Sunday, July 25, 2010

13B. Homosexuality Part II


For centuries many in the serving clergy of Catholicism have had common-law wives, commandments to celibacy notwithstanding. For their part, Protestantism and Eastern orthodoxy have always permitted married clergy. Today, of course, there are (and probably always have been) homosexual Catholic priests, monks, and nuns.

The main site, or so one would expect, for genital same-sex conduct in religious institutions would be monasteries and nunneries. Conditions in Egypt, where monasteries began, were particularly rigorous, involving drastic reductions of food and sleep--and of course no sex. Nonetheless, accounts of the lives of the desert fathers indicate that the capacity for erotic response had been muted but not eliminated. The tribulations of St. Anthony include a hallucination in which he is tempted by a seductive black boy.

The first monastic Rule, a set of regulations governing the monks’ behavior, is credited to St. Pachomius (292-343). Several provisions indicate the need to guard against relations deemed improper among the monks. For example, “No one will be allowed to shower or anoint a brother without being told to do that; don’t let anyone talk to their brother in darkness; do not let any brother sleep with another brother on the same door mat; and let no one hold another’s hand.”

Saint Basil of Caesarea, the fourth-century Church Father who wrote the most influential Rule of the monks of the East, made the following stipulation: “The cleric or monk who molests youths or boys or is caught kissing or committing some turpitude, let him be whipped in public, deprived of his crown [tonsure] and, after having his head shaved, let his face be covered with spittle; and [let him be] bound in iron chains, condemned to six months in prison, reduced to eating rye bread once a day in the evening three times per week. After these six months living in a separate cell under the custody of a wise elder with great spiritual experience, let him be subjected to prayers, vigils and manual work, always under the guard of two spiritual brothers, without being allowed to have any relationship . . . with young people."

These cautions were recycled in the various monastic Rules of Western Europe. The famous Plan of St. Gall from the ninth century shows how beds must be arranged to avoid any occasion for sin, especially with young novices. Such provisions were often unavailing. In a capitulary of 802, Charlemagne remarks: “a most pernicious rumor has come to our ears that many in the monasteries have already been detected in abomination and uncleanness. . . . Some of the monks are understood to be sodomites.”

However, there are indications that the prohibitions were often breeched. Our best evidence for this come from the penitentials, confessional manuals whose origins can be traced as far back as the sixth century, and which were in common use until the twelfth century. The purpose of the penitentials was to aid the spiritual guide by providing descriptions of various sins and prescribing appropriate penances. Many of the manuals go far beyond mere lists of sins and penances, containing introductions and conclusions for the instruction of the confessor that remind him of his role as spiritual healer and urge him to appreciate the subjective mentality of the patient. (P. J. Payer, 1984).

Evidence of the felt need for repression indicates, of course, that the activity was going on. We have little evidence from the side of those who were practicing the behavior and presumably enjoying it. There is, however, a poignant poem from the ninth century, “O admirabile Veneris Ydolum,” in which a cleric laments the loss of a beautiful lad who has been taken from him. (Curtius, 1953, p. 114). In the eleventh and twelfth century clerical gay poetry becomes more common. From Marbod, Bishop of Rennes (d. 1123), for example, we have a poem about a boy “whose face was so lovely he could easily have been a girl, whose hair fell in waves against his ivory neck, whose forehead was white as snow and his eyes black as pitch, whose soft cheeks were full of delicious sweetness . . . [He possesses] an exterior formed in measure to match his mind.” The last observation shows that the admiration was not purely physical. (Stehliing, 1984).

Much of this literature, however, records “particular friendships,” sentimental pair-bonding between monks that was not necessarily genitally expressed. The Cistercian abbot St. Aelred of Rievaulx (ca. 1110-1167) is the author of a treatise on spiritual friendship that has become celebrated among modern gay men. Aelred’s writings on friendship distinguished three kinds: carnal, worldly, and spiritual friendship. Carnal friendship, of course, he rejects as a mutual harmony in vice. His comments, however, indicate that was familiar with the practice of it. Sometimes prompted by monetary considerations, worldly friendship is governed by the principle of utility.

