The hidden existence of female homosexuality in Islam

Ilaria Bilancetti

"Religion... is much more than a holy text.
Religion is a holy text plus interpretations plus local culture plus local condition
(As'as Abu Khalil cited in Habib 2007:143)


The anthropologists' discovery that different societies perceive homosexual behaviours differently, brought some of them to state that homosexuality is a "cultural construct" influenced by local conceptions of gender, instead of a "sexual identity" as stated by essentialists. In this paper I will try to reconcile constructivist and essentialist approaches in order to explore the hidden phenomenon of female homosexuality in Islamic countries, which has been largely denied within literature about Muslim women.

At first I will use a constructivist approach to understand Islamic negative attitude toward homosexuality, principally due to the binary notion of sexuality emphasized in the Qua'ran. Then, referring to the common conception of femininity, I will try to demonstrate how the apparent inexistence of lesbians in Muslim countries can be related with the prevalent patriarchal structure of such societies, where the status of the woman is mainly defined by her role as wife and mother.

In the second chapter I will refer to Habib's research to regain some essentialist assumptions and demonstrate that homosexual identities were existing before their social definition, categorization and historical problematization. An analysis of ancient Arabic literature shows that so called "grinder women" were diffused during the Middle Age in the Arabic countries and that they were engaged in long life relations, as with modern Western lesbians. The fact that these references lack condemnation demonstrates that Islamic repressive discourse about homosexuality is connected with the historical rise of religious orthodoxy. Although Foucault shaped his theory of sexuality on modern Western/Christian countries I will try to apply his theoretical framework to Muslim societies: the hegemonic regime of truth, according to which homosexuality is haram (prohibited), is legitimized by religious leaders, whose powerful form of knowledge is diffused by different channels of communication like the popular media. The limited ethnographic data shows how the repressive discourse influences the self perceptions of Muslim lesbians who hardly accept their "sick and sinful" sexual inclinations.

Only very recently Muslim gays and lesbians started to show themselves and to advocate their rights as "creations of Allah's will", with the firm intention to reconcile their sexuality with religion. Activists are mainly connected through online forums, where they try to reform the Qua'ran by emphasizing its intrinsic humanism. However the nascent Muslim LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) organizations are still weak in their countries of origin because of the spreading intolerance legitimated by repressive laws, causing them to settle in Western countries.

One exception is represented by Indonesia, where different gay and lesbian organizations are active within the territory in resisting to the program of Islamic moralization perpetrated by the State. In fact Indonesian population seems not to be so adverse to homosexuality as in other Muslim countries. Referring to the work of Blackwood and Geertz I will show how the pre-colonial indigenous cosmology still influences the way Indonesian people perceive sexuality and that the late advent of Islam created a situation of religious syncretism and flexibility which hardly pertains to repressive religious orthodoxy as in other Muslim countries.

A constructivist understanding of homosexuality in Islam

In 1966 David Sonenschein declared the importance of the contribution that anthropology can bring to the study of homosexuality: in his opinion, a discipline based on comparative analysis had the potential to integrate medical research with ethnographic data from other societies. In spite of the adverse cultural environment which considered the study of homosexuality as a "taboo topic", before the 60's there is no complete absence of anthropologists who deal with the issue within their work. Fitzgerald (1977) mentions Carpenters (1914), Westermarck (1917), Benedict (1934), Mead (1961) who can be considered the historical antecedents of constructivism, because they first introduced the idea that homosexuality is a "culture bond", i.e. performed, interpreted and widespread differently in different societies. The current etiological debate between constructivism and essentialism is based on the contrasted arguments which respectively consider homosexuality a culturally-driven 'way to behave', or instead a 'way of being' due with personal experiences or hormone imbalances. (Risman and Schwartz 1988: 126-127). During the last decades the main exponents of constructivism tried to demonstrate how the causal importance of personal biology is weaker compared to the strong capacity that society has in influencing people's conceptions of sexuality. Because every society is based on different beliefs and value structures, homosexuality assumes different connotations worldwide, which make an universal definition impossible - as McIntosh states:

"The current conceptualization of homosexuality as a condition is a false one, resulting from ethnocentric bias. Homosexuality should be seen rather as a social role. Anthropological evidence shows that the role does not exist in all societies, and where it does it is not always the same as in modern western societies" (1968: 182)

She also focuses on the influence that society exercises on individuals through a process of labelling: society's attitude toward homosexuality deeply influences not only its emergence, but also how gays and lesbians perceive and express themselves. (1)

