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Arif came out from the mosque and booked a bike ride to office. Saurabh, a young and handsome guy with wheatish complexion, came to pick Arif up. When Saurabh dropped Arif, he noticed him wearing a badge that read – “Me, blend in? LMAO – NEVER! I was born to STAND OUT!” 

Out of curiosity, Saurabh asked Arif about the batch. Arif invited him for a coffee inside his office and told him that the batch meant his support for LGBT rights, a community to which he belonged. He went on to explain what LGBT stands for, which left Saurabh startled.

“You said that you are also from LGBT community? This means that you also have sex with men?” he asked Arif. “Yes, why does it surprise you?” answered Arif. “But you were coming from a Masjid, I have heard that it is condemned in your religion and is a big sin,” he enquired. Saurabh seemed amazed to see a practicing Muslim being gay.

“Who told you that homosexuality is a sin in Islam?” Arif asked. “Well, that is what I hear on TV in debates, all these Mullahs say so,” Saurabh replied. “Well Islam is not about what Mullah says but what Allah says and what Prophet told us and passed it on to us,” Arif retorted.

“To be precise, Islamic rulings come from two things – the Quran and Hadith. Quran is the word of Allah which He sent through angel Jibreel to the Prophet. Prophet in turn memorized it by heart and later passed it on to the believers. The Quran is supposed to befell on Prophet Mohammad in two cities of Mecca and Medina. The verses which befell in Mecca are known as Macci verses and the ones that befell in Medina are known as Madni verses or aayaat. But Prophet left Mecca and went to Medina, which is the start of Hijri calendar of Muslims and never returned to Mecca before his death to perform Haj. So Macci verses should be on one side and Madni verses are to follow. But they are all jumbled up. Again, this disorder is also an order. They are divided in chapters based on the subject. So one story would start in a different chapter, continue in various chapters and end somewhere in middle and still continue with the storyline in some other chapter. So many times, it seems that we might have taken the meaning out of context. But no one is sure about any theory. Quran was supposed to be collected first in the period of First Caliph. But, in the period of Second Caliph, the order of the verses was changed. It didn’t stop there. The third Caliph again came up with his order of verses. However, all this is not well established, but is believed so by many sects of Islam. Still, the current order (which is supposedly to be the third) seems to be quite in place. Yet all this still leaves space for speculations,”

Arif continued: “Hadith on the other hand are the instances, directions, sayings from Prophet’s life. While the Prophet died in 632 AD, the first collection of Hadiths was completed in 846AD, i.e. 214 years after the death of Prophet, by Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mughīrah ibn Bardizbah al-Ju‘fī al-Bukhārī who was born in 810 AD and died in 870 AD. The other (supposedly) most authentic collection of Hadiths was written by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, who was born into a Persian family in 818 AD in Nishapur (in modern-day Iran) and died in 874 AD in the city of his birth. Apparently, he too was collecting Hadiths at the same time.”

“Point to ponder is that after 214 years of the death of Prophet, no one would have been alive to narrate the exact instance or saying from the Prophet’s life. It was all passed through at least two to three generations, making it highly likely that like a game of Chinese Whispers, many things changed in these stories as they were passed down from one generation to another. Imam Al Bukhari collected a total of three lakh Hadiths out of which only 4000 got place in his collection. Now even Muslims believe that only 1400 of his Hadiths are worth considering, rest are fabrications”

“The Sharia, which is classical Islamic jurisprudence, is supposedly derived from the Quran and collection of Hadiths. Here is a twist. The first partial attempt to codify Sharia was done during Ottoman rule between 1869 – 1876. This is the Sharia which criminalises homosexuality and prescribes death penalty for homosexuals.

rainbow delhi pride

 “But what does the Quran actually say?” Saurabh asked. “Is there any space for homosexuals like you in it?”

“Interestingly, Quran does not prohibit using, as passive sex partners, the ancient category of men who by nature lacked desire for women, since such men were not considered “male” as a result of their lack of arousal for women. This kind of man is often known as ‘gay’ in modern times, but in the ancient world he was identified as an anatomically whole ‘natural eunuch’, or more accurately, effeminate passive male homosexual.  Although the Quran never uses the word eunuch [khasiyy], the Hadith and the books of the legal scholars do. Furthermore, the Quran recognizes that some men are “without the defining skill of males” (24:31: “ghair oolaa il-irbati min ar-rijaali“) and so, as domestic servants, are allowed to see women naked. This is a reference to natural eunuchs, i.e. gay men. A person had to be indifferent to women’s bodies in order to assume the role as a servant in women’s private space. In one case, a servant who had been assumed to be indifferent to women due to his being an “effeminate” [mukhannath] was evicted by the Prophet because he unexpectedly demonstrated a lascivious attitude towards a woman.”

