By Kip Pesses published in the Kenyon Collegian
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:02
Scott Kugle came to Kenyon to discuss Islam’s understanding of homosexuality.
The Bible and the Torah explicitly address homosexuality. But what does the Qur’an, Islam’s holiest book, have to say on the subject? Less than you might think.
Much of the understanding of homosexuality within Islam rests on interpretation, according to Scott Kugle, associate professor of South Asian and Islamic studies at Emory University, who facilitated a discussion on Feb. 12 and gave a talk Feb.13 at Kenyon.
“The Qur’an as scripture does not condemn homosexuality,” said Kugle in his lecture last Sunday. “But Islam as a constructed religious tradition may, depending on who is representing it.” The Qur’an takes no clear stand on issues of homosexuality, but many people cite certain passages, specifically those dealing with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as evidence of God’s will on the subject. Though the subject is widely debated, Kugle was quick to point out that “sexual practices and gender identities in Muslim communities … have been documented for over a thousand years.”
Awarded his Ph.D. from Duke University in History of Religions, Kugle was an assistant professor of religion at Swarthmore College and a research scholar at the Henry Martyn Institute for Islamic Studies before joining the faculty at Emory University. He has written four books and various articles dealing with topics such as Islamic mysticism and homosexuality within Islam. “One of the things about coming to a place like Kenyon is that our students have an opportunity to learn, not just in the classroom, but from speakers and guests as well,” Vernon Schubel, professor of religious studies, said.
Kugle was quick to address misconceptions about the homogeneity of Muslim opinions. He said that the diverse beliefs within Muslim populations make it impossible to have one set of principles concerning any topic, including gay rights. Moreover, the discussion takes on different forms in the West, where Islam is still a minority religion, versus the East, where it is more dominant. In the West, the discussion focuses on the essence of theology or the interpretation of the Qur’an, while those in the East look at issues from a human rights perspective. Kugle sees the recent Arab Spring as “an important jumping-off point” that could be a catalyst for a great leap forward.
Tackling an issue like homosexuality in Islam is complex, especially in America, where either topic alone often provokes vehement protest.
“I would like to actually take it out of the grand framework because it’s distracting in the larger debate of Western liberal values versus Muslim society, and both sides end up having stereotyped views,” Kugle said.
Kugle was optimistic about the future of gay rights in the Islamic community, although he acknowledged that the issue of homosexuality is complicated in all contexts. Schubel agreed, adding that “to be a fully educated liberal person in the 21st century, one must understand the world and all of its cultures. It is the story of us.”