink­ing alco­hol, gam­bling, mur­der, theft, and others.For an argu­ment to have intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty, it must at the very least be hon­est with the sources and tra­di­tion it seeks to inter­ro­gate. At some point, one must admit when one is wrong. At times, it is not the floor that is crooked, but we who can­not dance.

And Allah knows best.

Appendix

Qurʾānic Verses Regarding the People of Lot 

a) Sūrat al-Aʿrāf, 7:80–84

(80) And (men­tion) Lot, when he said to his peo­ple, “Do you com­mit iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) such as none in cre­ation have com­mit­ted before you? (81) Ver­i­ly you come with desire unto men instead of women. Nay, you are a peo­ple trans­gress­ing (beyond bounds).” (82) But the reply of his peo­ple was but to say, “Turn them out from your town! Tru­ly they are peo­ple who keep them­selves pure.” (83) So We res­cued him and his house­hold, save his wife; she was of those who stayed behind. (84) And We brought down upon them a rain (of stones). See then how was the fate of the wrong­do­ers.

Syn­op­sis: Begin­ning with a con­fronta­tion, Lot reproach­es his peo­ple for “com­ing with desire unto men instead of women.” This verse is repeat­ed in the pas­sage relat­ed to Lot in Sūrat al-Naml (27:54–58) and is close­ly relat­ed to the vers­es in Sūrat al-Shuʿarāʾ (26:16–175), where Lot rebukes his peo­ple not only for approach­ing men with desire, but for doing so at the expense of those whom God has cre­at­ed for them as mates, name­ly, women. Annoyed by Lot’s preach­ing, the peo­ple threat­en him with evic­tion and cas­ti­gate Lot and those with him for “keep­ing them­selves pure.” Inter­est­ing­ly, the peo­ple of Lot employ the term “pure” in ref­er­ence to Lot and those who fol­low him, in appar­ent con­trast to them­selves who delight in impure and foul deeds. It is not a stretch to state that these men no longer viewed puri­ty as a virtue and des­ig­nat­ed Lot and his fol­low­ers as “pure” as a form of dis­par­age­ment, akin to con­tem­po­rary notions of “prud­ish­ness” fre­quent­ly alleged against those who main­tain pre-mar­i­tal celiba­cy. When God rains down His pun­ish­ment upon the town, Lot and his fol­low­ers are saved with the excep­tion of his wife, who is described else­where as a an exam­ple of some­one who, along with the wife of Noah, dis­be­lieved in and betrayed (khā­nat) her right­eous hus­band. Accord­ing­ly, her mat­ri­mo­ni­al rela­tion­ship “availed her naught before God.” (See Sūrat al-Taḥrīm, 66:10.)

b) Sūrat Hūd, 11:77–83

(77) And when Our mes­sen­gers [the angels] came to Lot, he was anguished on their account and con­strained from help­ing them. And he said, “This is a try­ing day!” (78) And his peo­ple came has­ten­ing unto him, and before they had been work­ing evil deeds. He said, “O my peo­ple, these are my daugh­ters; they are pur­er for you. So fear God and dis­grace me not with respect to my guests. Is there not among you a right-mind­ed man?” (79) They said, “You know well that we have no claim on your daugh­ters, and indeed, you know what we want.” (80) He said, “Would that I had strength against you or could take refuge in a strong sup­port.” (81) They (the angels) said, “O Lot! Ver­i­ly we are the mes­sen­gers of your Lord; they shall nev­er reach you. Set out with your fam­i­ly dur­ing a por­tion of the night and let not any among you look back, save your wife; indeed, she shall be struck by that which strikes them. Indeed, their appoint­ment is [for] the morn­ing. Is not the morn­ing nigh?” (82) Then when Our com­mand came, We turned (the town) upside down and rained upon them stones of baked clay in lay­ers, (83) marked [for pun­ish­ment] with your Lord; nor are they ever far from those who do wrong.

Syn­op­sis: Lot is vis­it­ed by three men who, unbe­knownst to him, are angels in human form. Con­cerned for their wel­fare as for­eign­ers in Sodom, Lot feels anguish on their account and takes them into his home as guests. News spreads in Sodom that three for­eign men are stay­ing with Lot, with some exegetes con­tend­ing that it was Lot’s wife who spread the word. Oth­ers also describe the men as pos­sess­ing immense beau­ty such that the peo­ple of Lot, hav­ing made male-male sex­u­al rela­tions nor­mal, would nat­u­ral­ly incline toward the hand­some out-of-town­ers and demand sex­u­al inti­ma­cy with them. Sure­ly enough, the peo­ple of Lot sur­round his home and demand that he give his guests up to them to indulge their sex­u­al designs. Lot entreats the men to con­sid­er instead his daugh­ters, as they are “pur­er” for them. Exegetes have dif­fered as to whether the daugh­ters in ques­tion are Lot’s lin­eal descen­dants, or whether the phrase “my daugh­ters” (banātī) refers to the women of the town in gen­er­al (as prophets are the spir­i­tu­al “fathers” of their peoples)—the very women these men have aban­doned in their pur­suit of oth­er men. The phrase “hav­ing no claim” on Lot’s daugh­ters has been under­stood by exegetes in var­i­ous ways (as dis­cussed in the body of the arti­cle). Dis­tressed by the men’s response to him, Lot express­es his help­less­ness to his guests, at which point they unveil their angel­ic ontol­ogy and mis­sion. The angels instruct Lot to set out with his fam­i­ly and fol­low­ers with the excep­tion of his wife, who suf­fers God’s pun­ish­ment along­side the peo­ple of Sodom on the fol­low­ing morn.

c) Sūrat al-Ḥijr, 15:57–77

(57) He (Lot) said, “What is your pur­pose, O mes­sen­gers?” (58) They said, “We have been sent to a peo­ple (deep) in sin, (59) except for the fam­i­ly of Lot. Ver­i­ly, we shall res­cue them all, (60) save his wife; we decreed that she shall sure­ly be of those who stay behind.” (61) So when the mes­sen­gers came to the house­hold of Lot, (62) he said, “Ver­i­ly you are a peo­ple unfa­mil­iar.” (63) They said, “Nay, but we have come to you with that [tor­ment] over which they were dis­put­ing. (64) And we have come to you with truth, for ver­i­ly we are truth­ful ones. (65) So set out with your fam­i­ly dur­ing a por­tion of the night and fol­low behind them, and let not any among you look back, but go on to where you are com­mand­ed.” (66) We made this decree known to him: that the last rem­nants of those (prof­li­gates) would be cut at ear­ly morn. (67) And the peo­ple of the city came, rejoic­ing. (68) He said to them, “These are my guests, so dis­grace me not. (69) Fear you God and put me not to shame.” (70) They said, “Did we not for­bid you from [pro­tect­ing] all the peo­ple?” (71) He said, “Here are my daugh­ters, if indeed you must act.” (72) Ver­i­ly, by your life [O Prophet], they wan­dered in their intox­i­ca­tion to and fro. (73) And the blast seized them at sun­rise, (74) and We turned (the city) upside down and rained down upon them stones of baked clay. (75) Ver­i­ly in that are signs for those who dis­cern (by way of tokens). (76) Ver­i­ly, it (the city) was [sit­u­at­ed] on a path still stand­ing. (77) Ver­i­ly in that is a sign for those who believe.

Syn­op­sis: This pas­sage begins with the angel­ic guests who have set out to destroy the peo­ple of Sodom after bear­ing wit­ness to their prodi­gal and sin­ful behav­ior. Lot rec­og­nizes them as strangers, where­upon the guests reveal to him their true iden­ti­ty and mis­sion. They instruct Lot and his fam­i­ly to vacate Sodom dur­ing the night, before the descent of God’s wrath upon the town. Pri­or to night­fall, the men of Sodom learn of the pres­ence of Lot’s guests and demand to have sex­u­al rela­tions with them. Lot entreats the men to fear God and not to shame him as a host. Frus­trat­ed by Lot’s repeat­ed admon­ish­ments, they tell him not to inter­fere. Lot once again offers the men his daugh­ters in order to pre­vent them from pur­su­ing oth­er men. (See the expla­na­tion of “daugh­ters” in the above syn­op­sis relat­ed to Sūrat Hūd). Intox­i­cat­ed by their lust and desires, they wan­der to and fro until the pun­ish­ment of God seizes them at sun­rise.

d) Sūrat al-Anbiyāʾ, 21:74–75

(74) And to Lot (also) We gave judg­ment and knowl­edge, and We deliv­ered him from the town that was work­ing filthy deeds (al-khabāʾith). Indeed, they were an evil, licen­tious folk. (75) And We admit­ted him (Lot) into Our Mer­cy, for tru­ly he was among the right­eous.