It is spiritual kinship, Aelred holds. is the truest friendship. It is grounded in Christ and, like chastity, is a gift of God's grace. The Cistertian makes it clear that he is not speaking merely theoretically. He regularly cultivated spiritual friendships with the younger monks of Rievaulx Abbey. For example, Aelred was about twenty-four when an attractive youth named Simon entered the monastery. About fourteen years of age, Simon was frail and remarkably beautiful. Aelred called Simon "my gentlest friend," "my beloved brother," and "the one-in-heart with me." When the boy died young, the older man was broken-hearted.

Medieval monastic history, then, offers a record of two forces, same-sex lust and love, on the one hand, and the continuing efforts to repress these behaviors. During the late Middle Ages, the homoerotic subculture of the monasteries, so flourishing in the time of Aelred seems to have declined. We have evidence of this from the process of suppression of the monasteries under Henry VIII in England.

The background is as follows. Having failed to receive his desired annulment from the Pope, Henry had himself declared Supreme Head of the Church in England in February 1531. Some orders, such as the London Carthusians and the Observant Friars; their houses were confiscated. Henry then moved to a more thoroughgoing suppression of the monasteries. In 1534 Thomas Cromwell was authorized to set up a commission to “visit” all the monasteries. The commissioners were instructed to ascertain the quality of religious life being maintained in religious houses; to assess the prevalence of “superstitious” religious observances such as the veneration of relics: and to gather evidence of moral laxity, especially of a sexual nature. In fact, monastic life, both in terms of numbers and rigor of religious observance, had been in decline for some time. Yet the reports proved somewhat less than satisfactory from Henry’s point of view. Despite strenuous efforts relatively few cases of sodomy were found, though a fair amount of masturbation. Nonetheless, Henry’s ministers proceeded with the suppression.

At all events, by the mid-sixteenth century the great days of the monasteries were long over. Protestant reformers and monarchs greedy to confiscate their wealth, found them easy targets for their charges of idleness, superstition, and vice, including fornication, masturbation, and sodomy. For the most part abbeys and nunneries survived only in Catholic and Orthodox countries. Even in Catholic Europe, the consequences of the French Revolution brought them under attack by secularists. Many of the houses were pillaged and brought under the power of the state. Similar results occurred in the Soviet Union after 1917.

Nonetheless, the link between religious mysticism and eroticism was inadvertently brought out in the vivid imagery of the Spanish mystics St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) and St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582). In an unusual, sensational case (1619-23), the lesbian sister Benedetta Carlini of Pescia, near Florence, created a complex visionary world of magic in which she enveloped her lovers. La Religieuse, a posthumously published novel by Denis Diderot (1713-1784), portrays graphically, even melodramatically, the distress of a nun at the hands of a lesbian prioress.

After the end of the Old Regime this work was followed by a large class of exposé literature created by the anti-clerical movement at the close of the nineteenth century, and designed to flay the Catholic church as a redoubt of hypocrisy and depravity. This trend inspired Hitler’s 1937 attack on the Catholic church.

This history, which has only been sketched here, provides a background to the current sexual-abuse scandals in the Catholic church. This is a complex matter, so that it may be helpful to focus on one particular order.

The Congregation of Christian Brothers is a world-wide Catholic order with a special concern for the evangelization and education of youth. Their first school was opened in Waterford, Ireland, in 1802. In more recent years they have been tainted with quite a different reputation. The sexual abuse scandal in the Congregation of Christian Brothers ranks as a major chapter in the series of Catholic sex-abuse cases in various Western jurisdictions.

At Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland, maintained by the Christian Brothers, more than 300 former pupils have alleged physical and sexual abuse. When allegations began to surface in the late 1980s, the government, police, and local church leaders conspired in an unsuccessful cover-up. Eventually the allegations led to the formation of a royal commission (the Hughes Inquiry); further investigations followed into allegations at other institutions across Canada. In January 1993 the Christian Brothers reached a financial settlement totaling $23 million with 700 former students who alleged abuse.

During the latter part of the twentieth century, Christian brothers schools in Ireland were noted for brutal and frequent resort corporal punishment. Sexual abuse was rife. At one institution a number of Brothers were repeatedly cited for “embracing and fondling” boys. Rapes occurred. Yet the accused Brothers were invariably excused, lightly admonished or, typically, moved to other institutions where they were free to continue abusing children for decades.

The order resisted any efforts to bring the truth to light. In 2004 the order successfully sued the Irish Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse to prevent the publication of the names of any members, dead or alive, who would otherwise have been named in the Commission's report. In its Report, finally issued in May 2009, the Commission found that thousands of Irish children at Christian Brothers institutions were abused. The commissioners concluded that more allegations had been made against the Irish Christian Brothers than against all other male religious orders combined.

