Same-Sex Intimacy in the Islamic Tradition: Ibn Hazm and Solutions
Blessed Indeed are these two loving friends
They sleep through the night in an embrace without end
Their two souls become one soul, and then
That one soul lies in the two loving men
Those two don’t quarrel –they avoid any strife
They guard their love as more precious than life
—Abu Nuwas, The Lovers
As Hollingsworth v. Perry continues in the Supreme Court debates regarding Proposition 8 and gay marriage in general overflow newspapers, legal journals, and personal conversations. The gay marriage debate has taken on a national dialogue and a wider international context as well. LGBTQ* rights have been the forefront of social, political, civic, and rhetorical dialogue among western nations for some time now. This debate has worried (at best) religious conservatives and the political right—the most vociferous opposition stemming from more traditional or orthodox Christian communities. It is a common 21st century belief that homosexuality, or any non-gender normative sexuality, is anathema with all religious belief, or at least Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. If so, then, at least in the US, where is the Muslim public opposition to increasing favor towards gay marriage rights? Some Muslims argue that there are no gay Muslims and therefore this debate does not affect them or their communities. Or perhaps the resistance towards engaging in this national debate is due to cultural Arab, North African, and South Asian mores regarding secrecy and honor. If one were to be queer then such feelings must remain private thereby saving the community and family from embarrassment. But again, this leads to silence from the Muslim community regarding LGBTQ* issues.
However, queer Muslims do exist, at least as an identifiable group, and are therefore directly involving the Muslim community. In many ways, to maintain honor the western Muslim community will aim to ignore these individuals hoping that through oversight and exclusion the plague of homosexuality will leave the community in peace. Yet queer Muslims remain resilient and have found public, determined speakers to advance their cause within the Islamic community examples including, but not limited to, Imam Muhsin Hendrix and Imam Daiyee Abdullah. As a response to this unique western phenomenon, Muslim counseling options and online forums (e.g Eye on ‘Gay Muslims’: Principled, Compassionate, Islamic Perspective) have taken on similar western, Christian strategies aiming to rehabilitate queer individuals.
When surveying arguments regarding queerness in Islam, both sides of the debate remain largely shallow as very little information is drawn from older, traditional Islamic debates. This can be explained through the idea that Islamic jurisprudence is a tradition that is passed down and then advanced upon by the proceeding generation; through this thinking, one may rely on a modern religious scholar and therefore need not turn to older accounts regarding homosexuality. However, debates from Islam’s classical period were audacious and engaged in debates regarding the punishment for same-sex sexual intimacy and the extent of its sin. Although there are no extant texts condoning homosexuality, as we understand it today, there is a tradition regarding it, which cannot be ignored by Islamic, religious or secular scholars and neither can inconsistencies among different rulings be taken for granted.
Firstly, it must first be stated that during the time of Muhammad there were no punishment of homosexual or transgendered individuals. The longest detailed hadith (matn) recorded regards Muhammad, his wife Umm Salama, and a mukhannath (Kugle 92). This individual was allowed to travel freely into the women’s quarters despite his male anatomy because these individuals were seen as incapable of having sexual appetite towards females. Though in the hadith the mukhannath was forbidden to enter the women’s quarters again (because the mukhannath was verbally lewd), he was not physically punished. It can be argued then that ‘cross-dressing’ (and I extend this to transgendered individuals) is not punishable by Islamic Law.
Also, proof that Muhammad never punished same-sex sexual intimacy can be seen over the confusion and incongruity between the rulings of the caliphs. For example, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, a close intimate of the Prophet, had a homosexual “buried under the debris of a wall” (Crompton 143)-presumably the stones of the wall were pushed over on him. He was also reputed to have prescribed burning alive as an alternative punishment. In contrast, Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, the fourth caliph, ordered a guilty man to be thrown headlong from the top of a minaret (Crompton 153). The disparity between rulings of different caliphs shows that Muhammad never specified or enacted any ruling regarding same-sex sexual intimacy and ‘cross-dressing’ individuals.
Engaging with the past:
One particular individual from the Islamic classical period, Ibn Hazm, writes extensively on love, love-acts, same-sex intimacy, the tribe of Lut and its interpretations. It is believed by some scholars that Ibn Hazm, informed by politics and his interest in literature, was one of the only Muslim theologians to put forth an astute psychological understanding of how and why humans fall in love (Kugle 26). One such example may be found in Tawq al-Hamama or The Neck Ring of the Dove byIbn Hazm where he reflects upon how love may catch a lover unawares as in the following excerpt:
I have observed that love begins
When some poor fellow for his sins,
Thinks, it is thrilling, ever so,
To gaze on cheeks where roses glow.
So there he is, deluded fool;
Stepping benignly in the pool
He slips, and ere he can look round
He’s swept along the flood, and drowned. (Poem found under section: On Falling in Love after Long Association)
Here it can be seen that Ibn Hazm understands how the gaze and a lax guard can cause a “deluded fool” to sink into the pools of love, and, before the lover is aware, he/she is swept away into the floods of love.
