Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tolerance of Homosexuality in Islam

This was first written in 1998 for bit.listserv.gaynet

jgh wrote:

" Islamic fundamentalists tried to beat up a gay man and
threatened to kill him at a London conference on "Islamophobia",
designed to promote understanding and tolerance of Muslim values,
and attended by Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders.
"The conference declaration claimed that "Islam is wrongly and
unjustly portrayed as barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist,
violent and aggressive".

The rest of the post went on, basically, to claim that this
statement is wrong, noting the dreadful treatment of a gay
activist at the conference.

The issue is not quite so simple, however. Although today Islam
is presented as a Monolithic religion and culture, this has
little relation to Islam's past, and much to to do with a mutally
beneficial collaboration by Western media *and* legalistic
elements within the Islamic world.

The Islam that we hear of - both Shia and Sunni - is presented as
a form of legalistic religious totalitarianism. But this
represents only one aspect of Islam's past and present culture
[an aspect which can be seen in certain historical manifestations
of Christianity, Judaism, "Hinduism", and Buddhism]. In practice,
Islamic culture has exhibited many periods of tolerance,
including tolerance of homosexuality - indeed the poetry of
Islamic Spain is full of such references.

The history of homosexuality in Islamic culture is not reducible
to such periods of "tolerance". The form of Islam known as Sufism
- a form which emphasises love and faith [iman] over submission
[islam] [and iman is used much more frequently in the Qu'ran
than "islam"] - has always been much more open. Sufism is *not*
an obscure mystical movement, but was a dominating force in the
religious life of much of the Muslim world. Outside Saudi Arabia
[which was "cleaned" by anit-Sufi Wahabists in the 19th century],
Islam is still awash in Sufi religiosity - especially the
importance given to saint's tombs and pilgrimmages to them. In
South Asia [India, Pakistan and Bangladesh contain by far the
world's largest number of Muslims], Sufism has proved especially
important. The Sunni religious authorities do not "own" Islam,
any more than the Vatican "owns" the Catholicism of Mexican women
devoted to Our Lady of Guadaloupe.

Unfortunately the post by Outrage bought into this conflation of
legalistic Islamic authoritarianism with Islam as a whole. It
also failed to analyze why immigrant communities often end up
under the control of conservative religious authorities, and
embroiled in the practice of the most conservative elements of a
religious tradition. There has been a lot of sociological study
of this common phenomenon: it seems clear that in immigrant
subcultures, especially when the immigrant group is subject to
discrimination, the complexity of the home society is reduced to
much harsher lines. Homeland political, regional and clam
relationships come to have little role in the new land, but
religious affiliation remains clear. In these circumstances,
immigrant religious leaders acquire a new level of power.

So let's summarize what Islamic culture has actually said and
done about Homosexuality.

M U H A M M A D A N D T H E Q U' R A N

The Qu'ran actually says very little

The following Qu'ranic are often seen verses as relevant to
[texts are from the Qu'ran edition at Virginia Tech's etext

SURA IV: 19-21

19. But whoso rebels against God and His Apostle, and
transgresses His bounds, He will make him enter into fire, and
dwell therein for aye; and for him is shameful woe.
20. Against those of your women who commit adultery, call
witnesses four in number from among yourselves; and if these bear
witness, then keep the women in houses until death release them,
or God shall make for them a way.
21. And if two (men) of you commit it, then hurt them both; but
if they turn again and amend, leave them alone, verily, God is
easily turned, compassionate.

-Note: if Surah 4:21 is about homosexuality, the Qu'ran is
notably less aggressive than the comparable verses in the Book of

SURA VII: 78-84 [On Lot at Sodom]
78. Then the earthquake took them, and in the morning they lay
prone in their dwellings;
79. and he turned away from them and said, 'O my people! I did
preach to you the message of my Lord, and I gave you good advice;
but ye love not sincere advisers.'
80. And Lot, when he said to his people, 'Do ye approach an
abomination which no one in all the world ever anticipated you
81. verily, ye approach men with lust rather than women- nay, ye
are a people who exceed.'
82.But his people's answer only was to say, 'Turn them out of
your village, verily, they are a people who pretend to purity.'
83. But we saved him and his people, except his wife, who was of
those who lingered;
84. and we rained down upon them a rain;- see then how was the
end of the sinners!

See also
SURA XI: 77-84 [On Lot at Sodom]
SURA XXVI: 160-174 [On Lot and Sodom]
SURA XXIX: 28-35 [On Lot and Sodom]

-Note. To western readers the Qur'an is notably repetative.
Muhammad (or, in Muslim eyes, God, the author of the "Qu'ran), in
delivering the various recitations, had some knowledge of the
Five Books of Moses. The same story gets repeated and repeated.
The Sodom story was clearly seen in homosexual terms [Sura 7:81],
but the focus of the story seems to be simply an attack on
wickedness and turning away from God in general.


Although the Qu'ran does not have verse explicitly in favor of
homosexuality, it does have verses which show awareness of male
beauty. These are promises made to Muslim men who make it to

"And there shall wait on them [the Muslim men] young boys of
their own, as fair as virgin pearls."

"They shall be attended by boys graced with eternal youth, who
will seem like scattered pearls to the beholders."


There were varing traditions about homosexuality in Islamic
tradition. What follows is from a post by Kamran Hakim
[] to soc.religion.bahai [in which he is
seeking to show tha Bahai's are unequivocal in their condemnation
of homosexuality, while Muslims were lax.

