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literature

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Middle Eastern Literature: Arabic  
 
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How these apparent continuities are to be reconciled with the discontinuity we find in Arabic literature is a puzzle that remains unexplained.

Anal Intercourse and Islamic Law

One of the arguments put forth by the advocate of women in al-Jahiz's debate is that sex with boys is forbidden by Islamic law, whereas sex with women is licit under conditions of marriage or concubinage.

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In fact, Islamic sanctions against anal intercourse, considered the male homosexual act, are extremely harsh. In contrast to the societal attitudes that are reflected in literature, both the active and passive partners are in law considered equally culpable.

The various legal schools differ on the appropriate punishment, some of them making a capital crime, others reducing the sentence to one hundred lashes for the unmarried offender, in analogy with the penalty for heterosexual fornication, and even the most lenient prescribing a discretionary punishment by the judge for which a reduced number of lashes and imprisonment are suggested.

As with heterosexual fornication, however, the rules of evidence are made almost impossibly stringent: Conviction is permitted only on the basis of repeated confession or the eyewitnessing of the act of penetration by four (in some schools two) male witnesses of established probity.

In general, the jurists treat (active) homosexuality in a manner strictly analogous to heterosexual fornication--as a natural temptation but a grievous (if apparently seldom prosecuted) offense.

This conception is echoed not only in al-Jahiz's debate (in which the advocate of boys retorts to the advocate of women that heterosexual fornication is more harshly and explicitly condemned by the law than homosexual sodomy), but also in the numerous later debates composed in the same spirit over the following centuries (one of which turns up in the Arabian Nights).

Dying for Love

Another argument advanced by the advocate of girls in al-Jahiz's debate is that no one is known ever to have died of love for a boy, whereas the famous lovers who have perished from unfulfilled passion for their unobtainable female beloveds are legion.

The reference here is to the udhri tradition of poet-lovers, whose equally devoted beloveds were married off to another man or otherwise separated from them, and who either went mad or died from their frustrated, chaste passion.

In al-Jahiz's day, there was indeed no homoerotic poetry that took itself this seriously; but this deficiency was soon to be remedied. Already in al-Jahiz's own old age, a bureaucrat named Khalid al-Katib was producing a long series of plaintive laments on an unobtainable boy, and in the following generation a prominent jurist was to codify a form of chaste homoerotic passion just as intense as that of the heteroerotic udhri tradition.

Ibn Dawud and The Book of the Flower

Muhammad ibn Dawud al-Zahiri, the son and successor of the founder of a conservative Islamic law school which has not survived, is best known for his anthology of poetry, The Book of the Flower, whose first half deals with love poetry and is considered the prototype of the "theory of love" genre in Arabic literature, of which we have dozens of exemplars extending into at least the eighteenth century.

Ibn Dawud's book tracks the progress of the stereotypical love affair, illustrating each stage with both heteroerotic and homoerotic verses, the latter mostly from his own pen. Central to his idealizing view is a statement transmitted from the Prophet Muhammad that "He who loves passionately, remains chaste, hides his love, and then dies, dies a martyr," and thus enters Paradise directly, without awaiting the Last Judgment.

According to several accounts of dubious historicity, Ibn Dawud cited this tradition on his deathbed, explaining that he was dying from his chaste passion for a younger man named Ibn Jami`.

The transmitter of these anecdotes, Ibn Dawud's friend and colleague Niftawayh, himself composed chaste homoerotic love lyrics, and numerous later poets also pursued this genre.

The "Permitted Gaze"

Also particularly associated with the name of Ibn Dawud, although not explicitly attested in his book, was the doctrine of the "permitted gaze," according to which looking on a boy's beauty, without physical relations, was allowed under Islamic law.

The primary advocates of this doctrine, however, were not legal experts such as Ibn Dawud, but Sufi mystics, who began sometime in the ninth century to practice such "gazing" as a religious exercise, seeing in the beautiful boy a "witness" to God's beauty and creative power.

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