Q. What is the position on homosexuality and lesbianism in Islam? How should Islam treat those who claim to be afflicted with this biological foul-up (identity crisis)? There is research that claims they cannot help being the way they are, so does that mean that they are automatically condemned to hell on the Day of Judgment?

A. I would first of all respond by stating that the research that makes such a claim is just a supposition, and no science is founded upon mere supposition. At the same time, I would not deny that there are some people whose genetic makeup probably makes them homosexual or lesbian. However, this is a possibility and does not explain the rampant homosexuality in society. As far as Islam's view on the matter, Islamic laws are always against something that is societal. When someone is accused of zina, we are asked to provide four witnesses (see Q4:15), which means that there is no punishment from society for something done in private. This does not take away from the fact that the person is accountable to Allah.

In the case of homosexuality, it is quite different (see Q4:16). The people are known to have homosexual intercourse. However, the penalty, which is not defined, can only be inflicted when four people testify. This is significant, because the Qur'an is acknowledging that the people are homosexual, but cannot be punished until they are seen by witnesses, i.e., in the act. This proves that what goes on in private is not anybody's business, and if a man or woman says that he or she is homosexual or lesbian, that is his or her business. Islam has a problem with such behavior when it becomes institutionally flagrant.

The question may arise about Lot's people. This is a great problem for those who seek to justify homosexuality, or at least a tolerant approach to it. The story, as is well known, is common to the Semitic religions. Jewish and Christian liberalists -- if we may use that term -- seek to interpret the Biblical version to mean that God's punishment was cast upon the people not because of homosexuality, but because of a lack of hospitality towards the strangers (the angels). This is certainly far-fetched and cannot be afforded any glance of seriousness. The Qur'anic account is straightforward. But the question one raises then is how can we advocate as we have done in view of this clear prohibition. To which we respond: Islam asks for human action in societal matters, i.e. matters that affect the society as a whole. When matters are conducted in private, then the judgment is between the individual(s) and Allah, and societal judgment cannot, must not, take place. In the case of Lot, it was obviously societal, and had reached the status of an epidemic. It was not a few people doing their stuff in private, but the aberration had become a norm in the city, and they sought to enforce this abnormality on others, hence warranting divine punishment.

One attempted rebuttal to our view is that all are born pure, and so this makes homosexuality automatically haram. To which we respond, what is meant by pure? And when is one liable to incur a sin? If as we have propounded that in some cases, genetic imbalances may occur, is such a person liable? Does purity also mean freedom from medical defects? If this interpretation is followed, then obviously something is wrong, since we know that several are born with visible and invisible defects. Pure in the context of being born in such a state means that one is born without sin, and one is deemed to have committed a sin when one has the power to eschew a forbidden act, but still commits it anyway. For example, a crack user may be held liable for his/her action, but a crack baby cannot be held liable for drug usage, since the baby had no choice in the matter, being born with the addiction, and had not the power to eschew the substance abuse.

As to those who claim that despite our liberal approach, how come Islam still proscribes institutional homosexuality, then our answer is that the law of survival is obvious in that when a male and female copulate, given all favorable circumstances, pregnancy results and the species survival is thus ensured. If two of the same sex copulate, this is not possible, and were it to become the standard, then the survival of the species would be in serious jeopardy. The norm is then obvious, heterosexuality rather than homosexuality, survival of the species and our ensuring such, rather than causing the extinction of the species by doing that which is detrimental to its natural form of propagation. Anything that threatens the survival of the human species is to be seen as something to be eschewed.

Therefore, Islam acknowledges that there are factors that we may not know of which would result in such behavior. These may be genetic factors, child abuse, bullying, whatever. It would be ludicrous to assume that everyone who has been sexually abused or bullied and as a result ended up living a homosexual lifestyle was born homosexual. Regardless, the practice is to be seen as something for private and not public acceptance. The books on Fiqh have lots of information on the issue of homosexuality, and indeed a lot of jurists walked a thin line.

On the matter pertaining to what happens after resurrection, I know nothing, for there are several matters that are beyond human comprehension. On the surface, it sounds like a straight (no pun intended) and well-defined case. However, there are matters which only Allah can deal with, which is why I always state that Islam leaves closet infidelity to Allah, and public indecency to societal laws.

This brings us to the problem that Christians always point out regarding common Muslim ideas. Qur'anic judgments all pertain to society in this life. On this, there is no problem. The enigma starts when Muslims restrict Allah to judge according to human limitations, even though Allah has said that we are given but little knowledge. We cannot understand Allah's Grace, which is why there is a Day of Judgment as well, when only Allah will decide. At that time, those who were judged innocent on earth may be seen otherwise, and those who were adjudged evil may be seen differently. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise, the Just who has given us brains with which to think and reflect.

Webmaster's note: We've received some comments that our position is not liberal enough. We address issues that are of jurisprudential importance to the Muslim community, and we sometimes take positions that are controversial. We see no need to get into championing causes that may be dear to some. Our view on sexuality is that we are who we are, with the issue of sexuality not being a choice in some cases. We don't, however, feel that we have to make statements beyond this or become part of any advocacy group (e.g., endorsing same sex unions). That was never our intention, and we see no need for it to become now, or in the foreseeable future, part of our objective.

And [thus, too, did We save] Lot, when he said unto his people:[49] "Would you commit this abomination with your eyes open (to its being against all nature[50])? Must you really approach men with lust instead of women? Nay, but you are people without any awareness (of right and wrong)!"(Q27:54-55)

Muhammad Asad's commentary in footnotes [49 and 50]: The story of Lot and the perverted people of Sodom is mentioned in several places, particularly in 7:80-84, 11:69-83 and 26:160-173. Thus Zamakhshari and Razi, stressing the principle that a revolt against the God-willed nature of heterosexuality is a revolt against God Himself.

Posted August 25, 1999