My initial rebuttal of Scott Kugle’s revisionism on the question of homosexual relations in Islam was published in July 2016. The central premise of the article – aside from delineating where Kugle’s revisionism fell victim to misreadings, misrepresentations, and methodological inconsistencies – was that Islam’s prohibition of liwāṭ (sodomy) and other same-sex behaviors (i) reflected the obvious meaning of Quranic passages condemning male-male sexual intercourse and, therefore, (ii) was not open to reinterpretation (at least not without employing highly implausible hermeneutics and deviating from matters deemed “known of the religion by necessity,” and thus definitional of the faith).
Reaction to the piece has been varied. Within mainstream Muslim circles, the response was largely positive. The article was shared online thousands of times within the first week of publication, and notable figures within the Muslim community in America, including Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Dr. Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, and Dr. Shadee Elmasry, among others, disseminated it while offering their own words of support. In certain instances, superlative praise was offered by folks who seem not to have read the article, or to have only read bits and pieces of it and drew conclusions that, ironically, contradicted critical points in the piece (i.e., “this is why homosexuality is ḥarām,” without giving due consideration to the issues of identity construction, desires, and acts that were detailed in the article and are critical to Islam’s valuation of permissibility and prohibition).
Of course, reacting without reading was not the exclusive preserve of those expressing approbation. Opprobrium emerged early on from those who regarded the piece as disparaging the scholarly contributions of Scott Kugle or otherwise “hateful” to those who self-identify as homosexual. Little proof was furnished to back up such accusations, though given the politically and emotionally charged state of the current discourse surrounding homosexuality, it was not an altogether surprising charge. Others made similarly specious contentions against the paper, with some respondents online selectively drawing from quotes of Ibn Ḥazm in the piece to portray both the article and the consensus position in Islam regarding same-sex behavior as irrational. Had these individuals read the article in its entirety, they would have realized that it was Kugle who made Ibn Ḥazm an essential piece of his revisionism project and that my invoking of Ibn Ḥazm was merely to refute Kugle’s prior depiction.
“Of course, reacting without reading was not the exclusive preserve of those expressing approbation. Opprobrium emerged early on from those who regarded the piece as disparaging the scholarly contributions of Scott Kugle or otherwise ‘hateful’ to those who self-identify as homosexual. Little proof was furnished to back up such accusations, though given the politically and emotionally charged state of the current discourse surrounding homosexuality, it was not an altogether surprising charge.”
Setting aside these misrepresentations and strawmen, more substantial critiques were registered as well. It is to these that I turn in the present article. I set the stage by examining the principal question of Quran interpretation, then address arguments that appeal to deconstruction or to the diversity of the Islamic legal tradition as a mechanism for granting homosexual behavior legal sanction.This is followed by a response to approaches that seek to base religious normativity on the plurality of historical Muslim practice (the “Islam as anthropology” approach). Finally, I address the demand for “exact equivalencies” when treating the prohibition of same-sex acts as analogous to other forbidden behaviors. After addressing these common objections, I make a positive case for Islamic sexual ethics in light of the various considerations that confer moral legitimacy on sexual acts in Islam. Next, following a short section on pastoral concerns, I conclude with a meditation on the current stakes in this issue for a Muslim community committed to upholding the teachings of Islam.
The Book of God
Examining the landscape of responses to the original article reveals an unmistakable fact: every reply of note has expressed itself in terms extrinsic to the Sharīʿa. No one to date has attempted to defend Kugle’s original hermeneutic. None have stated that Kugle’s allegations against al-Ṭabarī and others were accurate and honest readings. None have argued that the Quranic passages condemning “coming with desire unto men instead of women” can be rendered as referring to anything other than (consensual) same-sex behaviors, nor has anyone argued that the canonical texts of Islam support anything other than specifically delineated sexual relationships that are all necessarily male-female.
In fact, nary a word has been uttered using arguments indigenous to the sharʿī heritage. One finds a palpable absence of the Quran in these rejoinders, a total desertion of hadith literature, and a relinquishing of the legal tradition in toto. To what can we attribute this omission? It is possible to suggest that we are merely dealing with a case of oversight. I would submit, however, that what we are encountering is intentional. Revisionist actors are quickly coming to terms with the fact that the Islamic tradition has been precise and consistent in its sexual ethics, and that in this case, the Quranic message is so unequivocal that trying to continue Kugle’s project is a futile endeavor. To then continue laboring under the aegis of the Islamic tradition is pointless for those seeking religious sanction for same-sex acts. Instead, a bricolage of postmodern Western philosophical arguments is hastily bandied about to pronounce on the Islamic tradition and deracinate its presiding sexual schema.
