The Pulse Nightclub
Just recently, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a well-known gay bar, memorialized the five-year shooting tragedy that left the LGBTQ community in shock. At about 2 a.m. on June 12, 2016, 29-year-old U.S. citizen Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 more at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Before the attack, Mateen made a 911 call, during which he reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. After the shootout with police, Mateen was killed, and ISIS officially claimed responsibility for the attack, announcing that "an Islamic State fighter" had "targeted a nightclub for homosexuals." The Orlando attack, which stands as the deadliest shooting on American soil, was also an echo of ISIS's systematic hostility and persecution of gay people in Iraq and Syria.
The picture in the attached photo is the outside of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. I am fortunate to have access to this image; it is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Ebyabe took the photo on November 10, 2019.
ISIS-appointed courts have declared gay sex a capital offense and order brutal punishments in line with sharia (Islamic law). One of the most common punishments has been to throw individuals off buildings. Those who survive the fall are then stoned to death by waiting crowds. If you want to see explicit images of this, do an internet search for "ISIS persecution of gay people" and be sure to click on Images and Videos. Human rights observers estimated in December 2015 that ISIS had executed at least 36 suspected gay men within its territory. In a single day in September 2015, ISIS reportedly executed ten suspected gay men, including a 15-year-old boy.
ISIS does not represent all Muslims, but they represent a segment of fundamentalists who believe in the old ways that their Prophet, Muhammad, commanded them. In my unpublished manuscript, Muslim Mechanics, I discuss how homosexuality became so abhorred among Muslims.
Homosexuality is anathema to Islam. It meets hostility throughout the Muslim world, where state punishments range from hefty fines to the death penalty. It is common in the Middle East and South Asia for extremist groups to persecute gay and bisexual men. In 2016, there were many reports of gay men having been thrown off tall buildings by ISIS. However, numerous scholars and commentators maintain that the Qur'an and hadith rule unambiguously against same-sex relations. So, what has caused homosexuality to become such a hated crime?
Fundamentalists justify the blanket condemnation for homosexuality through references to the parable of Lot as written in the Qur'an (26:161). This version of Lot's story is the same as in the Bible in Genesis, chapters 11-14 and 19. To recap the story, Lot was Abraham's nephew and made the journey from Ur to Canaan. Lot then traveled with Abraham through Canaan to Egypt and back to Canaan. Friction within the tribe urged Lot to move on, which he did. Eventually, he settled in Sodom, one of a few villages thought to exist south of the Dead Sea in Moab, in present-day Jordan.
The parable describes two visitors, disguised angels, who visited Sodom, sent to destroy the desert cities where "sins of the flesh" were rampant. Lot was the first to encounter the travelers as they entered the city gates. He took them to his house and provided food and board, as was the custom. The parable ending is similar in both the Bible and the Qur'an. The official line is that Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked cities with homosexuality and bestiality running rampant. Because of this wickedness, God allowed Lot and his immediate family to leave but destroyed four towns in the region with fire and brimstone from the heavens (Deuteronomy 29:23). We know that approximately 500 years later, Moses incorporated these values into law so that in ancient Israel, homosexuality was punishable by death (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). There is much emphasis in the Bible that believers remember this behavior and the consequences, for there are 27 references outside Genesis, where the Bible mentions Sodom. The Qur'an also documents it (27:55). In summation, it may seem that modern Judaism and Christianity have become progressive and liberal, while Islam has remained rooted in its purest values.
The story of Lot provides the foundation for why homosexuality is deemed wicked in Islam. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2013 found that most people in the Middle East reject homosexuality: 97 percent in Jordan, 95 percent in Egypt, and 80 percent in Lebanon. Islamic countries in Central Asia and Africa feel the same way: 87 percent in Pakistan, 98 percent in Nigeria.
