Special Issue "Sexuality in Arab-Islamic Cultures: Past and Present"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Health/Psychology/Social Sciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 October 2021.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Jan Jaap de Ruiter
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Culture Studies, Tilburg University, 5037 AB Tilburg, Netherlands
Interests: language; integration; Islam; Islam and democracy; Muslim minorities; Muslim society and culture; sexuality; Multiculturalism; Morocco; Arab-Islamic culture

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Culture and religion are powerful forces in the rulings of human sexual behaviour and Arab-Islamic cultures do not form an exception to that rule. Islam has developed its own rulings and values of sexually acceptable behaviour, but one has to realize that Islam exists in many shapes and that it is possible to find sexual rulings that vary from very strict to very open. On top of that, it is hard to discuss sexuality in Islam without looking at cultural influences, sometimes dating from the pre-Islamic period in this same domain. Orthodox Muslim authorities often stress the difference between purely Islamic sexual concepts and cultural habits, the latter ones often being condemned by these same authorities. Arab-Islamic sexuality, varied as it may be, is in turn faced with Western convictions of sexuality. Many orthodox Muslim authorities reject these, while many associations in the Arab-Islamic world concerned with sexuality in the broadest sense of the word try to reconcile these convictions with Islamic and Arab ones. The debate on sexual diversity and the position of LGBTQ+ persons in the Arab-Islamic world affects participants of different origins and convictions, and does not only take place in the Arab-Islamic world, but also in Arab and Muslim communities outside the Arab-Islamic world, in the West in particular.

The editors of the Special Issue “Sexuality in Arab-Islamic cultures: past and present” of Religions invite academics and researchers in the mentioned field to submit contributions, in which they treat a subject that fits the theme and are either based on developments in the past or the present, provided that both types of contributions are written in the light of the present debate on sexuality in Arab Islamic cultures. The editors appreciate receiving contributions expressing whatever point of view as long as they are based on solid academic research.

Dr. Jan Jaap de Ruiter
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Arab-Islamic cultures
  • sexuality
  • LGBTQ+
  • Muslim minority communities

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.



Title: Islamic "perversions" and the status of apostasy: reformist representations in France and elsewhere, in comparison with classic case law

Abstract: The status of apostasy seems unclear in Islamic jurisprudence of the classical age; it is an act considered traditionally to be a legal vacuum, calling for no corporal punishment (mubah). And when a sentence was applied in this case, it would seem that it was due to partisan political reasons, rather than on the basis of real spiritual proper needs. Yet today some conservative ulemas apply this status of excommunication, patterned on the modern Catholic model, to practices considered to be "abnormal," such as homosexuality. What about the Islamic jurisprudence development, as it is conceived and applied today? What is the position of the so-called majority Islamic authorities, in regards to apostasy or perversion of some Muslim minorities? Moreover, what is the position of these ulemas vis-à-vis the so-called alternative progressive movement, which reject the majority Islamic dogma, in France, Morocco, Egypt and elsewhere in the so-called Arab-Muslim world?



Title: ‘I am not good at this’. Playing with homoeroticism in The Arabian Nights

Abstract: In the collection of stories known collectively in the West as The Arabian Nights, the socio-political paradigm of heteronormativity is a dominant one. Even though a wide variety of erotic and sexual acts are present, from consensual sex to outright rape, inside and outside the boundaries of the traditional marriage, the relationship between male and female characters, in terms of genders and gender roles, is clear enough. But nevertheless, some of the stories, especially the frame story of Shahrazâd, feature various counter-narratives that try to ‘play’ with this kind of normativity. In some stories, especially that of Qamar al-Zamân and of Budûr and Alî Shâr and Zumurrud, themes of travesty and homoerotic play are introduced that challenge the idea of heteronormality, even though without permanently changing its dominance however. In both stories, the female hero, dressed as a powerful man, teases her former male lover into entering an act of (supposed) homosexuality. This play is indicative for the specific changing gender roles in the broader context of these stories themselves. In my article, I will give a detailed narrative analysis of the two stories mentioned above, with specific attention to the homoerotic scenes within them, as an example of the playful way in which The Arabian Nights tough upon the subject of (the sociological dominance of) heteronormativity. Since The Arabian Nights had a profound influence in the Western imagination of the ‘Erotic East’ and has also enjoyed quite some popularity in the Arabian world itself, this analysis will shed new light into this unexpected ‘space’ for sexual and erotic non-conformability within societies usually not associated with sexual freedom and gender equality.



Title: Revisiting the homosexuality narrative in Islam: a revisionist analysis of post-colonialism, the Quran and the Hadith

Abstract: Following the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia, an ongoing debate has resurfaced about the rights of homosexual Muslims. While the majority of Muslims hold that these two identities – Muslim and homosexual – are mutually exclusive and that it is illegal to practise homosexual acts, the recent Muslim revisionist movement seems to provide a more tolerant approach. Members of this movement argue that while the term liwat (anal intercourse) is mentioned in the Quran, this term is not inherently similar to the contemporary understanding of homosexuality based on love (mawaddah) and mutual understanding. This paper aims to demonstrate some of the challenges facing contemporary sexual ethics and its relationship to power (religious, patriarchal and neo-colonialist) by addressing relevant questions related to the pre-colonial and postcolonial legacies of current Muslim LGBTQI+ sexuality. It begins with an analysis of the arguments about whether homosexuality is a social construct (constructivism) or inherently inborn (essentialism), followed by the analysis of theoretical perspectives on homosexuality in the Hadith and Quran. Further, it presents all three such perspectives – the conservative, the centrist and the reformist opinions – by looking into theological debates and decrees on the permissibility and appropriateness of same-sex sexual desire and conduct. It offers a discussion of legal, historical, social and political genealogies of the Islamic legal tradition and the history of same-sex attraction amongst Muslims in the past and present. The paper then considers another approach to seeing a possible place for same-sex unions in Islam, based on the work of Jahangir and Abdullatif (2016; 2018). Ultimately, this paper contributes to a discourse that can enlighten both cis- hetero and sexually diverse, gender-variant Muslims in the hope of helping individuals to empower themselves as well as allowing them to negotiate around their religious, legal, political and social positions.

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