In Australia, there were allegations that during the 1970s sexual abuses were rampant at the junior campus of St Patricks College and St Alipius Primary School (now closed) in Ballarat in the state of Victoria. Three Brothers were convicted of sex crimes. Two others were later transferred to another campus, where they continued to offend. This misbehavior was particularly prevalent where English children who had been forcibly shipped of to Australia came under the control of the Christian Brothers.


Christianity, following in the footsteps of its Jewish predecessor, developed a whole range of homophobic motifs. One of the strangest goes back to the thirteenth century, when an Italian prelate Jacobus of Voragine (ca. 1230-1298) compiled a book of edifying Christian stories called the Legenda Aurea (the Golden Legend). Section 6 is entitled “The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to the Flesh.” There we encounter the following extraordinary claim: “[a]nd even the sodomites gave witness by being exterminated wherever they were in the world on that night, as Jerome says ‘a light rose over them so bright that all who practiced this vice were wiped out; and Christ did this in order that no such uncleanness might be found in the nature he had assumed.’ For as Augustine says, God, seeing that a vice contrary to nature was rife in human nature, hesitated to become incarnate.” (W. G. Ryan, trans., 1993, p. 41).

No such passage has been found in the authentic writings of Jerome or Augustine, though the claim could have appeared in some texts that are simply ascribed to those early Christian writers. In all likelihood, however, the notion arose in the high Middle Ages, perhaps by some scholastic thinker whom Jacobus purloined.

At all events, this murderous legend enjoyed considerable popularity in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. For example, the Flores Temporum a chronicle of the world’s history compiled by a Swabian Franciscan, Hermannus Gigas, records several portents foretelling the coming of Christ, such as the appearance of a spring of olive oil in Rome, the death of all sodomites, and the rising of three suns in the East which merge into one.

The motif recurs in the fifteenth-century Caxton translation of the Golden Legend. “And it happed this nyght, that all the sodomytes that dyde synne ayenst nature were deed and extynct, for god hated so moche this synne, that he myght not suffre that nature humayne whiche he had taken, were delywerd to so grete shame. Wherof saint Austin saith, that it lackyd but lyttl, that god would not become man for that synne.”

The notion of the death of the Sodomites on the first Christmas Eve began to fade in the early eighteenth century--but has not yet disappeared entirely. As recently as 2004 a Greek Orthodox priest pronounced that homosexual conduct was very dangerous. The proof was that the sodomites had to die on Christmas Eve for the Incarnation to take place.


Since the Church of England (Anglican) ranks as the first protestant denomination to have fostered the a serious and sustained reexamination of the status of homosexuality within the church. The worldwide Anglican communion has followed suit, though with mixed results Similar efforts have taken place in most other mainstream protestant denominations; as with the Anglicans the disputes are often heated and the results inconclusive. By and large official circles within the Catholic and Orthodox churches have not encouraged this discussion, though some lay people in these communions have done so.

As has been suggested, it is best to begin with the Church of England, and the worldwide Anglican Communion allied with it. At the outset it is well to recall the work of Derrick Sherwin Bailey (1910-1984), a British theologian and historian, who served as Canon Residentiary of Wells Cathedral from 1962 onwards. After World War II Bailey joined a small group of Anglican clergymen and physicians to study homosexuality. Their findings were published in a 1954 Report entitled The Problem of Homosexuality produced for the Church of England Moral Welfare Council by the Church Information Board.

As part of this task Bailey completed a separate historical study, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (London: Longmans, 1955). Although this monograph has been criticized for tending to exculpate the Christian church from blame in the persecution and defamation of homosexuals, it ranks as a landmark in the history of the subject, combining scrutiny of the Biblical evidence with a survey account of subsequent history. Bailey's book drew attention to a number of neglected subjects, including the intertestamental literature, the legislation of the Christian emperors, the penitentials, and the link between heresy and sodomy.

While it is contestable, the author's interpretation of Genesis 19, where he treats the Sodom story as essentially nonsexual--an instance of violation of hospitality--has served as a benchmark for later efforts. Following Bailey’s example, gay-friendly exegetes have been proceeding with their own plans for detoxifying the notorious “clobber passages” that condemn, or appear to condemn, same-sex conduct in the Bible. The results of this enterprise are summed up in a large tome entitled The Queer Bible Commentary.

