One week after having come back from the LGBT+ Islam and intersectionality conference. I met a young Arab man who grew up in the Middle East. Being the eager young, lesbian woman who also used to partake in Islamic activism in university, who holds Islam in a high regard in her life, I still had so many questions. It was great that I met other like minded LGBT+ Muslims at the conference. But what still was yet to be answered for me was the scriptural element. If homosexuality isn’t haram, then why does there seem to be a clear condemnation of approaching men with lust instead of women? I mean it seems pretty clear, right?
I approached this young man. Let’s call him Mohammed** (not his real name). Mohammed was fluent in Arabic and also possessed a high score in his international baccalaureute in Arabic. I shared my concerns with him regarding these verses. We exchanged numbers and we agreed to speak later on in this week. Below our conversation went something like this.
Me: Salaam! Morning Mohammed. How are you? Thank you for the resources. It helped shed light on each of the verses and what they logically refer to and deconstructed the argument as to why Qawm Lut was not about homosexuality and rather it was about robbery, adultery and harassment of guests.
I just have a few questions lingering in my mind and i think it would be good to discuss because I know other Muslims who aren’t convinced and I’m still not at rest with a few things
1. If it wasn’t about homosexuality. Then why did Lut offer his daughters and say ‘they are purer for you’?
Mohammed: Salam Farah!
وَجَاءَهُ قَوْمُهُ يُهْرَعُونَ إِلَيْهِ وَمِن قَبْلُ كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ هَٰؤُلَاءِ بَنَاتِي هُنَّ أَطْهَرُ لَكُمْ ۖ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلَا تُخْزُونِ فِي ضَيْفِي ۖ أَلَيْسَ مِنكُمْ رَجُلٌ رَّشِيدٌ (78)
Lut was not offering his daughters as “female alternative to males”, but rather as a peace agreement in exchange for respecting his guests. Lut did not say “dont have sex with men”, he said “don’t embarrass me in front my guests” (لَا تُخْزُونِ فِي ضَيْفِي).
N.B. The word تفضحون (tafdahoon) can also be translated to mean ‘to violate’. Which was highlighted in another ayah where Lut ordered his people ‘and do not violate’. This is consistent with the narrative of rape.
The people of Lut themselves were already married to women, hence they were not homosexual.
قَالُوا لَقَدْ عَلِمْتَ مَا لَنَا فِي بَنَاتِكَ مِنْ حَقٍّ وَإِنَّكَ لَتَعْلَمُ مَا نُرِيدُ (79)
Lut’s people said to him “you already know that we have no entitlement to your daughters, and you know exactly what we want”; they wanted to rape the guests, so they declined the peace treaty. Whereas Lut wasn’t trying to forbid them from “same-sex” per se, he was trying to forbid them from embarrassing him if they had raped his visitors; which goes to confirm that they had something against foreigners, and at the same time they were already married to women (plus Lut’s wife was helping them in the rape process and she got punished for that too) which confirms they were not homosexual; so the punishment wasn’t for homosexuality.
Imagine in a culture where the parents must agree to their children’s marriages, Lut showed his people that he too would agree to this; as a legitimate marriage, this goes to show that Lut really was trying to establish a peaceful relationship with his community.
But the people of Lut were rather interested in exercising their entitlement to the bodies of foreigners… (rijal does not mean males; it comes from irtijal as in travelers or workers in often cases, for example the verse that says رجال صدقوا ما عاهدوا… was revealed when there were both male and female Sahabiyyat at the scene with prophet Muhammad)
Me: That’s interesting you see. And also I heard that رجال can be understood to be a gender neutral term because I heard it has been used in the phrase كل من ترجل meaning those who walk
Me: And the Quran uses the term رجال in that gender neutral way too and I think over time the semantics changed to mean only men.
Mohammed: Yeah there are gender neutral terms like رجال and نساء… on the other hand when the quran talks biological males and females it explicitly uses the words ذكور and إناث instead (dhukoor and anath) I agree about that (semantics changing over time)
Mohammed: Like انا خلقناكم من ذكر و انثى because (خلق) is a physical description
Me: So what about ذكران? (males) Lut mentioned something along the lines of ‘and do you approach males and leave your wives that Allah has created for you’? I’m paraphrasing here.