"References to effeminacy can be found in Islamic Hadith which
is, in a sense, a verification of the account of the New
Testament. Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:

"The Prophet cursed the effeminate men and those women who assume
the similitude (manners) of men. He also said, "Turn them out of
your houses." He turned such-and-such person out, and 'Umar also
turned out such-and- such person. Sahih Bukhari 8.820

There doesn't appear to be too much room for effeminate men
within the Muslim community. However, effeminacy might not
exactly equate with sexual tendencies toward another man.
Furthermore, both the Qur'an and the Hadith deal with male-male
sexual relationship in particular.

"The mentioning of the story of Lot, the nephew of Abraham and
the people of Sodom in the Qur'an appear to imply that Arabs of
the time of Muhammad must have also had similar social norms
regarding sodomy. Else there was no reason for Prophet Muhammad
to repeat, by the virtue of inspiration, the Biblical account of
Sodom and Gomorah in the Qur'an.

"The Qur'an does not directly refer to "lavaat", "sodomy" or the
homosexual act. On the contrary the Qur'an treats this issue in a
peripheral manner. The following verses of that Book describe the
story of "Lot" and the people of Sodom and hint at sodomy by
implication: "For ye practice your lusts on men in preference
to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bonds."
Qur'an 7:81 Moreover;

"-Would ye really approach men in your lust rather than women?
Nay ye are a people grossly ignorant." Qur'an 27:55

-Surih Sho'ara:105 of the Qur'an reiterates further on this same

Imam Ali describes the reason behind the injunction of the Qur'an
against sodomy in a rather practical manner:

"Amir al-mu'menin, peace be upon him, said: Allah has laid
down...abstinence from sodomy for increase of progeny..."
Nahj-ul-Balagha, selection from the preachings of Ali, # 253, p.

Regardless of such admonishment and unlike the severe approach of
the Torah in punishing those guilty of sodomy, the Qur'an appear
to treat this issue in a far more lenient manner than the Torah:

"And as for the two of you [i.e. The sentence structure refers
exclusively to two men and not a man and a woman. KH] who are
guilty thereof [guilty of sexual relationship. KH], punish them
both. And if they repent and improve, then let them be. Lo! Allah
is Relenting, Merciful." Qur'an 4:16

Qur'an while speaking of "punish them both", does not prescribe
any form of punishment, as in the case of adultery, for sexual
relationship between two men and prescribes acceptance of their
repentance. However, there are some Ahadith (i.e. Traditions,
saying of Prophet Muhammad) that prescribe the severe punishment
of the Torah for those guilty of this charge. For example the
following two Ahadith are from Sunan of Abu Dawood vol 4, chapter
on the people of Lot. The Arabic text reads as follows:

"man laata beh ghulaam faqtaloo al-fa'il val-maf'ool."
Which translates to: "When a man commits sodomy with a boy: kill
the doer and the one done to."


"qala an-nabi man vajde tamooh ya'mala 'amale qawme Lot
fa-aqtaloo al-fa'il val-maf'ool."
Which translates to: "Prophet said: He who commits that which
the people of Lot committed [i.e. People of Lot committed Sodomy.
KH]: kill the doer and the one done to."

Since the Qur'an has not clearly prescribed a punishment for
sodomy, some Schools of Thought in Islam have considered sodomy
as "mobaah" [i.e. meaning allowable in an impunible and
indifferent sense.] while others have considered it "jaa'iz"
[i.e. meaning allowable, permissible and lawful.]. For example
Maleki, the founder of the Maleki School of Thought within Sunni
Islam says:

"Having sex with a young man (without beard) is fine for a man
who is not married and who is on a trip."
cit. Hesaam Noqaba'i, Hoquq-i Zan, pp. 126-127 (section on

The Shi'ah books of law also leave the door unlocked for the
cases of "Oops, I forgot! sodomization of boys. The following
Shi'ah ruling hints at this:

"If he has had sexual intercourse with a boy according to
precautionary rule, it becomes unlawful for him forever to marry
the boy's mother, his sister, or his daughters even if they are
boys not adults. If one is married to one of such ladies before
such act, it does not affect the already existing marriage,
although it is a precautionary rule to avoid such marriage.
Extending this rule to the case wherein one doing the act is a
minor the one letting it done to him is an adult, is
objectionable, according to a clear view it does not apply. The
daughter or brothers and sisters of the one letting it done to
him do not become unlawful to one who has done the act."
Islamic Laws of Worship and Contracts, p. 614, CR #1259 Ayatullah
Al-'Uzma Al-Sayyid Muhammad Al-Husayni Shirazi

In the Ottoman Empire the Khalifs use to keep young boys in the
Harems for satisfying their sexual appetites [Such reference may
be found in books such as: "The Spirit of Laws" by Montesquieu
and "Chronichles of Shirly Brothers"]. Within the Iranian society
"bache-bazi" or "sexual play with young boys" has been an under
the carpet social norm for many centuries and the ambiguous
nature of the Qur'anic prescription has not been able to bring
halt to this social illness.