Opinion on the success of this effort has been divided, with many gay and lesbian Christians hailing the results--and even claiming, improbably, that the Bible is a gay-friendly book--while mainstream Christian opinion has not generally been accommodating. Even if we accept the maximum claims of the detoxifiers, one must recognize that the venom of the most egregious texts, such as the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 and the “unnatural” allegation in Romans 1:26-27, has not been drawn. That poison remain obstinately in place.

At the time, however, the work of Bailey and his colleagues had a salutary impact on social policy. Their work prepared the way for the progressive Wolfenden Report (1957), which was followed a decade later by Parliament's decriminalization of homosexual conduct between consenting adults in England and Wales.

These developments were for a time a source of hope, not only in Britain and in English-speaking countries in general, but also within the world-wide Anglican communion. Yet in recent years Anglicanism has witnessed a backlash that has cast earlier progress in doubt.

The thirteenth Lambeth Conference in England 1998 approved, by a vote of 526 to 70, a resolution stating that homosexual acts are "incompatible with Scripture," There was also some soothing language about the need to combat irrational fear of homosexuality, and an admonition to listen to the experience of homosexual persons. The Lambeth Conference is not an executive which imposes doctrine or discipline but a forum for the exchange of views. Still, the sting of the assertion that Scripture could not be reconciled with approval of homosexual behavior was patent.

In 2003 the Church of England announced the appointment of Jeffrey John, a priest living in a celibate domestic partnership with another man, as the Suffragan Bishop of Reading. Many Anglican traditionalists reacted strongly and John eventually succumbed to pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury (who had initially supported the appointment) and others to withdraw before he had been formally elected. John was later appointed as the Dean of St Albans instead. A number of Anglican provinces took a positive stand on the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions.

In 2003, amid a climate of controversy, the Episcopal Church in the USA consecrated Gene Robinson, a gay man, as the Bishop of New Hampshire.

Responding to these developments, many provinces, primarily from sub-Saharan Africa but also some in Asia, America and Australia—representing about half of the 80 million practicing Anglicans worldwide—declared a state of impaired communion with their counterparts. Minority groups in Western provinces, dismayed by what they consider unscriptural actions by the Churches of England, Canada, Australia, and in the United States, have withdrawn their affiliation and realigned themselves with African provinces such as the Churches of Uganda and Rwanda.

In 2006 the Anglican Church of Nigeria issued a statement affirming "our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity" and encouraging the National Assembly to ratify a Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality.

While the controversy is continuing, it would seem that the lines are drawn. The leading circles of advanced industrial countries maintain their support for a more progressive policy regarding homosexuality--though with some notable holdouts. What is termed the “global South” of the Anglican churches (corresponding to what is generally called the Third World) has generally been lining up against any change of the traditional policies regarding same-sex behavior. In fact, some spokespeople wish to heighten the restrictions. Regrettably, this opposition is spilling over into secular legislation, as seen now in Uganda.

Modern Judaism shows similar conflicts, though debate has been less vehement. Summarizing the American context in broad terms, Reform Judaism is generally open to change with regard to same-sex love, and a number of ordained gay and lesbian rabbis now lead congregations. Orthodox Judaism is generally opposed, while Conservative Judaism seeks to chart a middle course. Unfortunately Reform Judaism does not have much influence outside North America.

While there are a number of Muslim gay and lesbian organizations and spokespeople, very little progress has been made in official Islamic circles, where the ulema (consensus of scholars) remains adamantly opposed.

The following negative conclusion seems inescapable. The prohibition of same-sex conduct found in all three Abrahamic faiths will be hard to change, very hard. As I have noted in other contexts, though, these are not our only choices in the religion field. One might recommend Buddhism where there is no deeply rooted homophobic tradition,

Of course, the "clobber passages" in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur'an are relatively few--as we keep hearing. However, they are part and parcel with a fundamental concern in all three religions. That concern--which amounts to a group neurosis, in my view--is to establish clear boundaries of what is acceptable, indeed required in the realm of the family and sexual behavior vs. that which is taboo (to'ebah, abomination, haram).