Mohammed: ذكران (من العالمين) = Males (dhukraan) from the outside world (min al alimeen). As in foreigners. Lut’s people also used the word ‘alimeen’ to mean ‘guests’. When Lut’s people said in 15:70 “awalam nanhaka min al alimeen” i.e. “did we not forbid you from having guests?” (Which is consistent with the narrative of the rape and violation of guests who passed through their lands)
Me: Because I was lead to believe that it meant ‘out of anyone from the world, you decided to approach men’. As though Lut was saying it out of outrage
Mohammed : I see, but it doesn’t grammatically mean that, because it would have been
أمن العالمين لم تأتوا إلا الذكور؟
Me: I wanted someone to talk to me about the linguistic side of things because I was so stuck on this terms (men, traveller, worker) رجال and ذكران (males)
Also… I didn’t know نساء (nisaa) could be used as a gender neutral term. Other than ‘women’ what else could it be used for?
Mohammed: nisaa can also be translated as a ‘comforting companion. Nisaa from “الأنس”… like المؤنس
Me: Salaam Mohammed! So just a quick question. I’m trying to make sense of this use of words in the context of Lut. So rijaal = traveller, worker. And nisaa = those who are native to the town, spending their time at home?
Mohammed: There has been verses linked to both male and female companions who were out for “بيعة” but the verse called them all “رجال”… (rijaal)
مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِ ۖ فَمِنْهُم مَّن قَضَىٰ نَحْبَهُ وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَنتَظِرُ…
Me: Yeah its like how when we say ‘mankind’ we dont just refer to ‘men’ but all of humanity
Mohammed : In the context of lut there is
انكم تأتون الرجال شهوة من دون النساء… “and you approach rijaal instead of Nisaa”
And there is
تأتون الذكران من العالمين… “you approach men (dhukraan) from the outside world i.e. foreigners”
In the 1st verse the gender roles are observed… in the 2nd verse there is a very unique word which is not mentioned anywhere else in the book which is ذكران… (dhukraan) and there is a paragraph about it in the 1st arabic article…
Although this is tangential, but also, in both verses it says تأتون (ta’toon) which is a word always used to describe “going by freewill and intention”, like when pharaoh chased moses in his own free will, unlike homosexuality which is not by freewill
Me: Yeah i saw that on the first article you sent me. It’s just the من دون النساء (instead of women) that im stuck on
Mohammed: The details you look into are impressive!
Me: because those who argue the case against homosexuality argue that the ال (definitive article to mean ‘the’) shows that Lut was talking about men and women in general and thus you can deduce this to be about homosexuality overall. Im just very thorough and I dont do well with cognitive dissonance
Mohammed: That bit
من دون النساء (instead of the women) Could refer to their own wives at home
Me: thats true. Because Lut did mention that they were married “and do you leave the wives that Allah has created for you” in 26:166.
Mohammed: Also true
Me: I wanted to ask you about another Arabic word! أزواج (azwaaj) which means pair or spouses. But more so “the pairing of opposite parts” i.e. could be referring to male and female and therefore two men or two women cannot be ‘azwaaj’ (spouses)
Mohammed: Actually azwaj doesnt always mean a binary pair, it also means different “types”… for examples people of different religions and ethnicities… they are “azwaj” too, frankly i heard this from Friday Khutbah in my own hometown!
Me: Oh! So it doesnt have to be relating to gender or biological sex?
Mohammed: No, even Ibin Baz said this, I remember capturing that from his book’s website: I remember it said الأزواج تعني الأصناف من البشر “azwaaj means different types and categories from among the people”. Bin Baz is saying that it is based on characteristics and categorizations. In my personal reading… the “azwaj” are all inside us…
خلق لكم من انفسكم ازواجا… “and he created from amongst yourselves spouses”
So these multiplicities or binaries are all within our nafs نفس
Me: We all have contrasting elements within us. So when the verse comes up as وخلقناكم أزواجا it means ” we created you in categories”
Mohammed: But some read it as though these categorisations are external… which sounds right too.