On August 24 the United States Mission to the United Nations published remarks by Samantha Power, the UN Ambassador, devoted to the mistreatment of homosexuals by the Islamic State. The key part of her statement reads as follows: “No religious beliefs justify throwing individuals off of buildings or stoning them to death because of who they love.”
Ambassador Power is wrong. Islam does not only “justify” such treatment, it categorically mandates it. There are many mortal sins in Islam, from idolatry, atheism, and apostasy, to drunkenness, adultery, and questioning the authority of the Kuran. Homosexuality is one of them, punishable by death in several Islamic countries. America’s good ally Saudi Arabia is one of them. Its statute books also provide for other forms of punishment, such as long prison sentences, flogging, castration and torture. A second conviction merits execution. It reflects Ms. Power’s highly selective approach to the issue of human rights in general that she fails to mention the desert kingdom’s dismal record in this respect.
The punishment by stoning is derived from the Kuranic account of Sodom’s destruction by a “rain of stones,” which was itself the product of Muhammad’s misunderstanding of the Hebrew story of “fire and brimstone” (i.e., sulfur):
We also (sent) Lut: he said to his people: ‘Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.’ And his people gave no answer but this: they said, ‘drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!’ But We saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who lagged behind. And We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): then see what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime! (Kuran, 7:80-84)
Kuranic claim that homosexuality had been unknown before it first appeared in Sodom is a uniquely Islamic concept; so is the notion that the reason for its destruction was exclusively due to the homosexual practices of its inhabitants, a clear departure from the Hebrew Scriptures.
In addition to the Kuran, many authoritative hadith mention liwat (homosexual intercourse): “When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes” “Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to.” The fourth caliph, Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, ordered a sodomite thrown from the minaret of a mosque. Others he ordered to be stoned. One of the earliest and most authoritative commentators on the Kuran, Ibn ‘Abbas (died 687) blended both approaches into a two-step execution in which “the sodomite should be thrown from the highest building in the town and then stoned.” Later it was decided that if no building were tall enough, he could be shoved off a cliff. Regardless of the exact method, Muslim jurists agree that both parties should be killed, and only differ on the methodology of capital punishment.
In practice, however, suppression and unavailability of liaison between males and females outside the prearranged wedlock has produced latent sexual tension in Islamic societies that has sought and found release in homosexual intercourse through the centuries. Those denied access to licit sexuality have sought and obtained outlets that produced chronic contradictions between normative morality and social realities. Male and female prostitution and same-sex practices—including abuse of young boys by their older male relatives—have been rampant in Islamic societies from the medieval to the modern period.
It should be emphasized that those societies stress a distinction between the sexual act itself, which was deemed acceptable, and emotional attachment, which was unpardonable. As Bruce Dunne (an expert in the field, unlike Samantha Power) noted in “Power and Sexuality in the Middle East” (Middle East Report, Spring 1998), “Sexual relations in Middle Eastern societies have historically articulated social hierarchies, that is, dominant and subordinate social positions: adult men on top; women, boys and slaves below.” A Muslim who has sexual relations with other men, or more typically with young boys (often related), is not considered a “homosexual”; quite the contrary, his sexual domination of another man may even confer a status of hyper-masculinity. It is the presence of affection or equality between partners that is intolerable.
As I pointed out in these pages recently, equality in sexual relations is unimaginable in Islam, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Sex in Islamic societies has never been about mutuality between partners, but about the adult Muslim male’s achievement of pleasure through physical domination, which is why rape has always been, and still remains, endemic to Islam