All societies, even the most rudimentary ones, are concerned with the family in some way or other, for the reason that is essential to keep the male connected with the female after offspring are born. That in itself says nothing about the permissibility of same-sex behavior as such. In India it is a common pattern for a gay man to get married, sire children, and then have male lovers.

Because of the way in which the prohibition has been integrated into the larger parameters of the sexual ethic in all three Abrahamic faiths, uprooting it has proved problematic.


By law seven Islamic countries today stipulate the death penalty for homosexual behavior: Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Nigeria (capital punishment applies to the twelve northern provinces that observe sharia law).

Other evidence points in a different direction. In parts of Muslim Central Asia and Afghanistan the traditional practice of Basha Bazi (“boy play”) still survives. A bacha, typically an adolescent of twelve to sixteen, is a dancer trained in the performance of erotic songs and suggestive dancing. Wearing resplendent clothes and makeup, the dancing boys are appreciated for their androgynous beauty but was also available for sexual services. The boys are generally taken, sometimes by force from the lower classes. Each one is generally attached to one wealthy man, their owner. Once their beard begins to grow they are dismissed. Occasionally the boy will marry his lover's daughter when he comes of age, but most must endure a humbler fate.

Soviet rule had considerable success in eliminating the practice in Central Asia, but it thrives in northern Afghanistan, where many men keep the boys as status symbols. In that country the authorities are attempting to crack down on the practice as "un-Islamic and immoral," but such efforts are impeded by the fact that many of the men are powerful and well-armed military commanders. In early 2010 the PBS program Frontline (US) aired a documentary about the Afghan boy-love practice by Najibullah Quraishi.

How can these two things be reconciled--the death penalty and the cult of dancing boys? The answer is that adult-adult homosexuality has always been forbidden in Islamic law, without exception. By contrast, Islam has seen, at some times and places, a de facto toleration of pederasty, a type of relationship in which one of the participants is a boy. Nonetheless, the status of pederasty is itself precarious and has been coming under increasing restriction through most of the Islamic world.

The most notorious country for executions of homosexual men is the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to the Iranian gay and lesbian rights group Homan, the Iranian government has put to death an estimated 4,000 homosexuals since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

There is a strange exception to this savagery, an exception of a sort. Since the mid-1980s the Iranian government has legalized the practice of sex-change operations, with medical approval, and the subsequent changing of all legal documents. The basis for this policy stems from a fatwa by the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Ayatolla Ruhollah Khomeini, declaring sex changes permissible for "diagnosed" transsexuals. Some Iranian gay and bisexual men are being pressured to undergo a sex change operation and live as women in order to avoid legal and social sanctions. Is this an example of “Islam, the merciful?”


Islamic Sharia law stems from both the Qur'an and the hadiths. Islamic legal scholars expand upon the principles they detect therein, which are regarded as the laws of Allah. In this tradition homosexual conduct is not only a sin, but a “crime against God.” There are some differences in interpretation among the four mainstream legal schools, but they all agree that homosexual behavior must be severely sanctioned. In the Hanafi school of thought, the homosexual is first punished through harsh beating; if he or she repeats the act, the death penalty is to be applied. In the Shafi`i school of thought, the homosexual receives the same punishment as adultery (if he or she is married) or fornication (if not married). This means that if the person accused of homosexual behavior is married, he or she is stoned to death; if single, he or she is whipped 100 times. In this way the Shafi`i approach compares the punishment applied in the case of homosexuality with that of adultery and fornication, while the Hanafi tradition differentiates between the two acts because in homosexuality, anal sex--prohibited, regardless of orientation-- typically occurs, while in adultery and fornication, penis-vagina contact (reproductive parts) are involved. Some scholars based on the Qur'an and various hadith hold the opinion that the homosexual should be thrown from a high building or stoned to death as punishment, while others believe that they should receive a life sentence. Another view that in the case of two males, the active partner is to be lashed a hundred times if he is unmarried, and killed if he is married; whereas the passive partner must be executed regardless of his marital status.

Some recent writers in the anti-imperialist camp have attempted to blame the importation of Western disapproval of homosexuality for these harsh measures. This claim is preposterous.

As with the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, whenever the Qur’an explicitly mentions homosexuality it is condemnatory.

Central to many of these imprecations is the story of Lot (Lut) and Sodom, as narrated in the book of Genesis. However, the Muslim interpretation of the story more clearly focuses on its same-sex aspect than does the original telling.

