Paradise in Islam promises those who enter not only an everlasting supply of virgins but all the other things a soul might aspire to, such as endless numbers of boys and youths. A tradition attributed to the Prophet Mohammed says that “In Paradise there is a market that is not used for commerce; it contains forms, images, figures of men and women. If a man wishes to resemble anyone, he can enter and occupy such an image.”
On the backdrop of this tradition, someone on an Islamic website is seeking an answer to his query: Can a man enter the image of a woman or vice versa in Paradise, exchanging genders and experiencing what that would be like?
Classical Arab literature is replete with stories and poems about homosexual love. Arab sources also record a kind of “conversion therapy” that was applied to the Abbasid Caliph al-Amin (Harun al-Rashid) by his mother Zubaidah. When she saw that he was repelled by women and was cleaving to the love of men, she dressed some pretty maidens in men’s clothing and brought them to his palace to deflect him from his proclivities. Her treatment failed to work and he continued pursuing his inclinations. He even used rhymes to describe his love for his male slave Kauthar, calling him his world and religion, his disease and cure.
These things were very common and the subject of many essays. The 9th-century scholar Al-Jahiz composed a special missive on the topic, in which he describes why a male youth is preferable to a female one, and who has the advantage in sexual relations.
When visiting the U.S., Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked about the execution of homosexuals in his country. His answer, which was received with boos and catcalls, was that there were no homosexuals in Iran. “I don’t know who told you there were.”
I was reminded of that following a similar declaration by MK Waleed Taha, from the Joint List, who said that the “homosexual phenomenon” is almost non-existent among Israeli Arabs. The Ra’am faction of the Joint List voted with Likud against a bill prohibiting conversion therapy.
This vote has again exposed the nature of the parties comprising the Joint List. It’s not just slogans relating to the occupation, the Palestinian struggle and other assorted issues, just and necessary as these may be, which distinguish between good and evil in Arab society. The truth which must be spoken is that taking a stand and voting on social issues such as this bill are what distinguishes between light and darkness, between good and evil, between those living in denial and those attempting to build a sane and tolerant society.
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An example of the violent conversation that erupted after the vote is an article by Dr. Mohammed Salameh Hassan, head of the Islamic Council for Religious Rulings in Israel, published on the Kul al-Arab website. He wrote that anyone who perpetrates these deviations, calling themselves gay while arguing that they are pursuing individual freedom, is a victim of passions and illusions that threaten humanity with annihilation.
“You are the enemies of humanity,” he wrote. As befitting this type of cleric, he went even further. “We wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that the coronavirus is God’s punishment of humans, due to the perversions and deviations from correct conduct.”
This violent discourse has exposed not only the depth of denial in Arab society of the very existence of an LBGTQ community in its midst, but also the size of the unbridgeable gap between assorted fundamentalists and the new Arab generation. Upon reading these hateful words, it’s not hard to see who the true enemies of humanity are.