“Oh my God!” Saurabh exclaimed, his expressions clearly revealing he wanted to know more.

Arif continued, “Homosexual activity by homosexuals (eunuchs) is not spoken of in the Quran, which mentions only the unjust homosexual rape perpetrated by straight men against other straight men. Besides the Lut story, sexual exploitation of straight males is also alluded to in the assurance that prophet Joseph’s slaveholders “abstained from him” (12:20: “wa kaanuu feehi min az-zaahideen“).”

Quran recognizes that some men are “without the defining skill of males” (24:31: “ghair oolaa il-irbati min ar-rijaali“)

“Straight Muslim men were occasionally interested in grown adults as well, provided they were not “male”. There is a Hadith in which the Prophet’s companions asked whether they were allowed to use men (presumably prisoners of war) as “eunuchs” to fulfil their sexual urges, since they were far from their wives. Bukhari LXII 6:9 (a Hadith) [Narrated by ibn Mas’ud:] “We used to fight [in battle] together with the Prophet, Blessings of Allah be on him and his Progeny. There were no women with us. We said: ‘O Messenger, may we treat some as eunuchs [a laa nastakhsii]?’ He forbade us to do so.”

The verses in Bukhari LXII 8:13 says that rather than let the companions “treat [some] as eunuchs” in the absence of their wives, the Prophet “allowed them to marry corrupted women” [rakhasa lana an nankih al-maraa bil-shaub] from the vicinity, and he recited to them from the Quran: “O ye who believe! Make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you but commit no transgression.”

The fact that Muhammad forbade the companions from designating men as eunuchs is not the point here. Of course, using a straight male as a eunuch was wrong — that was essentially the sin of the people of Lut. But what about using an eunuch (i.e. one who permanently lacks arousal with women) as a eunuch? Given that ibn Mas’ud made reference to the use of eunuchs for sexual gratification, and given that the Prophet understood what he meant, it indicates that the use of eunuchs for sexual gratification was known in Arabic society and was considered a use that was appropriate to eunuchs. Since eunuchs were not considered male, there was no prohibition against it, not even in the Quran.”

Saurabh was engrossed in listening to all this and was trying to process all the information. “Aren’t eunuchs supposed to be Hijras? Means no genitals at all.”

Arif laughed and said, “First Hijra is a community which is tied with traditions and customs. And most of the hijras have a defining and active male sexual organ. Again, in Quran the reference of eunuch is those who lack desires for women. They are described as being womanly and docile in bed at night and manly and warlike by day in a campaign and in similar circumstances (hum nisaa’ li-mutmainn muqeem wa rijaal in kaanat al-asfaar; li-annahum bin-nahaar fawaaris wa bil-lail ‘araa’is). [Arabic quoted by Ayalon from Abu Mansur al-Tha’alibi, Al-Latâ’if wal-Zarâ’if, Cairo 1324/1906-7, p. 79, lines 1-7; and the same quote from Tha’alibi in his Tamthîl wal-Muhâdara, Cairo 1381/1961, p. 224.]”

“As for the issue of whether Muhammad himself expressly acknowledged that some people by nature refrain from heterosexuality, thus being natural eunuchs, consider the following Hadith. It is said that one of the Prophet’s companions, Abu Huraira, went to the Prophet, saying that he was a “young male” who “feared torment for his soul”, but that he “did not find the wherewithal to marry a woman” [innee rajulun shaabbun wa ana akhaafu ‘alaa nafsee al-‘anata wa laa ajidu ma atazawwaju bihi an-nisaa’a]. The Prophet remained silent, even after Abu Huraira repeated his statement three times. Finally, after the fourth time, Muhammad said: “O Abu Huraira, the pen is dry regarding what is befitting for you. So be a eunuch for that reason or leave it alone.” [ya Abaa Hurairata, jaffa al-qalam bimaa anta laaq fa’akhtasi ‘alaa dhalika au dhar] (Bukhari, LXII 8). (For comparison, consider that when Uthman came to Muhammad asking if he could be permitted to live a life of abstinence, he was rebuffed.)

