Qur’an and Queer Identified People
Mukhannathun, Feminine Men, Intersex People & Homosexuality
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
With the Divine Qualities of All-Embracing Mercy and Compassion
As Queer people who identify as Muslim and who practice Islam, we are constantly asked to justify our sexualities or gender identities. As Muslims who feel attraction to genders considered as “same” or which are not understood by hetero-cisgendered Muslims, we experience an erasure and proscription on our identities. This results in our persecution by family members and communities, and also the persistent threat of public violence and the denial of intimacy and companionship.
Aside from the consideration that nobody deserves violence, not in the least because human beings have a right to live in Peace, a Peace which has its origins no less in a Divine Attribute of Allah (asma-ul husna) – As-Salaam- we are subjected to isolation and violence simply for the tiniest gender non-conforming behaviour – especially if that behaviour is feminine (misogynistic violence on feminine people). In an age when our identities and behaviours are legalised in many societies that we live in, but which are still misunderstood, our inspiration must be from Allah Al-‘Adl wal Hadi – The Divine Just Guide, staying firm to Their Book and the guidance found in the Messenger (peace and blessings upon him and his family).
Our obligation as Muslims is to have trust (imaan) in Allah, for Allah loves us. We should submit ourselves to Allah’s words and to none other, no matter the opinion of those who do not understand us, for that is Shirk (associating others with Allah). It is no less than our duty to set aside our prejudices around that which we not, for only Allah knows all, imagining that we know everything about those whose sexual and gender identities we do not understand is in itself shirk. May Queer Muslims have our own voice, and submit our own bodies to Allah free from discrimination, for Allah is All-Knowing.
There are various Ahadith (stories of the Prophet) which demonstrate that same-sex attraction existed in the times of Quranic revelation, which can help us understand what the actual attitude of the Prophet was:
“A’isha reported that a feminine male (mukhannath) used to come to the wives of Allah’s Apostle (Peace be upon him) and they did not find anything objectionable in his visit considering him to be a male without any sexual desire (fakaanoo ya’dzoonahu min ghair ulaa il-irbah). Allah’s Apostle (Peace be upon him) one day came as he was sitting with some of his wives and he was busy in describing the bodily characteristics of a lady and saying: As the comes in front four folds appear on her front side and as she turns her back eight folds appear on the back. Thereupon Allah’s Apostle (Peace be upon him) said:hat he knows these things; do not, therefore. allow him to cater. She (A’isha) said: Then they began to observe veil from him.”
The word “mukhannath” relates to a category of intersex people – khuntha – who are described as “ males without sexual desires” in the context of “towards women”. The words of Muhammad do not imply any form of negation for the state of them being feminine, he even permitted them entry into the home of one of his wives (how different from the way such people are treated by their own parents and siblings in this day and age!). Aisha’s response to the words of the Prophet are curious, she doesn’t say that she was prohibited from receiving the Mukhannath (whose name was Hit), nor for them to visit her, however she was asked to wear the veil in their presence. This means that the visits continued. Even more, the words of the Prophet were more of an advice than a prohibition. The words of Hit were idiomatic in Arabic, referring to the bodily curves of the sister of Ghailan, in a way that demonstrates that they had seen her naked, and they said this in front of men and women. This also means that Hit was permitted to tell of their desires in front of believers. This is also referred to in the Qur’an, where we find the same category of “males that lack sexual desire”. This is a class of people in front of whom believing women can “show their attraction” (their ‘awrah’):
Wa qul lilmu’minaati yaghdudna min absaarihinna wa yahfazna furoojahunna wa laa yubdeena zeenatahunna illaa maa zahara minhaa walyadribna bikhumurihinna ‘alaa juyoobihinna wa laa yubdeena zeenatahunna illaa libu’oolatihinna aw aabaaa’i hinna aw aabaaa’i bu’oolati hinna aw abnaaa’ihinaa aw abnaaa’i bu’oolatihinnna aw ikhwaanihinnna aw baneee ikhwaanihinna aw banee akhawaatihinna aw nisaaa’i hinna aw maa malakat aimaanuhunna awit taabi’eena ghairi ilil irbati minar rijaali awit tiflillazeena lam yazharoo ‘alaa ‘awraatin nisaaa’i wala yadribnna bi arjulihinna min zeenatihinn; wa toobooo ilallaahi jammee’an aiyuhal mu’minoona la’allakum tuflihoon
“And say to the females, ones who believe to lower their sight and keep their private parts safe and show not their adornment but what is manifest of it. And let them draw their head coverings over their bosoms; and not show their adornment but to their husbands or their fathers or the fathers of their husbands or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters or their women, or what their right hands possessed, or the ones who heed, those with no sexual desire among the men, or small male children to whom was not manifest nakedness of women. And let them not stomp their feet so as to be known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to The Divine altogether for forgiveness. Oh the ones who believe, so that perhaps you will prosper.” Q 24: 31
The term of most interest in this passage with respect to this discussion is “ghairi ilil irbati minar rijaali” literally: those without desires among the men. It is almost identical to the expression used to describe the “feminine male” in the hadith of the house of Umm Salama: “ya’dzûnahu min ghair ulâ il-irbah” (a male among those which do not have desire). The similarity makes us think that the Qur’an refers here to the Mukhannathun (pl. of Mukhannath). This explains why the women of the house of the Prophet could show themselves in front of this “man” that used to visit them, and that the sister of Ghailan would have shown “her curves”, and this on the eve of the battle of Ta’if, some years before the passing of Muhammad, when the ayah of the khumur was descending. For the majority of the fuqahha (scholars), it seems clear that Qur’an 24: 31 refers to mukhannathun. In his classic comparative word among the diverse schools of thought of Sunni Islam, Ibn Qudaamah writes:
about the mukhannath, they do not feel desires towards women, concerning the viewing of women, the rule applies to these men in the same way that it applies to close relatives (mahram), because Allah has said “those male servants that do not have sexual desire [24: 31]
Ibn Qudâmah cites the authority of Ibn Abbas, commenting on the same Ayah:
It speaks of those that don’t feel (sexual) shame. He is the man that is ‘aqeem’ (without fertitlity).
