Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gender Interaction in Islam and Muslim Homosexuals

I've often wondered what the Islamic injunctions are on lesbian Muslims' interactions with other (Muslim) women. When around female homosexuals, can heterosexual Muslim females show their hair and other body parts that're allowed to be seen by other women? What exactly is their legal status in Islamic thought? I know they're not "supposed to exist," so no discussion of female homosexuality exists in early/medieval scholarship, but what about today? Would they be treated as "males" (God, this sounds so wrong to say! But I promise I have a point. Just read on. Thankz.), since they, like heterosexual males, can be attracted to females, or are they still treated as females? But speaking of attraction ... actually, turns out, Islamic scholarship allows people to be attracted to or to desire someone of the same sex--just don't act upon that desire. We'll talk about this in another blog entry, though. For now, dear qrratu, please just stick to this issue of homosexuality among Muslims and how they are to "behave" around others, especially of members of the same sex and/or gender.

According to the Islamic rules on gender interaction, women are required to cover only from navel to knee when around other women. Men have to cover from navel to knee wherever they are, whether around women or men. But the idea behind the women's ruling is that they may have to nurse a child in the company of other women, so to forbid them from showing their chests, too, would cause them unease in such situations. They therefore do not have to cover their chest even when not breastfeeding.

A teacher of mine once shared something very interesting with her students in a class on Islamic Law, during a discussion on gender interactions and how the classical/medieval rules are dealt with in contemporary times with new situations and questions, especially that of modern media (how is gender interaction supposed to work online, for example? Does a female need a chaperone when chatting with an unrelated male online? Or when emailing him? What about when Muslims seek their marriage partners online: do their online "hang-outs" need to be chaperoned, since mainstream (Sunni) Islam prohibits women and men to be alone with each other even during their meetings to determine whether they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other? Things like this.) She said that she had gone to a Muslim camp, and, of course, the males and the females had separate tents to stay in. And there was at least one lesbian Muslim there, who didn't keep her sexual identity a secret any longer. (Most of them do.) But unfortunately, there were too many questions for the other women to let her stay with them, so she had to leave. The questions included: "Can we show our hair in front of her? Should she be sleeping in the men's tent or the women's tent? How do we behave around her? Should we give the lesbian her right to stay with us and enjoy the camping experience at the expense of making every other woman here uncomfortable?" And, of course, she wouldn't be allowed in the men's tents because she's not a man or a male. They had to kick her out of the camp so that everyone could be comfortable.

Basically, how are orthodox/mainstream Islamic rules regarding gender interactions negotiated by Muslim homosexuals, especially Muslim female homosexuals? I imagine the answer(s?) might be one (some?) of the following:

1. Psssh - there's no such thing as lesbian Muslims! They don't exist, dude. [But we know they exist. Whether you approve of their sexuality or not isn't the point here; it's their interactions with other women that is of interest to me. Besides, you didn't answer the question.]

2. No, lesbian Muslims may not interact with or hug other women because they (the lesbians) have the tendency to fall in love with other women, and when people fall in love--the same way that when men and women fall in love-- it results in something called "fitna" (social chaos, disorder in society!), which is precisely why men and women are not allowed to interact with each other in "Islam" unless they are being chaperoned by some adult(s).

3. Yes, lesbians may interact with and even hug other (Muslim) women because, even if they do fall in love with the heterosexual women, it's not like they can have babies! So there'll technically be no fitna. That occurs only and only when the "lovers" are of opposite sexes. Besides, male sexuality is stronger, more dangerous than female sexuality, and the main reason women and men don't mingle--or are not supposed to--is because of men's hypersexuality. But, obviously, there's no such thing is female hypersexuality, so there's no issue here. [Yet, we know this is totally untrue, this claim about "men's sexuality being more dangerous than female sexuality." For evidence, please click here.]

I hope everyone noted that all of these potential answers imply that lesbians, whether Muslims or not, are just ready to jump on any woman available to them. But unfortunately, these potential responses do actually reflect the reality of the way that answers are framed by Muslim clerics and even scholars. For more on how people always imagine homosexuals indulging in sexual activities and thoughts but basically never imagine the same when heterosexuals are in question, please click here. No, folks, homosexuals aren't always looking for opportunities to sleep around! They're normal people like you and me and other heterosexuals, and it's extremely offensive to them when we center our thoughts and responses that address them or issues about them on our false belief that they are more sexually active than heterosexuals. But this is beside the point. We should discuss this another time--do remind me, please.

The same questions can be asked about male homosexual Muslims: how are they supposed to interact with other (Muslim) men? I imagine it's not as tough, though, because a man's outer piety cannot be judged to the same extent or as badly as a woman's. (Men don't have to wear a headcovering, and men don't have most of the restrictions that women have when interacting with others or in public; so the issue of "how do I behave around this Muslim gay?" may not arise to the extent that it does and can for women.)