Syn­op­sis: The town of Sodom is described as com­mit­ting “filthy deeds” and being home to an “evil, licen­tious folk.” Lot, by con­trast, is a man of judg­ment and knowl­edge, as grant­ed to him by his Lord. A right­eous and ded­i­cat­ed prophet, Lot is admit­ted into the Mer­cy of God.

e) Sūrat al-Shuʿarāʾ, 26:160–175

(160) The peo­ple of Lot belied the mes­sen­gers. (161) Behold, their broth­er Lot said to them, “Will you not be mind­ful (of God)? (162) Indeed, I am a faith­ful mes­sen­ger unto you, (163) so fear you God and obey me. (164) I ask from you no reward for it; my reward is only with the Lord of the Worlds. (165) Of all crea­tures do you come unto males, (166) leav­ing what your Lord has cre­at­ed for you from your mates? Nay, but you are a peo­ple trans­gress­ing (the bounds).” (167) They said, “O Lot! If you desist not from this, you shall sure­ly be dri­ven out.” (168) He said, “I am, in truth, of those who loathe your deed.” (169) “My Lord, deliv­er me and my fam­i­ly from what they do!” (170) So We deliv­ered him and his fam­i­ly alto­geth­er— (171) save an elder­ly woman (his wife) who stayed behind. (172) Then We destroyed the oth­ers, (173) and We brought down upon them a rain (of stones); Evil was the rain of those who had been warned! (174) Ver­i­ly in that is a sign, yet most of them do not believe. (175) And ver­i­ly, your Lord—He is the Exalt­ed in Might, the Mer­ci­ful.

Syn­op­sis: Lot is described as the “broth­er” of his peo­ple, which for some exegetes indi­cates that he was indige­nous to the land of Sodom. The peo­ple of Sodom are told to have fear of God and to obey Lot, who seeks no finan­cial gain or posi­tion of world­ly author­i­ty among them. Along­side his mes­sage of obe­di­ence, Lot chides his people—as he does else­where in the Qurʾān—for leav­ing those (i.e., women) whom God has cre­at­ed for them as mates and instead com­ing with desire unto men. Al-Rāzī, al-Zamakhsharī, and oth­ers inter­pret “leav­ing what your Lord has cre­at­ed for you from your mates” as indi­cat­ing a sole inter­est in sex by anal pen­e­tra­tion rather than vagi­nal inter­course. The peo­ple of Lot respond by threat­en­ing Lot with evic­tion. Unde­terred, Lot express­es his dis­ap­proval of their con­duct and once again beseech­es God for sal­va­tion. God saves Lot and his entire fam­i­ly, with the excep­tion of his wife who is described as “an elder­ly woman who stayed behind.” The peo­ple of Sodom suf­fer God’s punishment—a tor­rent of clay stones that rains down upon them lev­el­ing the town (see pas­sage from Sūrat al-Ḥijr).

f) Sūrat al-Naml, 27:54–58

(54) And (men­tion) Lot, when he said to his peo­ple, “Do you com­mit iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) with eyes wide open? (55) Do you indeed come with desire unto men instead of women? Nay, but you are a peo­ple behav­ing fool­ish­ly.” (56) The reply of his peo­ple was but to say, “Turn Lot’s fam­i­ly out from your town! Tru­ly they are peo­ple who keep them­selves pure.” (57) So We deliv­ered him and his fam­i­ly, save his wife; We decreed that she would be from those who stay behind. (58) And We brought down upon them a rain (of stones); Evil was the rain of those who had been warned!

Syn­op­sis: Like the pas­sages in Sūrat al-Aʿrāf, Lot here scolds his peo­ple for “com­ing with desire unto men instead of women.” He express­es indig­na­tion that they would engage in such an act with their “eyes wide open” (wa antum tubṣirūn). Al-Zamakhsharī under­stands the verb tubṣirūn in this verse as a ref­er­ence to the sight of the heart (baṣar al-qalb) which serves as a kind of moral com­pass. Accord­ing­ly, the peo­ple of Sodom are described as know­ing that male-male sex­u­al acts are immoral, for God cre­at­ed women for men and vice ver­sa. Al-Rāzī also men­tions this as a pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion, adding to it the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the peo­ple of Lot par­took in homo­sex­u­al inter­course pub­licly with no attempt to con­ceal their mis­con­duct. Com­mit­ting debauch­ery in full view of oth­ers, they are described as com­mit­ting this “iniq­ui­ty” with their “eyes wide open.” In response, the peo­ple resolve to turn Lot and his fol­low­ers out from the town, describ­ing them as “peo­ple who keep them­selves pure” (see pas­sage from Sūrat al-Aʿrāf and accom­pa­ny­ing com­men­tary). God saves Lot and his fam­i­ly with the excep­tion of his wife, who remains behind to suf­fer the pun­ish­ment of Sodom.

g) Sūrat al-ʿAnk­abūt, 29:28–35

(28) And (men­tion) Lot, when he said to his peo­ple, “You com­mit iniq­ui­ty (fāḥisha) such as none in cre­ation have com­mit­ted before you. (29) Do you indeed come unto men, and cut off the road, and prac­tice evil deeds in your assem­blies?” The reply of his peo­ple was but to say, “Bring upon us God’s pun­ish­ment, if you are among the truth­ful.” (30) He said, “My Lord, sup­port me against the peo­ple who work cor­rup­tion.” (31) And when Our mes­sen­gers came unto Abra­ham with glad tid­ings, they said, “We shall sure­ly destroy the peo­ple of this town; tru­ly its peo­ple are wrong­do­ers.” (32) He said, “Ver­i­ly, Lot is in it.” They said, “We know bet­ter who is in it. We shall sure­ly deliv­er him and his house­hold, except for his wife: she is of those who stay behind.” (33) And when Our mes­sen­gers came to Lot, he was anguished on their account and con­strained from help­ing them. They said, “Fear not, nor grieve. Ver­i­ly we shall deliv­er you and your fam­i­ly, save your wife; she is of those who stay behind. (34) Ver­i­ly we shall bring down upon the peo­ple of this town a pun­ish­ment from Heav­en for their hav­ing act­ed iniq­ui­tous­ly.” (35) And We (God) have left of it a clear sign for a peo­ple pos­sessed of rea­son.

Syn­op­sis: Here the peo­ple of Lot are reproached not only for “com­ing unto men” as in oth­er pas­sages, but addi­tion­al­ly for “cut­ting off the road” and “prac­tic­ing evil deeds in [their] assem­blies.” Cut­ting off the road here refers to high­way rob­bery, where­by the peo­ple of Lot would ambush trav­el­ers, kill them, and appre­hend their goods (this inter­pre­ta­tion is report­ed by al-Zamakhsharī and Ibn Kathīr). As for the “evil deeds” they would prac­tice in their gath­er­ings, exegetes have dif­fered regard­ing what this refers to. Some have inter­pret­ed it as mean­ing that they com­mit­ted homo­sex­u­al acts in view of oth­ers (a view attrib­uted to Mujāhid), where­as oth­ers under­stood it as refer­ring to them say­ing and doing vul­gar things such as telling obscene jokes, pass­ing gas and laugh­ing (an opin­ion Ibn Kathīr attrib­ut­es to ʿĀʾisha), and oth­er such indis­creet and unbe­fit­ting con­duct. Here­upon, the peo­ple of Lot invite the pun­ish­ment of God, after which Lot beseech­es the help of his Lord. The angel­ic mes­sen­gers first vis­it Abra­ham to inform him of Sodom’s destruc­tion pri­or to arriv­ing at the iniq­ui­tous town. Con­cerned, Abra­ham inquires after Lot. The mes­sen­gers assure him of the safe­ty of Lot and his fam­i­ly, save his wife who will be destroyed along­side the peo­ple of Sodom. The mes­sen­gers arrive in Sodom and address them­selves to Lot, reveal­ing their mis­sion and reas­sur­ing Lot of his and his family’s safety—with the excep­tion of his wife.

h) Sūrat al-Ṣāf­fāt, 37:133–136

(133) Tru­ly Lot was among the mes­sen­gers. (134) We deliv­ered him and his fam­i­ly alto­geth­er— (135) save an elder­ly woman (his wife) who stayed behind. (136) Then We destroyed the oth­ers.