In Camilla Adang’s essay “Ibn Hazm on Homosexuality: A Case Study of Zahiri Legal Methodology” the reader is told that in The Ring of the Dove there can be found sympathetic accounts of men falling in love with other men, which gives the impression that Ibn Hazm was quite tolerant of same-sex intimacy (10). Not only does he give glowing descriptions of handsome men he knew, the work also contains various sympathetic accounts of men smitten with members of their own sex (Adang 10). It can be argued that Ibn Hazm is simply using masculine pronouns to reference a female beloved, as was often the practice among Arab poets (al-Sammarai 58). However, Giffen states that though it is difficult in some passages to know whether Ibn Hazm is referring to a male or female beloved there are at least two poems where the beloved is identifiably male (443). In Louis Crompton’s essay “Male Love in Islamic Law in Islamic Spain” he explains how Ibn Hazm had admitted to same-sex attraction by stating that he had once avoided a party in order to avoid a beautiful man he might fall into sin with (149). So peculiar was Ibn Hazm’s identity that peculiar writings and thoughts can only be expected. But however sympathetic Ibn Hazm may be towards the tormented lover of boys and men, and however much he may admire the physique of his own sex, his opinion of physical contacts between two males is entirely, and unequivocally negative.
Ibn Hazm and queer acceptance:
If such is the view of Ibn Hazm how then can this scholar aid modern queer Muslim arguments vying for acceptance among the mainstream community? It is because the basis of Ibn Hazm’s negative opinion regarding same-sex sexual intimacy is situated on entirely different grounds than anti-homosexual arguments in modernity. Many modern scholars and layman alike argue that homosexuality is clearly forbidden within the Qur’an as can be seen in the story of Lut. However, the Qur’an never uses the term “homosexual” yet scholars are certain the story alludes to homosexual sex, specifically male anal penetration, and that is why the city was destroyed. However, what if the reason for the destruction of qawm Lut were for reasons other than same-sex sexual intimacy? Ibn Hazm in The Adorned Treatises or Kitab al-Muhalla argued that same-sex intercourse did not require a hudud punishment but rather a ta’zir one (Adang 19) because Lot’s tribe was destroyed not because of homosexual sex but because they remained kafir (Adang 26); thus, according to him, only disbelief in tawhid may require the capital punishmentmaking same-sex sexual intimacy munkar but not haraam.
This is interesting for two reasons: first and foremost, Ibn Hazm’s analysis of proves that the Islamic tradition does differ in interpretation regarding the story of Lut; and secondly, the evaluationfor punishment of same-sex sexual intimacy is not based on the Qur’an but the hadith. Furthermore, Hazm specifies that Muhammad condoned killing for only three reasons which are the following: zina’, irtidad, and qatl (Kugle 161) and since same-sex intimacy was not mentioned it should not be included in capital punishment. This ruling and interpretation by Ibn Hazm is far different from common modern Islamic jurisprudence, which finds that homosexuality is punishable by death and such a ruling is based upon the Qur’an. Ibn Hazm’s contribution to the classical literature of Islam is just one of countless interpretations thereby dispelling the myth that Islam’s view and treatment of homosexuality has remained constant and based on similar or the same grounds.
Solutions to incorporating queer Muslims in mainstream Islamic communities:
In Tawq al-Hamama under the section titled “Of the vileness of sinning” it can be seen that to love or to be in love is one thing, perhaps even a noble thing (provided one does not let oneself go), but to act on it is another matter altogether. It should be added immediately, however, that Ibn Hazm applied the same strict standards to heterosexual lovers, and that he advocates chastity and continence instead of succumbing to temptation. The only lawful form of intercourse for a man is within wedlock, or with a slave woman he owns. For a woman, only intercourse with her husband is lawful.
But here I am prompted to ask, what if gay and transgendered persons could marry within Islam? According to Ibn Hazm and many religious scholars, any sexual interaction outside of marriage (or ownership as with slaves) is forbidden because it is outside the bounds of what God prescribed (e.g marriage). However, if gay and transgendered individuals could marry then their sexual desires could also be met within the bounds of marriage. If part of the sin of qawm Lut was not necessarily homosexual sex but rather homosexual rape, then could two same-sex individuals, in love with each other and consenting to one another, marry within Islam? By analyzing past Islamic scholars such questions once again become legitimate.
If anything, it is my belief that queer Muslims, regardless if they act upon their sexual tendencies or not, must be accepted within the folds of mainstream Islam. Ibn Hazm in Tawq al-Hamama under the section “Of the Nature of Love” states that: “Love is neither disapproved by religion nor prohibited by the law, for every heart is in God’s hands.” According to Ibn Hazm then, and Abu Nuwas who was quoted at the beginning, love transcends all bounds and cannot be restrained. If such is true then I end with this final question: if who we love cannot be restrained, regardless if our actions can be, then can queer Muslims and their sexual orientation truly be condemned by the mainstream Muslim community? Such questions remain to be answered; and, our classical roots must be acknowledged and a dialogue between present and past literature, even on same-sex intimacy, must be brought back into theological conversations.
