Attitudes toward male homosexuality in the premodern Arab-Islamic world are commonly depicted as inconsistent. On the one hand, Arabic love poetry, biographical works, and bawdy satires suggest that homosexuality was a visible and tolerated part of Arab-Islamic elite culture before the nineteenth century. On the other hand, Islam supposedly considers homosexuality an abomination and prescribes severe punishment for it.
In Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500–1800, Khaled El-Rouayheb shows that this apparent paradox is based on the anachronistic assumption that homosexuality is a timeless, self-evident fact to which a particular culture reacts with some degree of tolerance or intolerance. Drawing on poetry, belles lettres, biographical literature, medicine, physiognomy, dream interpretation, and Islamic legal, mystical, and homiletic texts, he shows that the culture of the period lacked the concept of homosexuality. Instead, paramount importance was given to distinctions that are not captured by that term—between active and passive sexual roles, between passionate infatuation and lust, and between penetrative and nonpenetrative intercourse.
The first book-length treatment on the perceptions and evaluations of male homoeroticism in premodern Arab-Islamic culture, this book will become a welcome and frequently referred to addition to the bookshelves of readers interested in the history of sexuality, Islamic history, Arabic literature, gay and lesbian studies, and the history of ideas.
"Meticulously researched, lucidly written, nuanced, and brilliantly conceived, [the book] forthrightly takes on complex issues surrounding the culture of same-sex eroticism that existed in the Arabic-speaking lands of the early modern Ottoman Empire. . . . Although the book will be obligatory reading for students of Ottoman and Arab literature, culture, sociology, intellectual history, the history of sex, and related fields, it most certainly belongs on the bookshelves of those with any interest in the history and theology of Islam or, more generally, in religious approaches to sexuality. . . . An important book by an excellent scholar."—Walter Andrews, Journal of Religion