“The trouble for revisionists is thus laid bare. Affirming the Quran as divine speech while concurrently accepting its alleged erroneousness on a subject so vital to the human experience in the modern world presents an untenable proposition for revisionist actors”
The trouble for revisionists is thus laid bare. Affirming the Quran as divine speech while concurrently accepting its alleged erroneousness on a subject so vital to the human experience in the modern world presents an untenable proposition for revisionist actors. In order to resolve tensions arising from these incompatible affirmations, it is the Quranic message that is overwritten in the name of sexual liberty. A Faustian bargain of epic proportions, the logical outcome of such a negotiation is a minimalist faith with no reference to the Quran as God’s inerrant word or the prophetic practice as representing the archetype of how to faithfully live that word. Little thought is given to the resultant spiritual distance, and even less to the possibility that Islamic sexual ethics can be both divine and morally defensible.
The most common objection to my original article has been that it inappropriately invokes the “unanimous consensus” of Islam. The alleged inappropriateness here is not due to prior disagreement concerning the moral status of homosexual behavior, but rather because, according to this group, Islam – as a concept – is not amenable to any objective definition and thus cannot sustain a “unanimous consensus.” This critique is often nested within a larger ideological paradigm which asserts that religion contains little to no meaningful content in and of itself independent of what religious adherents themselves project onto it. According to this view, religion must remain the preserve of the open market, and it is only through a constant exchange of ideas that can be tethered to, or expressed in, religious terms that a religious meaning can be generated – itself only a singular meaning among a seemingly endless possibility of meanings. Religion is thus viewed as an empty vessel, expressed with a vocabulary that has historically acquired meaning through a process of appropriation by a specific set of powerful social actors. These actors were said to have entrenched prevailing cultural norms indigenous to their time and place as expressions of faith to the exclusion of other possibilities and, in so doing, advancing their subjective wants and desires under the mantle of religious authority. Because there is no such thing as an objective and (in principle) unified Islam under this deconstructionist hermeneutic, but instead only “islams” (each refracting cultural, political, and social subjectivities in the name of God and faith), maintaining an “Islam” with a singular definition of any practice or belief is to do little more than engage in interpretive domineering. Such domineering is said to hegemonically disempower minoritarian views and subordinate the intellectual contributions of the disenfranchised to the authority of an allegedly “patriarchal,” “heteronormative,” and denominationally “chauvinistic” understanding of the faith.
This sort of deconstructionism has emerged in the past decade as an increasingly favored method of problematizing normative religious doctrine (at least within academic Islamic Studies, religious studies, and other secular social science fields in the Western academy). Its appeal lies in its democratization of interpretive authority. Figures and groups previously relegated to the margins are now offered not only a voice, but one on seemingly equal ground with not only contemporaries, but with predecessors whose positions have carried and continue to carry immense intellectual weight. Its weakness, however, lies in its entailments. A true global and indiscriminate hermeneutic of deconstruction cannot be sustained without leading to complete nihilism. If all “islams” stand on equal interpretive ground, then no interpretation can be claimed as better or worse than any other. Indeed, any claim of superior scholarship, accuracy of meaning, or faithfulness to authorial intent would be dismissed as mere declarations of power, not truth. Of what use is such an “Islam” at all? And on what basis would the label of Islam or Muslim hold any meaning?
Moreover, the irony of such accusations hardly factors into the critique being advanced. Scott Kugle’s work, to which my piece attends, is entitled Homosexuality in Islam – not homosexuality in a particular reading of Islam, or a revised “islam” that can sustain homosexual practice as morally sanctionable. Is Kugle here not guilty of the same “essentializing” rhetoric?
The deconstructionist framing also raises the following question: Why is such reasoning limited to Islam? Feminism, patriarchy, homosexuality, homophobia, and many other conceptual categories are of contemporary Western provenance, each with contested definitions and associated strands. Given these stratifications, should these terms not be viewed as conceptually hollow and devoid of meaning, in the same way that their advocates claim that the term Islam itself is?
“Revisionist deconstructionism relies upon the view that interpretive projects are irredeemably prejudiced, with one conspicuous exception: its own. One must therefore accept that past scholars were ‘homophobic,’ ‘patriarchal,’ and ‘bigoted’ in any number of ways”
Finally, it is worth reflecting here upon yet another irony of the deconstructionist argument. Revisionist deconstructionism relies upon the view that interpretive projects are irredeemably prejudiced, with one conspicuous exception: its own. One must therefore accept that past scholars were “homophobic,” “patriarchal,” and “bigoted” in any number of ways. Note here that this characterization of “the past” is applied indiscriminately and in a manner that is entirely undifferentiated on the basis of time, place, language, denomination, culture, and any number of variables that would, under normal circumstances, necessarily result in diversity of thought. However, here we are told to believe that this past was essentially a monolith in all relevant respects, particularly insofar as it uncritically normalized allegedly repellent attitudes against constituent communities and peoples. Moreover, the very revisionists making this claim do so entirely oblivious to their own prejudices, bigotries, and forms of intolerance. Accordingly, they can accuse religions of “homophobia” for merely holding moral instruction concerning licit sexual acts, just as they can accuse the “premodern world” for instantiating patriarchy in ways that allegedly rendered female existence pitiable. Is it not at all possible that they are the ones harboring intolerance? In fact, given the issues at stake along with the relatively recent emergence of homosexuality as a distinct social identity, strong ideological pre-commitments are not difficult to locate within revisionist thought.
