Reading the Qur'an

Reading the Qur'an

The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam

Book - 2011
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"I grew up reading the Qur'an on my mother's lap," writes Ziauddin Sardar. "It's an experience I share with most Muslim children. And so it is that our connection to the Qur'an is infused with associations of the warmest and most enduring of human bonds." In Reading the Qur'an, Sardar - one of Europe's leading public intellectuals - laments that for far too many Muslims, the Qur'an he had learned in his mother's lap has become a stick used for ensuring conformity and suppressing dissenting views. Indeed, some find in the Qur'an justification formisogyny, validation for hatred of others, an obsession with dress and mindless ritual, rules for running modern states. Arguing passionately but reasonably against these trends, Sardar speaks out for a more open, less doctrinaire approach to reading the Qur'an. He contends that the Qur'an is notfixed in stone for all time, but a dynamic text which every generation must encounter anew, and whose relevance and implications for our time we have yet to fully discover. The words of the Qur'an imply movement: the religious life, it tells us, is not about standing still but always striving tomake our life, our society, the entire world around us a better place for everyone. Sardar explores the Qur'an from a variety of perspectives, from traditional exegesis to hermeneutics, critical theory, and cultural analysis, drawing fresh and contemporary lessons from the Sacred Text. He alsoexamines what the Qur'an says about such contemporary topics as power and politics, rights of women, suicide, domestic violence, sex, homosexuality, the veil, freedom of expression, and evolution. Ziauddin Sardar opens a new window on this remarkable Sacred Text, in a book that will engage all devout Muslims and will interest anyone curious about the Qur'an and Islam today.
Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, c2011
ISBN: 9780199836741
Characteristics: xxii, 406 p. ; 25 cm


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Feb 14, 2015

Pages 323-8:

The term homosexuality does not occur in the Quran. But the Quran does mention ‘men who have no need of women’. We are not explicitly told who these men are, but we can guess: either they have no sexual desire at all or they desire other men. And if such men are ‘mindful of God’ they could, in the Hereafter, be in ‘Gardens and in bliss, rejoicing in their Lord’s gifts’ which include, amongst other things, ‘devoted youths like hidden pearls’ (52:17-24). Elsewhere we are told: ‘Everlasting youth will attend them—if you could see them, you would think they are scattered pearls’ (76:19). There are two points to note here. The positive way male beauty is portrayed; and the fact that no negativity is attached to men who do not desire women.

Given the Quran’s emphasis on diversity, it seems strange to me that the Sacred Text would not recognise sexual diversity. When we are asked, in 17:84, to ‘Say, “Everyone does things in their own way, but your Lord is fully aware of who follows the best-guided path”’, should we not include homosexuals in ‘everyone’? It seems that the Prophet Muhammad did. One reason the Quran mentions ‘men who are not attracted to women’ is that such men existed in Medina during the time of the Prophet. They lived outside the dominant patriarchal economy, moved freely amongst the women, witnessing their ‘charm’. The Prophet accepted these men as citizens of the diverse society that was Medina with the usual stipulation that they should not break the ethical and moral codes of society.

If we read Lot’s story, scattered as it is throughout the Qur’an, thematically, we discover that it is not so much about homosexuality but a string of gross sexual transgressions, including widespread promiscuity, pedophilia, bestiality, the use of rape as a weapon of intimidation and power, and the sexual denigration and abuse of guests. Lot’s lot were exceptionally stingy, greedy, covetous, and wallowed in filth; they robbed travellers, humiliated strangers, and exploited the needy. In 7:81, it is not only men that Lot’s people lust after. They lust after male guests in order to humiliate and intimidate them, to use rape as an instrument of power. The sexual acts in Lot’s story are acts of violence, above and over anything else. This is why God ‘showered upon them a rain of destruction’ (7:84).

The story of Lot, however, is not altogether irrelevant to contemporary gay culture. It is, after all, about extreme excess. While we are sexual beings, male and female, the Quran tells us, we are not exclusively and solely sexual but also moral agents in all spheres of human activity. Modesty is the counterbalance to our sexual appetites, which should be fulfilled away from the public sphere. This applies equally to homosexuals, who like other believers are required to be modest, ‘lower their gaze,’ and keep private things private. Contemporary gay and lesbian behavior in Western societies, it seems to me, is anything but modest.

The obession of gay culture with lavishing attention on looks, clothes, certain kinds of pop music and promiscuity is far from innocent; it echoes the excesses of Lot’s people; and it is being aped blindly in Muslim societies as fashion. The commodification of homosexual lifestyle has more than individual excess to answer for: it is a global economy, politics and ecology that produce injustice and inequity within and between nations. So, it seems to me, modesty and privacy have roles to play in countering the excesses of global gay culture steeped in consumerism.

Privacy, of course, is not a license for ‘anything goes’, since all our activities are known to God to whom we will be answerable. But modesty and privacy do stand guardians to the private fulfilment of our sexual nature.


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Feb 15, 2015

It is in 24:31 that we come across ‘men who have no sexual desire’ who can witness the ‘charms’ of women. Clearly, men who have no sexual desires for women, and are thus treated like close family members, can be elderly, impotent (although whether anyone would actually advertise his impotence is open to question) or homosexuals.

There is absolutely no evidence that the Prophet punished anyone for homosexuality.

On the contrary, the Quran portrays homosexuality as a natural disposition and the Sunna is exemplary in its toleration of sexual orientation.


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