“We also (sent) Lut: He said to his people: ‘Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practise your lusts on men in preference to women : ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.’ And his people gave no answer but this: they said, ‘Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!’ But we saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who legged behind. And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime!” (Qur’an 7:80).

"’Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!’ They said: ‘If thou desist not, O Lut! thou wilt assuredly be cast out!" He said: "I do detest your doings. O my Lord! deliver me and my family from such things as they do!" So We delivered him and his family,- all Except an old woman who lingered behind. Then afterward We destroyed the others. We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): and evil was the shower on those who were admonished (but heeded not)!” (Qur’an 26:165).

“(We also sent) Lut (as a messenger): behold, He said to his people, ‘Do ye do what is shameful though ye see (its iniquity)? Would ye really approach men in your lusts rather than women? Nay, ye are a people (grossly) ignorant!; But his people gave no other answer but this: they said, ‘Drive out the followers of Lut from your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!’ Then We saved him and his household save his wife; We destined her to be of those who stayed behind. And We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): and evil was the shower on those who were admonished (but heeded not)!” (Qur’an 27:54).”

“And (remember) Lut: behold, he said to his people: ‘Ye do commit lewdness, such as no people in Creation (ever) committed before you. Do ye indeed approach men, and cut off the highway?- and practice wickedness (even) in your councils?’ But his people gave no answer but this: they said: "Bring us the Wrath of Allah if thou tellest the truth.’ He said: ‘O my Lord! help Thou me against people who do mischief!’ When Our Messengers came to Abraham with the good news, they said: ‘We are indeed going to destroy the people of this township: for truly they are (addicted to) crime.’” (Qur’an 29:28).

There is also this more general commandment. “If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 4:16).

Although the Qur’an is ambiguous about the exact punishment for same-sex conduct, the death penalty may be inferred (see also 26:165-173).

An uncertain theme in the Qur’an is that of the Ghilman, adolescent boys who serve the faithful in the afterlife. For example, “round about them will serve boys of perpetual freshness” (56:17; see also 52:24 and 76:19). While at first sight these young men would appear to be counterparts of the maidens (houris), mainstream Muslim opinion holds that they are merely servants; they do not bestow sexual favors.

The Hadith are much more explicit about what should be done. Here are a few examples:

Narrated by Ibn 'Abbas: “The Prophet cursed effeminate men; those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners of women) and those women who assume the manners of men, and he said, ‘Turn them out of your houses.’ The Prophet turned out such-and-such man, and 'Umar turned out such-and-such woman.’” (Sahih Bukhari 7:72:774; repeated at 8:82:820)).

Narated by Abdullah ibn Abbas: “The Prophet said: If you find anyone doing as Lot's people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.” (Abu Dawud 38:4447).

Narated by Abdullah ibn Abbas: “If a man who is not married is seized committing sodomy, he will be stoned to death.”

Narrated by Abu Sa'id al-Khudri: “The Prophet said: A man should not look at the private parts of another man, and a woman should not look at the private parts of another woman. A man should not lie with another man without wearing lower garment under one cover; and a woman should not be lie with another woman without wearing lower garment under one cover.” (Abu Dawud 31:4007).

Narrated by Abu Hurayrah: “The Prophet said: A man should not lie with another man and a woman should not lie with another woman without covering their private parts except a child or a father.” (Abu Dawud 31:4008).

“Whoever is found conducting himself in the manner of the people of Lot, kill the doer and the receiver.” (Tirmidhi 1:152).

Narrated by Jaabir: "The Prophet said: 'There is nothing I fear for my ummah [commmunity] more than the deed of the people of Lot.'" (Tirmidhi 1:457).

Nor were these admonitions purely theoretical. The Qur’anic condemnation of homosexuality was naturally adopted by Muhammad’s later successors. Abu Bakr, the father of Aisha, had a wall thrown down upon suspected sodomites, a punishment that is being reprised in the Middle East today. Ali, the fourth caliph, had sodomites burned.

What then of the seemingly flourishing pederastic subculture of the Islamic Middle Ages. Is this simply a myth? No it is not, but the phenomenon is mainly a matter of particular sectors, often those that stand apart from the Sunni mainstream.

More generally, the de facto toleration of pederasty is linked to the Islamic tendency to the seclusion of women, leading to their removal from public life. Another factor, though one that is hard to assess, is survival of the traditions of Greek pederasty. This trend may account for the use of the wine boy (saqi) as a symbol of homoerotic passion.