Islamic idea of sexuality is based on a strict distinction between the two sex roles (2) and consequently sexual relations are legitimised only between the two members of the opposite sex. According to the religious scholar Bouhdiba (1985), in the Qua'ran physical love is not denied as in the Bible, but rather exalted: people are invited to enjoy physical love and any form of asceticism is reject as a transgression of the natural and right way to behave. Through sexual intercourse, procreation happens as a repetition of the miracle of creation:

"The sacred mission of sexuality is to propagate life, to multiply existence. In assuming it, man takes part in a divine work whose majesty is enough to give a new meaning to his existence. Sexuality is a deployment of the intensity of life". (Bouhdiba 1985:13)

Sexuality acquires sacral value thanks to its creative and procreative function, which is possible only through the union of males and females, within the canonical framework of nikah (legal marriage). Any other sexual relations outside the marriage is condemned as fornication and even more damned are the relations that are not based on sexual complementarity, because they defy the bipolarity on which the order and the harmony of the world lie:

"Islam remains violently hostile to all other ways of realizing sexual desire, which are regarded as unnatural purely and simply because they run counter to the antithetical harmony of the sexes; they violate the harmony of life; they plunge man into ambiguity, they violate the very architectonics of the cosmos. [...] Sexual deviation is a revolt against God" (Bouhdiba 1985:31)

According to Bouhdiba's interpretation of the Qua'ran, male homosexuality constitutes "the depravity of depravities" and deserve the strongest castigation. It is still an object of religious debate over how to penalise homosexuals, but there are many jurists of Islam who consider capital punishment more appropriate in order to "maintain the purity of the Islamic society and to keep it clean of perverted elements" (Al-Quaradawi 1994: 170). This aggressive and repulsed attitude is aggravated by the prejudiced connection that most Muslim people make between homosexuality and other deplorable activities as penetrative lust, sexual violence and aggressiveness. This belief comes from the story of Lot, written in the Qua'ran, but already existing in the Bible: according to the Islamic version, the Tribe of Lot used to sodomize and abuse the Prophet Lot in order to assert their dominance and humiliate him. This passage is used to condemn fornication, sodomy and homosexuality, although there are other recent interpretations that demonstrate how the condemnation of homosexuality is only an extensive and mistaken interpretation of the text (Boellstorff 2005, Habib 2007, Siraj al-Haqq kugle 2010, Siraj 2011).

Within this cultural and religious context that so strongly condemns male homosexuality, female homosexuality is generally considered an unusual phenomenon, almost inexistent, scarcely mentioned in literature (Habib 2007, Siraj 2011). Compared with male homosexuality, female homosexuality is treated with more tolerance, because Islamic jurists define sexual intercourse only as penile penetration, so sexual acts between two women are not considered real intercourse and cannot constitute fornication. The story of Lot cannot be used to legitimate the religious prohibition of the practice because it implies sodomy, but some interpreters found in another passage of the Qua'ran an apparent reference to same-sex acts between women (3). The passage, however, is very vague and it has been shown how this interpretation can be easily falsified through a careful lexical analysis of the Arabic text (Habib 2007: 60-61, Siraj al-Haqq Kugle 2010: 64, Siraj 2011: 101).

Apart from the explicit Qua'ranic references, the main point against female homosexuality in Islamic countries is based on to the fact that a lesbian represents the antithesis of the ideal Muslim woman: mother and wife (Siraj 2011:111). Moreover, although religious texts exalt complementarity between the two sexes- and so equality, Muslim communities are largely patriarchal and women are generally in a condition of relative 'inferiority' and dependency of the man who provides for them, because they often do not have access to wage work and their fraction of inheritance is very limited:

"To be more precise, femininity is reduced to being no more than the observer of masculinity. Woman is the shadow of man, in the literal as well as the figurative sense. Everywhere denied, femininity hides itself and seeks refuge: woman becomes a creature of the home and of the night". (Bohudiba 1985: 214)

The only real source of value she has is related to her capacity for having children, especially males. The number of children she has not only increase her prestige and reputation, but it represents also an element of security, because her sons will protect her from poverty and need. A sterile woman is highly devalued and she is destined to be only the servant of the second wife, if the husband decides not to repudiate her (Bohudiba 1985). According to this social-construction of woman, a lesbian in Islamic country is destined to have no rights, protection and social recognition because her sexuality prevents her from contracting nikah and having children. As Siraj al-Haqq Kugle points out, lesbians in Muslim countries "face a dual challenge" (2010:63): as woman and as woman sexually "deviated". The practical difficulties that Muslim lesbians have to face due to lack of autonomy and financial independence without a male protection and also the social condemnation derived from homophobic interpretations of the Qua'ran, can be considered an explanation of the apparent absence of female homosexuality within Arabic countries.

