I just finished reading a very interesting essay on the interpretation of the story of Lut in the Qur’an. The conclusion that Islam forbids homosexuality comes from interpretations of verses in the Qur’an that talk about the people of Sodom. The essay argued that rather than condemning homosexual acts, God was in fact condemning rape.
This is a very interesting proposition. The essay quotes Al-Kisa’i, a scholar who interprets the Qur’anic verses by telling Lut’s story. He arranges all the verses about Lut in a narrative sequence, buttressed by what the Islamic tradition had preserved of historical and sociological knowledge about the places and societies that existed at the time, of which Sodom was one.
The essay highlights the importance of interpreting verses by taking all other verses into consideration. Thus the method of interpreting a verse as though it is the single existing verse, or interpreting a verse literally, are problematic in the sense that it may exclude information that would change the meaning of the verse.
With the story of Lut, we see that excluding information meant that homosexuality and homosexual acts were condemned. After including other sources of information, as well as all the verses about Lut in the Qur’an, we see that it is possible that homosexual rape is what is being condemned. Those are 2 very different things! The men in Sodom were raping visitors, not having consensual sex with them. Why did commentators not mention that? Why did they choose to condemn all homosexual acts, when that was not necessarily what the people of Sodom were doing?
To see clearly how the jurist’s treatment of this story perverts its deeper meaning, we can compare Lut’s story with that of Salih. Allah sent Salih to the people of Thamud as their Prophet. The people of Thamud were wealthy & arrogant. Salih announced that a certain camel was made sacred and should be allowed to wonder freely, eat and drink on anyone’s land, and be respected by all. The camel stood symbolically for the weak and vulnerable members of society.
The arrogant nobles of the community hamstrung the camel, tied her up, and slaughtered her. As a consequence, their city with all its inhabitants was destroyed by Allah. Why did they kill the camel? To repudiate their Prophet, lower his dignity in the eyes of their fellows, and reject the belief in the One God which was the foundation of his ethical message.
Nobody would take seriously a commentator who presents the people of Thamud as being obsessed by a hatred of camels or a perverted lust for camel blood that corrupted their innermost dispositions. Nobody would take seriously a jurist who argued that killing another’s camel is a capital crime, based on the example of the people of Thamud who were destroyed after killing a camel. Anyone suggesting these interpretations would be laughed out of the mosque, and would be gently reminded that he or she had missed the basic point of Salih’s story.
The same is true for those who miss the point of Lut’s story.
Essay: Sexuality, Diversity and Ethics by Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle.