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The History of the LGBTQ Community in Islam

The LGBTQ community in the Islamic world is a relatively new phenomenon that only began to take shape in the late 20th century. Throughout the history of Islam up until that point, there were varying approaches to same-sex relations and people with non-traditional sexual orientations.

Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in Early Islam (7th-11th Centuries)

In Islam’s sacred texts – the Quran and Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) – same-sex sexual acts between men are referred to as an “indecent act” and considered a grave sin. However, homosexual attraction itself is not condemned as such, as long as the person controls their actions and does not commit forbidden acts. The punishment prescribed for consensual act between men was 100 lashes and exile for up to 1 year.

In the early Islamic period (7th-12th centuries), societal attitudes towards manifestations of homosexuality were ambiguous and varied across different regions. In the caliphates, some pre-Islamic traditions associated with same-sex relations persisted. In the upper echelons of society, homosexual relationships were also not uncommon. At the same time, most theologians condemned such relations as sinful.

The Evolution of Approaches to Homosexuality in the Middle Ages (12th-15th Centuries)

In the medieval Islamic states, legislation aimed against homosexual relations continued to intensify. Harsh corporal punishments were introduced for sodomy, up to and including death by stoning or being thrown from a height.

However, homoerotic motifs were quite common in the poetry, literature and culture of the Muslim elite during this period. This was especially pronounced in Persian-Tajik and Arabic poetry. Homosexual relations were also practiced in some Sufi brotherhoods, where they were interpreted as sublime spiritual love.

In the Ottoman Empire (13th-20th centuries), same-sex sexual contacts among men were widespread, especially among the upper classes and in military circles. At the same time, they were condemned by the Muslim clergy as debauchery and vice.

People holding up hearts illustration
People holding up hearts illustration

Homosexuality in Islamic Countries in Modern Times (19th-20th Centuries)

During the period of European colonial expansion (19th – early 20th centuries), homosexuality came to be seen by the colonizers as one of the vices of the “backward East.” Under Western influence, some Muslim thinkers and reformers also began to interpret same-sex relations as a deviation from Islamic moral norms, as mentioned in the article “Evolution of Views on LGBT in Various Religious Movements“.

By the late 20th century, the conservative Muslim clergy had almost universally condemned homosexuality, citing traditional religious texts. At the same time, in the public consciousness, a certain tolerance and permissiveness towards homosexual contacts (especially between men) persisted.

The Emergence of the LGBTQ Movement in the Islamic World

It was only from the late 20th century onwards, under the influence of global trends in the struggle for the rights of sexual minorities, that LGBTQ communities and organizations began to take shape in Muslim countries.

The first Muslim LGBTQ groups emerged in the 1990s in Lebanon and Turkey. In the 2000s, similar organizations appeared in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and other countries. LGBTQ activist activities in Tunisia, Lebanon, Indonesia, and elsewhere became especially prominent beginning around the 2010s.

Muslim sexual minorities strive to harmoniously combine their religious and sexual identities, despite the challenges LGBT Muslims face within their families. They appeal to the ideas of tolerance, compassion and nonviolence inherent in Islam. At the same time, these groups face discrimination and persecution by authorities and radical Islamists.

Conclusion

In summary, a distinct LGBTQ movement within an Islamic context is a new phenomenon that only began taking shape in the late 20th century. Its emergence was influenced by global trends in the struggle for sexual minority rights.

Throughout practically the entire history of Islam, society has had an ambivalent attitude towards homosexuality. On the one hand, theological tradition condemned and criminalized same-sex relations. On the other hand, in the cultural and social realities of Muslim peoples, homosexual contacts, especially among men, were often commonplace.

Contemporary Muslim LGBTQ activists try to reconcile their religious and sexual identities. However, their movement faces resistance from the conservative Islamic establishment.

The future of LGBTQ identity within an Islamic context depends greatly on how the confrontation between traditionalist and liberal forces in the Muslim world evolves. This struggle will likely be one of the important factors defining the development of modern Islam.