One of the great students of the science of Hadith, the Andalucian Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (5th century), describes the following:
The Mukhannath is they which adopts the physical appearence of a woman, until the point that they pass for a woman in their smoothness, in their mode of speech, accent and thought. Being like this, they would not have desires toward women. (Al-Mughni, 7/463; Al-Sharh al- Kabîr ‘ala Matan al-Muqni’, 7/347-348)
Another authority, Imam an-Nawawi, recognises that this class of behaviour pertains to the innate nature of certain men:
a mukhannath is that (masculine in Arabic) that imitates in their movements, their appearance and body language, a woman. There are two types” the first is that for which their behaviour is innate, they have not adopted it for themselves, and for which there is no blame, they do not deserve reproach nor shame, from the moment that they do not perform any illicit act, nor sell themselves for money. The second type acts like a woman for un- noble motives, and is deserving of the worst disgrace.
In his commentary in Sahih Muslim, Al-Washtaani gives a similar definition, where he cites in the ambiguity of the figure:
They seem like women in their moral qualities, their manner of speech and walk. The name comes from the word “takhannuth”, a way of associting with the sweet and the harsh. The Mukhannath, in effect, has a sweet voice, and walks in a curved way. They could have been created this way, but can also be due to a perverse origin.
Who is the Mukhannath? A human being with physical attributes that characterise them as men (raajul) but who do not desire women, due to their nature, who has been born this way bu the will of Allah (that has been made this way “Mukhannath khalqi”). Women do not feel shy in front of them because they do not consider them socially “male”, that is to say they do not consiser them potentially aggressive (they are not patriarchal in their behaviour towards women). Referring to the sexual promiscuity of some, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr is clear that he is not referring to the sexually infertile. Even though with time the word Mukhannath as come to designate intersex people or the castrated, it is evindent that in the time of the Prophet it designated also those who we now call gay people or homosexuals. It seems likely that with modern biology and social science, we can use the word to refer to those whose gender identities and sexual orientations are non-normative when accompanied by the lack of sexual attraction to females (the ahadith make no prohibition against Mukhannathun who have desires towards men).
The Qur’an does not mention directly, in the first place. This means that there is no condemnation of their behaviours in front of Allah. This again relates to the question of misogyny directed at “feminine behaviour” in “men”. If Allah does not condemn such people why should they suffer violence of hatred from fellow human beings? Furthermore, in 24: 31 there is an Ayah that mentions a people that are different from males and females:
Lillaahi mulkus samaawaati wal ard
yakhluqu maa yashaaa’
yahabu limai yashaaa’u inaasanw wa yahabu
limai yashaaa’uz zukoor
Aw yuzawwijuhum zukraananw wa inaasanw
wa yaj’alu mai yashaaa’u ‘aqeemaa
innahoo ‘Aleemun Qadeer
“To The Divine belongs dominion
of the heavens and the earth.
They create what they will.
They assign female on whom They will.
And They assign male on who They will.
And They couple them, males and females.
And They make ‘aqeem whom They will.
Truly, They are Knowing and Powerful” (42: 49-50)
The word ‘aqeem is habitually translated as “sterile” or “impotent”. Which is one of several possible meanings. But in the previously cited commentary of Ibn Abbas, ‘aqeem applies to mukhannathun too: “The Mukhannath is ‘aqeem as a man.”
It is more than likely that Allah is referring to gay men in this verse, in a positive manner, as those that Allah willed to be ‘aqeem. Examining the descriptions from the fuqahha about mukhannathun, they do not limit the definition to physiological categories, but also they define them by their voices, their body language and their attitudes before their physical appearance. This is a very important consideration, to describe gender according to physical appearance alone creates grave inequalities and violence against those that transgress the limits of such binary categories. Of what importance is it if someone has a penis yet does not desire women? Nowadays we see many gay men marrying women in order to evade discrimination and violence, leading them to infidelity due to frustration and consummation between complimentary partners (zawj). From this point of view, a union between an ‘aqeem and a woman is un-natural, for it is not conducive of mutual satisfaction.
Above all, we can conclude that in no case is homosexuality prohibited according to Allah and The Messenger, much less is love between two people of the same sex prohibited. We find in the Sunnan of Abu Daud:
Abu Hurairah said that a “man” had painted their hands and feet and was taken in front of the Messenger of Allah. He asked them: What is happening with them? They told him “Oh Messenger of Allah, this man imitates women”. Thereupon he considered the issue and sent him to An-Naqi. The people said “Don’t we have to kill him?” He said “It has been made prohibited on me to kill those who pray” (Kitab al-Adab, 41, 4910 & 4928).
Here, the Messenger of Allah comes out in defence of a male who paints his hands and feet due to his status as a believer, he thus confronts those who state that being a Muslim and Queer are incompatible. We must take note of the focus on the interior of the human being (baatin) before any exterior consideration (zaahir). The motives for the person being sent to an-Naqi remain unknown. One could hypothesise that Muhammad acted with the intent to save the person and permitted him to be sent to a nearby place, which would be less severe. This is the characteristic manner of the Prophet in this class of conflict, acting in solidarity with the persecuted, without producing an unnecessary confrontation with revelation around the question at hand.
Abdenur Prado: email@example.com