The use of eunuchs for sexual gratification was known in Arabic society and was considered a use that was appropriate to eunuchs. Since eunuchs were not considered male, there was no prohibition against it, not even in the Quran

If Muhammad’s answer to Abu Huraira is to make sense, then of course it must bear a relation to the statement Abu Huraira made. First, we have to ask what kind of torment he feared for his soul [nafs]? Muhammad Muhsin Khan, the translator of Bukhari into English, interpreted it as fear of committing illicit sexual intercourse. If that interpretation is correct, then we still have to determine what “illicit sexual intercourse” would mean for Abu Huraira. As a self-described “male”, two forms of sexual activity would be inadmissible and therefore the temptation to them would cause torment for his soul: the desire to be sexually passive with a man (known as ubnah) or the desire to commit adultery with a female. Yet, Abu Huraira [“the father of kittens”] seemed to hint at a solution to his dilemma when he said he did not find (in himself?) what was required for marrying a woman. Now, if that merely meant that he had no money to support a wife, for instance, and was tempted to commit adultery with a female, then the Prophet would surely have advised him to fast and be patient in accordance with Sura 24:33 (also Bukhari LXII 2 and 3). Instead he was advised to accept his fate and, if appropriate, be a eunuch; something which he denied as an option to Uthman. On the other hand, if Abu Huraira’s statement meant he lacked potency with women, then obviously he could not be fearing the temptation to adultery with women. In that case, only passive homosexuality was a danger. However, if he would not ever marry a woman, due to impotency with women or for any other reason, then he would not be acting as a male, but rather as a eunuch, in which case passive homosexuality would not be forbidden for him. But Muhammad cautions him that his identity, either as an eunuch or as a male, has already been determined by his Creator (“the pen is dried”), and he must figure it out and live his life accordingly. If he ever intends to have sex with a woman (i.e. act as a male), then he must avoid passive homosexuality and get married.”

By now Saurabh was exhausted and Arif too looked tired. So Arif summed up:

“As far as I see the stand of Islam on homosexuality; I understand that Islam is ambiguous about it. The popular interpretation is that people of Lut indulged in homosexuality and therefore were punished by Allah. But if you look at the verse [Surah 29:Verse 29] it states, “What! Do you come to the males and commit robbery on the highway, and you commit evil deeds in your assemblies?” There are at least three deeds that have been mentioned here, i.e. you get attracted to male, loot people, and do other evil deeds. So, for what crime were the people of Lut punished? In another Surah 27: Verse 55 it is stated: “What! Do you indeed approach men lustfully rather than women? Nay, you are a people who act ignorantly.” Here the word used is “ignorance”. All these verses don’t seem to reach to a conclusion that there is death or harsh penalty prescribed for homosexuals.” 

The larger world should look at LGBT with empathy and try to understand what their lives are

“While Surah 24: Verse 31 seems to be friendly towards LGBT, it states that there are men who lack attraction towards females and let them remain so. Furthermore, Allah repeatedly states in Quran (in at least 80 places) that only Allah would be the judge, no one else. Everything in Islam starts with Bismillah, meaning Allah is all compassionate, forgiving and merciful. Allah says that if you prostrate even once in forgiveness I will forgive you.”

“So, if you are going to burn a homosexual to death today, how is he going to ask for forgiveness (if so)? This kind of penalty itself raises a question on Allah’s just and compassionate attitude. The Mullahs are saying that the person is going to be judged only on his sexual behaviour with other males and nothing else. This is incorrect. The word homosexual itself gives a wrong connotation, stating that the two males are attached with each other only sexually and there is no emotional bonding. The larger world should look at LGBT with empathy and try to understand what their lives are.” Arif concluded and smiled at Saurabh.

Post Script: A word from the author

Growing up as a Muslim while at the same time recognising one’s own sexual preferences, identity and gender role, I used to find the two to be often in conflict with each other. Religious interpretations as read by Maulvis (religious teachers), condemn same sex behaviours. This story is an effort to put forth, in a very light way, what the Holy Quran and the Sharia says about sexualities, and not what the Maulvis and others say. Quranic verses on sexualities and sexual practices should not be read in isolation but along with other verses which talk about Allah being the creator of human beings as they are, and their relationships are decided by Allah only.

Arif Jafar

Arif Jafar is a LGBT activist and was the main petitioner against Sec 377 in Supreme Court which led to the decriminalization of homosexuality. He has also been instrumental in establishing many LGBT groups across the region: Naz Foundation International; Friends India; Bharosa Trust; Balarc Foundation; Sankalp Trust; Ibteda – e – Anees; SALMAN – South Asia LGBT MSM AIDS Work
Arif Jafar

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