Will Durant refers to this issue in his book "History of
Civilization". He writes:

"Sexual indulgence was apparently more abundant and enervating in
Islam than in Christendom, though it was usually kept within the
orderly limits of polygamy. Turkish society was almost
exclusively male, and since there was no permitted association of
men with women outside the home, the Moslems found companionship
in homosexual relationships, Platonic or physical. Lesbianism
flourished in the zenana."
-Will & Ariel Durant, History of Civilization vol 7 (The Age of
Reason Begins) p. 520 Also;

"The women were 'very richly habited,'wrote Tavernier, and
'little otherwise than the men...They wear breeches like the
men.' The women lived in the privacy of the zenana, and seldom
stirring from their homes, and then rarely on foot. There were
three sexes. Much of the love poetry was addressed by men to
boys, and Thomas Herbert, and Englishman at Abbas' [i.e Shah
Abbas of the Saffavid Dynasty. Their court, saw 'Ganymede boys
in vests of gold, rich bespangled turbans, and choice sandals,
their curled hair dangling about their shoulders, with rolling
eyes and vermilion cheeks.'

Chardin noted a decrease in population in his time and ascribed
it to
First, the unhappy inclination which the Persians have, to commit
that abominable sin against nature, with both sexes [Here he is
referring to sodomy. KH].

Secondly, the immoderate luxury [sexual freedom] of the country.
The women begin there to have children betimes, and continue
fruitful but a little while; and as soon as they get on the wrong
side of thirty they are looked upon as old and superannuated, The
men likewise begin to visit women too young, and to such an
excess, that though they enjoy several, they have never the more
children for it. There are also a great many women who make
themselves abortive, and take remedies against growing pregnant,
because [when] they have been three or four months gone with the
child, their husbands take to other women, holding it ...
indecency to lie with a woman so far in her time.
Despite polygamy there were many prostitutes. Drunkenness was
widespread, though Muhammadan law forbade wine."
Will & Ariel Durant, History of Civilization vol 7 (The Age of
Reason Begins) p. 532

It is important to point out that Durant's observation is not far
from the truth. Perhaps the following quotes from the Shi'ah
compilations offers a certain measure of validity to Durant's

"The woman becomes the owner of the dowry by the contract and it
is reduced by one half by divorce before sex, also because of
death of one party, according to a more clear reason if sex is
performed by the front or back the dowry becomes an established
right and the same rule applies if he tears her virginity by his
finger and without her permission."
Islamic Laws of Worship and Contracts, p. 626, CR #1350 Ayatullah
Al-'Uzma Al-Sayyid Muhammad Al-Husayni Shirazi


[Most of this is from Edward Carpenter's Iolaus, in which he
hides homosexual culture under the guise of "male friendship". I
have "corrected" Carpenter on this]

The honor paid to male love in Persia, Arabia, Syria and other
Oriental lands has always been great, and the tradition of this
attachment there should be especially interesting to us, as
having arisen independently of classic or Christian ideals.

The Sufi poets of Persia, Saadi and Jalalu-ddin Rumi [100] (13th
cent.), Hafiz (14th
cent.), Jami (15th cent.), and others, drew much of their
inspiration from homosexual love and male beauty. The
extraordinary way in which, following the method of the Sufis,
and of Plato, they identify the mortal and the divine love, and
see in their male beloved an image or revelation of God himself,
makes their poems difficult of comprehension to the Western mind.
Apostrophes to Love, Wine, and Beauty often, with them, bear a
frankly twofold sense, material and spiritual. To these poets of
the mid-region of the earth, the bitter antagonism between matter
and spirit, which like an evil dream has haunted so long both the
extreme Western and the extreme Eastern mind, scarcely exists;
and even the body " which is a portion of the dustpit " has
become perfect and divine.

All the texts that follow address homosexual love:-

Jalalu-ddin Rumi

" Every form you see has its archetype in the placeless
From the moment you came into the world of being
A ladder was placed before you that you might escape (
ascend ) .
First you were mineral, later you turned to plant,
[101]Then you became an animal: how should this be a secret
to you ?
Afterwards you were made man, with knowledge, reason, faith;
Behold the body, which is a portion of the dustpit, how
perfect it has grownig
When you have travelled on from man, you will doubtless
become an angel;
After that you are done with earth: your station is in
Pass again even from angelhood: enter thatocean,
That your drop may become a sea which is a hundred seas of '
Oman.' "
From the Divani Shamsi Tabriz of Jalalu-ddin Rumi, trans.
by R. H. Nicholson.

'Twere better that the spirit which wears not true love as a
Had not been: its being is but shame.
Be drunken in love, for love is all that exists.
Dismiss cares and be utterly clear of heart,
Like the face of a mirror, without image or picture.
When it becomes clear of images, all images are contained in

Happy the moment when we are seated in the palace, thou and
With two forms and with two figures, but with one soul, thou
and I."


SOME short quotations here following are taken from Flowers
culled from Persian Gardens
(Manchester, 1872):

"Everyone, whether he be abstemious or self indulgent is
after the Friend. Every place may be the abode of love, whether
it be a mosque or a synagogue.... On thy last day, though the cup
be in thy hand, thou may'st be borne away to Paradise evenfrom
the corner of the tavern."

"I have heard a sweet word which was spoken by the old man
of Canaan (Jacob)-' No tongue can express what means the
separation of friends."

"Neither of my own free will cast I myself into the fire;
for the chain of affection was laid upon my neck. I was still at
a distance when the fire began to glow, nor is this the moment
that it was lighted up within me. Who shall impute it to me as a
fault, that I am enchanted by my friend, that I am content in
casting myself at his feet? "


"A youth there was of golden heart and nature,
Who loved a friend, his like in every feature;
[102] Once, as upon the ocean sailed the pair,
They chanced into a whirlpool unaware.
A fisherman made haste the first to save,
Ere his young life should meet a watery grave;
But crying from the raging surf, he said:
' Leave me, and seize my comrade's hand instead.'
E'en as he spoke the mortal swoon o'ertook him,
With that last utterance life and sense forsook him.

