The topic of sodomy has been of particular interest in modern times, where given the 21st century context, it has widely been accepted as a common and normal human practice which need not be criticized. Same-sex relationships are considered normal, and legalization of marriage or companionship between two people of the same gender has occurred all over the West. Given this modern context the Islāmic position on the act of sodomy has been seen as “backwards”, with there also being attempts by certain modernists to reform the religion to correspond to these values. This series of articles shall be divided into two parts, which will themselves have subdivisions — the first will address sodomy and the position of Islām thereon, while the second shall be pertinent to the matter of sexual identity and other relevant matters — with the aim being to explore the traditional Islāmic position on sodomy and same-sex attraction and its relation to the modern world, and respond to common contentions and allegations against Islām in light of the issue.
The Islāmic Position
Sodomy, or liwāṭ as it is called in Islāmic legal terminology, is defined briefly as the act of penetrative intercourse into the anus by the penis. The Mālikī school limited this term to refer only to such an act between men, but the Ḥanafī, Shāfi’ī, and Ḥanbalī schools considered such an act with a woman outside of a legal relationship to be liwāṭ as well. When speaking of liwāṭ, jurists viewed as a physical act and did not define it in the sense of attraction or sexuality.
The term liwāṭ is derived from the Qur’ānic tale of Lūṭ, where the people of Lūṭ were blamed for engaging in this act, in verses like the following:
Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.1
Why do you ˹men˺ lust after fellow men. leaving the wives that your Lord has created for you? In fact, you are a transgressing people.2
The theological source texts of Islām – The Holy Qur’ān itself, and the Sunnah which encompass the teachings and lived example of the Emissary ﷺ – prohibit liwāṭ both directly and indirectly. Due to this, the jurists arrived at a consensus concerning the general prohibition and moral blameworthy-ness of liwāṭ, though they differed on the legal consequences that could entail from it.
The direct evidence for its prohibition were the Qur’ānic verses that were quoted initially for the etymology of the word liwāṭ. The indirect evidence is the general framework of marriage in Islām.
The Framework of Marriage in Islām
There is a clear image of a male and a female partner in the two forms of relationship – marriage and concubinage – that the Divine Law recognises as licit and legal, marriage being the primary form. This image can be outlined through observing the type of conditions that the Law lays down for both the establishment and the continuity of either of these relationships, especially marriage.
To illustrate, the validity of a marriage contract relies on the existence of a dower which is a sum of bridal money given by the husband to the wife for her use. In addition, the contract includes such details as the husband being legally obligated to maintain the wife in her housing, her sustenance, and her entertainment.
These two Divine Commands necessitate that a woman receive certain privileges from her partner. It is the male, described as the qawwam in the Qur’ān, who is obliged to provide these to his female partner. Similarly to these two conditions, there are other rulings — such as in the expression of divorce, the permission of multiple wives, and so on — where the Qur’ān and Sunnah have the clear expectation of a male and a female participant in a marital relationship.
Furthermore, the sort of language that the Qur’ān and Sunnah discuss legal relationships with clearly speaks only of relationships between opposite sexes. The Qur’ān and Sunnah are both keenly interested in discussing the legal details of such relationships, going to the effort of clearly outlining them, establishing specific rulings, conditions, and prohibitions, as well as illustrating a vision of an ideal marriage. In all of these, the Qur’ān explicitly pairs husbands and wives together, while staunchly ignoring same-sex relationships.
Indeed, the Qur’ān has verses addressing specific real-life scenarios that would occur between a husband and wife, but nothing for same-sex relations. It has verses on spiritual exhortations towards husbands or wives in relation to their behavior towards their opposite sex partners, and it has verses like exhorting men to ask for wives and children that cause them joy, but it does not speak at all on the appearance and correct ideal of a spiritual relationship between two people of the same sex.
The Qur’ān is meant to be a full and all-encompassing guide in the lives of Muslims. If Allāh ignores a matter, it has severe ramifications in Islāmic law and spirituality. It in fact becomes impossible to recognise and codify same sex relations into law and spiritual guidance.
