Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Islamic" Rulings on Muslim lesbians' Interactions with Other Muslim Women

A Google Image (not mine)
I've often wondered what the Islamic injunctions are on lesbian Muslims' interactions with other (Muslim) women. When around female homosexuals, can heterosexual Muslim females show their hair and other body parts that're allowed to be seen by other women? What exactly is their legal status in Islamic thought? I know they're not "supposed to exist," so, to my knowledge as of now, no discussion of female homosexuality exists in early/medieval scholarship, but what about today? Would they be treated as "males" (God, this sounds so wrong to say! But I promise I have a point. Just read on. Thankz.), since they, like heterosexual males, can be attracted to females, or are they still treated as females? But speaking of attraction ... actually, turns out, Islamic scholarship allows people to be attracted to or to desire someone of the same sex--just don't act upon that desire. We'll talk about this in another blog entry, though. For now, dear qrratu, please just stick to this issue of homosexuality among Muslims and how they are to "behave" around others, especially of members of the same sex and/or gender.

According to the Islamic rules on gender interaction, women are required to cover only from navel to knee when around other women. Men have to cover from navel to knee wherever they are, whether around women or men. But the idea behind the women's ruling is that they may have to nurse a child in the company of other women, so to forbid them from showing their chests, too, would cause them unease in such situations. They therefore do not have to cover their chest even when not breastfeeding.

A teacher of mine once shared something very interesting with her students in a class on Islamic Law, during a discussion on gender interactions and how the classical/medieval rules are dealt with in contemporary times with new situations and questions, especially that of modern media (how is gender interaction supposed to work online, for example? Does a female need a chaperone when chatting with an unrelated male online? Or when emailing him? What about when Muslims seek their marriage partners online: do their online "hang-outs" need to be chaperoned, since mainstream (Sunni) Islam prohibits women and men to be alone with each other even during their meetings to determine whether they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other? Things like this.) She said that she had gone to a Muslim camp, and, of course, the males and the females had separate tents to stay in. And there was at least one lesbian Muslim there, who didn't keep her sexual identity a secret any longer. (Most of them do.) But unfortunately, there were too many questions for the other women to let her stay with them, so she had to leave. The questions included: "Can we show our hair in front of her? Should she be sleeping in the men's tent or the women's tent? How do we behave around her? Should we give the lesbian her right to stay with us and enjoy the camping experience at the expense of making every other woman here uncomfortable?" And, of course, she wouldn't be allowed in the men's tents because she's not a man or a male. They had to kick her out of the camp so that everyone could be comfortable.

Basically, how are orthodox/mainstream Islamic rules regarding gender interactions negotiated by Muslim homosexuals, especially Muslim female homosexuals? I imagine the answer(s?) might be one (some?) of the following:

1. Psssh - there's no such thing as lesbian Muslims! They don't exist, dude. [But we know they exist. Whether you approve of their sexuality or not isn't the point here; it's their interactions with other women that is of interest to me. Besides, you didn't answer the question.]

2. No, lesbian Muslims may not interact with or hug other women because they (the lesbians) have the tendency to fall in love with other women, and when people fall in love--the same way that when men and women fall in love-- it results in something called "fitna" (social chaos, disorder in society!), which is precisely why men and women are not allowed to interact with each other in "Islam" unless they are being chaperoned by some adult(s).

3. Yes, lesbians may interact with and even hug other (Muslim) women because, even if they do fall in love with the heterosexual women, it's not like they can have babies! So there'll technically be no fitna. That occurs only and only when the "lovers" are of opposite sexes. Besides, male sexuality is stronger, more dangerous than female sexuality, and the main reason women and men don't mingle--or are not supposed to--is because of men's hypersexuality. But, obviously, there's no such thing is female hypersexuality, so there's no issue here. [Yet, we know this is totally untrue, this claim about "men's sexuality being more dangerous than female sexuality." For evidence, please click here.]

I hope everyone noted that all of these potential answers imply that lesbians, whether Muslims or not, are just ready to jump on any woman available to them. But unfortunately, these potential responses do actually reflect the reality of the way that answers are framed by Muslim clerics and even scholars. For more on how people always imagine homosexuals indulging in sexual activities and thoughts but basically never imagine the same when heterosexuals are in question, please click here. No, folks, homosexuals aren't always looking for opportunities to sleep around! They're normal people like you and me and other heterosexuals, and it's extremely offensive to them when we center our thoughts and responses that address them or issues about them on our false belief that they are more sexually active than heterosexuals. But this is beside the point. We should discuss this another time--do remind me, please.