Learn not love's temper from that shallow pate
Who in the hour of fear forsakes his mate
True friends will ever act like him above
(Trust one who is experienced in love);
For Sadi knows full well the lover's part,
And Bagdad understands the Arab heart.
More than all else thy loved one shalt thou prize,
Else is the whole world hidden from thine eyes."
Lov'st thou a being formed of dust like thee
Peace and contentment from thy heart shall flee -
Waking, fair limbs and features shall torment thee;
Sleeping, thy love in dreams shall hold and haunt thee.
Under his feet thy head is bowed to earth;
Compared with him the world's a paltry crust;
If to thy loved one gold is nothing worth,
Why, then to thee is gold no more than dust
[105] Hardly a word for others canst thou find,
For no room's left for others in thy mind."

" Dear Friend, since thou hast passed the whole
Of one sweet night, till dawn, with me,
I were scarce mortal, could I spend
Another hour apart from thee.
The fear of death, for all of time
Hath left me since my soul partook
The water of true Life, that wells
In sweet abundance from thy brook."

Hahn in his Albanesische Studien, already quoted (p. 20), gives
some of the verses of Necin or Nesim Bey, a Turco-Albanian poet,
of which the following is an example:

"Whate'er, my friend, or false or true,
The world may tell thee, give no ear,
For to separate us, dear,
The world will say that one is two.
Who should seek to separate us
May he never cease to weep.
The rain at times may cease; but he
In Summer's warmth or Winter's sleep
May he never cease to weep."


The 19th century translator of the 1001 Nights, Richard Burton
commented on the Qu'ranic passages:
[full text at http://pwh.base.eduburton-te.html]
[For one of the homosexual 1001 stories, see]

"These circumstantial unfacts are repeated at full length in the
other two chapters; but rather as an instance of Allah's power
than as a warning against pederasty, which Mohammed seems to have
regarded with philosophic indifference. The general opinion of
his followers is that it should be punished like fornication
unless the offenders made a public act of penitence. But here, as
in adultery, the law is somewhat too clement and will not convict
unless four credible witnesses swear to have seen rem in re. I
have noticed (vol. i. 211) the vicious opinion that the Ghilman
or Wuldan, the beautiful boys of Paradise, the counterparts of
the Houris, will be lawful catamites to the True Believers in a
future state of happiness: the idea is nowhere countenanced in
Al-Islam; and, although I have often heard debauchees refer to
it, the learned look upon the assertion as scandalous. "

Burton later addressed the issue of homosexuality, which came up
repeatedly in the 1001 Nights.

"We must not forget that the love of boys has its noble
sentimental side. The Platonists and pupils of the Academy,
followed by the Sufis or Moslem Gnostics held such affection,
pure as ardent, to be the beau idéal which united in man's soul
the creature with the Creator. Professing to regard youths as the
most cleanly and beautiful objects in this phenomenal world, they
declared that by loving and extolling the chef-d'^Üuvre, corporeal
and intellectual, of the Demiurgus, disinterestedly and without
any admixture of carnal sensuality, they are paying the most
fervent adoration to the Causa causans. They add that such
affection, passing as it does the love of women, is far less
selfish than fondness for and admiration of the other sex which,
however innocent, always suggest sexuality; and Easterns add
that the devotion of the moth to the taper is purer and more
fervent than the Bulbul's love for the Rose. "

[Burton also mentions the history of lesbianism in the Muslim
world, but does not pursue it - "The Arabic Sahhákah, the
Tractatrix of Subigitatrix, who has been noticed in vol. iv. 134.
Hence to Lesbianise (lesbizein) and tribassare (tríbesthai) the
former applied to the love of woman for woman and the latter to
its mécanique: this is either natural, as friction of the labia
and insertion of the clitoris when unusually developed; or
artificial by means of the fascinum, the artificial penis (the
Persian 'Mayájang'); the patte de chat, the banana-fruit and a
multitude of other succedanea. As this feminine perversion is
only glanced at in The Nights I need hardly enlarge upon the

Of his own period, Burton notes:

"In old Mauritania, now Morocco, the Moors proper are notable
sodomites; Moslems, even of saintly houses, are permitted openly
to keep catamites, nor do their disciples think worse of their
sanctity for such license: in one case the English wife failed to
banish from the home 'that horrid boy'."

"..when Sonnini travelled (A.D. 1717). The French officer, who is
thoroughly trustworthy, draws the darkest picture of the
widely-spread criminality especially of the bestiality and the
sodomy (chapt. xv.) which formed the 'delight of the Egyptians.'
During the Napoleonic conquest Jaubert in his letter to General
Bruix (p. 19) says, 'Les Arabes et les Mamelouks ont traité
quelques-uns de nos prisonniers comme Socrate traitait, dit-on,
Alcibiade. Il fallait périr ou y passer.' Old Anglo-Egyptians
still chuckle over the tale of Sa'id Pasha and M. de Ruyssenaer,
the highdried and highly respectable Consul-General for the
Netherlands, who was solemnly advised to make the experiment,
active and passive, before offering his opinion upon the subject.
In the present age extensive intercourse with Europeans has
produced not a reformation but a certain reticence amongst the
upper classes: they are as vicious as ever, but they do not care
for displaying their vices to the eyes of mocking strangers."