Syn­op­sis: Like the pas­sage in Sūrat al-Shuʿarāʾ, Lot’s wife is described here as an “elder­ly woman who stayed behind.” Lot is con­firmed as being a mes­sen­ger of God, and his peo­ple (includ­ing his wife) are destroyed on account of their dis­obe­di­ence.

i) Sūrat al-Qamar, 54:33–40

(33) The peo­ple of Lot belied the warn­ings. (34) Ver­i­ly We unleashed against them a stone-bear­ing wind, except the fam­i­ly of Lot; We deliv­ered them ere the dawn— (35) as a favor from Us. Thus do We reward the thank­ful. (36) And indeed he had warned them of Our onslaught, but they dis­put­ed the warn­ings. (37) And they sought to lure him from his guests so We sealed their eyes (and said), “Taste My pun­ish­ment and [the ful­fil­ment of] My warn­ings!” (38) And there came upon them by morn­ing an abid­ing penal­ty. (39) “Taste My pun­ish­ment and [the ful­fil­ment of] My warn­ings!” (40) And ver­i­ly We have made the Qur’an easy for remem­brance, so is there any who will remem­ber?

Syn­op­sis: In addi­tion to the tor­rent of clay rain­ing down upon the peo­ple of Sodom, the men who sought after Lot’s guest are described as hav­ing their eyes sealed (per­haps as rec­om­pense for com­mit­ting iniq­ui­ty with their “eyes wide open,” as per Sūrat al-Naml, 27:54 dis­cussed above). Lot warned his peo­ple time and again of an impend­ing pun­ish­ment if they did not reform their ways in accor­dance with God’s com­mand, but they ignored him and denied his prophet­ic mis­sion. As a result, they found them­selves sub­ject to a ter­ri­ble pun­ish­ment that stands as a warn­ing for those who care­less­ly and defi­ant­ly dis­obey the com­mand of God.

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End Notes

[1] The Sharīʿa does not, in fact, dis­tin­guish cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly between “same-sex” and “oppo­site-sex” acts, a late 19th-/20th-cen­tu­ry tax­on­o­my prop­er to the con­tem­po­rary West. Rather, it sim­ply dis­tin­guish­es between lic­it (ḥalāl) sex­u­al rela­tions and illic­it (ḥarām) ones. This lat­ter cat­e­go­ry is fur­ther bro­ken down into pen­e­tra­tive acts, which include illic­it male-female inter­course (zinā) as well as male-male sodomy (liwāṭ), both of which are clas­si­fied as major sins (kabāʾir), and non-pen­e­tra­tive acts, such as inter­femoral inter­course (mufākhad­ha), var­i­ous forms of female-female erot­ic con­tact (col­lec­tive­ly referred to as siḥāq or musāḥaqa, Eng. “trib­adism,” in ref­er­ence to the “rub­bing togeth­er” of the female gen­i­talia), and oth­er non-pen­e­tra­tive illic­it acts.

[2] See Ser­e­na Toli­no, “Homo­sex­u­al acts in Islam­ic Law: siḥāq and liwāṭ in the legal debate,” GAIR-Mit­teilun­gen (Gesellschaft für Ara­bis­ches und Islamis­ches Recht e. V.) 6. Jahrgang (2014) and Sara Omar, “From Seman­tics to Nor­ma­tive Law: Per­cep­tions of Liwāṭ (Sodomy) and Siḥāq (Trib­adism) in Islam­ic Jurispru­dence (8th-15th Cen­tu­ry CE),” Islam­ic Law and Soci­ety 19 (2012).

[3] See for exam­ple Khaled El-Rouay­heb, “The Love of Boys in Ara­bic Poet­ry of the Ear­ly Ottoman Peri­od, 1500 – 1800,” Mid­dle East­ern Lit­er­a­tures 8, no. 1 (2005).

[4] See Bar­bara Zoll­ner, “Mith­liyyun or Lutiyyun? Neo-ortho­doxy and the Debate on the Unlaw­ful­ness of Same-Sex Rela­tions in Islam,” in Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and Islam, ed. Samar Habib (West­wood: Praeger, 2011), which explores the inter­pre­ta­tions of var­i­ous exegetes, argu­ing that lat­er exeget­i­cal works have inher­it­ed the hermeneu­tic of al-Ṭabarī.

[5] I will be refer­ring through­out the paper to the Prophet Lot (ʿalay­hi ‘l-salām) with­out men­tion­ing an abbre­vi­at­ed state­ment of prayers after his name. May Allah’s peace be upon our Prophet Lot and all of His prophets. Ameen.

[6] See Scott Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics in the Agen­da of Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims,” in Pro­gres­sive Mus­lims: On Jus­tice, Gen­der, and Plu­ral­ism, ed. Omid Safi (Oxford: Oneworld Pub­li­ca­tions, 2003), 190.

[7] Ibid., 192.

[8] See ibid., 191, where he quotes from Momin Rah­man, Sex­u­al­i­ty and Democ­ra­cy: Iden­ti­ties and Strate­gies in Les­bian and Gay Pol­i­tics (Edin­burgh: Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2000).

[9] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 199.

[10] In his 2010 book, how­ev­er, Kugle dis­pens­es with the label queer in order, he explains, to make the work more acces­si­ble, as he fears many read­ers may find the term queer “dis­ori­ent­ing, over­ly intel­lec­tu­al, or polem­i­cal” [Scott Kugle, Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam: Crit­i­cal Reflec­tion on Gay, Les­bian, and Trans­gen­der Mus­lims (Oxford: Oneworld Pub­li­ca­tions, 2010), 13 (e-book edi­tion, 34)]. Accord­ing­ly, he sticks in the lat­er work to the more com­mon terms “gay,” “les­bian,” and “trans­gen­der” (specif­i­cal­ly exclud­ing “bisex­u­al,” on which see note 17 below), con­tin­u­ous­ly per­mu­tat­ing the order in which these ele­ments appear with­in any giv­en list­ing through­out the book.

[11] See ibid., 44–46 (e-book, 83–86).

[12] See Brent Pick­ett, “Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty,” The Stan­ford Ency­clo­pe­dia of Phi­los­o­phy (Fall 2015 Edi­tion), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/homosexuality/ and Jan­na L. Horowitz and Michael D. New­comb, “A Mul­ti­di­men­sion­al Approach to Homo­sex­u­al Iden­ti­ty,” Jour­nal of Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty 42, no. 2 (2002). The Pick­ett arti­cle provin­cial­izes the essen­tial­ist account of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions, while the Horowitz and New­comb piece also draws the essen­tial­ist account into seri­ous ques­tion.