It was not always that way. While homosexuality was never accepted, society was more open to its visibility. When Alexander the Great conquered the world, his armies swept through the Mediterranean Sea's lower lip to Egypt. His soldiers and generals brought Greek culture with them, which the Islamic world inherited and enhanced. The most prevalent and socially significant form of same-sex sexual relations in ancient Greece was between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys. As the ancient Athenians did, classical Muslim scholars marveled over the beauty of young boys. As heirs to ancient Greek culture, Muslim scholars discovered that men would be drawn to young boys or effeminate males since they manifested the same feminine beauty as women. Sharia has no penalty against looking and lusting, only against actual acts of sexual contact.
In the 1980s, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism coincided with the gay rights movement in America and Europe. In the eyes of many in the Islamic world, the movement caused homosexuality to become synonymous with the West, and Islamic politicians convinced their constituents of the West's moral decay. In some Islamic countries, same-sex marriages are legal, e.g., Turkey; the problem lies with discrimination, harassment, and violence prevalent in many Islamic countries. In those countries, it is a problem beyond control. On a local level, Muslims abide by sharia, and if sharia does not endorse homosexuality, the local citizens will not either.
Sharia or Islamic law approaches legitimate sexual contact as being a quid pro quo arrangement. Understanding sharia is vital to understanding the outcome of the law in Islamic societies. Sharia is concerned primarily with actions as opposed to emotions, desires, and lust. For example, marriage in sharia is not a sacrament; it is a contract. Of course, some ceremonies and rituals express love and companionship, but after the crowds have gone home, all that remains is a binding, lawful contract between a man and a woman. The man supplies the woman with financial support in return for exclusive sexual access. It is a contract that has sex and procreation legal in the eyes of God and legitimate in the eyes of society. The basis for marriage in sharia is vaginal intercourse and financial obligations between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples would have difficulties bridging that gap. They could construct an arrangement for inheritance and shared property that mimicked marriage, but it would not be marriage. The Qur'an would have to be changed for the same-sex union to be considered marriage, and that won't happen.
Let us continue with our exploration of sharia as it pertains to the position of sexual acts. All sexual contact between unmarried men and women is forbidden. Sexual contact other than vaginal intercourse is also prohibited with punishment at the judge's discretion. In some countries and territories such as Afghanistan or Somalia, family and community jointly execute a person who is married and commits adultery or sodomy by stoning. Stoning adulterers to death is not mentioned in the Qur'an but was a custom in the Mosaic law of Jewish communities living in Medina at that time. Sodomy, its name derived from the city of Sodom in Lot's parable, is understood to be anal sex. The Qur'an does not mention any punishment for sodomy, but several hadiths from questionable sources state that Muhammad favored execution. There are no references to homosexuality in the hadith collections of Bukhari or Muslim, regarded by Muslims as the two most authentic collections in existence.
Over time, the consensus of Muslim scholars has set the punishment for anal sex between men ranging from a relatively light one at the judge's discretion to the same as illicit fornication (100 lashes) or execution (based on Muhammad's hadith of disputed authenticity). Indonesia and Malaysia impose 100 lashes while Egypt, Libya, UAE, and Oman penalize homosexuality with prison sentences. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen maintain the death penalty. Altogether, there are more than 70 countries that criminalize homosexual acts.
Not to leave out women, since there is no penetration to speak of, sexual contact in this manner did not receive the attention that did sodomy. As with gay men, Islam prohibits lesbian relationships under the general rule against sexual contact outside marriage, with any penalties at the judge's discretion.
The issue of LGBTQ rights in America is a tough one for Muslims. On the one hand, it is doubtful that one could construct an argument by which sexual contact between men, let alone anal sex, is considered permissible in God's eyes. On the other hand, attempts to ignore sharia law threaten Muslims' ability to have their marriage contracts. Muslims are not, of course, opposed to reason, logic, scientific and historical evidence. There is much ignorance about homosexuality on the Muslim side and ignorance about sharia law from the Western view.