Author(s): Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle
Report Published: 5th July 2016
Quake Magnitude: 5.2
In light of the Orlando attack on the LGBT community during Ramadan 2016, I feel it a duty of QUAKE Books to bring to the world’s attention Kugle’s critical, highly necessary, and extremely brave analysis of homosexuality and transgenderism within Islamic texts, decrees and community practices.
Inspired by the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Hazm, who took great offense at the adding/changing of emphasis to reflect political and patriarchal values rather than the will of God, this book represents an alternative, highly academic, opinion of the reality of Quranic and Hadith interpretations on aspects relating to sexuality and gender, which have often been considered from an overwhelming patriarchal perspective. Perhaps the best example of this, and the one fundamental to the argument Kugle constructs, is the proclamation of the Arabic term liwat, meaning sodomy, to sentence people to death, despite the fact that the word does not appear in the Quran and reliable Hadith at all, but is rather interpreted to mean, wrongly in my eyes, amal ahl Lut (the deeds of the people of Lot).
The problem with this book, excepting the chapter on transgenderism and transsexuality, which is a topic made easier by the Prophet’s (PBUH) interaction with such individuals, as recorded in the Hadith, and supported by the Shia ruling and practice in Iran, is that it is so academic that most people, even if sympathetic to the plight of LGBT Muslims will struggle to incorporate Kugle’s teachings into their understanding of a progressive Islam. In that respect, I can see this book as a mere prop used at dinner table conversations to defend a certain theoretical position rather than stimulate real change where it is needed.
Another concern I have is that Kugle more or less states that the Quran is pro-homosexuality in all its forms, as opposed to LGBT identity. And in which case, he is as guilty as the neo-traditionalists he reprimands of reading into the text a sentiment that isn’t there to support his own bias, therein losing credibility. I also think that this book fundamentally fails to call LGBT people into action when it comes to taking back their community from those within it who proudly partake in debauchery and acts that go against the idea of faithfulness and family values in search for hedonistic fulfilment. When such lifestyles are those which are championed and embellished by The Guardian and The Huffington Post, as symbols of freedoms from “oppression”, it is hard to see how Muslims and even atheists my parents’ age can be asked to condone such behaviour and accept it as just one of the more “colourful” tones of the human existence.
That said, and despite its shortcomings, Kugle’s book is an important one to have on the shelf and I am glad it exists because it is right to call for dialogue, as an important step in securing legal freedoms for LGBT Muslims around the globe and providing them with a legitimate means within an Islamic framework to do so.
“Some earthquakes destroy whilst others remove obstacles shaking down mountains that previously seemed unmovable.”
“It is always human beings who speak for the Qur’an – they interpret its words according to their own commitments and political positions.”
“Reading the Qur’an is the key to liberating oneself from the prejudice of others, for it puts one in direct communication with God”.
The QUAKE moments came not in direct reading of the book but the reflections and conversations that resulted from reading it. It did change my perspective on the dangers of translation and how Islamic law is established, which built on the previous knowledge acquired in reading If the Oceans Were Ink. I guess a lot of others, Muslim and non-Muslim would be shocked that this book exists and by the conclusions it draws.
As I stated in the field survey, I cannot say I agree with everything and I was certainly careful in my critical thinking of both sides of the argument. I can only wish that others would follow suit and grapple with this book’s content as much as I did, to come to a conclusion that will support LGBT legal rights such as property inheritance or status as a couple, but not advocate all public acts and behaviours that serve to undermine or encroach upon the rights of others.
I will definitely continue to learn about Ibn Hazm and research more critically the background of any Quran translator before accepting their interpretation into how I view my relationship with Allah – the relationship that really matters above all others.