Appeals to Legal and Theological Diversity
In order to buttress accusations of an inappropriate appeal to consensus, some critics have been keen to highlight minority sects that differ considerably from normative Sunni or Twelver Shiite beliefs, including sects that regard some of the five pillars as inessential practices or endorse a drastically modified version of them in their own conception of Islam. The idea behind this charge is that much of what is regarded as essential to the Islamic faith has been subject to disagreement, and that in reality, my invoking of consensus can only be maintained if restricted to a narrowly defined Sunnism. This supposed interpretive latitude, however, only works against these critics: What can account for such deep denominational variance and interpretive latitude that fails to register, over the course of fourteen hundred years, a single denomination permitting same-sex acts? Surely, if denominations were capable of overcoming said “prejudices” enough to disregard pillars of Islam, then they were equally capable of overcoming “heteronormativity,” no? It is important to note here that the legal tradition has registered difference even on the applicability of ḥadd punishment to same-sex acts, with Ibn Ḥazm and jurists from the Ḥanafī school refusing to admit sodomy as a ḥadd crime by way of analogy with zinā. Are we then to believe that agreement over the impermissibility of same-sex acts has been sustained simply by unreflective prejudice? Is it not at all possible that the unified prohibition of same-sex acts – upheld universally by all Muslim sects, even those classified as apostate according to Sunni and Twelver Shiite dispensations – demonstrates the clarity – and, on this point at least, the univocality – of Divine Writ?
Islam as Anthropology
Other critics have suggested that Islam needs to be understood in light of its lived historical reality and not the allegedly rigid interpretations upheld by exegetes and jurists. On this view, the historical practice of Muslims comes to constitute a new “reading” of Islam (or perhaps, a “true” reading of Islam). Thus, an “islam” can exist (or, more accurately, has existed) that permits wine drinking (khamr), fornication and adultery (zinā), and even polytheism (shirk). Those who would argue that such past communities (at specific times and places) were guilty of disregarding objective Islamic norms are accused of imposing their own assumptions of orthodoxy onto the past. Often, this argument is rooted in the late Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam?, though such an interpretive approach fundamentally misunderstands Ahmed’s own stated intentions. In introducing his work on p. 5, Ahmed states, “In conceptualizing Islam as a human and historical phenomenon, I am precisely not seeking to tell the reader what Islam is as a matter of Divine Command, and thus am not seeking to prescribe how Islam should be followed as the means to existential salvation.” Ahmed’s stated objective diverges from that of Kugle and other revisionists who are, in fact, attempting to assert what “Islam” – which they otherwise deny can be spoken of with any conceptual coherence – says about homosexuality as a matter of Divine Command. Moreover, even if we are to set aside Ahmed and deal directly with the substantive assertion of lived historical expression constituting a new Islam, what would we make of the past ordinariness of pederastic infatuation directed toward beardless youth (murdān, sing. amrad)? Would the same folks vesting evidentiary weight in practices that were widely attested to and registered in the historical record be willing to argue that pederasty, too, should be made permissible (or, rather, that it was already permissible given its presence in past societies)? I suspect not.
“Often, this argument is rooted in the late Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam?, though such an interpretive approach fundamentally misunderstands Ahmed’s own stated intentions. In introducing his work on p. 5, Ahmed states, ‘In conceptualizing Islam as a human and historical phenomenon, I am precisely not seeking to tell the reader what Islam is as a matter of Divine Command, and thus am not seeking to prescribe how Islam should be followed as the means to existential salvation.’ “
Question of Equivalencies
Some critics have objected to the presence of (allegedly) false equivalencies in my 2016 article. Here, it is said that the paper improperly establishes a parallel between the sexual stimulation a same-sex attracted individual experiences, on the one hand, and impulses such as lying, cheating, and stealing, on the other. Elsewhere it is said that I consign same-sex attracted individuals to a life of celibacy with a consolation that others too must live with a test of permanent celibacy, including those who cannot get married due to a shortage of marriageable partners, poverty, or medical incapacity. Thus, the paper is described as peddling false analogies and falling victim to an underappreciation of the qualitative difference between same-sex attraction as a deep-seated psycho-sexual reality and other tests a person may face. This argument, like the aforementioned ones cited here, relies on misrepresenting the essential discursive being employed in the paper while positing a number of unfounded assumptions.
