When it was announced that section 377A of Singapore’s penal code would be repealed, the discourse on LGBTQ+ quickly became a focal point of contention amongst different segments of Singaporean society.
Some members of the community, such as those who affiliate themselves with the LGBTQ+ movement, may take it positively, but the majority of Muslims, like many members of other religious groups in Singapore, felt apprehensive because of the lifestyle advocacy and the demand for changes in policy which would contradict their religious values.
In Singapore’s secular yet multi faith context, which is already recognised as one of the most diverse countries in the world, this is indeed a complex issue that needs careful deliberation and understanding.
What does Islam say about same-sex marriage and unions? As Muslims, how can we continue to navigate through these changes in society in an increasingly diverse society?
Islam places much emphasis on the topic of marriage and family. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ ٱتَّقُوا۟ رَبَّكُمُ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَٰحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَآءً ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ٱلَّذِى تَسَآءَلُونَ بِهِۦ وَٱلْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
"O humanity! Be mindful of your Lord Who created you from a single soul, and from it He created its mate, and through both He spread countless men and women. And be mindful of Allah—in Whose name you demand (your rights) from one another—and family ties. Surely Allah is ever Watchful over you."
(Surah An-Nisa, 4:1)
This verse informs us of the significance of family as one of the building blocks of humanity. By the creation of men and women and the sacred bond between the two genders from a lawful marriage, a family unit is built.
Such is Allah’s love and mercy to humankind. Towards the end of the verse, Allah s.w.t. reminds us that it is taqwa – (to be mindful of Allah) that guides spouses in threading the path of a blissful marriage.
In Islam, the concept of marriage (nikah) being the union of two sexes between male and female is consistent throughout the Quran. Such as the verse:
وَأَنَّهُۥ خَلَقَ ٱلزَّوْجَيْنِ ٱلذَّكَرَ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰ
"And He created the pairs—male and female—"
(Surah An-Najm, 53:45)
In another verse, Allah s.w.t. says:
وَٱلَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَـٰفِظُونَ. إِلَّا عَلَىٰٓ أَزْوَٰجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَـٰنُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِينَ. فَمَنِ ٱبْتَغَىٰ وَرَآءَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْعَادُونَ
"those who guard their chastity. except with their wives or their (bondwomen) in their possession, for then they are free from blame, but whoever seeks beyond that are the transgressors."
(Surah Al-Mu’minun, 23:5-7)
This means that by Allah’s mercy and Divine wisdom in creation, all other forms of sexual relationships, like fornication, pre-marital or same-sex sexual relationships, are prohibited.
Thus it is clear that Islam’s worldview towards sexual relations, sexuality and gender identity may differ from that of the LGBTQ+ movement – which allows same-sex romantic relationships and the redefinition of unions and ‘marriages’ that excludes the possibility of procreation between couple.
The prohibition of such practises is not only stated clearly in the proscriptive statements of the Quran and Hadith, but it also met with documented unanimous agreement (Ijma’) between the companions of the Prophet s.a.w. and their successors throughout the ages. The religious position for Muslims on this issue does not change, even with the decriminalisation of the 377A penal code or the possible shift in societal norms.
In recent decades, there have been attempts to reinterpret the Quranic verses to justify same-sex sexual relationships. It is important to note that much has been clarified on this issue not just in the Quran, but also in the Hadith narrations of the Prophet s.a.w.
Here are some examples of the misconceptions:
Misconception 1: The story of Prophet Lut a.s. was not referring to specifically same sex sexual inclinations but it was referring to non-consensual sexual unions
The Quran tells the story of the blessed Prophet Lut a.s. who was sent to a community that widely accepted and observed same-sex sexual relationships. The call for radical reinterpretation claims that the prohibition in the story was instead referring to the act of rape rather than a same-sex romantic relationship.