Adang, Camilla. “Ibn Hazm on Homosexuality. A Case-Study of Zahiri Legal Methodology.” (n.d.): 5-31. Web. <http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fal-qantara.revistas.csic.es%2Findex.php%2Fal-qantara%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F172%2F165.&ei=uhOEUZPKL-SOyAHjlICoBA&usg=AFQjCNG4yH1zRY5ilyBovglP-vNc7kFk2g&sig2=tD5U1zsTh8rjXgtu_aOszg&bvm=bv.45960087,d.aWc>.
Al-Samarrai, Qasim. “New Remarks on the Text of Ibn Ḥazm’s “Ṭawq Al-Ḥamāma”” Arabica (1983): 57-72. Web.
Crompton, Louis. “Male Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain.” English Language and Digital Commons 61 (1997): 142-57. Web.
Giffen, Lois A. “Ibn Hazm and the Tawq Al-hamàma’” The Legacy of Muslim Spain. Leiden: Brill, 2000. N. pag. Print.
Hazm, Ibn. The Ring of the Dove. Trans. A. J. Arberry. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Muslim Philosophy. Luzac & Company, LTD. Web. <http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/hazm/dove/ringdove.html#ch5>.
Kugle, Scott Alan. Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims. Oxford: Oneworld, 2010. Print.
Schmidtke, Sabine. “Homoeroticism and Homosexuality in Islam: A Review Article.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 62.2 (1999): 260-66. Print.
Yüksel, Edip, Layth Saleh. Al-Shaiban, and Martha Schulte-Nafeh. Quran: A Reformist Translation. United States of America: Brainbow, 2007. Print.
 Regardless of whether people believe homosexual or transgendered feelings as biological, the fact remains that the queer community, even the Muslim queer community, exist as, at the minimum, an imagined group. In this way, a queer Muslim (adopted) identity is legitimated as real and not fictitious.
 Hendricks is the world’s first openly gay imam and currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa. Like his father and grandfather, he studied Islam in Pakistan in order to become an imam. He is the director of The Inner Circle (Islamic Organization for the Social and Spiritual advancement of Sexually Diverse groups and Individuals, South Africa).
 Originally named Sid Thompson, this African American Imam was born to a large Southern Baptist family. Abdullah claims to have known his homosexuality from a young age, but, through university and travel in , decided to embrace Islam anyway. Imam Abdullah studied shari’ah and fiqh in Saudi Arabia, began the al-Fatiha foundation (now disbanded), and has started the first sexual orientation friendly mosque in Washington, D.C. where nikah for same-sex marriages are preformed.
 Gay advocates in the Middle East, Africa, or South Asia cannot be, due to the death penalty, nearly as open or active in the queer community as their western counterparts. Thus, advocating queer acceptance in the Muslim community is a unique western phenomenon.
 These counseling options often times seek out the service of a local imam with the aim of the Imam to spiritually guide away or help suppress supposedly unnatural homosexual feelings.
 According to Michael Foucault, homosexual or heterosexual identities did not exist before the 19th century. Before then the terminology regarding homosexuality was used to describe action and not identity. The term homosexual was first coined by Austrian born Hungarian anthropologist Karl Maria Kertbeny.
 A mukhanath who is an effeminate man, anatomically male, raised male, but dresses and acts the social role of a woman in his adult life (Kugl 92) similar to that of a transgendered individual in modernity.
 Because homosexuality did not exist as an identity, this paper will refer to homosexuality or friendship, which may lead to more, as ‘same-sex intimacy’ and sexual homosexual acts as ‘same-sex sexual intimacy.’
 With this statement, one can argue that Ibn Hazm did not fall within complete heteronormativity. In this way, Ibn Hazm’s identity included, but is not limited to being a historiographer, poet, theologian, being Muslim, and (perhaps) queer, romantic, or demisexual.
 Liwat and luti are terms derived from qawm lut and are used by Islamic jurists in describing sodomy. However, nowhere does the Qur’an utilize these terms.
 Modern Islamic scholars sympathetic to LGBTQ* individuals interpret the destruction of the people of Lut as multifarious. The people in that city also robbed and murdered (Q 29:29) and disrespected guests/travelers (Q. 7:82). Some of these Islamic scholars borrow from modern Christian interpretations and claim that the homosexual act found in the tribe of Lut was that of coercion and therefore harassment and rape. Thus, this particular story is making a commentary about sexual aggression rather than a specific sexual act in itself.
 Ibn Hazm suggests a maximum of ten lashes and imprisonment with the goal of reforming the prisoner.
 Ibn Hazm’s suggestion of a maximum of ten lashes stems from other hadith stating that Muhammad used ten lashes for a ta’zir.
 When the angels came to Lut in the form of guests it is said that the people within the tribe rushed forward demanding Lut’s guests (11:79). I doubt that these guests, even if they were human, would consent to such sexual demands. In this way I argue that the tribe engaged in homosexual aggression or homosexual rape and not just homosexual sex. There are countless psychological and psychiatric analysis regarding male-to-male rape and its frequency found in military, jails, and bullying tactics. I would expound upon these examples, but that is outside the scope of this paper.