06 September 2011

Book Review: Islamic Homosexualities

Stephen O. Murray is an independent American social scientist who has extensively studied and written about homosexualities around the world. Will Roscoe is another independent American scholar who has written extensively on homosexualities in North America.

I have a relative who is Muslim and he spent several years in the middle East involved in Muslim charitable organizations. Although typically open-minded and gay-positive, he swore over and over that he never met a gay Muslim. This naturally has always varied from my limited experience with gay Muslim men in Muslim societies. I mean, I only spent a few days in one Muslim society when I was younger but I was propositioned to have sex several times a day by other guy around my age. Maybe it was just the city I was in? The chapter on modern day prostitution by young men in Pakistan seems to echo what many young men in our country do to make an extra buck -- gay sex.

This book, however, is filled with so many fascinating aspects of the Arab world's and Islam's sexualities that it is worth reading if you are interested at all in anthropological studies in sexuality or religious interaction with sexuality. I particularly enjoyed Arabian Nights so I found this to help contextualize those stories, somewhat.

Here is one excerpt cited by Murray:

Sultan Mahmud [reigned from Ghazna, 988-1030], accompanied by Talhak, the jester, attended the sermon of a certain preacher. When they arrived the preacher was saying that whoever had made love to a young boy, on the day of judgment would be made to carry him across the narrow bridge of Sirat, which leads to heaven. Sultan Mahmud was terrified and began to weep. Talhak told him: "O Sultan, do not weep. Be happy that on that day you will not be left on foot either."

Another anecdote calls into question the clerical preaching against homosexualities:

A preacher was saying in Kashan that on the day of Resurrection the custody of the holy well of Kothan [in Paradise] will be with Imam 'Ali [the cousin of the Prophet], and he will give its water to the man of anal integrity. A man from the audience got up and said, "Your reverence, if this is the case, he will have to put it back in the pitcher and drink it all himself."

Although our country is not a Muslim majority country (although hanging around the tiangge in Manila you'd never know), our closest geographical and linguistic neighbors are: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

The book is not an exposition in Islamic jurisprudence or theology so it would not be a good starting point to better understand the reasoning behind official condemnation of homosexuality in much of the Muslim world. However, if you'd like to get a better sense of what people were doing while officaldom was condemning homosexuality, it's a fascinating read.

If you consider how patriarchal and misogynistic many Muslim countries are, it is only natural that homosexuality of the power-differential type would play a prominent role (especially where access to women is severely restricted). Aside from the strict sexuality approach to reading this book, I found the chapter on the Ottoman slave trade to be a fascinating way to avoid military authority usurping the civilian sovereign -- and its consequences for family relations including sexuality!

The version I read was a 392 page paperback published by NYU Press (February 1, 1997), ISBN-13:978-0814774687. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at amazon.com.


  1. this is very interesting. i'm curious (and anxious) to meet a gay muslim.

    not to have sex though. lol!