Today, identifying as a homosexual is decreasingly being seen as a negative stigma, especially in the West. This is evident in the gay marriage case that is right now being pushed through the American Supreme Court. This is even evident on Facebook. Look at your Facebook and I’m sure you’ll find friends that are supporting gay marriage because they’ve changed their profile picture to this:
In America, homosexuality is seen as an identity rather than a behavior. It is seen as being who you are or what you are. However, what is homosexuality like in the Middle East?
To begin with, in Saudi Arabia the legal code is based off of sharia, or Islamic law. This means that it is illegal to smoke, drink, go to discos, or mix with individuals of the opposite gender who are not related to you. Therefore, people spend most of their time with individuals of the same gender. Now face it, we all have the desire for pleasure. It’s part of being human. It is only an inevitability that sexual relations between men or between women is to occur when they are segregated! But what is “gay”? This is an incredibly important question, because there is a disparity in the definition of homosexuality between the West and the Middle East. Being attracted to someone of the same gender is not seen as being “gay” in Saudi Arabia. It is recently being seen as normal, a phase that we pass through as we grow older.
In the Middle East (unlike the West), homosexual behavior is an act, not an orientation. Sexuality itself is not distinguished between heterosexual or homosexual, but between taking pleasure and being used for pleasure. This can be simplified into being a top or a bottom. There are no negative stigmas attached to a top, whereas being a bottom is looked down upon since that is traditionally a woman’s role. A top is not considered gay because that role is for the dominant partner. Thus, the act of having sex with another man in Saudi Arabia has little to do with “gayness”. It is only to satisfy a desire or need, and does not strip the man of his masculinity if he is the top. If he is the bottom, it is assumed that one day he will leave that role behind and take over the role of top.
Abubaker Bagader, a human-rights activist in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, describes homosexuality as “something one might pass through. It’s to be understood as a stage of life, particularly at youth.” Using this view of sexual behavior, homosexual acts are fostered by the segregation of the sexes, shifting the stigma onto bottoms and allowing older men to excuse their younger behavior as mere youthful transgressions.
With all that said, wouldn’t people still be afraid of committing homosexual acts when the legal code of the country is based off of sharia? The answer is: not really. The truth is that there are no rules about homosexuality within the Koran. Zero. The Koran even limits the power of the Saudi religious police, the mutawwa’in, to only being able to punish people who publicly commit sinful acts. This means that anything done in private is fine as long as it stays private. Out of sight, out of mind. The only true reference to homosexuality in the Koran is the story of Lot, where men in Lot’s town lust for male angels and as a result have brimstone rained down upon them. This is all that exists in the Koran in regards directly to homosexuality. Therefore, in regards to the Koran, homosexual acts need only concern a believer and God.
The only other Islamic text that talks about homosexuality is one of the hadiths. It says “Those whom you find performing the act of the people of Lot, kill both the active and the passive partner.” This hadith is the only reason to be fearful of being found guilty of homosexual acts in Saudi Arabia. While most religious scholars find this hadith to be unreliable, the school of legal thought which is the basis for law in the Saudi kingdom accepts it. Thus, if you are going to be gay in Saudi Arabia, it is best to stay in the closet.
With that being said, how will Saudi Arabians’ idea of “gay” be changed by increasing globalization and exposure to the West? Will they still consider themselves straight individuals who choose to sample other individuals of the same gender due to segregation? Or will they adopt the idea of “gay” being an identity as it is in the West? Only time will tell.