August 31, 2015
The Futility of Using Religious Interpretation to Defend LGBT

Quoting Quran verses to present Islam as an LGBT-friendly religion is futile and may undermine the real scientific findings.

by Fathul Purnomo
Issues // Gender and Sexuality
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, the world reverberated with “Love Wins” euphoria, as the US Supreme Court’s decision was a victory that legitimized the existence of homosexuality, making the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) less marginalized in society.

Homosexuality is certainly not a phenomenon, but the latest event heated up debates related to the fulfillment of their constitutional rights, including within the religious communities.  Within Islam, some people accept homosexuality and even offer a “radical” religious interpretation that is more accepting of the gay people. An LGBT-friendly mosque was even established in France. But the bulk of the believers continue to oppose LGBT.

Religious scholars have been fiercely debating the legality of LGBT and their rights. Among the fascinating arguments is one that accepts homosexuality based on their interpretation of the  events that happened during the time of Prophet Luth, or Lot, as recorded in the Quran.

In Islam, the record on homosexuality is implied in the punishment of the people of Sodom due to their penchant for “mingling” with the same sex. According to the Quran, this made God angry and punish them for their perversion with fire.

Scholars who prescribe this school of thought argue that the Sodomites were not punished purely because of their homosexual behavior, but because they conducted sexual violence. The Sodomites like to show off their power to newcomers by forcing anal intercourse with them. Within the sociopolitical context of the period, with women in subordinate position to men, this was a specifically male issue. Sodomy is what men do to flex their power. This adds another complication: while homosexuality among men fiercely condemned by the Quran, the book never mentions anything about lesbianism.

This interpretation is the basis of the argument that God never firmly condemns homosexuality. What angers God is the sexual violence committed by the Sodomites to show off their power.

In the Quran, the verse that is often used to explain the harsh punishment from God to the Sodomites is Surah Asy Syu’araa 173:
الْمُنْذَرِينَۖ مَطَرُ فَسَاءَ مَطَرًا عَلَيْهِمْ وَأَمْطَرْنَا
We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): and evil was the shower on those who were admonished (but heeded not)!

But it is worth to note that the previous verses of 165-166 require deeper analysis:
الْعَالَمِينَ مِنَ الذُّكْرَانَنَأَتَأْتُو
“Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males.
عَادُونَ قَوْمٌ أَنْتُمْ ۚبَلْ أَزْوَاجِكُمْ مِنْ رَبُّكُمْ لَكُمْ خَلَقَ مَا وَتَذَرُونَ
"And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!"

The verses show that God does not just hate the sexual violence perpetrated by the Sodomites, but also homosexuality itself. On verse 165, the word that is so generally used is “approach.” Approach can have many meanings, but for me, it does not necessarily have sexual connotation. It can also explain the romance between them. Therefore, the spectrum of same-sex relations banned in the Quran according to this interpretation, extends beyond sexual relationship including also the romantic aspect.

It is told that the men of Sodom preferred to approach other men, that they neglected their wives. The first verse stated that homosexual behavior is prohibited, while the second phrase legitimizes heterosexuality as human nature.

Another verse in the Quran, Surah Al ‘Ankabut 28, also mentions homosexuality:
الْعَالَمِينَ مِنَ أَحَدٍ مِنْ بِهَا سَبَقَكُمْ مَا الْفَاحِشَةَ لَتَأْتُونَ إِنَّكُمْ لِقَوْمِهِ قَالَ إِذْ وَلُوطًا
And [mention] Lot, when he said to his people, "Indeed, you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds.”

The focus of the verse is “immorality” and it does not explicitly mention homosexuality. The immoral act is considered homosexuality, as supported by Surah Asy Syu’araa 165, which as it turns out, does not clearly explain whether God prohibits sexual violence, homosexuality or same-sex romance.

This is the reason why I believe that using the interpretation that the Quran only bans sexual violence, not homosexuality is not wise. The verses are too general to be used to interpret this way, and the Quran verses,  which certainly have no scientific basis, can undermine the real scientific finding.  

The argument that the Sodomites were only punished because they conducted sexual violence was made in response to the mounting opposition against LGBT among the Muslims, but it has done little to make Muslims accept homosexuality. On the contrary, it hardens the resistance against homosexuality and many consider the argument to be defiling the religion.

Pro-LGBT scholars should stop responding with scientific arguments to respond to the anti-LGBT scholars who use the verses from the holy book. People who believe something without the basis of reason will be hard to convince with reason.

*This article is originally written in Indonesian. Read it here.

Fathul Purnomo is a full time sleeper and dreamer, and part time student of philosophy at the University of Indonesia. He is also actively participated at the University’s Liberalism and Democracy Study Club. He can be found on Twitter with the handle @purnomousmaw.