The same questions can be asked about male homosexual Muslims: how are they supposed to interact with other (Muslim) men? I imagine it's not as tough, though, because a man's outer piety cannot be judged to the same extent or as badly as a woman's. (Men don't have to wear a headcovering, and men don't have most of the restrictions that women have when interacting with others or in public; so the issue of "how do I behave around this Muslim gay?" may not arise to the extent that it does and can for women.)

What is also interesting is that this discussion, these questions, would in a very important way question mainstream Islamic concepts of hijab, pardah (basically hijab, but more importantly the privatization of women's bodies and sexualities), gender segregation, and other normative practices--and, I hope, compel us to ask the deeper meaning behind these issues, why they're important and why practice them, and what they mean or how they are understood in today's constantly-changing world with new questions that are emerging on an almost-daily basis.

As of now, I haven't heard any Muslim televangelists (who often happen to be men) and preachers on this issue, but I'd be interested to hear what they have to say. Not so I can follow their rules and shun my homosexual Muslim friends from my life or treat them like they're something beyond this world, but because I'm interested in the discussions about Muslim homosexuals and the sort of questions being asked and the way they are being answered. I imagine it's pretty bad, though, and my heart goes out to any gay and lesbian Muslims out there. I'm sorry that we don't treat you like real humans....

I was supposed to write on this issue of Islam and homosexuality years ago! And I'm SO sorry I haven't done that yet, y'all. But coming up on this subject: a discussion of this amazing book called Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800 by Khaled El-Rouyaheb. There is SO much information here, all of it so fascinating, much of it so shocking to the Muslim mind who was taught one thing about Islam but then some of the same Muslim scholars (all of whom are males) who developed Islamic law, all these rules on how we're supposed to be around other people and what a woman can and cannot do, are saying other things too ... it's just too interesting not to read, y'all. So, yeah, inshaAllah, the next post on homosexuality among Muslims or in Islam will be on this.

Thanks for reading!

17 comments:

  1. Nice blog Qrratu.
    Being a man, I would be pretty uncomfortable (and scared too lol) sleeping in the same room as a gay man.
    But if I were a woman, I'd have no apprehensions sleeping in the same room as a lesbian, maybe because she can't really DO anything to me. I mean, I won't have to wake up in the middle of the night to something poking me...

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    1. Thanks so much for your response, Sabih :)
      Interesting insight into how you'd feel around a male homosexual vs a female one. What makes you think that the male homosexual would be more like that "DO" anything to you and/or other males around him, btw? Why, do you think, a female homosexual is less likely to do that same thing to you (if you were a female)?

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    2. You're welcome.
      To start with, I assume we both agree that males are sexually far more aggressive than females (thus the rapes and CSA). Consider a straight scenario; A young man and young woman in the same tent, it would take a resolve as firm as that of hazrat Yusuf for the man to not consider DOING anything. Whereas the woman - even if she were veena malik - won't be able to sleep just out of fear.
      Further, considering the fact that 75% of CSA victims are male - implying that majority of suspects are homo or bi - No sir, I ain't sleeping with Mr. Clayton.
      Females on the other hand - straight or otherwise - are pretty pacific in nature and you are pretty safe sleeping with a lesbian.

      Also I think gays need to stop playing the victim card all the time, if someone does not want to hug you or sleep in the same tent it's their choice and you need to stop yelling "homophobe" at every one who does not want you rubbing your pants against his.
      And to be honest, I won't hug eid mubarak with a gay guy. Just like many south-asian females who don't like to hug unrelated guys.

      (keep in mind that I am often called a liberal fascist by my more conservative friends)

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    3. Further to my last comment, I won't hug a gay guy even if I were a female. Would you?

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  2. Sorry, one last thing; One of my teachers at University classified himself as a "bottom gay", apparently the type that "receives" only. We were pretty fine around him for that reason.

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  3. I find this fascinating as a gay man who's been back and forth to the Muslim world for the better part of two decades. For the record, most of my friends don't know "officially" -- we've never discussed it, although I imagine they know there's a reason not to ask, "Hey, you're almost 40, why aren't you married yet?"

    They say, btw, that homophobia is "the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women" - no offence, Sabih! I make no assumptions about your conduct here - but it is interesting to me that it's always assumed that the gay man will be the aggressor. (And maybe in some instances that's true. To me, that's beyond pointless--it's stupid and possibly suicidal.)

    Myself, I am extremely uncomfortable in groups of straight men. While Sabih might be laying awake at night worrying that the gay man in his tent is going to wake him up in amorous pursuit, I'd be laying awake worried that the straight man in mine might beat me up or worse. So, I guess the mistrust goes both ways.

    But, to the topic at hand - I wouldn't expect a Muslimah to remove her scarf around me or treat me "like one of the girls." That's just silly talk!