[13] Queer activist and his­to­ri­an Hanne Blank has argued against essen­tial­ism in sex­u­al­i­ty. She states, “This new con­cept [of het­ero­sex­u­al­i­ty], gussied up in a man­gled mix of impres­sive-sound­ing dead lan­guages, gave old ortho­dox­ies a new and vibrant lease on life by sug­gest­ing, in author­i­ta­tive tones, that sci­ence had effec­tive­ly pro­nounced them nat­ur­al, inevitable, and innate.” See Hanne Blank, Straight: The Sur­pris­ing­ly Short His­to­ry of Het­ero­sex­u­al­i­ty (Boston: Bea­con Press, 2012), xv, as well as Michael Han­non, “Against Het­ero­sex­u­al­i­ty,” First Things (2014), http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/03/against-heterosexuality. Also see Horowitz and New­comb, “A Mul­ti­di­men­sion­al Approach to Homo­sex­u­al Iden­ti­ty,” as well as Ter­ry S. Stein, “Social Con­struc­tion­ism and Essen­tial­ism,” Jour­nal of Gay & Les­bian Psy­chother­a­py 2, no. 4 (1998). Stein writes (p. 29): ““Homo­sex­u­al” and “het­ero­sex­u­al” behav­ior may be uni­ver­sal; homo­sex­u­al and het­ero­sex­u­al iden­ti­ty and con­scious­ness are mod­ern real­i­ties. These iden­ti­ties are not inher­ent in the indi­vid­ual … To “com­mit” a homo­sex­u­al act is one thing; to be a homo­sex­u­al is some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent (Padgug, 1979, 14).” See also Pick­ett, “Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty,” where he states: “The third and final prob­lem for the gay lib­er­a­tionist approach was that it often took this cat­e­go­ry of ‘iden­ti­ty’ itself as unprob­lem­at­ic and unhis­tor­i­cal. Such a view, how­ev­er, large­ly because of argu­ments devel­oped with­in post­struc­tural­ism, seemed increas­ing­ly unten­able. The key fig­ure in the attack upon iden­ti­ty as ahis­tor­i­cal is Michel Fou­cault. In a series of works he set out to ana­lyze the his­to­ry of sex­u­al­i­ty from ancient Greece to the mod­ern era (1980, 1985, 1986). Although the project was trag­i­cal­ly cut short by his death in 1984, from com­pli­ca­tions aris­ing from AIDS, Fou­cault artic­u­lat­ed how pro­found­ly under­stand­ings of sex­u­al­i­ty can vary across time and space, and his argu­ments have proven very influ­en­tial in gay and les­bian the­o­riz­ing in gen­er­al, and queer the­o­ry in par­tic­u­lar (Spar­go, 1999; Stychin, 2005).” Pick­ett con­tin­ues: “One of the rea­sons for the his­tor­i­cal review above is that it helps to give some back­ground for under­stand­ing the claim that sex­u­al­i­ty is social­ly con­struct­ed, rather than giv­en by nature. More­over, in order to not pre­judge the issue of social con­struc­tion­ism ver­sus essen­tial­ism, I avoid­ed apply­ing the term ‘homo­sex­u­al’ to the ancient or medieval eras. In ancient Greece the gen­der of one’s partner(s) was not impor­tant, but instead whether one took the active or pas­sive role. In the medieval view, a ‘sodomite’ was a per­son who suc­cumbed to temp­ta­tion and engaged in cer­tain non-pro­cre­ative sex acts. Although the gen­der of the part­ner was more impor­tant than in the ancient view, the broad­er the­o­log­i­cal frame­work placed the empha­sis upon a sin ver­sus refrain­ing-from-sin dichoto­my. With the rise of the notion of ‘homo­sex­u­al­i­ty’ in the mod­ern era, a per­son is placed into a spe­cif­ic cat­e­go­ry even if one does not act upon those incli­na­tions. What is the com­mon, nat­ur­al sex­u­al­i­ty expressed across these three very dif­fer­ent cul­tures? The social con­struc­tion­ist answer is that there is no ‘nat­ur­al’ sex­u­al­i­ty; all sex­u­al under­stand­ings are con­struct­ed with­in and medi­at­ed by cul­tur­al under­stand­ings. The exam­ples can be pushed much fur­ther by incor­po­rat­ing anthro­po­log­i­cal data out­side of the West­ern tra­di­tion (Halperin, 1990; Green­berg, 1988).”

[14] Though Kugle and oth­ers treat the cat­e­go­ry of “homo­sex­u­al­i­ty” as axiomat­ic even in an Islam­ic con­text, schol­ars such as Khaled El-Rouay­heb (2005, 2005), Bruce Dunne in “Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in the Mid­dle East: An Agen­da for His­tor­i­cal Research,” Arab Stud­ies Quar­ter­ly 12, no. 3/4 (1990), and oth­ers have argued the mer­its of a more con­struc­tivist approach to sex­u­al cat­e­gories. For more details, see cita­tions in pre­ced­ing note, as well as Ser­e­na Toli­no, “Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in the Mid­dle East: An analy­sis of dom­i­nant and com­pet­i­tive dis­cours­es,” Depor­tate, Esuli, Profughe (DEP), no. 24 (2014).

[15] Michel Foucault’s works have been cen­tral to this dis­course, par­tic­u­lar­ly his three-vol­ume The His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty, trans. Robert Hur­ley, 3 vols. (New York: Pan­theon Books, 1980, 1985, 1986).

[16] For a fuller treat­ment of this top­ic, see Daniel Haqiqatjou, “Tough Con­ver­sa­tions: Explain­ing the Islam­ic Pro­hi­bi­tion of Same-Sex Acts to a West­ern Audi­ence,” Assem­bly of Mus­lim Jurists of Amer­i­ca (AMJA) 13th Annu­al imam Con­fer­ence (2016), https://www.academia.edu/23387050/Tough_Conversations_Explaining_the_Islamic_Prohibition_of_Same-Sex_Acts_to_a_Western_Audience.

[17] It is of note that in the Intro­duc­tion to Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, Kugle delib­er­ate­ly excludes bisex­u­al­i­ty and the sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ences report­ed by self-iden­ti­fied bisex­u­als from his con­sid­er­a­tion (essen­tial­ly remov­ing the “B” from the com­mon acronym “LGBT”). [See Kugle, Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, 10–13 (e-book, 28–34).] The rea­son Kugle gives for why, after assert­ing the objec­tiv­i­ty of a fixed dis­po­si­tion­al homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, he does not “ven­ture the next step to ask whether God intends some men and women to be dis­po­si­tion­al­ly bisex­u­al” is telling: “To address that ques­tion,” he con­cedes, “would call into ques­tion the defin­i­tive­ness of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion [empha­sis mine] and also the dis­crete­ness of gen­der dif­fer­ence which are assumed by gay men, les­bian women, and trans­gen­der peo­ple.” (ibid., 12 [e-book, 32]) Fur­ther on he states that “[i]n con­trast [to gay, les­bian, and trans­gen­der per­sons], dis­po­si­tion­al bisex­u­al­i­ty chal­lenges the idea that these cat­e­gories are psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly firm and social­ly force­ful [empha­sis mine].” (ibid.) He con­cludes his dis­cus­sion of bisex­u­al­i­ty with the frank admis­sion that “[t]herefore, to focus on bisex­u­al­i­ty in this study would be to dilute its focus and under­mine the polit­i­cal and the­o­log­i­cal force of its argu­ment [empha­sis mine].” (ibid.)

[18] Ibid., 44 (e-book, 83).

[19] Ibid., 47–48 (e-book, 87–88). Kugle refers to “genet­ic inher­i­tance” and states that through “con­tem­po­rary sci­ence, we are dis­cov­er­ing that genet­ic pat­terns in our bio­log­i­cal mate­r­i­al not only deter­mine our out­ward but also great­ly affect psy­chic dis­po­si­tion.” See also Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 194, where he avers that “[i]n the light of new bio­log­i­cal knowl­edge about genet­ics and soci­o­log­i­cal knowl­edge about per­son­al­i­ty devel­op­ment, the tra­di­tion­al answers [regard­ing the moral and legal sta­tus of homo­sex­u­al acts in Islam] may no longer be con­vinc­ing.”

[20] See Ed Yong, “No, Sci­en­tists Have Not Found the ‘Gay Gene’: The media is hyp­ing a study that doesn’t do what it says it does,” The Atlantic (Oct. 10, 2015), http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/10/no-scientists-have-not-found-the-gay-gene/410059/ and Pardes Seleh, “Study: No, There’s No Evi­dence Of a ‘Gay Gene’,” The Dai­ly Wire (Octo­ber 15, 2015), http://www.dailywire.com/news/445/study-no-theres-no-evidence-gay-gene-pardes-seleh. Also Ter­ry R. McGuire, “Is Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty Genet­ic? A Crit­i­cal Review and Some Sug­ges­tions,” Jour­nal of Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty 28, no. 1–2 (1995) and G. Rice et al., “Male Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty: Absence of Link­age to Microsatel­lite Mark­ers at Xq28,” Sci­ence 284, no. 5414 (1999).

[21] See Richard A. Fried­man, “Infi­deli­ty Lurks in Your Genes,” The New York Times (May 22, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/24/opinion/sunday/infidelity-lurks-in-your-genes.html.

[22] See Daniel Haqiqatjou, “An Open Let­ter to the Mus­lim Com­mu­ni­ty in Light of the Orlan­do Shoot­ing,” Mus­lim Mat­ters (June 16, 2016), http://muslimmatters.org/2016/06/16/an-open-letter-to-the-muslim-community-in-light-of-the-orlando-shooting/.

[23] Q. (al-Maʿārij) 70:19.

[24] Q. (al-Nisāʾ) 4:28.

[25] Q. (al-Anbiyāʾ) 21:37.

[26] See Mus­lim, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ, ed. Abū Qutay­ba Naẓar b. Muḥam­mad al-Faryābī, 1 ed., 2 vols. (Riyadh: Dār Ṭay­ba li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, 1427/2006), no. 2822. Can be accessed at: http://sunnah.com/muslim/53/1.