To begin with, the question must be asked in which context these analogies were raised. Lying, cheating, and stealing, for instance, were all cited in the paper as impulses that appear without consultation, conscious decision, and which can all be conceived of as “natural.” By raising this point, I was not suggesting that eschewing the impulse to cheat is in any way analogous to lifelong celibacy for same-sex attracted individuals. The point was merely that many sins – among which same-sex acts are included – are prompted by impulses that (i) exist in a large number of people, (ii) are ineluctable, (iii) manifest internally with a forceful impulse to be acted upon, and (iv) are nonetheless prohibited in Islamic law. Accordingly, asserting inherency as the requisite basis upon which to rest the moral legitimacy of otherwise sinful acts is not an epistemically valid approach.
Having said that, the analogy proffered in the piece is an imperfect one in some important respects: the relative difficulty of abstinence, for example, is not equivalent to abstaining from the other behaviors mentioned. Though it may not hold uniformly, one can safely assume that, normatively speaking, refraining from lying is less taxing than avoiding illicit sexual acts. This much can be conceded without issue. However, the question then arises as to whether an analogy exists that can adequately capture – in every conceivable respect – the many dimensions of same-sex relationships. Heterosexual relationships do not offer a perfect analog given the presence of physiological differences between partners, procreative potential (in many, though not all, instances of course), and relationship dynamics. Indeed, even male homosexual relationships differ from female homosexual relationships in significant ways, a fact which itself could serve to complicate the conflationary term “homosexual.” In fact, one could posit that no two prohibitions exist that bear an exact resemblance to each other in all respects. The prohibition against wine drinking is dissimilar to the prohibition against swine consumption. Likewise, the prohibition of usury (ribā) differs from the prohibition of trading in risk or uncertainty (gharar). It would be meaningless, quite clearly, for one to assert that no two actions can be impermissible unless they are alike in each and every respect. Such considerations of analogical equivalency, at any rate, are only relevant where the prohibition of one act is derived from the prohibition of another, such as in standard cases of legal analogy, or qiyās. As it stands, however, homosexual behavior is subject to an explicit and specific prohibition by God in the Quran, one that is in no way derivative of or dependent upon an analogy to any other prohibition. (Note again that although the punishment for sodomy has sometimes been derived through analogy to the punishment for zinā, the prohibition itself stands independently on the strength of its own evidence and is thus not the result of any scholarly ijtihād to begin with.)
The demand for an exact analogy then serves to do little more than distract. It does not address the substantive concern (namely, the intent of scripture). It does not offer a moral path for concerned Muslims seeking to abide by God’s command. It does not even provide comfort to the religiously disinclined struggling with same-sex desire. Instead, it attempts to discredit Islam’s prohibition of same-sex behavior by demanding a conceptual impossibility.
A Criterion for Morally Valid Sexual Relationships
In the previous section I have attended to the advancing of “naturalness” as an epistemic basis for determining religious sanctionability, concluding that the desire to sin often originates ineluctably. Despite the ineluctability of these desires, however, carrying out sinful actions simply because they were prompted by naturally occurring desires is not an excuse in the Sharīʿa, as such an excuse could conceivably be applied to just about any iniquitous act. Accordingly, the relative preventability of desires bears no consequence in determining moral right and wrong. However, this raises another question: If the preventability of sexual desire is not a relevant criterion for judging the morality of sexual behavior, then on what basis can we establish a sexual ethic? It is possible here to contend that consent is the only relevant criterion for the moral permissibility of sexual acts (which reigns as the orthodox presupposition governing sexual relations in the post-Sexual Revolution West). “
If the preventability of sexual desire is not a relevant criterion for judging the morality of sexual behavior, then on what basis can we establish a sexual ethic? It is possible here to contend that consent is the only relevant criterion for the moral permissibility of sexual acts (which reigns as the orthodox presupposition governing sexual relations in the post-Sexual Revolution West).”And of course, consent has its advantages for gay advocates. Sexual predilections held as disordered or otherwise unnatural in the prevailing sexual schema of the modern West can be repudiated using the criteria of consent: pedophilic relationships and bestiality, for instance, are both regarded as providing no meaningful consent (notwithstanding, of course, the fluidity of consent, the contestability of child consent, the ambiguity of what constitutes a child, etc.). Incestuous relationships would certainly present a problem given the distinct possibility of full consent. In order to maintain the consent argument, some have qualified consent with provisions related to harm. According to this reasoning, incestuous relationships are deemed unavoidably harmful given the increased probability of genetic abnormalities in incestuous offspring, though recent discussion has problematized this assertion (Indeed, what “harm” could possibly ensue from an incestuous relationship between two family members of the same sex, to which genetic considerations clearly do not apply?). Setting aside these complications, let us proceed for the moment by accepting the proposed rubric of “consent qualified by harm” as a justification for the legitimacy of a given sexual practice.