The historical problematization of homosexuality

The constructivist approach is useful to analyse how homosexuality is conceived and performed cross-culturally, but at the same time is not exhaustive, because the strength of the factors that determine certain attitudes toward homosexuality within societies are characterized by historical discontinuity. In order to criticize the increasing academic orthodoxy of the constructivist approach, Habib refers to Bowsell (1804), who introduces the idea that the existence itself of homosexuality is not socially and historically determined, but rather socially problematized (4).

Following Bowsell's historical approach, Habib demonstrates that until the thirteenth century, female homosexuality was fairly common within Arabic countries. She provides a rich and detailed overview of ancient literature which refers to homosexual attitudes between women: legends about princesses without princes, romantic accounts of same-sex relationships, speculation about the reasons for women's sexual deviances, witnesses of marriage between women and lesbians circles and so on. After a deep analysis of these references she is able to demonstrate that the way female homosexuality is performed and conceived in the Islamic Middle Age, is not so different from the Western modern representation of it, because most of them refer to long-life relations, instead of sporadic behaviours. For this reason the author reclaims the validity of certain essentialist assumptions, which recognize the existence through the history of a universal category of homosexuality, composed by those individuals who not only behave as homosexuals, but actually are homosexuals.

"On the basis of this indelibility of biology from behaviour that we must accept that those elements of homosexuality which constantly repeat themselves in transhistorical and cultural context are not merely phenomenal, but are rather embedded in similarities brought about by our constitution as a species" (2007:40)

These references prove that lesbian women, apparently "inexistent" nowadays within Arabic countries, were not only numerous in the past but they were also mainly accepted and integrated within the society (5). In fact the literature she reports is characterized by objectivity, tolerance or curiosity -in other words, there was no condemnation related with religious beliefs:

"The erotic literature and religious discourse around homosexuality that appeared between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries reveals not only the openly observed existence of these deviant women (who were not always as totally rejected and persecuted as one might imagine), it also reveals that the ideology of contemporary Islamic orthodoxy was neither dominant nor domineering at the time". (Habib 2007:83)

Within the literature the shift from speculative curiosity to religious and moral condemnation is clear: by the fifteenth century homosexual desires became a devil's creation. According to Habib (2007) this new intolerant attitude in conceiving homosexuality is part of a broader change of economical and political climate which characterized Arabic countries during these years: in order to legitimize new moral values religion is reviewed, utilized and sometimes even manipulated (6).

The idea that different historical periods are characterized by different systems of representations manifested through specific rules and practices, was already introduced by Foucault in the History of Sexuality (1978, 1984). Referring to Western-Christian countries he shows how the rising industrial bourgeois society, driven by a rising belief in rationality, created and spread new moral values, whose modern discourse about sex constituted an integrant part. Sexuality became strictly regulated within defined bounds and all the behaviours which did not correspond to the prescribed "normality" became the object of public condemnation, although previously accepted or even ignored. The new morality of the Victorian Age worked as normative discourse, in fact all the manifestations of sexuality which were placed outside the "normality" were classified as "deviant" and deserved to be repressed. This was possible because the dominant discourse was legitimized by powerful sources of knowledge as education, science and religion through different channels of communication, which continuously reconfirmed its truthfulness:

"It is sometimes the case that these rules and values are plainly set forth in a coherent doctrine and an explicit teaching. But it also happens that they are transmitted in a diffuse manner, so that, far from constituting a systematic ensemble, they form a complex interplay of elements that counterbalance and correct one another". (1984:25)

What happened in Arabic countries after the Middle Age was a progressive radicalization of religious belief which brought to the problematization and condemnation of homosexuality as social "deviance". Within the Islamic hegemonic discourse male homosexuality appeared as a dangerous perversion which has to be persecuted and punished as one of the worst crimes against morality; while female homosexuality was considered a sort of "mental disease" (7) which has to be treated in order to turn the individual back to "normality".

In this context the role of the media is determinant in reconfirming the spreading misconception about female homosexuality. Habib (2007: 129-132) analyses Egyptian films (like Pleasure and Suffering (8), The Rise to the Downfall (9) and Mad Youths (10)) which represent lesbian inclinations as transitory because destined to be "corrected" by the right man. The main character, depicted as the "victim" of her sinful condition, falls into same-sex relationships because she is afraid of men or because she is influenced by deviant persons, who are usually obscured and confined to the margin of the films as authentically homosexual characters. Moreover lesbian relationships are presented as driven by eroticism and lust, even with the addition of drugs and alcohol, while the final heterosexual ones are based on true love.