To understand the Quran, one must read it in its entirety. Amongst the many Quranic verses addressing this topic, Allah s.w.t. tells us of Prophet Lut a.s. reprehending his people:
أَتَأْتُونَ ٱلذُّكْرَانَ مِنَ ٱلْعَـٰلَمِينَ. وَتَذَرُونَ مَا خَلَقَ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِّنْ أَزْوَٰجِكُم ۚ بَلْ أَنتُمْ قَوْمٌ عَادُونَ
"Why do you men lust after fellow men, leaving your pairs that your Lord has created for you? In fact, you are a transgressing people"
(Surah Ash-Shu’ara, 26:165-166)
And the verse:
إِنَّكُمْ لَتَأْتُونَ الرِّجَالَ شَهْوَةً مِنْ دُونِ النِّسَاءِ بَلْ أَنْتُمْ قَوْمٌ مُسْرِفُونَ
"You lust after men instead of women! You are certainly transgressors"
(Surah Al-A’raf, 7:81)
Like many other verses addressing this issue, it particularly warns against having a same-sex sexual relationship.
Misconception 2: As the Quran does not clearly mention the penalty for same-sex sexual relationship, it is not prohibited
While the Quran does not specify a particular penalty for an act, that does not mean that it is not an act of transgression. In fact, there are many acts which are not attributed or mentioned with any penalties involved in the Quran but are clearly prohibited. One example of this is the act of incest.
Another simpler example would be the act of backbiting. There are no penalties mentioned in the Quran for people who committed backbiting, and yet, its prohibition is widely informed. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ كَثِيرًۭا مِّنَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا۟ وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ
"O believers! Avoid many suspicions, (for) indeed, some suspicions are sinful. And do not spy, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of their dead brother? You would despise that! And fear Allah. Surely Allah is (the) Accepter of Repentance, Most Merciful."
(Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:12)
Misconception 3: Same-sex romantic attraction is part of the spectrum in diversity that is acknowledged in the Quran
The Quran clearly views that when it comes to the issue of gender, it is binary and not multiple identities based on how a person feels or thinks. Even a person who may be born with physiological abnormalities of having the sex organs of both genders or the absence of both – Hermaphrodite / Khuntha – are offered religious guidelines which provide resolution along binary terms, not multiple solutions.
The diversity that the Quran acknowledges refers to the variety of tribal, ethnic or cultural groupings. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَـٰكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
"O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may (get to) know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware."
(Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:13)
Diversity is part of Allah’s way in creation. Thus, as Muslims, we should appreciate diversity. However, there are universal prohibitions in place despite and regardless of diversity. What is expressly forbidden or wrong applies to all Muslims, and there are no different standards or rules for different peoples. For example, gambling is strictly prohibited in Islam. This rule applies to every Muslim, regardless of ethnic groups or social backgrounds.
Hence, Islam’s position on this matter is very clear.
People who have the urge or desire for same-sex attraction may or may not identify themselves as LGBTQ+. However, as a movement, LGBTQ+ incorporates all who possess alternative sexual orientations and gender identities. Sexual attraction, act and gender identity are all identified as markers for LGBTQ+.
This is not the case in Islam. A person may have an urge for same-sex attraction, and yet he or she would still be the gender at birth or that he or she is medically recognised with.
Islam acknowledges the concept of desires (nafs). Desires are natural features of the human being. However, a key principle in Islam is that whenever desires are not guided by the human intellect, it would lead one to blameworthy acts and traits. In Islam, the mere presence of urges or desires is distinguished from and not equivalent to or as blameworthy as acting upon them. The Prophet s.a.w. said in a Hadith:
إنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ الحَسَناتِ والسَّيِّئاتِ ثُمَّ بَيَّنَ ذلكَ، فمَن هَمَّ بحَسَنَةٍ فَلَمْ يَعْمَلْها، كَتَبَها اللَّهُ له عِنْدَهُ حَسَنَةً كامِلَةً، فإنْ هو هَمَّ بها فَعَمِلَها، كَتَبَها اللَّهُ له عِنْدَهُ عَشْرَ حَسَناتٍ، إلى سَبْعِ مِائَةِ ضِعْفٍ، إلى أضْعافٍ كَثِيرَةٍ، ومَن هَمَّ بسَيِّئَةٍ فَلَمْ يَعْمَلْها، كَتَبَها اللَّهُ له عِنْدَهُ حَسَنَةً كامِلَةً، فإنْ هو هَمَّ بها فَعَمِلَها، كَتَبَها اللَّهُ له سَيِّئَةً واحِدَةً
"Verily Allah records the good and bad. He then makes it clear that whoever intends a good deed but did not fulfil it, Allah records it as one complete good deed in his favour. But if he fulfils it, Allah records for him as 10 to 700 good deeds, or more.