It would seem we now have a workable sexual ethic that can be brought into conversation with Islamic sexual norms to then assert the licitness of same-sex relationships. However, the ethical and moral program upheld by Islam (which is, of course, the subject at hand) has never viewed consent as the sole criteria for sexual acts, and much that can be enacted consensually is indisputably prohibited. Zinā (fornication and adultery), for instance, is prohibited explicitly in the Quran irrespective of consent. Likewise with physical intimacy short of intercourse and seclusion between two marriageable persons (khalwa). Indeed, the elective agreement of two participating parties hardly counts when determining what is lawful and unlawful sexually in the Sharīʿa.
Understanding that consent bears little currency in Islamic law, some have argued that the burdensome nature of lifelong abstinence necessarily calls for a special dispensation for same-sex attracted individuals, for God does not burden a soul with more than it can bear. Here, I noted in the paper that many Muslims are de facto charged with lifelong abstinence. Reasons preventing them from marriage may include a shortage of marriageable partners (such as the growing phenomenon of spinsterhood in the West), medical frailty, or poverty, among other reasons. That these other opposite-sex attracted individuals are theoretically able to regularize sexual relationships is of little comfort when the practicality of finding an opposite-sex relationship is virtually nonexistent. Now, perhaps it is true that one can contest whether the two groups being discussed here are functionally equivalent in every conceivable respect. But the point is not to present an exact analogy insofar as it is to assert that same-sex attracted individuals who find themselves unable to marry are not alone in their path of living a life of celibacy in order to remain faithful to God’s command (It should be noted that some same-sex attracted individuals have, in fact, entered into marital relationships with an opposite-sex partner and found fulfillment in family life, though of course this is not always possible).
In responding to this parallel, some have suggested that the two groups bear different psychological tolls. Here, same-sex attracted individuals are regarded as being inflicted with an emotional tax that opposite-sex attracted individuals are not. For the former, prohibition is the de facto norm, whereas for the latter, prohibition is merely a consequence of circumstances. Additionally, it is said that the causal link between sexual orientation and lifelong celibacy for the same-sex attracted individual contributes to this emotional tax (a dynamic which is not the case for their opposite-sex attracted counterparts). Yet even this contention is not unequivocally defensible, as the emotional toll for opposite-sex attracted individuals faced with lifelong celibacy may very well exceed the toll experienced by same-sex attracted individuals. Moreover, one should not forget the difficulty posed to all people by the presence of sexual desire. As we read in the Quran, “Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire—of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but God has with Him the best return.” (Āl ʿImrān, Q 3:14). In a hadith largely regarded as weak, the Prophet (may God’s peace be upon him) described the lustful gaze as one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, and in a sound narration included the one who refuses illicit sex out of his fear of God as receiving the shade of God’s Throne on the Day of Judgment. The sheer quantity of verses and prophetic traditions reinforcing sexual restraint is considerable, and they reflect the difficulty of maintaining an ethic of chastity.
“Exacerbating the difficulty of the already daunting task of living a chaste and sexually upright life is a society that has embraced libertinism in the public square.”
Exacerbating the difficulty of the already daunting task of living a chaste and sexually upright life is a society that has embraced libertinism in the public square. Never has sexually illicit content been more easily accessible than it is today. Pornographic content has permeated all media to the point that even watching sports subjects a person to annual ‘body image’ and ‘swimsuit’ episodes. The most popular television programs display full female nudity and half of all high school students report having had sexual intercourse before graduation. 90 percent of young boys and 60 percent of young girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18, and a University of Montreal study intending to explore the sexual attitudes of men in their 20s who had never viewed porn with those who regularly consumed it ran into a dead end by reportedly failing to find a single adult male who had never viewed pornographic material. So ubiquitous is pornographic content on the internet that it has become virtually inescapable, with some going so far as to suggest that the internet is “actually for porn.” Indeed, the internet, television, movies, magazines, advertisements, and the public square are awash with pornography and the sexualization of women (and, increasingly, of men). In this context, could not the prohibition of zinā be characterized as implausible or worthy of reconsideration? Would it not be worth considering, in the name of empathy, a dispensation given the sheer pervasiveness of sexual content and claims by some of irrepressibility? Absolutely not. Rather, we should seek to expand pastoral efforts to help people overcome said challenges and encourage them to live a morally upright life in the sight of God.
Cynical readers may construe this point as eliding a critical dimension of this discussion: the possibility for opposite-sex attracted individuals to enter into sexual relationships that can somehow mitigate or otherwise quell sexual urges in this highly sexualized society. Such an argument, however, belies a rather stark reality as it relates to the power of sexual attraction in a hypersexualized social and cultural setting. The presence of a sexual outlet has little to do with porn use, infidelity, and other sexual indiscretions. Many people in sexual relationships, be it in the form of a marital arrangement or otherwise, continue to struggle with pornography and related sexual indiscretions. To then construe a licit sexual outlet as foreclosing on sexual vice is naïve in the extreme, particularly given the contours of the modern world.