"Syria has not forgotten her old 'praxis.' At Damascus I found
some noteworthy cases amongst the religious of the great Amawi
Mosque. As for the Druses we have Burckhardt's authority (Travels
in Syria, etc., p. 202) 'unnatural propensities are very common
amongst them.'

The Sotadic Zone covers the whole of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia
now occupied by the 'unspeakable Turk,' a race of born pederasts;
and in the former region we first notice a peculiarity of the
feminine figure, the mammae inclinatae, jacentes et pannosae,
which prevails over all this part of the belt. Whilst the women
to the North and South have, with local exceptions, the mammae
stantes of the European virgin,[39] those of Turkey, Persia,
Afghanistan and Kashmir lose all the fine curves of the bosom,
sometimes even before the first child; and after it the
hemispheres take the form of bags. This cannot result from
climate only; the women of Maratha-land, inhabiting a damper and
hotter region than Kashmir, are noted for fine firm breasts even
after parturition. Le Vice of course prevails more in the cities
and towns of Asiatic Turkey than in the villages; yet even these
are infected; while the nomad Turcomans contrast badly in this
point with the Gypsies, those- Badawin of India. The Kurd
population is of Iranian origin, which` means that the evil is
deeply rooted: I have noted in The Nights that the great and
glorious Saladin was a habitual pederast. The Armenians, as their
national character is, will prostitute themselves for gain but
prefer women to boys: Georgia supplied Turkey with catamites
whilst Circassia sent concubines. In Mesopotamia the barbarous
invader has almost obliterated the ancient civilization which is
antedated only by the Nilotic: the mysteries of old Babylon
nowhere survive save in certain obscure tribes like the
Mandaeans, the Devil-worshippers and the Ali-ilahi. Entering
Persia we find the reverse of Armenia; and, despite Herodotus, I
believe that Iran borrowed her pathologic love from the peoples
of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley and not from the then
insignificant Greeks. But whatever may be its origin, the
corruption is now bred in the bone. It begins in boyhood and many
Persians account for it by paternal severity. Youths arrived at
puberty find none of the facilities with which Europe supplies
fornication. Onanism [40] is to a certain extent discouraged by
circumcision, and meddling with the father's slave-girls and
concubines would be risking cruel punishment if not death. Hence
they use each other by turns, a 'puerile practice' known as
Alish-Takish, the Lat. facere vicibus or mutuum facere
Temperament, media, and atavism recommend the custom to the
general; and after marrying and begetting heirs, Paterfamilias
returns to the Ganymede. Hence all the odes of Hafiz are
addressed to youths as proved by such Arabic exclamations as
'Afaka 'llah = Allah assain thee (masculine) [4l]: the object is
often fanciful but it would be held coarse and immodest to
address an imaginary girl.[42] An illustration of the penchant is
told at Shiraz concerning a certain Mujtahid, the head of the
Shi'ah creed, corresponding with a prince-archbishop in Europe. A
friend once said to him, 'There is a question I would fain
address to your Eminence but I lack the daring to do so.' 'Ask
and fear not,' replied the Divine. 'It is this, O Mujtahid!
Figure thee in a garden of roses and hyacinths with the evening
breeze waving the cypress-heads, a fair youth of twenty sitting
by thy side and the assurance of perfect privacy. What, prithee,
would be the result?' The holy man bowed the chin of doubt upon
the collar of meditation; and, too honest to lie presently
whispered, 'Allah defend me from such temptation of Satan!' Yet
even in Persia men have not been wanting who have done their
utmost to uproot the Vice: in the same Shiraz they speak of a
father who, finding his son in flagrant delict, put him to death
like Brutus or Lynch of Galway. Such isolated cases, however, can
effect nothing.

Chardin tells us that houses of male prostitution were common in
Persia whilst those of women were unknown: the same is the case
in the present day and the boys are prepared with extreme care by
diet, baths, depilation, unguents and a host of artists in
cosmetics. [43] Le Vice is looked upon at most as a peccadillo
and its mention crops up in every jest-book. When the Isfahan man
mocked Shaykh Sa'adi, by comparing the bald pates of Shirazian
elders to the bottom of a lota, a brass cup with a wide-necked
opening used in the Hammam, the witty poet turned its aperture
upwards and thereto likened the well-abused podex of an Isfahani
youth. Another favourite piece of Shirazian
'chaff' is to declare that when an Isfahan father would set up
his son in business he provides him with a pound of rice, meaning
that he can sell the result as compost for the kitchen-garden,
and with the price buy another meal: hence the saying Khakh-i-pai
kahu = the soil at the lettuce-root. The Isfahanis retort with
the name of a station or halting-place between the two cities
where, under pretence of making travellers stow away their
riding-gear, many a Shirazi had been raped: hence 'Zin o takaltu
tu bi-bar' = carry within saddle and saddle-cloth! A favourite
Persian punishment for strangers caught in the Harem or Gynaeceum
is to strip and throw them and expose them to the embraces of the
grooms and negro slaves. I once asked a Shirazi how penetration
was possible if the patient resisted with all the force of the
sphincter muscle: he smiled and said, 'Ah, we Persians know a
trick to get over that; we apply a sharpened tent-peg to the
crupper-bone (os coccygis) and knock till he opens.' A well-known
missionary to the East during the last generation was subjected
to this gross insult by one ofthe Persian Prince-governors, whom
he had infuriated by his conversion-mania: in his memoirs he
alludes to it by mentioning his 'dishonoured person;' but English
readers cannot comprehend the full significance of the
confession. About the same time Skaykh Nasr, Governor of Bushire,
a man famed for facetious blackguardism, used to invite European
youngsters serving in the Bombay Marine and ply them with liquor
till they were insensible. Next morning the middies mostly
complained that the champagne had caused a curious irritation and
soreness in la parte-poste. The same Eastern 'Scrogin' would ask
his guests if they had ever seen a mancannon (Adami-top); and, on
their replying in the negative, a greybeard slave was dragged in
blaspheming and struggling with all his strength. He was
presently placed on all fours and firmly held by the extremities;
his bag-trousers were let down and a dozen peppercorns were
inserted ano suo: the target was a sheet of paper held at a
reasonable distance; the match was applied by a pinch of cayenne
in the nostrils; the sneeze started the grapeshot and the number
of hits on the butt decided the bets. We can hardly wonder at the
loose conduct of Persian women perpetually mortified by marital
pederasty. During the unhappy campaign of 1856-7 in which, with
the exception of a few brilliant skirmishes, we gained no glory,
Sir James Outram and the Bombay army showing how badly they could
work, there was a formal outburst of the Harems; and even women
of princely birth could not be kept out of the officers'