[27] See Aḥmad b. Shuʿayb al-Nasāʾī, Sunan al-Nasāʾī (maʿa aḥkām al-Albānī), ed. Muḥam­mad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī, 1 ed. (Riyadh: Mak­ta­bat Maʿārif li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, 1434/2013), no. 3763. Can be accessed at: http://sunnah.com/nasai/35/3.

[28] See Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 198. For an exhaus­tive and nuanced treat­ment of this phe­nom­e­non, see the excel­lent study of Khaled El-Rouay­heb, Before Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in the Arab-Islam­ic World, 1500–1800 (Chica­go: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 2005).

[29] Some con­tem­po­rary Mus­lims may be sur­prised to learn of pedophilic infat­u­a­tion in many pre-mod­ern (and some con­tem­po­rary) Mus­lim cul­tures, but this phe­nom­e­non is well attest­ed in the works of many schol­ars, record­ed in his­tor­i­cal lit­er­a­ture, and described in poet­ic works. That said, it should be not­ed that the entire regime of ped­eras­tic love and attrac­tion is a cul­tur­al pat­tern not tied to Islam as a reli­gion or to Mus­lims per se. It is also attest­ed, for instance, in ancient Greece, as well as in pre-Islam­ic Per­sia, Egypt, and oth­er areas, includ­ing pre-mod­ern Chi­na and Japan. See, for instance, T. Watan­abe and J. Iwa­ta, The Love of the Samu­rai. A Thou­sand Years of Japan­ese Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, trans. D.R. Roberts (Lon­don: Gay Men’s Press, 1989), 31–32. Watan­abe and Iwa­ta report that ped­erasty per­me­at­ed all of Japan­ese soci­ety, in par­tic­u­lar reli­gious and samu­rai soci­ety. See also R. H. van Gulik, Sex­u­al Life in Ancient Chi­na: A Pre­lim­i­nary Sur­vey of Chi­nese Sex and Soci­ety from ca. 1500 B.C. till 1644 A.D. (Lei­den: Brill, 2003), which details pre-mod­ern Chi­nese ped­erasty, and William A. Per­cy III, Ped­erasty and Ped­a­gogy in Archa­ic Greece (Urbana & Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Press, 1996).

[30] See Lois Ani­ta Gif­f­en, “Ibn Hazm and the Tawq al-Hama­ma,” in The Lega­cy of Mus­lim Spain, ed. Salma Jayyusi (Lei­den: Brill, 1994), 425.

[31] This ḥadīth is nar­rat­ed by al-Ḥākim and oth­ers. Though some have judged it accept­able, oth­ers such as Ibn al-Qayy­im (d. 751/1350)—see Ibn Qayy­im al-Jawziyya, Zād al-maʿād fī hady khayr al-ʿibād, ed. Shuʿayb al-Arnāʾūṭ, 3 ed., 6 vols. (Beirut: Muʾas­sas­at al-Risāla, 1418/1998), 4/252–256 and Ibn Qayy­im al-Jawziyya, Rawḍat al-muḥib­bīn wa nuzhat al-mushtāqīn, ed. Muḥam­mad ʿUza­yr Shams, 1 ed. (Jed­dah: Maj­maʿ al-Fiqh al-Islāmī, 1431/2010), 266–270—have held it as unre­li­able, while yet oth­ers have accept­ed it as authen­ti­cal­ly attrib­ut­able to Ibn ʿAb­bās but not to the Prophet (pbuh).

[32] See Muḥam­mad b. Dāwūd al-Iṣbahānī (al-Ẓāhirī), Kitāb al-Zahra, ed. Ibrāhīm al-Sāmar­rāʾī, 2 ed. (al-Zar­qāʾ, Jor­dan: Mak­ta­bat al-Manār, 1985), 8–9.

[33] See Camil­la Adang, “Ibn Hazm on Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. A Case-Study of Ẓāhirī Legal Method­ol­o­gy,” Al-Qan­tara 24, no. 1 (2003).

[34] See Gif­f­en, “Ibn Hazm and the Tawq al-Hama­ma,” 425.

[35] See Adang, “Ibn Hazm on Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty,” 12.

[36] See Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, The Alche­my of Hap­pi­ness, trans. Claud Field (Lahore: Sh. Muham­mad Ashraf, 195-?), 2. Can be accessed at: http://www.surrenderworks.com/library/downloads/alchemy_of_happiness.pdf.

[37] See Muḥam­mad b. Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1 ed. (Dam­as­cus: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 1423/2002), no. 6126, as well as Mus­lim, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ, no. 128–131 and no. 2687.

[38] See Ibn Rajab al-Ḥan­balī, The Com­pendi­um of Knowl­edge and Wis­dom, trans. Abdas­samad Clarke, trans. of Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wa’l-ḥikam (Lon­don: Turath Pub­lish­ing, 1428/2007), 609.

[39] Ibid., 610.

[40] Ibid., 611–614.

[41] Muḥam­mad b. ʿĪsā al-Tir­mid­hī, Sunan al-Tir­mid­hī, ed. Abū ʿUbay­da b. Ḥasan Āl Salmān, 1 ed., 6 vols. (Riyadh: Mak­ta­bat Maʿārif li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, n.d.), no. 3479.

[42] See Mus­lim, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ, no. 2877.

[43] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 200.

[44] See Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, al-Ash­bāh wa’l-naẓāʾir fī qawāʿid wa furūʿ fiqh al-Shā­fiʿiyya (Cairo: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿAra­biyya, 1964?). Can be accessed at: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=36&ID=38. This max­im runs counter to that which applies to human actions in gen­er­al, name­ly, al-aṣl fī al-ashyāʾ al-ibāḥa, that is, actions are per­mis­si­ble by default unless specif­i­cal­ly pro­hib­it­ed by Sacred Law.

[45] See the fol­low­ing arti­cles relat­ed to the top­ic of spin­ster­hood: Fati­ma Adamou, “Sin­gle Child­less Mus­lim Women,” Alt­mus­limah (May 11, 2015), http://www.altmuslimah.com/2015/05/single-childless-muslim-women/; “The Phe­nom­e­non of Spin­ster­hood,” IDEAL­Mus­limah, http://idealmuslimah.com/family/beforemarriage/677-the-phenomenon-of-spinsterhood.html; and Habi­ba Hamid, “A Response to ‘Sin­gle Child­less Mus­lim Women’: Embrace Spin­ster­hood,” Alt­mus­limah (May 14, 2015), http://www.altmuslimah.com/2015/05/a-response-to-single-childless-muslim-women-embrace-spinsterhood/.

[46] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 200.

[47] Aḥmad Ibn Ḥan­bal, Mus­nad al-Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥan­bal, ed. Shuʿayb al-Arnāʾūṭ, 50 vols. (Beirut: Muʾas­sas­at al-Risāla, n.d.), no. 2915. Al-Arnāʾūṭ has clas­si­fied it as sound (ḥasan) in his taqīq of Aḥmad’s Mus­nad (see ibid., 5/84). On the pun­ish­ment for liwāṭ, see: https://islamqa.info/ar/38622.

[48] Muḥam­mad b. Mukar­ram Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿArab, 6 vols. (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1429/2008), 6/4099.

[49] Abū Dāwūd al-Sijistānī, Sunan Abī Dāwūd, ed. Muḥam­mad b. Ṣāliḥ al-Rājiḥī (Riyadh: Bayt al-Afkār al-Dawliyya, n.d.), no. 4463.

[50] See Muḥam­mad b. Yazīd Ibn Mājah, Sunan Ibn Mājah (maʿa aḥkām al-Albānī), ed. Muḥam­mad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī, 1 ed. (Riyadh: Mak­ta­bat Maʿārif li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, 1434/2013), no. 2568.

[51] That is, either with­in the con­fines of a mat­ri­mo­ni­al rela­tion­ship, or the rela­tion­ship of mas­ter to con­cu­bine (i.e., “what your right hands pos­sess” in the Qurʾānic idiom).

[52] Made­lain Farah, Mar­riage and Sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam: A Trans­la­tion of al-Ghazali’s Book on the Eti­quette of Mar­riage from The Revival of the Reli­gious Sci­ences (Salt Lake City: Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah Press, 1984), 45. Can be accessed at: http://ghazali.org/works/marriage.htm.