The Sexual Ethics of Islam
Conspicuously, very few critics have attempted to respond to the substantive arguments concerning the intent of revelation – or at least the normative and consensus-held interpretation of revelation as it relates to sodomy and other same-sex acts. In fact, some have gone so far as to concede that general point, i.e., that the Quran and Sunnah say what they say, and there is little hermeneutical space to gerrymander new interpretations within. Thus, it is said that although revelation may unambiguously qualify same-sex acts as illicit and morally disapproved, the “reasonableness” of revelation must nevertheless be held up to rational scrutiny. Given this appeal to reasonability, critics have alleged that intelligent ethical and moral guidelines exist governing sexual acts in the secular West, but that religion has only “God said so” as its sole retort. As I have shown above, the reasonableness of arguments offered by critics – of deconstruction, false equivalencies, naturalness, and consent – are themselves unable to withstand rational scrutiny. On the other hand, I have only offered passing justifications in the Kugle article for Islam’s ethics concerning sexual acts, and will thus attempt to expand on those briefly here.
It should be understood firstly that the fundamental cause, or ratio legis (ʿilla), of any permission or prohibition is a definite indicant (dalīl) established by God. In addition to the text of revelation, scholars have written works extrapolating wisdoms (ḥikam) inherent in God’s Decree, though it should be noted that these wisdoms are not the ʿilla of the command or prohibition to which they relate.
“It should be understood firstly that the fundamental cause, or ratio legis (ʿilla), of any permission or prohibition is a definite indicant (dalīl) established by God. In addition to the text of revelation, scholars have written works extrapolating wisdoms (ḥikam) inherent in God’s Decree, though it should be noted that these wisdoms are not the ʿilla of the command or prohibition to which they relate.”The ʿilla is thus the specific decree that brings a ruling into effect, such as a verse of the Quran or hadith of the Prophet, whereas any talk of a ḥikma is merely an attempt to understand the possible wisdom behind a command or prohibition, such as (but not limited to) rationally discernible benefits or harms. The establishment of the ʿilla of a ruling is separate from, prior to, and in no way contingent upon our attempts to discern the divine wisdom, or ḥikma, behind that ruling. It follows from this that disproving a ḥikma does not render the ʿilla inoperative (and therefore also does not vitiate the ruling). In the case at hand, the prohibition of same-sex acts stands on proofs in the Quran and Sunnah interdicting these acts. Though this may be deemed as unsatisfactory by some critics, the very edifice of Islam is predicated upon the act of submission – i.e., islām – to God. This is not to say that Islam disregards the question of reasonability, but rather to state that commands and prohibitions are upheld in spite of one’s ability to rationalize the basis for said legislation. This rational submission stands in contrast to the fundamental truths of Islam (i.e., God’s unicity, the prophethood of Muḥammad, the Afterlife, etc.), which are – and in fact must be – rationally apprehended in order to count as valid belief. Conversely, individual commands and prohibitions represent the will of the Lawgiver, and are laws to be obeyed. The force of a command is not contingent upon our apprehension of a reason for the command (once we have determined that it is, in fact, a divine command) nor the wisdom that may have motivated the command, though we do uphold that God is wise, and that all of His acts, commands, and prohibitions necessarily embody this wisdom. Thus, though we may find certain commands amenable to rationalization, subjecting others to similar scrutiny may prove elusive on account of our limitations which can never entirely encapsulate God’s wise purposes.
Having said all of that, the principal wisdom undergirding the prohibition of same-sex acts is situated within the principle objectives (maqāṣid) of Islamic law. One of the five principle objectives of Islamic law is the preservation of lineage (nasl) along with the accompanying family structure predicated upon that lineage. Accordingly, Islamic law not only prohibits adultery, fornication, sodomy, and tribadism, but slanderous accusation (qadhf) that casts doubt upon one’s lineage (common examples include referring to someone as “a child of fornication,” or bastard – ‘ibn zinā’). The socio-familial guidelines in Islam are thus regarded as paramount, with the complementarity of the male and female as necessary constituent elements for any legally sanctioned relationship. The teleology of the male and female bodies for reproduction and penetrative sexual intercourse refract this heterosexual paradigm and purpose of preserving progeny. The fact that reproduction cannot occur in any same-sex arrangement absent artificial insemination or surrogacy only reinforces the organic biological and physiological realities of paradigmatically heterosexual acts. God speaks of this often in the Quran when addressing the matter of creation. A verse in chapter 49, Sūrat al-Ḥujurāt, reads: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted.” Elsewhere, men and women are said to have been created from a unified soul, and from them to have produced posterity: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear God, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed God is ever, over you, an Observer.” (Sūrat al-Nisāʾ, 4:1) By disregarding this cosmic purpose, same-sex acts dishonor this ordering of creation.