And whoever intends a bad deed but did not perform it, Allah records for him as one complete good deed. But if he performs it, Allah records for him as only one bad deed."
Like any other desire, a same-sex romantic attraction might well arise in an individual. However, as acting upon it would be sinful, one should strive to overcome the desire, and not allow it to overcome the person into acting upon it. This is the same for other desires which are prohibited to be acted upon too, such as fornication and adultery. The desire for a romantic relationship with the spouse of another, for example, could happen, and should never be entertained or followed.
Witness how Islam tries to ease the challenges which are faced by the individual. Referring to the Hadith above, to be able to overcome any desires which are prohibited or to not act upon them, will be rewarded by Allah as one good deed. The struggle is not in vain.
Of course, we know overcoming desires is not easy. In fact, it can be a constant struggle. However, it is even more confusing and hard if desires are mistaken to be a part of our identity, especially when those desires are incongruent to our being, beliefs and religious values.
This is why Allah s.w.t. prepares unlimited rewards for those who patiently endure and strive in the face of trials to find practical solutions guided by the path that pleases Him. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
إِنَّمَا يُوَفَّى ٱلصَّـٰبِرُونَ أَجْرَهُم بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
"Only those who endure patiently will be given their reward without limit."
(Surah Az-Zumar, 39:10)
We can see and we acknowledge that there are fellow Muslims who struggle with conflicting values and ideas. The same struggle may be faced with people of other faiths and beliefs as well, who may not share our religious conviction. How should we interact with them?
We must realise that we would only push them away if we attempt to forcefully impose our worldview upon them. The same principle applies if it was the other way around too. Even in reminding others, Islam teaches us to be tactful and compassionate in our approach. This requires more than just a firm resolve. It involves patience, deliberation, and wisdom as well. Allah s.w.t. reminds the Prophet s.a.w. in the Quran:
ٱدْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْمَوْعِظَةِ ٱلْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَـٰدِلْهُم بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحْسَنُ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِۦ ۖ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِٱلْمُهْتَدِينَ
"Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and kind advice, and only debate with them in the best manner. Surely your Lord (alone) knows best who has strayed from His Way and who is (rightly) guided."
(Surah An-Nahl, 16:125)
As reminded by the Office of the Mufti in its published religious advisory - We take guidance from our beloved Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, where he was always firm on the clear boundaries of the religion but counselled followers with compassion and gentleness and taught us not to judge or condemn.
It’s important that we remain firm and rooted in our religious values. Nevertheless, despite any differences, everyone deserves dignity and respect as fellow human beings. The last thing we want is to drive people away from the religion by belittling and degrading them.
Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى ٱلْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْلِحُونَ
"Be a community that calls for what is good, urges what is right, and forbids what is wrong: those who do this are the successful ones."
(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:104)
For the majority of Muslims, the announcement to repeal section 377A does not pose a threat to our religious values. There are many religious prohibitions that are made legal in the country we live in which do not affect our religious positions. Drinking alcoholic beverages or gambling are some examples of religious prohibitions which will never change for Muslims but are considered legal in Singapore.
For Muslims who may partake in such activities, we should invite them to see the wonders of our religion and offer them help on how to curb and tackle their alcoholic or gambling urges, instead of blatantly condemning them for their flaws.
Likewise, the same principles apply to Muslims who are struggling to overcome their nafs in having same-sex sexual attractions.
As Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said “it is important that religious values remain the same, even as laws change. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore will continue to work with the Government to strengthen the institution of marriage while ensuring that society remains cohesive.”
The time of the hour demands us to relearn and revisit our religion to embody the prophetic guidance, especially in dealing with difficult and ever-changing situations while remaining steadfast with our core religious values.
Let us continue to play our part by developing ourselves with praiseworthy traits, strengthening our family institutions and doing good for the benefit of the entire community. May Allah s.w.t. keep us and our loved ones safe and under His protection.
And Allah knows best.