It is clear from this then that the Divine Law has its own vision of a human society and the proper relationships that occur within it. It only recognizes relationships between partners of opposite sexes as legitimate in the societal vision that the Divine Law wishes to instill.
On the notion that liwāṭ causes no harm
The contention that liwāṭ (anal intercourse) causes no harm is quite frankly one of the weakest contentions that proponents of the practice can possibly formulate and have formulated, as the clarity of the harms resulting from the act should render it surprising that such an objection is being dealt with separately to begin with. The act, to begin with, will result in a physically disordered state in the rectal area of the passive partner. There is even a distinct possibility of severe bleeding and injury occurring, which typically occur due to anal tears (since the tissue inside the rectal canal is delicate), acute constipation, or dilated veins, such that medical treatment would be immediately required to avoid major complications. Repetitive engagement in the act can also lead to fecal incontinence due to the weakening of the anal sphincter.3,4
It is important to ensure the proper function of each organ of the human body, as diseases or abnormalities are identified, quite clearly, when the organs are not functioning in accordance with their general nature. Sexual organs, in this regard, are not exceptional. Anal intercourse, it needs to be indicated, almost always results in a physically disordered state in the anorectal area (and possibly the penile area of theactive partner), thus introducing an abnormality which was originally not present in the passive partner simply for the sake of pleasure. This hedonistic line of thought merely serves to bring detriment, as is well-established by observable scientific evidence:
The optimal state of health of the anus requires the integrity of the skin, which acts as the primary protection against invasive pathogens … Failure of the mucous complex to protect the rectum is seen in various diseases contracted through anal intercourse. The act of intercourse abrades the mucous lining and delivers pathogens directly to the crypt and columnar cells allowing for easy entry … The mechanics of anoreceptive intercourse, as compared to vaginal intercourse, almost demands the protecting cellular and mucous protection of the anus and rectum. 5
Any sense of human bodily functions would reveal the absurdity of claiming any physical normality of the act. Allowing such harms or risks or harms to not materialize leads to an unnatural state, and thus it is clear that the natural state of the body requires limiting human harm, encouraging proper physical functioning, safeguarding against disordered or improper use of sexual organs and making man function according to his physical makeup.
Furthermore, not only is there the short term likelihood of it causing harm, but there is also long term harm in the propensity to transfer sexually transmitted diseases. It has been observed by numerous studies that anal intercourse in particular has more STD risks associated with it than vaginal intercourse, for example, it being the highest risk activity for spreading HIV.6,7,8
The risks of all of these can obviously be mitigated to an extent by various modern methods, however the point stands that without active intervention and consistent management, there are problems with anal intercourse. There is a constant risk of various forms of harm, and when some harm does occur — as it most likely would for someone who consistently engages in liwat — then it becomes something that involves society at large, as the help of society is required to mitigate the harm, and to heal the damage.
Even if, hypothetically, liwāṭ caused no harm, then it must be said as well that an act need not cause harm to be morally blameworthy. Necrophilia, for example, does not harm the one who experiences such desires and acts upon them, and society does not consider the dead to see or feel, or be harmed by the living, but this does not render the act irreprehensible. If the permissibility of an action is contingent upon its entailment of pleasure and lack of harm, then the opposition would need to justify, for the sake of consistency, why all rational human beings — including the same individuals who attempt to provide justifications for sodomy — find the aforementioned to be vulgar. If it is said that there are additional principles, such as respect for the dead, that qualify the initial principle, then it has been conceded that lack of harm is not the sole governing moral principle regarding sexual matters.
