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social sciences

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The Will Not to Know that Homosexual Relations Occur

Although lacking religious legitimation, it has generally been the case in Islamic societies that, as long as the obligations to extend the family (through marriage and procreation) and to support it are met, and as long as a man is discreet, tolerance is extended to those who practice same-sex sexual relations.

The requirement of four reputable adult eyewitnesses in order to prosecute acts of same-sex sodomy is rarely met, and death penalties are consequently a fairly remote threat. The implicit accommodation to males enjoying love and sex with boys, males, and infidel males depends upon a widespread and enduring pattern of collective denial in which the condition for pursuing either age-stratified or gender-defined homosexuality is that the behavior never be publicly acknowledged. That is, there is a strong will not to know what fathers, husbands, and brothers do, as long as they fulfill their familial duties.

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Female Sexuality

What some see as Islam's being "sex-positive" does not extend to females. Sexual relations between women within harems or in female bathhouses (hamam) has been more supposed than observed. There is nothing about female-female sexual relations in the Qu'ran. Later mentions of educated women choosing not to submit to males and seducing attractive young females exist, but are not numerous. Some instances of husbands shrugging off information about wives' dalliances with other women also exist.

Women have only recently become visible at all in literature about Islamic societies. Whatever woman-woman sexuality occurs remains invisible, as in media from within Islamic societies. Representation even of married heterosexual conduct is heavily censored in current Islamic states. Published ethnographic literature on "lesbians" in Islamic societies is also non-existent, although there is one article (by Unni Wikan) on a transgendered role, the khanith of Oman.

Stephen O. Murray

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social sciences >> Overview:  Alexandria

Located on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, Alexandria has, by virtue of its decadent sensibility and the tributes of numerous writers, achieved a reputation for tolerance, but recently it has turned away from Europe and towards Mecca.

social sciences >> Overview:  India

Indian thought towards same-sex eroticism and gender variance was more tolerant in the past than it is today.

arts >> Overview:  Islamic Art

The apparent invisibility of homosexuality in the visual arts of Islam is no indication of its absence in the culture.

literature >> Overview:  Middle Eastern Literature: Arabic

The expression of male homoerotic sentiment is one of the dominant themes in classical Arabic literature from the ninth century to the nineteenth.

literature >> Overview:  Middle Eastern Literature: Persian

Over a period of two millennia, sodomy has been by turns condemned and celebrated in Persian literature.

social sciences >> Overview:  Spirituality

Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

social sciences >> Burton, Sir Richard F.

Although evidence of his own homosexual leanings is inconclusive, in his lifetime Sir Richard Burton was regarded with suspicion because of his knowledge and understanding of same-sex sexual activity.

social sciences >> Fortuyn, Pim

Openly gay Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated in 2003, was in the political spotlight for only a few months, yet he managed to change the modern Netherlands.

literature >> Ghazali, Mehemmed

Two of the seven chapters in Ghazali's sixteenth-century pornographic allegorical work "The Repellers of Troubles and the Remover of Anxieties" extol homosexual anal intercourse.

literature >> Hafiz

Much of the sexuality in the lyrics of the great Persian poet Hafiz is homoerotic and infused with a homosexual mysticism.

social sciences >> Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO)

The Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) advocates for civil and human rights for Iranian glbtq people around the world.

literature >> Rumi

The Persian poet Rumi, who originated the "whirling dervish" order of Sufis, developed passionate relationships with other men and mixed spirituality with eroticism in his love poetry.


Bouhdiba, Adelwahib. Sexuality in Islam. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.

Bowman, Glenn. "Fucking Tourists: Sexual Relations and Tourism in Jerusalem's Old City." Critiques of Anthropology 9 (1998): 77-93.

Chebel, Malek. L'esprit de sérail: Perversions et marginalités sexuelles au Maghreb. Paris: Lieu Commun, 1982.

Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

Duran, Khalid. "Homosexuality and Islam." Homosexuality and World Religions. Arlene Swidler, ed. Valley Forge, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 1993. 181-97.

Eickelman, Dale F. The Middle East: An Anthropological Approach. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981.

Giffen, Lois Anita. Theory of Profane Love among the Arabs: The Development of the Genre. New York: New York University Press, 1971.

Grunebaum, Gustave E. von. Unity and Variety in Muslim Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.

Mandelbaum, David G. Women's Seclusion and Men's Honor: Sex Roles in North India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988.

Murray, Stephen O., and Will Roscoe. Islamic Homosexualities. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Rowson, Everett K. "The Categorization of Gender and Sexual Irregularity in Medieval Arab Vice Lists." Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity. Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub, eds. New York: Routledge, 1991. 50-79.

_____. "The Effeminates of Early Medina." Journal of the American Oriental Society 111 (1991): 671-93.

Schimmel, Annemarie. As Through a Veil: Mystical Poetry in Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Sofer, Jehoeda. "Sodomy in the Law of Muslim States." Sexuality and Eroticism among Males in Moslem Societies. Arno Schmitt and Jehoeda Sofer, eds. New York: Haworth, 1992. 131-49.

Wikan, Unni. "Man Becomes Woman: Transsexualism in Oman as a Key to Gender Roles." Man 12 (1977): 304-19.


    Citation Information
    Author: Murray, Stephen O.  
    Entry Title: Islam  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 20, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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