“…it is not the procreative potential that is as critical as the paradigm in which procreation can plausibly take place (which is necessarily heterosexual) that sets the moral boundary for Islamic sexual ethics. Viewed within this light, same-sex acts constitute a direct and blatant violation of the sexual ethics espoused by Islam while directly infringing on the higher purpose that the law seeks to establish and promote.”
Some critics have responded to this by observing that Islamic law recognizes sexual pleasure as a legitimate desire that can be fulfilled in a legally sanctioned relationship, even if it is carried out in a non-penetrative capacity, or in a penetrative capacity with the use of contraceptives (minimally ʿazl, or coitus interruptus), between sterile spouses, and other such scenarios in which sexual activity would not possess procreative potential. To this, it is important to return to Islam’s sexual ethics. The principle of nasl that has been explicated imparts not simply an objective, but a structure that, derivative of that objective, informs the parameters of legally permitted sexual relationships. This structure is necessarily heterosexual in paradigm, even if every instance of it is not procreative in purpose or potential. Same-sex relationships violate this paradigm, while relationships that bear no procreative potential but nonetheless uphold this socio-familial ethic and honor the natural male-female complementarity are regarded as not only permissible, but rewarded by God and praiseworthy. Thus, it is not the procreative potential that is as critical as the paradigm in which procreation can plausibly take place (which is necessarily heterosexual) that sets the moral boundary for Islamic sexual ethics. Viewed within this light, same-sex acts constitute a direct and blatant violation of the sexual ethics espoused by Islam while directly infringing on the higher purpose that the law seeks to establish and promote.
Empathy and Pastoral Care
A criticism leveled by several people had to do with the issue of empathy and pastoral care. Though this is no doubt a relevant and essential component of conversations concerning same-sex acts and Islam, the purpose behind the paper was not a pastoral one, and possessing no training or expertise to speak of in the fields of counseling and pastoral care, it was not an endeavor I wanted to broach casually. There is a dire need for adequate pastoral approaches addressing same-sex attracted Muslims, and here I am heartened by some early work published by a group named Straight Struggle, an online support group for Muslims who report/experience dominant or exclusive same-sex attractions. Interested readers are referred to a piece written by the moderator of Straight Struggle published on MuslimMatters.org entitled, “From a Same-Sex Attracted Muslim: Between Denial of Reality and Distortion of Religion.”
As a final note on this meditation, I have been asked often about my own motivations for writing on the subject matter at hand. There is much that can be said here, and although the following is by no means comprehensive, it is important at least to outline some of the stakes involved when addressing the reinterpretability of categorical and consensus-bound prohibitions. Over the better part of the past century, Muslims in the modern world have found themselves and their religion subject to considerable scrutiny. Much of this scrutiny has emerged out of unfavorable political circumstances (colonization, warfare, etc.), and Muslim groups have worked diligently within this milieu to counteract the advances of Westernization and its concomitant ideology that conflicts with a number of essential precepts of the Islamic faith. Though various approaches have been enacted, a common approach has been that of revisionism, which itself has taken many shapes. Some revisionists have called for a return to the positions of the formative period (God’s authorial intent, it is said, is best understood in this prophetic era) and abandonment of later “accretions.” Others have encouraged structural overhaul of the tradition, including a casting of doubt upon prophetic hadith as a category, while yet others have opted for revising the tradition of legal epistemology to accommodate conclusions that conform to contemporary norms and values. The most appealing strands of revisionism in the modern world have largely relied upon a dispensing of the prophetic tradition and a reengagement with the Quran as the sole source of revelation. These efforts have proved considerably volatile, and hardly a command exists except that it has been “revisited” by revisionist scrutiny. Left untouched by virtually all revisionist efforts has been the status of the Quran itself. Muslims’ confidence in the historical and scriptural integrity of the Quran abides, as does the applicability of its commands and prohibitions. Muslims of all stripes faithfully uphold the Quran as their guide and jealously defend it against those calling into question whether it should remain operative as a guide in the modern world. Thus, it can be said that if there is any unifying component to Islam, it is the Quran and a full affirmation of its status as direct divine revelation.
Any acceptance of revisionism that permits same-sex acts will necessarily result in a diminishing of said unassailability. Though some revisionists might insist that resourceful and otherwise imaginative “interpretations” can be marshaled in the service of this effort, at times such efforts strain the bounds of minimal plausibility, even for the ideologically predisposed. Construing unambiguous scripture stating, “Verily you come with desire unto men instead of women,” as offering no comment at all on (consensual) same-sex acts is simply too far-fetched for most people, and over time a reconfiguration of this nature will damage the last remaining edifice tying the umma together, i.e., the incontrovertible and unquestioned commitment to the Quran as the source of truth and guidance. Diluted reform denominations will be the only refuge for folks admitting this re-reading, and over time other tenets will follow suit.