On the notion that liwāṭ will naturally be committed
There is an argument that liwāṭ is benign due to it being merely an expression of a natural instinct. Even accepting this claim at face value would not pose an issue for our tradition, as given our moral standard — which we derive directly from the commandments of Allāh — the naturalness of such inclinations is irrelevant due to the assignment of a moral verdict concerning a particular act being independent of its naturalness. Assigning such a dependency would lead to committing the naturalistic fallacy.9 Selfish behavior, tyranny, greed, and other such dispraised behaviors are “natural” and common in our species, yet they are widely accepted as immoral and spiritually unsound. If liwāṭ was to be classified as “moral” due to its purported “naturalness”, there is little preventing us from extending the same line of reasoning to the same morally corrupt characteristics mentioned prior. Allāh is not obliged to command only in favor of that which is natural, and, as such, His commands need not be perfectly in harmony with the naturalness of a state.
Furthermore, for such a proposition to be meaningful, one must define what is “normal” in terms of human sexual behavior. The definition provided by the likes of Kinsey and other APA (American Psychiatric Association) authors is that there is a normal continuum of sexual attractions, given that some experience sexual attraction towards the same gender.10 The existence of a certain behavior in society, however, does not imply its normalcy. Xenomelia,11 for example — a body integrity identity disorder characterized by the desire to cut off one’s limbs due to non-acceptance — is existent, and can be present from birth, and can lead to an “impressive improvement of quality of life” for those with the condition who fulfill arising urges.12 Despite its existence, it is classified as a disorder, and those with this condition are advised to seek treatment. If the normalcy of acting on SSA is to be argued for via employing the point that it is a “natural” behavior, it would necessitate the one making the argument towards extending the same line of reasoning for those suffering from xenomelia, given that self-amputation, in such cases, which is both present from birth and results in a higher quality of life, would also a fortiori be considered normal and natural human behavior.13
The claims of normal and completely healthy natural behavior lack, evidently, proper evidence or clearly defined terms void of double-standards when encountering other actions such as cannibalism, pedophilia or extremely violent sexual tendencies. Merely because something is observed in society or found to be a desire that is present from the onset of birth does not make it normal, or protect it from being classified as abnormal and disordered human behavior or desire.
This claim can also be challenged from a teleological perspective. It seems Allāh clearly designed the human body in line with His Law. Not only does going against the Law give rise to risks and harms, but following it also results in proper physical functioning, safeguarding against disordered or improper use of sexual organs and making man function according to his physical makeup.
When speaking of the nature of liwāṭ, we must ask ourselves firstly the function of the area in question and whether the human anatomy functions in a way for the anus to be used as a place to insert the phallus of a man.
Knowledge of the human bodily functions reveals the absurdity of claiming any physical normality of anal intercourse. Semen, for example, is clearly meant for a female organ. The body has within it many types of fluids, such as plasma and saliva. These fluids have proper functions, like in the case of plasma, it transports blood cells and nutrients to other parts of the body. Semen too has proper functions. It has within it cells called spermatozoa, and those have a discernible location that they are designed to be transported to, that is to say, the female cervical area.
An orderly penetrative sexual act of a male then, would be one in which the semen is deposited in the aforementioned area. Hence normative sexual behavior is one in which the semen functions properly by delivering spermatozoa to its proper place. Liwāṭ then goes against this proper behavior of the human body, instead involving the body in the orifice of feces, and very likely getting one’s body soiled in filth.
Clearly then, abiding by the Islāmic moral ideal is to our own benefit. A marriage done in the proper manner with the male and female partners known and properly medically examined, will result in two clean individuals, a male and female, engaging in safe sexual practices, with little risk of either harming each other or spreading diseases. For the sake of succinctness, this particular matter shall be concluded here.
On the notion that the punishment is backwards and barbaric
In regards to this particular contention, we merely respond by the fact that barbarity, cruelty or harshness does not equal falsity in any sense. Secondly what might be lenient for one group of individuals, can be barbaric for another, for example the capital punishment is seen as barbaric by many European people but regardless it is also seen as completely just by the majority of the world, many times it is seen by individuals as not just enough. It must be pointed out that what is just for modern secular law is that which the public feels has accurately punished the criminal and given retribution to society, and this since based upon the public views is subjective and changing, hence not a meaningful contention in any respect.
