Can Muslims be Gay or Lesbian? – or: Can Lesbians and Gays be Muslims?

A theological re-interpretation of love and partnership in the Qur’an, Sura 30:20-21

A summary of the panel on Interreligious Dialogue and LGBT from Andreas Ismail Mohr

There is a verse (an aya – literally “a sign”) in the Qur’an that is often quoted in connection to marriage. I myself wrote it once in a calligraphic style in Arabic for an invitation card of a friend when he married. Yes, it is about marriage, but – not only. Or… is it at all about married life, about a man and a woman? It is certainly about love and companionship, maybe the most important Qurʾānic verse on the topic – so let’s read the verse with this question in mind:

“And of His signs is that He created for you, of yourselves, mates,
that you might repose in them, and He has set between you love and mercy. 
Surely in that are signs for a people who consider.
And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and the variety of your tongues and hues.
Surely in that are signs for all living beings.”
(Qur’an, Sura 30 ar-Rum, verses 20-21 [kufic: 21-22])

Note that the end of the last verse (translated here according to the reading of Warsh and Qalun: lil-‘alamin: “for all living beings”, lit. “for all the worlds”) – according to the more common reading of Hafs (lil-‘alimin) would be translated: “for those who have knowledge.”

Andreas Ismail Mohr

So we should really consider the Signs of God – with knowledge – and we will find that in God’s creation there is love, companionship, even life-long, between partners, mates who are not heterosexually married and who can not beget offspring with each other. Nature including mankind knows of sincere love detatched from the obligation (or pressure) to multiply, or, let’s say, from the nice side-effect of producing children. It is true, that the Qur’anic verse mentioned can be understood as referring to marriage, to love between a man and a women – and it usually is, but it does not necessarily have to since it does not mention “marriage” nor a clear-cut  “wife” or “husband”. The word used for “mates” in this verse (azwaj, sometimes translated as “spouses” – but in German Qur’an translations very often fem. pl. “Gattinnen” meaning “wives”!) can have both genders, masculine and feminine; its singular form zawj (zaudj – which is derived, via Aramaic zauga, zoga, from the Greek word zeugos) literally means “a pair” or, more often, “a part of a pair” (such as one single shoe  from a pair of shoes) – that is: a partner. And maybe you have noticed it: not even children, sons, daughters, offspring are mentioned here – inspite of the great importance of this in Arabian culture. – From this I conclude, then, that sincere, dedicated homosexual relationships (call them “marriages” or leave it) could be and should be considered among those Signs of God, i.e. as an integral, wise part of His works.

I have quoted not only one verse, but included the following one mentioning the variety of languages and colours – perhaps: colours of skin, hair and eyes in people. This points to diversity and mentions it as something that is good and according tho the Creator’s will. If “tongues and hues” may be diverse – then why not the forms of finding “repose” in one’s mate and of experiencing “love and mercy”, just to quote the first part of the verse again?

I think there is  hope. Islam’s perception of homosexuality has been quite diverse in the past. There are, on the one hand, homoerotic allusions to the ephebes of paradise in the Qur’an just as much of traditional Muslim love poetry – written by males – was directed towards young men and adolescent boys, hence homoerotic in a male sense. On the other hand, sex between men (and also between women) has been considered to be utterly sinful, a punishable crime even, and termed “the act of Lot’s people”, referring to the Qur’anic story of Lot (and its Biblical background), although the Qur’an is not very explicit on any sexual crime of Sodom and Gomorrah (see, e.g., Sūra 7 al-A’raf, verses 80-84). The most important thing about this story, however, is that it is about disbelief, rejecting a messenger of God (= Lot!), it is about violation and abuse – but, whatever people may see in it, it is not about love and partnership. This, rather, is the topic of the verses 20-21 from Sura 30, ar-Rum, quoted above. 

More Andreas Ismail Bohr

© Andreas Ismail Mohr, Cologne and Berlin, May 2011

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