Although academics normatively profess ideological neutrality, we all write from a particular position. Readers will not find mine difficult to detect. I profess Islam, and write as a Muslim concerned about the vitality of his own faith in the contemporary West. Despite this concern, I am confident in the plan of God to whom we all have to answer. As I have gone to great pains to demonstrate, the Lot narrative in the Quran is clear, unambiguous, and categorical. Those willing to disregard revelation in order to accommodate homosexual acts as morally valid despite this, then to you is your dīn, and to me is mine.
And God Knows Best.
 Kugle’s original Homosexuality in Islam is available here: https://oneworld-publications.com/homosexuality-in-islam.html In it, Scott Kugle has argued that the sources of Islamic normativity can plausibly be read as permitting homosexual behaviors and relationships. This was a novel project as revisionist projects preceding Kugle questioned the authority of the Islamic tradition, whereas Kugle attempted to show how the tradition could actually be rendered to support revisionist outcomes. My response to his paper contended that the project was a failed one. This contention was buttressed by an examination of Kugle’s many methodological inconsistencies, misreadings of the tradition, and misrepresentations of al-Ṭabarī and others. Subsequent responses to my paper by revisionists abandoned Kugle’s project, presumably because they recognized that there is no way that the sources of Islamic normativity could support their values. These responses are examined in this paper.
 See Mobeen Vaid, “Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Qur’anic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle,” at: https://muslimmatters.org/2016/07/11/can-islam-accommodate-homosexual-acts-quranic-revisionism-and-the-case-of-scott-kugle/ republished in American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (AJISS) 34, no. 3 (2017).
 The following piece by Junaid Jahangir and Hussein Abdullatif has only recently come to my attention: https://www.irannamag.com/en/article/homosexuality-emerging-new-battleground-islam/ – a full response to this would require a lengthier treatment than this article offers, and due to a variety of constraints, it is not in scope for the current article. Perhaps I will take the time in a future article to address fully the range of claims within it, God Willing.Junaid Jahangir & Hussein AbdullatifJunaid Jahangir & Hussein Abdullatif
 On postmodern relativity, readers are encouraged to review the transcript of Graham Leonard’s “The Tyranny of Subjectivity.” See Graham Leonard, “The Tyranny of Subjectivity,” Vital Speeches of the Day 54, no. 2 (1987), p. 50.
 See, for instance, Muḥammad Shāh Kashmīrī and Aḥmad ʿAlī al-Sahāranpūrī, Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī al-muḥashshā (Karachi: Qadīmī Kutubkhāne, n.d.), 338.
 See for instance “A New Classification System for Lesbians: The Dyke Diagnostic Manual,” Journal of Lesbian Studies, 14:4 (2010), 401-414, DOI: 10.1080/10894161003677133. This is but one dimension in which differences between male and female homosexuality have been observed, though many others exist.
 A particularly trenchant treatment of the subject can be found in Max More’s “A Self-Critique of Youthful Folly: On Sex, Coercion, and the Age of Consent.” See Max More, “A Self-Critique of Youthful Folly: On Sex, Coercion, and the Age of Consent,” Personal Perspectives, no. 26. London, 2011.
 See Eugene Volokh. “Adult Incest and the Law.” The Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2015. Also see Brett H. Mcdonnell, “Is Incest Next?” Cardozo Women’s Law Journal, vol. 10, no. 2, Feb. 2004, doi:10.2139/ssrn.442520.
 Among the scholars who are reported to have classified it as weak are al-Mundhirī (d. 656/1258), al-Haythamī (d. 807/1404), and al-Albānī (d. 1419/1999). See: http://fatwa.islamweb.net/fatwa/index.php?page=showfatwa&Option= FatwaId&Id=253867 for a brief discussion of this ḥadīth.
 The portrayal of nudity and sexual intercourse on television has been characterized by some as an “epidemic.” See http://entertainment.time.com/2013/06/10/is-there-an-epidemic-of-nudity-on-primetime-tv/ as well as a study by the Parents Television Council (PTC) reporting a 6,300 percent increase in depictions of full frontal nudity on prime time television stations between the years 2010 and 2011. The PTC study can be accessed here: http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/NudityStudy_2012/2012_NudityMiniStudy.pdf
 Julie Ruvolo, “The Internet Is For Porn (So Let’s Talk About It).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 7 Aug. 2012.
 A recent study on the effect of pornographic consumption on marital stability reported too few men giving up the genre to arrive at reliable conclusions concerning the possible benefit to marital stability that abandoning pornographic viewing could render for men. (By way of comparison, women who had managed to abandon the use of porn reported being only one-third as likely to divorce as those who continued the habit.) See S. L. Perry & C. Schleifer (2017). “Till porn do us part? A longitudinal examination of pornography use and divorce.” Journal of Sex Research. Meanwhile, other studies report a rise in pornographic addictions, with an addict defined as someone who spends more than eleven hours viewing pornography weekly. See “Porn Addiction Stats.” Porn Addiction Stats – How Many People Are Really Addicted to Pornography? – TechAddiction.