The cities of Afghanistan and Sind are thoroughly saturated with
Persian vice, and the people sing

Kadr-i-kus Aughan danad, kadr-i-kunra Kabuli:
The worth of coynte the Afghan knows: Cabul prefers the
other chose![44]

The Afghans are commercial travellers on a large scale and each
caravan is accompanied by a number of boys and lads almost in
woman's attire with kohl'd eyes and rouged cheeks, long tresses
and henna'd fingers and toes, riding luxuriously in Kajawas or
camel-panniers: they are called Kuch-i safari, or travelling
wives, and the husbands trudge patiently by their sides. In
Afghanistan also a frantic debauchery broke out amongst the women
when they found incubi who were not pederasts; and the scandal
was not the most insignificant cause of the general rising at
Cabul (Nov. 1841), and the slaughter of Macnaghten, Burnes and
other British officers.

Resuming our way Eastward we find the Sikhs and the Moslems of
the Panjab much addicted to Le Vice, although the Himalayan
tribes to the north and those lying south, the Rajputs and
Marathas, ignore it. The same may be said of the Kashmirians who
add another Kappa to the tria Kakista, Kappadocians, Kretans, and
Kilicians: the proverb says,

Agar kaht-i-mardum uftad, az in sih jins kam giri;
Eki Afghan, dowum Sindi,[45] siyyum badjins-i-Kashmiri:
Though of men there be famine yet shun these three
Afghan, Sindi and rascally Kashmiri.

M. Louis Daville describes the infamies of lajore and Lakhanu
where he found men dressed as women, with flowing locks under
crowns of flowers, imitating the feminine walk and gestures,
voice and fashion of speech, and ogling their admirers with all
the coquetry of bayadères. Victor Jacquemont's Journal de Voyage
describes the pederasty of Ranjit Singh, the 'Lion of the
Panjab,' and his pathic Gulab Singh whom the English inflicted
upon Cashmir as ruler by way of paying for his treason. Yet the
Hindus, I repeat, hold pederasty in abhorrence and are as much
scandalized by being called Gand-mara (anus-beater) or Gandu
(anuser) as Englishmen would be. During the years 1843-4 my
regiment, almost all Hindu Sepoys of the Bombay Presidency, was
stationed at a purgatory called Bandar Gharra,[46] a sandy flat
with a scatter of verdigris-green milk-bush some
forty miles north of Karachi the headquarters. The dirty heap of
mud-and-mat hovels, which represented the adjacent native
village, could not supply a single woman; yet only one case of
pederasty came to light and that after a tragical fashion some
years afterwards. A young Brahman had connection with a soldier
comrade of low caste and this had continued till, in an unhappy
hour, the Pariah patient ventured to become the agent. The
latter, in Arab Al-Fa'il = the 'doer,' is not an object of
contempt like Al-Maful = the 'done'; and the high-caste sepoy,
stung by remorse and revenge, loaded his musket and deliberately
shot his paramour. He was hanged by court martial at Hyderabad
and, when his last wishes were asked he begged in vain to be
suspended by the feet; the idea being that his soul, polluted by
exiting 'below the waist,' would be doomed to endless
transmigrations through the lowest forms of life.


As well as poets and philosophers, a number of the the great
heros of Sunni Islam saw no great problem with homosexuality.
Again adapted from Carpenter, the following quotations may afford
some glimpses of interest.

Suleyman the Magnificent was the greatest leader of the Ottoman
Empire - by far the longest lasting of all Muslim states, and for
centuries the leading Bulwark of Sunni Islam. The Story of
Suleyman's attachment to his Vezir Ibrahim is told as
follows by Stanley Lane-Poole:

"Suleyman, great as he was, shared his greatness with a
second mind, to which his reign owed much of its brilliance. The
Grand Vezir Ibrahim was the counterpart of the Grand Monarch
Suleyman. He was the son of a sailor at Parga, and had been
captured by corsairs, by whom he was sold to be the slave of a
widow at Magnesia. Here he passed into the hands of the young
prince Suleyman, then Governor of Magnesia, and soon his
extraordinary talents and address brought him promotion.... From
being Grand Falconer on the accession of Suleyman, he rose to be
first minister and almost co-Sultan in 1523.