[53] It should be not­ed that here and else­where Kugle explic­it­ly eschews the con­ven­tion­al ‘He’ trans­la­tion for the Ara­bic pro­noun huwa in ref­er­ence to God when trans­lat­ing the Qurʾān. As we will see lat­er, although Kugle is keen to accuse past schol­ars of inter­pos­ing their own bias­es into the way they inter­pret and trans­mit the mean­ing of the Qurʾān, trans­lat­ing huwa repeat­ed­ly as “God” in order to expunge the Word of God of its alleged “sex­ism” in refer­ring to God in the mas­cu­line is a prime exam­ple of Kugle him­self inter­po­lat­ing his own bias­es into his ren­der­ing of the Qurʾānic text, even at the expense of delib­er­ate­ly mis­trans­lat­ing, and there­fore mis­rep­re­sent­ing, the Divine Word.

[54] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 190.

[55] See W. M. Watt, Com­pan­ion to the Qur’an based on the Arber­ry Trans­la­tion (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2013), 41. It is of note that even in mod­ern Ger­man, for instance, the word for fetus is none oth­er than Leibesfrucht, lit­er­al­ly “fruit (Frucht) of the womb (Leib).”

[56] At a min­i­mum, coitus inter­rup­tus (ʿazl) was prac­ticed by the Com­pan­ions of the Prophet and is gen­er­al­ly agreed to be per­mis­si­ble. Schol­ars have dif­fered con­cern­ing the use of arti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tives, with some per­mit­ting them out­right, oth­ers pro­hibit­ing them out­right, and oth­ers per­mit­ting some while pro­scrib­ing oth­ers.

[57] Although Islam is not as strict as, e.g., Catholi­cism in requir­ing that each and every sex­u­al act con­sti­tute an open­ing to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of con­cep­tion, it does nev­er­the­less restrict legit­i­mate sex­u­al behav­ior to the over­all con­text of a rela­tion­ship where this can par­a­dig­mat­i­cal­ly occur. Solo sex (on the dom­i­nant opin­ion that mas­tur­ba­tion is ḥarām) and same-sex behav­ior (agreed by con­sen­sus to be ḥarām) do not clear the bar. Sex­u­al rela­tions between, say, an elder­ly or ster­ile cou­ple, on the oth­er hand, would count as legit­i­mate, since they fall with­in the bounds of the par­a­dig­mat­i­cal­ly approved male-female sex­u­al relationship—and they con­tin­ue to hon­or both the inher­ent­ly inter­ac­tive nature of sex as con­ceived of in Islam (on the dom­i­nant view pro­hibit­ing mas­tur­ba­tion), as well as the nat­ur­al fit and tele­ol­o­gy of the male and female bod­ies and the com­ple­men­tar­i­ty of the male and female prin­ci­ples as extolled in the Qurʾān [see, e.g., Q. (al-Rūm) 30:21, Q. (al-Baqara), 2:187].

[58] “Ille­git­i­ma­cy” ren­der­ing Ara­bic sifāḥ, which is used for extra­mar­i­tal inter­course and is an ana­log to the more com­mon term zinā.

[59] Farah, Mar­riage and Sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, 45. Can be accessed at: http://ghazali.org/works/marriage.htm.

[60] Ibid., 53. Can be accessed at: http://ghazali.org/works/marriage.htm.

[61] See, e.g., Q. (al-Nisāʾ) 4:24, Q. (al-Māʾi­da) 5:5, Q. (al-Muʾminūn) 23:5, Q. (al-Aḥzāb) 33:35, Q. (al-Maʿārij) 70:29, and oth­ers.

[62] Al-Nawawī states that the term buḍʿ may refer to the spe­cif­ic act of inter­course (jimāʿ) or to the sex­u­al organ (al-farj naf­suhu), and that in the con­text of this ḥadīth both are appro­pri­ate. See Yaḥyā b. Sharaf al-Nawawī, al-Min­hāj fī sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Mus­lim b. al-Ḥajjāj (Riyadh: Bayt al-Afkār al-Dawliyya, n.d.), 641. Can be accessed at: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=53&ID=2828 (con­tent maps to Bayt al-Afkār al-Dawliyya page cita­tions).

[63] See Mus­lim, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ, no. 1674.

[64] See al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 6474.

[65] See Q. (al-Muʾminūn) 23:5–10.

[66] Q. (al-Nūr) 24:30–31.

[67] Abū Muḥam­mad ʿAlī b. Aḥmad Ibn Ḥazm, The Ring of the Dove (A Trea­tise on the Art and Prac­tice of Arab Love), trans. A. J. Arber­ry (Lon­don: Luzac & Com­pa­ny, Ltd., 1953), 262–263. Can be accessed at: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/hazm/dove/ringdove.html#ch29.

[68] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 197.

[69] See note 116 for more details.

[70] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 200.

[71] Ibid., 203.

[72] Ibid., 204.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Muḥam­mad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī min kitābi­hi Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān, ed. Bashshār ʿAwwād Maʿrūf and ʿIṣām Fāris al-Ḥur­ristānī (Beirut: Muʾas­sas­at al-Risāla, 1994), 3: 462–463.

[75] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 204.

[76] al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, 3: 464.

[77] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 205.

[78] Ibid., 206.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Amreen Jamal, “The Sto­ry of Lut and the Qur’an’s Per­cep­tion of the Moral­i­ty of Same-Sex Sex­u­al­i­ty,” Jour­nal of Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty 41, no. 1 (2001): 69.

[81] My use of “alleged­ly” here is not to entire­ly dis­agree with or dis­miss Kugle’s asser­tion. Many con­tem­po­rary tra­di­tion­al­ist schol­ars have argued much the same, stat­ing that pre-mod­ern exe­ge­sis was atom­istic in its approach and insuf­fi­cient­ly syn­thet­ic and the­mat­ic. Toward this end, Mus­tan­sir Mir states, “If there is one fea­ture that almost all types [of exe­ge­sis] have in com­mon, it is prob­a­bly atom­ism. By atom­ism here is meant a verse-by-verse approach to the Qur’an.” See Mus­tan­sir Mir, Coher­ence in the Qur’an (Indi­anapo­lis: Amer­i­can Trust Pub­li­ca­tions, 1986), 1. That said, one must nev­er­the­less con­sid­er the dis­tinc­tion between the activ­i­ty of exe­ge­sis, which often con­cerned itself with elu­ci­dat­ing the bare mean­ings of par­tic­u­lar vers­es, and the process of deriv­ing law, which over­sees a greater inte­gra­tion of proof-texts, var­i­ous ratio­nal con­sid­er­a­tions, and rel­e­vant social/cultural cir­cum­stances in order to arrive at author­i­ta­tive rul­ings (in oth­er words, the dis­tinc­tion between tafsīr and fiqh). With respect to the Lot nar­ra­tive and same-gen­der sex­u­al acts, one expe­ri­ences the diver­si­ty of the legal tra­di­tion when eval­u­at­ing dis­cus­sions relat­ed to the ḥadd pun­ish­ment for liwāṭ, a top­ic we will explore in the com­ing sec­tion on Ibn Ḥazm.

[82] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 208.

[83] Ibid.

[84] The usage of the form qaṣaṣ in “qaṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ” is root­ed in the Qurʾān itself, in vers­es such as Q. (Yūsuf) 12:3: Naḥnu naquṣṣu ʿalay­ka aḥsan al-qaṣaṣi bi-mā awḥaynā ilay­ka hād­hā ‘l-Qurʾān (‘We recite unto thee the best of nar­ra­tions (qaṣaṣ) in that We have revealed to thee this Qurʾān’), as well as Q. (Āl ʿIm­rān) 3:62, Q. (Yūsuf) 12:111, Q. (al-Kahf) 18:64, and Q. (al-Qaṣaṣ) 28:65. In addi­tion to its use in the Qurʾān, qaṣaṣ is also the dom­i­nant form employed in the works of schol­ars to refer to the “sto­ries of the prophets” (qaṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ). Mor­pho­log­i­cal­ly, qaṣaṣ is a kind of superla­tive ver­bal noun (maṣ­dar) of the verb qaṣṣa, yaquṣṣu (‘to nar­rate, recount, tell’) and as such is dis­tin­guished from the term qiṣaṣ, which is mere­ly the plur­al of the com­mon word qiṣṣa (‘sto­ry,’ ‘tale’). [See al-Muʿ­jam al-wasīṭ, 4 ed., Maj­maʿ al-Lugha al-ʿAra­biyya (Cairo: Mak­ta­bat al-Shurūq al-Dawliyya, 1425/2004), 740.] Com­ment­ing on Q. (Yūsuf) 12:3, al-Zamakhsharī notes that the qaṣaṣ of the Qurʾān rep­re­sent the best of sto­ries, prof­fer the most excel­lent of lessons, and recount the most won­drous of mat­ters (ʿajāʾib) (Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar al-Zamakhsharī, Tafsīr al-Kashshāf ʿan ḥaqāʾiq al-tanzīl, ed. Khalīl Maʾmūn Shīḥā (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿri­fa, 2009), 503). Al-Rāzī con­sid­ers qaṣaṣ to denote the piece­meal and con­sec­u­tive telling of a sto­ry through a series of vers­es (āya baʿ­da āya) rather than as a com­plete and undi­vid­ed whole. He also echoes al-Zamakhsharī’s stress on the rhetor­i­cal excel­lences implied by the term, remark­ing that “qaṣaṣ” con­notes the supe­ri­or­i­ty of the artic­u­la­tion (bayān) and rhetoric (balāgha) of the Qurʾān over the ordi­nary qiṣaṣ of men. (See Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb / al-Tafsīr al-kabīr (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1981), 18:87.) Though Kugle cites works in this genre under the title of “Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ,” as is not uncom­mon in aca­d­e­m­ic works writ­ten in West­ern lan­guages, this usage rep­re­sents a depar­ture from the prac­tice of Islam­ic schol­ar­ship, whose stan­dard term has always been qaṣaṣ for the var­i­ous rea­sons cit­ed above.