Furthermore, it must also be pointed out that given modern legal theory, a legal system is not judged upon the punishments that it forwards, rather it is judged upon the how well it fulfills its aims, objectives, purposes and instills a rule of law, the particular method or severity of punishment is irrelevant to the overall efficiency or successful nature of the law.
To elucidate briefly on how the punishment has its place in the sharī’ah, and how it helps mold society in accordance with what the law envisions, the harshness or brutality of the punishment are not factors that Muslims have overlooked, as the wisdom that such punishments serve as deterrents have not escaped the minds of our scholars. This is further made evident by merely being aware of the sheer evidence required for the punishment to be actualized, which in the case of the act of sodomy is four upright14 male witnesses to see the actual act of penetration with their own eyes. Clearly, it is not the case that Islām is eager to punish every individual who has committed crimes deserving of ḥudūd, but that the punishments themselves are to be averted unless conditions that absolutely necessitate it are met. This understanding is further made clear by the ḥadīth narrated by Abū Hurayrah that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Ward off the ḥudūd punishments as much as you are able.”15 As such, from over three centuries of legal data, we have only a handful of cases where the ḥudūd was applied. If we were to look at Islāmic history as a whole, they were seldom carried out, especially in the cases of adultery or sodomy,16 as will be discussed in further detail later.
On the notion that it is cruel to disallow those with SSA to fulfill their sexual desires
Controlling one’s desires, in Islām, whether they be of a sinister or even a permissible nature, is important in strengthening one’s connection with Allāh and for spiritual growth as an individual. This principle is not necessarily exclusive to Islām, but rather is taught by all religious traditions in one form or another, and is considered an exercise of self-improvement from a psychological perspective as well.17 Addiction to pornography, for example, will lead one to watch explicit content on a regular basis to satisfy his urges. The individual suffering from the addiction will thus operate on the pleasure principle, and will strive to fulfill his immediate desires. Such behavior may lead to, and often leads to, problems faced by porn addicts such as depression, relationship dissatisfaction, infidelity, and anxiety. Then we may consider the case of one suffering from pedophilia, whose desires are no less real than those possessed by heterosexual individuals. He will not, however, be given a route to — and nor would anyone even be willing to consider giving him a route to — fulfill his desires with minors, and thus it will be necessary on his part to control his urges rather than acting upon them. The mere possession of an urge does not and should not imply the permissibility of acting upon it.
Clearly then self-control is paramount in battering oneself both physically and spiritually. It might take the form of abstaining from food in order to have a more healthy body, going to sleep earlier to avoid being late for work, or merely to control one’s temper to better get along with one’s family. Regarding spirituality in particular, even the question of the immorality of the desire is not necessarily relevant, as we can see that nuns avoid any sexual relationship and Buddhists abstain from even healthy food, not due to any negatively associated with the indulgence of such activities or substances but rather merely to establish control over oneself and one’s desires, whether they are acts that are impermissible and immmoral acts, or permissible and moral. This is all in an attempt to better discipline one’s mind and inward nature, and to gain spiritual maturity. The exercise of self-discipline to great limits is as old as man, and hence a contention merely pertaining to the freedom of exercising a desire is not only rationally unsound but also advocating for a radical freedom will result in spiritual death, which in turn will result in unhealthy mental and physical habits, potentially even leading into true death.