"He was the object of the Sultan's tender regard: an emperor
knows better than most men how solitary is life without
friendship and love, and Suleyman loved this man more than a
brother. Ibrahim was not only a friend, he was an entertaining
and instructive companion. He read Persian, Greek and Italian; he
knew how to open unknown worlds to the Sultan's mind, and
Sulevman drank in his Vezir's wisdom with assiduity. They lived
together: their meals were shared in common; even their beds were
in the same room. The Sultan gave his sister in marriage to the
sailor's [107] son, and Ibrahim was at the summit of power."
Turkey, Story of Nations series, p. 174.

It was not only the emperors and religious leaders who were open
to homosexuality. T. S. BUCKINGHAM, in his "Travels in Assyria,
Media and Persia," speaking of his guide whom he had engaged at
Bagdad, and who was supposed to have left his heart behind him in
that city, says [The word "dervish" here refers to a member of a
Sufi sect]:

" Amidst all this I was at a loss to conceive how the Dervish
could find much enjoyment [in the expedition] while laboring
under the strong passion which I supposed he must then be feeling
for the object of his affections at Bagdad, whom he had quitted
with so much reluctance. What was my surprise, however, on
seeking an explanation of this seeming inconsistency, to find it
was the son, and not the daughter, of his friend Elias who held
so powerful a hold on his heart. I shrank back from the
confession as a man would recoil from a serpent on which he had
unexpectedly trodden . . . but in answer to enquiries naturally
suggested by the subject he declared he would rather suffer death
than do the slightest harm to so pure, so innocent, so heavenly a
creature as this....

" I took the greatest pains to ascertain by a severe and
minute investigation, how far it might be possible to doubt of
the purity of the passion by which this Affgan Dervish was
possessed, and whether it deserved ta be classed with that [108]
described as prevailing among the ancient Greeks; and the result
fully satisfied me that both were the same. Ismael was, however,
surprised beyond measure when I assured him that such a feeling
was not known at all among the peoples of Europe."
Travels, Etc., 2nd edition, vol. I, p 159.

" The Dervish added a striking instance of the force of
these attachments, and the sympathy which was felt in the sorrows
to which they led, by the following fact from his own history.
The place of his residence, and of his usual labor, was near the
bridge of the Tigris, at the gate of the Mosque of the Vizier.
While he sat here, about five or six years since, surrounded by
several of his friends who came often to enjoy his conversation
and beguile the tedium of his work, he observed, passing among
the crowd, a young and beautiful Turkish boy, whose eyes met his,
as if by destiny, and they remained fixedly gazing on each other
for some time. The boy, after ' blushing like the first hue of a
summer morning,' passed on, frequently turning back to look on
the person who had regarded him so ardently. The Dervish felt his
heart ' revolve within him,' for such was his expression, and a
cold sweat came across his brow. He hung his head upon his
graving-tool in dejection, and excused himself to those about him
by saying he felt suddenly ill. Shortly afterwards the boy
returned, and after walking to and fro several times, drawing
nearer and nearer, as if [109] under the influence of some
attracting charm, he came up to his observer and said, ' Is it
really true, then, that youlove me? ' ' This,' said Ismael, ' was
a dagger in my heart; I could make no reply.' The friends who
were near him, and now saw all explained, asked him if there had
been any previous acquaintance existing between them. He assured
them that they had never seen each other before. ' Then,' they
replied, ' such an event must be from God.'

" The boy continued to remain for a while with this party,
told with great frankness the name and rank of his parents, as
well as the place of his residence, and promised to repeat his
visit on the following day. He did this regularly for several
months in succession, sitting for hours by the Dervish, and
either singing to him or asking him interesting questions, to
beguile his labors, until as Ismael expressed himself, ' though
they were still two bodies they became one soul.' The youth at
length fell sick, and was confined to his bed, during which time
his lover, Ismael, discontinued entirely his usual occupations
and abandoned himself completely to the care of his beloved. He
watched the changes of his disease with more than the anxiety of
a parent, and never quitted his bedside, night or day. Death at
length separated them; but even when the stroke came the Dervish
could not be prevailed on to quit the corpse. He constantly
visited the grave that contained the remains of all he held dear
on [110] earth, and planting myrtles and flowers there after the
manner of the East, bedewed them daily with his tears. His
friends sympathized powerfully in his distress, which he said '
continued to feed his grief ' until he pined away to absolute
illness, and was near following the fate of him whom he
Ibid, p. 160.

"From all this, added to many other examples of a similar
kind, related as happening between persons who had often been
pointed out to me in Arabia and Persia, I could no longer doubt
the existence in the East of an affection for male youths, of as
pure and honorable a kind as that which is felt in Europe for
those of the other sex . . . and it would be as unjust to suppose
that this necessarily implied impurity of desire as to contend
that no one could admire a lovely countenance and a beautiful
form in the other sex, and still be inspired with sentiments of
the most Dure and honorable nature towards the object of his
Ibid, p. 163.

"One powerful reason why this passion may exist in the East,
while it is quite unknown in the West, is probably the seclusion
of women in the former, and the freedom of access to them in the
latter.... Had they [the Asiatics] the unrestrained intercourse
which we enjoy with such superior beings as the virtuous and
accomplished females of our own country they would find nothing
in nature so deserving of their love as these."
Ibid, p. 165.


Some modern Muslim leaders may be very anti-gay, but there is
particular no more reason to agree with these leaders that *they*
are the owners of Islam. Indeed, when one reads attacks on
homosexuality by some modern Mulisms [eg see] what is most
striking is how *little* they can rely on their own tradition,
and how much they have to rely on general anti-homosexual

Paul Halsall

A starting-point for research into Arabic traditions of
male-male erotic/sensual/sexual relationships.