Persia may also have made a contribution. Certainly in Islamic times Persian poetry has served as a major vehicle for declarations of pederastic attraction. Even in that realm, though, the practice was not without its critics, such as the poet Sanai of Ghazni who mocked the pederastic practices of his time, embodied in the doings of the Khvaja of Herat, who is depicted as taking his catamite into a mosque for a quick bit of nooky:

"Not finding shelter he became perturbed,
The mosque, he reasoned, would be undisturbed."

But he is discovered by a devout man, who, in his revulsion, echoes a traditional attack on same-sex relations:

"These sinful ways of yours," —that was his shout—
Have ruined all the crops and caused the drought!"

This exchange is interesting for its evocation of the motif, traceable back to Justinian in the sixth century CE, that homosexual acts bring on natural disasters.

Some of the poems discuss the contrasting merits of truly beardless boys and downy-cheeked youths. One the beard had begun to grow, however, the individual was off limits, however attractive he might have seemed previously.

The connection with Sufism is ambiguous. Such attractions are commonly regarded as chaste, finding their place in Islamic mysticism in a meditation known in Arabic as nazar ill’al-murd, "contemplation of the beardless," or Shahed-bazi, "witness play" in Persian. This fascination is rationalized as an act of worship intended to help one ascend to the absolute beauty that is God through the relative beauty that is a boy (quite possibly a reminiscence of Plato).

To be sure, not all Sufi adepts followed the teachings to the letter. Some observers suspected the motives of dervishes who professed to love only the appearance of the boys. For their part, conservative Muslim theologians condemned the custom of contemplating the beauty of young boys. Their suspicions may have been justified, as some dervishes boasted of enjoying far more than "glances", or even kisses. Thus Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) complained: "They kiss a slave boy and claim to have seen God!"

In contradiction to these currents, mainstream hatred of homosexuality has continued in Islam down to the present. Even among “moderate” Muslims residing in Western countries, homosexuality is generally condemned as something that is vile and unacceptable. For example, a Gallup survey carried out in early 2009 found that British Muslims have zero tolerance for homosexual behavior. Not a single British Muslim interviewed for the survey was willing to grant that homosexual acts were morally acceptable. According to a Zogby International poll of American Muslims taken in November and December of 2001, a massive 71 percent opposed "allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally." Another worrying statistic to be found among Muslims in the UK: although they comprise just 2% of the total British population, they commit 25% of all anti-homosexual crimes (gay bashing).

So, with the rise of Islam in the the United Kingdom, Western Europe, and other non-Islamic countries, we witness an appalling return to the primitive moral concepts of seventh-century Arabia, with Muslim gangs roaming the streets of England and the Netherlands, carrying out violent attacks on gays. For their part, mosques labeled as “moderate” calling for the murder of homosexuals at the hands of their congregation.

Even in secular Indonesia, one finds that owing to pressure from the growing conservative Muslim communities some local jurisdictions are now adopting Islamic legal principles, criminalizing homosexual behavior. In India, with its Hindu majority, attempts to abrogate the old British sodomy law so as to decriminalize homosexuality are being hindered by Muslim clerics, who assert that homosexuality is an offense under Sharia Law and “haram (prohibited) in Islam." Bizarrely, these self-righteous South Asian representatives of an intruder culture claim that decriminalization of homosexual behavior is somehow an attack on Indian religious and moral values. As we have seen with the career of Mohandas Gandhi, Indian steadfastness has had a worldwide effect. About this Indian Muslims are ill-equipped to judge.W

In fact, intolerant pronouncements can be found emanating from all sorts of Muslim organizations, government and apologists. Here are three contemporary examples, one from a Muslim expert in the United State; the second active in Canada; and the third in Pakistan.

“Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption.” Homosexuality “is utterly contrary to every natural law of human and animal life.” “Homosexuality is unlawful in Islam. It is neither accepted by the state nor by the Islamic Society. Qur'an clearly states that it is unjust, unnatural, transgression, ignorant, criminal and corrupt. [...] Muslim jurists agree that, if proven of guilt, both of them should be killed.”

With the widespread diffusion of such expressions of hatred it is little wonder that life can be grim--and short--for homosexuals in Muslim countries.


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