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  4. Oh Sabih, next time your friends call you a 'liberal fascist', be sure to laugh in their faces. You're in no danger of being mistaken for a liberal. :)

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  5. As someone who wore a scarf for 25 years, I did remove my scarf around gay men, though they were still male friends, not "one of the girls." I don't have any problem with lesbian women interacting with other women the same as straight women. I believe human beings have self-control, that romantic and or sexual impulses are not so powerful that I'd wake up to her (or to a him for that matter) trying to get off on my sleeping body. Rather, I expect that the vast majority of human beings are going to try and find out if you are interested or not before they take action. (Thus conservative, practicing, straight Muslim women would have ample opportunity to say no thanks). The whole premise of this article is a bit perverted.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonnie!

      Interesting thoughts! Thanks for sharing.

      So what did you think the "whole premise of this article" was?

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  6. There is a great deal of homosexuality in the frontier *has borne witness to it* especially in segregated high schools yes both girls and boys when they're separated at "that age" begin to do things to each other (at least the ones with less self control).

    I don't think homosexuality is allowed in Islam but then I'd have issues about somebody who decided not to act a certain way just because a book written by God said not to. In general I'd say homosexuality is unnatural (hence there are less homosexuals than heterosexuals) it isn't something that should be encouraged but neither should it be discriminated against since people's sexual lives are part of their own private sphere. (If gay people choose to upset common dress norms and act silly like a LOT of those in your face gays do then I don't see any reason why people shouldn't treat them differently because it has much less to do with sexual orientation than wanting to know why they feel it's appropriate to wear mankinis)

    As for Gay marriage, if the population wants it then why not? It's something I find odd and don't understand but I feel the same way about all sets of beliefs that aren't my own and am in no position to enforce mine upon anybody else (unless there are good solid social reasons to limit individual liberty). Still if Gay people want to use the term "marriage" for their union I'd advise them to use the terms husband and wife as well since the institution itself comes with that baggage otherwise they are actually undermining the meaning of heterosexual marriage.

    On the other hand they could adopt a new appellation thus clearing up any confusion and solving the issue whereby religious people feel threatened by the misuse of a "word".

    Here in Britain I can't really see any issues. Gay couples can't have children maybe they'll adopt some of those orphans who would otherwise be rotting away on the streets or receiving a lack of parental love in an orphanage. If they're going to be punished leave that stuff to God.

    ...I'll stop before I turn this into a rant on liberalism and its virtues.

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    1. Sup, man! Thanks for your insight! Good stuff!

      Hm... I don't think homosexuality is unnatural; I think it's just as natural as heterosexuality, and we know that it's always existed throughout history. It's just been perceived differently throughout time. But I think it'd be a different argument to say that *it's unnatural, and we know this because there are less homosexuals than heterosexuals.*

      As far as "Islam's" stance on homosexuality - depends on how we define "Islam" or what sources we're using (that is, what kinds of scholarship). For the most part, yes, the consensus is that homosexuality is utterly forbidden. BUT desiring someone of the same sex/gender is not considered homosexuality in Islam/Islamic law/Muslim sources on this matter; what is forbidden is not desiring someone of the same sex/gender but acting on that desire, according to the consensus. Why this is so is a longer discussion, and I hope to write a blog post on it soon, but very briefly: age matters like hell! The scholars seem to say that you can't desire a man your age but you can only desire a younger boy. Qur'anic verses are used to justify this opinion that men desiring younger men/boys is okay (many also said you can also act on the desire when it's for younger boys, just not for older men or men your age!). The age issue has to do with power relations. But the Qur'anic verses referred to are 52:24, which reads, "There will circulate among them [servant] boys [especially] for them, as if they were pearls well-protected"; 56:17, which says, "There will circulate among them young boys made eternal," and so on.

      Interesting stuff, eh!

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    2. I'm interested to ask, and of course you don't have to answer, but do you just read the Quran to find reasons to argue for/against something, or do you still hold to have religious/spiritual vindications, i.e. 'word of god' ?

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    3. Hyde: Is this question meant for me or for the commenter above? Either way, I'm not sure what your question is asking, although I don't mind answering it.

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  7. I am not sure if you are aware of a Muslim "Lesbian" scholar Irshad Manji, but i believe she is hated by a lot! As of this point, all muslim "Scholars" believe that lesbians simply dont exit. You cant reason with the unresonable!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Asim! Much appreciated!

      Ahh - I don't consider Irshad Manji a scholar at all :) I do, however, admire her for her ability to speak openly about issues that concern the whole of the Muslim world and that only few people have the courage to bring up.

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  8. I just wanted to share with you that there is a filmmaker making a documentary on the intersectionality of being Black, lesbian, and Muslim. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9_rGU_vCi1s

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    1. Thank you for sharing this, Tia :)

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Dare to opine :)

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