Version 1, May 1995.
@nticopyright - please freely distribute this text

This is just a compilation of information I've had lying
around. I put some of it together in a letter for a fellow scholar,
then thought it should be worked up into a short resource

It reflects my interests in literature and poetry. I'm not
an Arabist, so this isn't comprehensive, and is just meant as a
'launch-pad' for those unfamiliar with the subject and who
can't read arabic...


**The work of NORMAN ROTH is well worth following...

Roth, Norman. Deal Gently With The Young Man - love of boys in Medieval
Hebrew Poetry of Spain.
SPECULUM, 57, 1982. pp.20-51

Roth, Norman. "My Beloved is Like a Gazelle" - imagery of the beloved boy
in Hebrew Religious Poetry.
HEBREW ANNUAL REVIEW, 8, 1984. pp.143-165

Roth, Norman. "The Care and Feeding of Gazelles" - medieval
Hebrew and Arabic Love Poetry. IN: Lazar, M. and Lacy, N.
(Eds) Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages, Fairfax, VA, 1989.

Roth, Norman. Fawn of My Delights - boy-love in Hebrew and Arabic Verse.
IN: Sex in the Middle Ages, New York, 1991. pp.157-172.

Roth, Norman. Boy-love in Medieval Arabic Verse
PAIDIKA, Vol 3, No.3, Winter 1994.

Sikand, Yoginder.
A Martyr for Love - Hazrat Sayed Sarmad, a Sufi gay mystic.
PERVERSIONS, Spring 1995, Issue 4, pp. 149-157

More material on sacred pederasty in the Sufi tradition can
be found in:

Wilson, Peter Lamborn. Scandal : essays in Islamic
heresy. Brooklyn, New York, Autonomedia, c1988. 224 p. Biblio.

**Hakim Bey translated a selection of the poetry of Abu

Bey, Hakim (Ed and Trans.) Nuwas, Abu. O Tribe The Loves Boys - adaptations by Hakim Bey. Gay Men's Press,London, 1993. (Also published in USA I think.)

**An ABU NUWAS SOCIETY has existed since 1990, to cover all
aspects of sexual culture in the Middle East (inc. the Maghreb), and
concentrates on homosexuality.

Abu Nuwas Society - for the study of sexual culture in
the Middle-East. (The Advisory Board looks pretty

Abu Nuwas Society
PO Box 85394
3508 AK Utrecht
The Netherlands

**Some anthologies...

Christman, Henry. M. (Ed.) Gay Tales and Verses from the
Arabian Nights. Edward-William Publishing Company/Banned
Books, USA 1989. 104pp 0-934411-27-1 Trade Paper $7.95

Lacey, E. A. (Translator) The Delight of Hearts: Or,
What You Will Not Find in Any Book. Gay Sunshine Press,
1988. 240pp, illus. ISBN/Price: 0-940567-08-3 Library Binding
$25.00 0-940567-09-1 Trade Paper $14.95

[Al-Tifashi, Ahmad (Compiled by, Preface by); Lacey, E.
A.(Introduction by, ); Khawam, Rene R. (Introduction by).

Reid, Anthony. (Ed.) The Eternal Flame - a world anthology of homosexual verse,
2000 B.C.- 2000 A.D. Volume 1 - Greece,
Italy, Islam, France. New York, Dyanthus Press, 1992.

A couple of examples of Arabic poetry...

Anon (9th Century Arabic)

SURPRISE, SURPRISE (Trans. Derek Parker)

Nizam the pederast, whose delight in boys
Was known throughout Bagdad, one afternoon
In a secluded place saw in a clearing
The flash of limbs behind a nearby bush,
And looking closer came upon a youth
Who seemed more lovely than his dreams had promised,
Lying asleep in shade, his head pressed deep
Into crossed arms, his long slim body
Quite naked, the firm buttocks firmly offered.
Quick as a jackal pouncing, Nizam jumped
Upon the lad, his robe about his waist,
The startled boy pierced by his lusty cock
Before you could say knife. Not until later,
When boy lay panting on the flattened grass,
Did Nizam, pausing to embrace his love,
Discover him a her, surprised but pleased
At having been given such pleasure at a source
No previous lover seemed to know about.

Nizam converted ? Never. But the girl
Now gives her lovers strange instruction.

Abu Nuwas


I said as the narcissus-boy came ambling by,
a peach twirled in his hand:
'What a pity to wait until we offer cash!
Give love its proper due!'
'More pitiful still,' he replied, and chuckled,
'is a penniless flop at the door.'


Make many deletions, Jinan, when you write,
and delete the word, when you do, with your tongue
and, passing deletingly over a word,
draw it close to your beautiful lips;
for I hold, when running over the lines,
the cancelled somethings for a lick:
That - is a kiss from you from afar
which I steal while keeping here to my room.


A boy at blush of dawn
silver in the absolute
in whom the eye beholds
beauty in infinite
poised perfection, eclipsed
in re-creation launching -
so beauty moves in orbits
reborn and unregenerate.

1 comment:

Hushicho said...

Your article here is magnificent! I do a comic called Incubus Tales and was doing some comprehensive reading on the topic of the Thousand and One Nights, and I found your article. It's actually refreshing and gives one quite a lot of hope.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do such painstakingly crafted and marvellously well-composed work!