[85] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 209.

[86] Khalil ‘Atham­i­na, “Al-Qasas: Its Emer­gence, Reli­gious Ori­gin and Its Socio-Polit­i­cal Impact on Ear­ly Mus­lim Soci­ety,” Stu­dia Islam­i­ca 76 (1992): 65.

[87] Ibid., 61.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Ibid., 55.

[90] See Coeli Fitz­patrick and Adam Hani Walk­er, Muham­mad in His­to­ry, Thought, and Cul­ture: An Ency­clo­pe­dia of the Prophet of God (San­ta Bar­bara: ABC-CLIO, 2014), 461.

[91] See the ḥadīth of Abū Hurayra to the effect that “[t]he peo­ple of the Scrip­ture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Ara­bic to the Mus­lims. There­upon, Allah’s Mes­sen­ger said, ‘Do not believe the peo­ple of the Scrip­ture nor dis­be­lieve them, but say: “We believe in Allah and in what was revealed to us.” [Q. (al-Baqara) 2:136]’,” cit­ed in al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 4125.

[92] See Jonathan Berkey, Pop­u­lar Preach­ing and Reli­gious Author­i­ty in the Medieval Islam­ic Near East (Seat­tle: Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Press, 2011), 75–76.

[93] See Walid A. Saleh, The For­ma­tion of the Clas­si­cal Tafsīr Tra­di­tion: The Qurʾān Com­men­tary of al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427/1035) (Boston: Brill, 2004), 2.

[95] This claim, how­ev­er, is pure spec­u­la­tion on the part of Kugle, as al-Kisāʾī him­self includes no ref­er­ences to ear­li­er works.

[96] See Kugle, Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, 74–75 (e-book, 133). Kugle describes as a “weak­ness in con­tem­po­rary Islam­ic cul­ture” an alleged lack of scruti­ny applied to ḥadīth.

[97] Ibid., 75 (e-book, 135).

[98] Ibid., 75 (e-book, 134). The ẓannī/qaṭʿī dichoto­my appears in works of jurispru­dence as a form of epis­te­mo­log­i­cal clas­si­fi­ca­tion. What is con­sid­ered ẓan­nī, or non-defin­i­tive, can either refer to the actu­al trans­mit­ted tradition’s authen­tic­i­ty as not being mass-trans­mit­ted (mutawātir), or to the tradition’s mean­ing as being open to more than one inter­pre­ta­tion. Con­verse­ly, a qaṭʿī tra­di­tion is defin­i­tive either due to its trans­mis­sion via a mul­ti­tude of sources, or due to its mean­ing being self-evi­dent, unequiv­o­cal, and there­fore not open to vary­ing inter­pre­ta­tions. This qaṭʿī-ẓan­nī dis­tinc­tion serves the inter­est of jurists as it per­tains to the inter­pre­tive process involved in deriv­ing legal rul­ings. In addi­tion, the term ẓan­nī appears in the­o­log­i­cal works with regard to points of creed, specif­i­cal­ly with respect to what con­sti­tutes dis­be­lief: a believ­er, once ful­ly cog­nizant that a ḥadīth has been attest­ed via mass trans­mis­sion (tawā­tur), has no epis­te­mo­log­i­cal basis upon which to con­test the authen­tic­i­ty of the infor­ma­tion con­tained in the report. To reject a ḥadīth con­veyed by mass trans­mis­sion would be the­o­log­i­cal­ly equiv­a­lent to reject­ing a verse of the Qurʾān, both of which con­sti­tute an act of dis­be­lief. Dis­tin­guish­ing between defin­i­tive (qaṭʿī) and non-defin­i­tive (ẓan­nī) ḥadīth reports serves var­i­ous the­o­log­i­cal and legal pur­pos­es, but by no means ren­ders non-defin­i­tive ḥadīth sub­ject to casu­al dis­missal. The Islam­ic tra­di­tion has col­lec­tive­ly and unan­i­mous­ly made use of ẓan­nī ḥadīth for legal pur­pos­es, in con­for­mi­ty with con­di­tions set out in detail by schol­ars of uṣūl al-fiqh. This sub­ject is treat­ed in depth in, e.g., ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Aḥmad al-Bukhārī, Kashf al-asrār ʿan Uṣūl Fakhr al-Islām al-Baz­dawī, 3 ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʿArabī, 1997), as well as in the work of the 20th-cen­tu­ry schol­ar ʿAbd Allāh Khal­lāf, ʿIlm uṣūl al-fiqh, 2 ed. (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat Nahḍat Miṣr, 1946). For relat­ed dis­cus­sions in Eng­lish, see Jonathan A. C. Brown, Hadith: Muhammad’s Lega­cy in the Medieval and Mod­ern World, Foun­da­tions of Islam (Oxford: Oneworld Pub­li­ca­tions, 2009), 100–106, as well as 150–172 and 173–183.

[99] Kugle, Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, 75 (e-book 133).

[100] Ibid., 73–127 (e-book, 131–215).

[101] Ibid., 84 (e-book, 148).

[102] Ibid.

[103] In addi­tion to a fur­ther obscure text (which we shall exam­ine in our dis­cus­sion of Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī’s qaṣaṣ work below) that appears in a ter­tiary ḥadīth col­lec­tion and is in all like­li­hood spu­ri­ous.

[104] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 213.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Muḥam­mad b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Kisāʾī, Badʾ al-khalq wa qaṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, ed. al-Ṭāhir b. Sala­ma (Tunis: Dār Nuqūsh ʿAra­biyya, 1998).

[107] Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar Ibn Kathīr, Qaṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, ed. ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Far­māwī (Cairo: Dār al-Ṭabʿa wa’l-Nashr al-Islāmiyya, 1997), 243.

[108] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 213.

[109] Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī, Qaṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, ed. Ghulām Riḍā ʿIr­fānyān (Iran: Maj­maʿ al-Buḥūth al-Islāmiyya, 1989), 119, no. 119.

[110] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 214.

[111] Kugle, Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, 56 (e-book, 102).

[112] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 215.

[113] Kugle, Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, 56 (e-book, 102).

[114] Ibid., 55 (e-book, 100–101).

[115] See al-Rāzī, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb, 24:161 and al-Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, 767 for two exam­ples, though this inter­pre­ta­tion is repeat­ed in a num­ber of tafsīr works.

[116] This posi­tion is report­ed in mul­ti­ple works of tafsīr. Al-Ṭabarī main­tains this inter­pre­ta­tion when he states, “O my peo­ple, these are my daughters—meaning the women of his umma.” See al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, 4:297. Al-Rāzī reports this posi­tion as being one of two inter­pre­ta­tions of “daugh­ters,” pre­fer­ring it on account of: (i) it being con­trary to man­ly virtue (murūʾa) for a prophet to mar­ry his daugh­ters to trans­gres­sors; (ii) the daugh­ters of Lot being only a hand­ful in num­ber and inad­e­quate for mar­ry­ing the mul­ti­tude of men at Lot’s doorstep; and (iii) the fact that the sound­est report con­cern­ing Lot’s daugh­ters is that he had only two, in which case the term “two daugh­ters” (bin­tayn) would have been used, in the dual form, instead of the plur­al “daugh­ters” (banāt). Al-Rāzī reports this as the inter­pre­ta­tion of Saʿīd b. Jubayr (d. 95/714) and Mujāhid (d. between 100/718 and 104/722) and states that prophets are “fathers” to their peo­ple as a nor­ma­tive mat­ter, cit­ing as evi­dence Q. (al-Azāb) 33:6, “And his [the Prophet’s (pbuh)] wives are their [the believ­ers’] moth­ers.” See al-Rāzī, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb, 18:33–34.

[117] al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, 4:298.

[118] al-Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, 492.

[119] al-Rāzī, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb, 18:35.

[120] Kugle, Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in Islam, 52 (e-book, 95).

[121] Ibid., 52 (e-book, 96).

[122] Ibid., 27 (e-book 56).

[123] Ibid., 52 (e-book, 95).

[124] Ibid., 78 and 79 (e-book, 139 and 141).

[125] Abū Muḥam­mad ʿAlī b. Aḥmad Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥal­lā fī sharḥ al-Mujal­lā bi’l-ḥujaj wa’l-āthār, ed. Has­sān ʿAbd al-Man­nān (Riyadh: Bayt al-Afkār al-Dawliyya, 1431/2009), 2221. Can be accessed at: https://library.islamweb.net/hadith/display_hbook.php?bk_no=661&pid=328595&hid=1686.

[126] The term ʿawra refers, in one sense, to that part of the body that must be cov­ered in front of mar­riage­able mem­bers of the oppo­site sex. There is addi­tion­al­ly an ʿawra that one must main­tain with unmar­riage­able kin such as one’s father, moth­er, sis­ter, or broth­er upon reach­ing matu­ri­ty, as well as an ʿawra that must be main­tained even before oth­er mem­bers of the same sex.

[127] See Mus­lim, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ, no. 338. Can be accessed at: http://sunnah.com/muslim/3/90.

[128] Both this ḥadīth and the one imme­di­ate­ly pre­ced­ing it offer a com­men­tary with respect to the Com­pan­ions of the Prophet, who ordi­nar­i­ly slept dressed down, mean­ing in clothes that did not ful­ly cov­er their ʿawra. Cloth­ing was dif­fi­cult to come by and few had the wealth to afford mul­ti­ple pairs of cloth­ing. In addi­tion, it was com­mon­place for two men or two women to share a blan­ket at night time. Depend­ing on the size of the blan­ket, these men or women might inad­ver­tent­ly make con­tact dur­ing the night, and the ḥadīth reports cit­ed here out­line guide­lines for what is per­mis­si­ble in such cir­cum­stances. Legal schol­ars have under­stood these ḥadīth to mean that should two men or two women hap­pen to share the same sheet, they must have some­thing sep­a­rat­ing them if they are not observ­ing the min­i­mum ʿawra that must be cov­ered. Oth­ers, how­ev­er, such as Shams al-Ḥaqq al-ʿAẓīmābādī, have regard­ed the shar­ing of a blan­ket between two men or two women as cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly imper­mis­si­ble, irre­spec­tive of whether such a sep­a­ra­tion exists or not. For details, see al-Nawawī, al-Min­hāj, 315–316 (can be accessed at: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=53&ID=935) and Muḥam­mad Shams al-Ḥaqq al-ʿAẓīmābādī, ʿAwn al-Maʿbūd, sharḥ Sunan Abī Dāwūd, 1 ed. (Riyadh: Mak­ta­bat al-Maʿārif li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzīʿ, 2009), 1723–1725 (can be accessed at: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=55&ID=6973).

[129] Note that this ḥadīth refers to delib­er­ate imi­ta­tion of the oppo­site sex, par­tic­u­lar­ly in dress (al-Bukhārī, for instance, places this ḥadīth in his chap­ter on cloth­ing). It does not cov­er those aspects of a per­son that might resem­ble the oth­er sex but that are inborn (khilqī) or not delib­er­ate­ly tak­en on by the per­son, and it cer­tain­ly does not refer to pop­u­lar notions of “man­hood” which regard emo­tion­al detach­ment, aggres­sion, and sex­u­al prowess as fun­da­men­tal mark­ers of mas­culin­i­ty.

[130] Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥal­lā, 2225. Can be accessed at: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?idfrom=2401&idto=2401&bk_no=17&ID=2343.

[131] It should be recalled that this text appears in a chap­ter enti­tled “Of the Vile­ness of Sin­ning” and is cit­ed as a deter­rent against wrong action. As we have men­tioned, Ibn Ḥazm in fact dis­agrees with these posi­tions and regards the nar­ra­tions as inau­then­tic, as detailed in his al-Muḥal­lā, but he quotes them here nonethe­less to cau­tion his read­er about the enor­mi­ty of the sin of male-male sex­u­al acts.

[132] See Ibn Ḥazm, The Ring of the Dove, 258–259. Can be accessed at: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/hazm/dove/ringdove.html#ch29. Ear­li­er in the same sec­tion (ibid., 245–246), Ibn Ḥazm recounts his dis­ap­proval of two men eying each oth­er con­spic­u­ous­ly and repeat­ed­ly dis­ap­pear­ing into pri­va­cy at a par­ty. He states: “I remem­ber that I was at a recep­tion with some friends; the par­ty was being giv­en by one of our wealth­i­est burghers. I observed one of the guests, and a mem­ber of our host’s fam­i­ly who was also present, behav­ing in a man­ner of which I strong­ly dis­ap­proved; they were ogling each oth­er quite dis­gust­ing­ly, and with­draw­ing into pri­va­cy time and time again.” Ibn Ḥazm reports that he tried, through verse and many not so sub­tle hints, to alert the host to such unto­ward behav­ior so that he might put an end to it, but to no avail. “So I held my peace,” he says, “not know­ing whether he real­ly did not grasp my mean­ing, or whether he was only pre­tend­ing to be stu­pid. I do not remem­ber ever going to his par­ties again. I com­posed the fol­low­ing lit­tle poem in his hon­our:

I have no doubt, of all mankind
You have the least sus­pi­cious mind
Secure, as all good Mus­lims ought
To be, in faith, inten­tion, thought”
“Wake from your day­dreams! Don’t you know
This very evening So-and-so
A guest whom you invit­ed in
Com­mit­ted a most griev­ous sin?”

I think you ought to be aware
Men bend for oth­er things than prayer;
And you have cer­tain­ly taught me
Not every­one with eyes can see!”

[133] Albeit an uncom­mon view, con­sid­er­ing trib­adism (siḥāq) sub­ject to a ḥadd penal­ty is a posi­tion Ibn Ḥazm attrib­ut­es to Ibn Shi­hāb al-Dhuhrī (d. 124/741–2). For more details, see Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥal­lā, 2224–2225. Can be accessed at: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?idfrom=2401&idto=2401&bk_no=17&ID=2343.

[134] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 201.

[135] Lin­guis­ti­cal­ly, the trilit­er­al root f-s-q denotes dis­obe­di­ence and stray­ing from the com­mand of God. Inclin­ing toward trans­gres­sion, depart­ing from the path of right­eous­ness and truth, and break­ing out of (as some­thing breaks through a crease, or the morn­ing emerges from the dark­ness dur­ing fajr) are all def­i­n­i­tions includ­ed in clas­si­cal lex­i­cal works. See, for exam­ple, Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿArab, 6/3413–3414; Aḥmad Ibn Fāris, Muʿ­jam Maqāyīs al-lugha, ed. ʿAbd al-Salām Muḥam­mad Hārūn, 6 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr li’l-Ṭibāʿa wa’l-Tawzīʿ wa’l-Nashr, 1399/1979), 4/502; and, Ismāʿīl b. Ḥam­mād al-Jawharī, al-Ṣiḥāḥ, tāj al-lugha wa ṣiḥāḥ al-ʿAra­biyya, ed. Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Ghafūr ʿAṭṭār, 4 ed., 7 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-ʿIlm li’l-Malāyīn, 1990), 1543.

[136] Kugle, “Sex­u­al­i­ty, Diver­si­ty, and Ethics,” 193.

[137] Ibid., 217.

[138] Such as, e.g., the asser­tion that “jurists in the clas­si­cal peri­od did not reach con­sen­sus about the legal sta­tus of anal sex between men” (ibid., 216), which refers only to how liwāṭ (sodomy) should be cat­e­go­rized for pur­pos­es of deter­min­ing pun­ish­ment, not that there was no con­sen­sus about the “legal sta­tus” of it as being rig­or­ous­ly pro­hib­it­ed (ḥarām).

[139] See ibid., 204.

[140] Ibid., 200.