The Consequences of liwāṭ
The ḥudūd are Divinely Decreed Punishments, and if decreed for a particular impermissible act, they are the severest possible sentences that can be given for them. For those acts they serve as the upper threshold for possible sentences, and consequently have evidence requirements that are commensurable to that maximum severity. The ḥadd sentences for liwāṭ in the Mālikī, Shāfi’ī, and Ḥanbalī Schools are derived from the ḥadd punishment for zinā, or pre- and extra-marital sexual intercourse, along with other aḥādīth that explicitly address the matter. It must be reasserted that the punishment is applied on the individual who has committed sodomy, rather than the one who merely possesses SSA but does not act upon such. The main positions of the four schools are as follows:
The mu’tamad position held by the school is that the one who commits liwāṭ is to be punished in the same manner as all pre- and extramarital illicit intercourse is punished, i.e., if he is married, he is to be stoned, and flogged otherwise.18
The position of the Mālikī school is to stone them in all cases, just like the adulterer.19
The position in the Shāfi’ī school is to stone the active partner like the adulterer, and to flog the passive partner like the one who engages in premarital intercourse. Both are punishments that exist for regular zinā.20
The position of the Ḥanafī school is that the punishment is up to the discretion of the judge (ta’zīr), what he considers best based on the context and situation. Taking the position of Abū Ḥanīfa (with whom Muḥammad al-Shaybānī and Abū Yūsuf disagreed on this particular point), they do not impose a ḥadd.21
The other three schools also return to ta’zīr if the judge concludes not awarding the ḥadd sentence. The ḥudūd are established for the most profane, shameless, and open displays of the illegal act that is liable. In regards to liwāṭ, the ḥadd is only imposed when it was done in a manner that would expose the participants to the witnessing of four discernibly pious, reputably honest, righteous men of their community, with there being no additional factors that could throw their imprecations to doubt. Regardless, even today most participants in liwāṭ acts do so in the privacy of their homes, thus rendering self-incrimination the only course of action that can be taken for the ḥadd to be received. If this threshold of evidence is not met, and other evidence such as less than four men testifying or video-tapes, then the judge would punish such an act with ta’zīr.
This should serve to dispel the quite nonsensical claim that a Muslim polity would kill an individual with same-sex attractions simply “for existing”, when it reality (1) the punishment is not imposed for merely having such inclinations, (2) it is not agreed upon whether even those who engage in sodomy should be executed, and (3) when the criteria to be fulfilled for the imposition of the ḥadd are incredibly difficult to meet.
- Mary Anne Dunkin, “Anal Sex Safety: What to Know,” WebMD.
- A. Daniilidis, N. Panteleris, and N. Symeonidis, “Rectovaginal tear after sexual intercourse in a young woman-a case report,” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- Beck, David E., et al., eds. The ASCRS textbook of colon and rectal surgery. Springer New York, 2011.
- “CDC Fact Sheet: What Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men Need to Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- N. Padian, L. Marquis, D.P. Francis, et al., “ Male-to-female transmission of human immunodeficiency virus,” National Library of Medicine.
- Roland Assi, Peter W Hashim, Vikram B Reddy, “Sexually transmitted infections of the anus and rectum,” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- The contention, furthermore, commits the naturalistic fallacy, which, by definition, would imply that the naturality of an act necessarily implies that the act is necessarily good. An act being a part of normative human behavior is irrelevant to its moral classification.
- “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality,” American Psychological Association.
- Hilti, L. M., et al. “The desire for healthy limb amputation: structural brain correlates and clinical features of xenomelia. Brain J. Neurol. 136, 318–329.” (2013).
- Rianne M. Blom, Raoul C. Hennekam, Damiaan Denys, “Body Integrity Identity Disorder,” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- If one wishes to encounter other contentions given to the Apa arguments for the normality of homosexuality, this article is of great quality in the matter.
- Righteous, known not to lie, of sound age, cross examination, etc.
- Sunan Ibn Majah 2545
- “Ḥudūd.” Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0322.
- Shahram Heshmat, “Desire Management,” Psychology Today.
- Al-Buhūtī, Kashshāf al-Qinā’, 6/94
- Muwaṭṭa Mālik, Book 41, Ḥadīth 1513
- Ibn al-Naqīb al-Miṣrī, ‘Umdat al-Sālik, 237
- Abū’l-Ḥusayn al-Qudūrī, Mukhtaṣar al-Qudūrī, 197