Book chapter

Islam, Sexuality, and Gender Identity (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The terms LGBT and Islam mentioned together in a sentence rarely evoke positive connotations. Rather, LGBT and Islam are often considered inherently incompatible. While there is little evidence on which an inherent incompatibility can be claimed, persecution of LGBT people across the globe is routinely carried out in the name of Islam. Yet at its heart, Islam can be a powerful force acknowledging sexual and gender diversity. Of all the world's great religions, Islam is arguably the most sex positive of all.Three main avenues provide understanding of sexuality and gender in Islam. First is the Qur'an, or the Islamic holy book. Second is hadith, which are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Third are fatwah, which are the rulings of religious leaders. Certainly, most of this literature positions sexuality as properly confined to heterosexual marriage between a gender normative woman and a gender normative man. However, it is often difficult to distill such an imperative from cultural aspects that inflect all readings of religious scripture. In other words, it is often not Islam per se that prohibits same-sex sexuality and gender diversity but rather cultural interpretations of religious aspects. Moreover, it is not uncommon for fatwah to contradict each other, and thus which fatwah are followed comes down to which imam or religious leader espouses it.A further difficulty with discussing sexuality and gender vis-à-vis Islam, or indeed any religion, is that terms such as sexuality and gender are inherently modern and were developed long after understandings of religion were culturally and politically enshrined. As such, particular understandings of the categories of woman and man within scripture exist in a state where interrogation is not possible. If Muhammad were alive today, he would have linguistic tools available to him to talk about sexuality and gender in a much more nuanced way. To thus discuss LGBT subject positions within Islam, given that Islam was largely developed before words like gender and sexuality were invented, is difficult. Nevertheless, such discussion is warranted and fruitful and shows that while many interpretations of Islam seek to vilify LGBT, many aspects of Islam and its practice are inclusive of sexual and gender diversity.