What is also interesting is that this discussion, these questions, would in a very important way question mainstream Islamic concepts of hijab, pardah (basically hijab, but more importantly the privatization of women's bodies and sexualities), gender segregation, and other normative practices--and, I hope, compel us to ask the deeper meaning behind these issues, why they're important and why practice them, and what they mean or how they are understood in today's constantly-changing world with new questions that are emerging on an almost-daily basis.

As of now, I haven't heard any Muslim televangelists (who often happen to be men) and preachers on this issue, but I'd be interested to hear what they have to say. Not so I can follow their rules and shun my homosexual Muslim friends from my life or treat them like they're something beyond this world, but because I'm interested in the discussions about Muslim homosexuals and the sort of questions being asked and the way they are being answered. I imagine it's pretty bad, though, and my heart goes out to any gay and lesbian Muslims out there. I'm sorry that we don't treat you like real humans....

I was supposed to write on this issue of Islam and homosexuality years ago! And I'm SO sorry I haven't done that yet, y'all. But coming up on this subject: a discussion of this amazing book called Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800 by Khaled El-Rouyaheb. There is SO much information here, all of it so fascinating, much of it so shocking to the Muslim mind who was taught one thing about Islam but then some of the same Muslim scholars (all of whom are males) who developed Islamic law, all these rules on how we're supposed to be around other people and what a woman can and cannot do, are saying other things too ... it's just too interesting not to read, y'all. So, yeah, inshaAllah, the next post on homosexuality among Muslims or in Islam will be on this.

Thanks for reading!


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  3. Assalam Alaikum,
    Allah clearly defines homosexuality through story of Prophet Luth AS. Entire cities of Sodom (from where today's word arrives) and Gomorrah, whose people where inclined towards homosexuality were destroyed. Except some family members of Prophet Luth AS, even his wife was not spared. Through his wife a, lesbianism might have been hinted. So all in all, homosexuality is a Sin as per Islam. These are normal people born with normal tendencies, but who have chosen a different path to satisfy their desires. So question of purdah with such people does not arise as they are answerable for their actions. But purdah is prescribed with transvestites with male tendencies. Where their tendencies cannot be defined, preferable to have purdah.

    Many people mix up transvestites and homosexuals. While being a transvestite / eunuch is deformity (or being born with both male / female organs or poorly developed organs) and not a choice, homosexuality is a mental preference.

    Both topics discussed in below links :

    1. Thanks for your response, Shagufta!

      Thanks also for those links, but I'm aware of them and I'm also aware of the popular, mainstream perspective on homosexuality and religions, including Islam. Just a reminder, thinks aren't always are clear as they might appear or as the sources you like might have you believe. So I'm going to have to pass on accepting the links you gave as necessarily legitimate sources (or the only acceptable opinions).

      Thanks, though!

      But, actually, the questions I've asked above aren't about whether it's okay to be homosexual or not. I already know what the popular answer to that is. Acknowledging that there ARE plenty of Muslim homosexuals out there, I am more interested in what contemporary fiqh would say about "heterosexual Muslims'" interactions with "homosexual Muslims."

  4. Thanks Zufash for acknowledging my response and appreciating. I just thought of writing in as I found some posts raising certain doubts on Islamic principles, which only makes a non Muslim happier. For me, Islam is perfect in every aspect and has all solutions. From menial actions to major responsibilities, which I find quite appealing. Islam is what the Quran and Hadiths say. Not how people follow it. But definitely seeking answers for practising better is an appreciation.
    Though I am not a scholar, I maintain that unless you know that a person has homosexual tendencies, one need not observe purdah with same gender. Covering yourself fully and decently and avoiding proximity is also purdah in today's society where you are a working woman and some dress codes need to be followed. If one wears the veil its better and if face is covered all the more better. Those are the degrees based on one's comfortability and depending on which field/ country she is working/ living in. In today's world one cannot avoid and maintain purdah with all. Nor know of anyone's preferences or tendencies. But decent and full dressing at all times will help one with both genders or protect one with people of all types of tendencies. With correct intentions and a good heart, God will always guide and save a person. Keep the faith. What one cannot have control on, one need not delve deep into. Islam is not complicated. Nor should one make it difficult to follow. I had read a Hadith to that effect.
    I know that are people who are hypocrites in Islam too where they practice some things and preach something else or some who try to justify their unislamic actions through some unrelated text. Hence it is always better to seek answers from the original texts if true scholars not available around one. As end times near, true Islamic scholars will become less and less. At least those who have a better understanding of things (as Allah grants knowledge and understanding to some people) can read and understand and follow. I am sure you too can. And while learning, making it aware to other Muslims also so they can help themselves too. As you are aware everything in Allah's judgement is based on Intention (Neeyat).
    The links I pasted for both subjects are the ones which explain things best and cover all surahs or views. And stated in a way that can be understood by all.


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