In Foucaultian terms, the dominant discourse about female homosexuality within Arabic countries creates a powerful "regime of truth" which is passively accepted, legitimated by religious assumptions and reconfirmed by media representations. In this context most of the individuals who believe to have "abnormal" sexual inclinations live in a condition of personal struggle about their identity and try to hide themselves in order not to be marginalized. In conducting her research about Muslim lesbians Siraj (2011) confirms these attitudes, even within Muslim communities of immigrants in United Kingdom:

"Because they are often an invisible minority, the subject and study of lesbians lives is difficult and complex. [...] Muslim lesbians represent a population that is hard to define, difficult to reach, or resistant to identification because of social isolation and possible prejudice" (2011:99).

When she finally finds a 26-years old Pakistani girl born in Glasgow, she refers to the difficulties that Muslim lesbians face, firstly in accepting themselves and after in admitting their sexual tendencies. Sofia (11) has disclosed her sexual inclinations to only five people, including her brother who advised her to "fix herself" through the help of a doctor. As in the Egyptian films, her brother considers his sister's homosexuality as a transitory condition, but Sofia is aware that she will never get over it, although she refuses the possibility to have an homosexual relationship:

"I know I can never be with a girl. I just can't it, it sometimes feels wrong, it doesn't even come to my mind to be honest ... I think it's a lot easier and less complicated being on your own. Also if I was to be with another person, I'd be throwing away so much, society, community, family, I mean, what they would think of me?" (2010: 115)

Not only does Sofia repress her sexual inclinations because she is scared of the reaction of her community and her family, but also makes herself consider her sexuality as "wrong" because "it says in the Qua'ran it is wrong"(2011: 116). During her life she learnt all the negative conceptions of homosexuality and she passively internalized them until she arrived to reject her identity so much to think seriously about suicide:

"Why would God do this? Why me? When I first realized I was a lesbian, I hated it. I hated myself. I thought it was disgusting; I didn't want to be like them [gays]! I mean, what was I going to do?" (2011: 113)

Sofia's encounter can be taken as representative of the condition of hidden Muslim lesbians who experience a deep incongruence between their spontaneous feelings and their religious belief, according to which they are sinful creatures (Boellsorff 2005, Habib 2007). The refusal and the condemnation of the self is the expression of the struggle that these tormented individuals has to live with in order to not break the ties with the homophobic community they belong to.

Forms of resistance and the case of Indonesia

According to the available literature, a common condition of gay and lesbian Muslims is the struggle to reconcile their religious belief with their sexuality (Boellstorff 2005, Marching 2008, Shannahan 2009, Siraj al-Haqq Kugle 2010, Siraj 2011). The fact that religious authorities condemn homosexuality as haram (12) make these individuals perceive themselves as sinners or oblige them to choose between faith and sexual inclinations:

"For each of us, it's a struggle. Probably 90 to 99 percent of gay Muslim who have accepted their sexuality leave their faith. They don't see the chance for a reconciliation. They are two identities of your life that are exclusive" (the founder of the North American LGBT group Al-Faitha cited n Shannahan 2009: 67)

The recent diffusion of websites managed by Islamic organizations of homosexuals activists (like Al-Faitha, Imam, Safra etc) created a cyber community aimed to help Muslim homosexuals to reconcile their sexuality with their religion. According to Siraj al-Haqq Kugle these organizations have a double strategy, based on "resistance and renewal" (2010:40). In fact they resist the dominant interpretations of the Qua'ran used by scholars to condemn homosexuality, and also they advocate more ethical interpretations of the texts which exalt pluralism and the value of difference between God's creations (13). They distinguish between 'homosexual acts' and 'homosexual identity' in order to affirm that the fact they were born non-heterosexual is part of Allah's plan, it is an expression of a divine will and not a personal choice due to lust or perverse desires. As a Javanese gay states:

"I know that I was created the same as hetero. It's only that I desire men. I know that God knows my feelings, knows that I like men. So I think it's something that's ordinary and natural... I now realize that God has created everything, including gay people, so in fact it's not a sin. I didn't choose to be gay. Did you choose to be gay? Of course not". (cited in Boellstorff 2005:580)

The activist members of these organization are engaged in a "gender jihad" (Shannahan 2009: 70) directed to reform the current homophobic Islamic law, the sharia, by supporting the idea that Islamic tradition embraced the notion of Human Rights even before Western countries, thanks to a specific humanist attitude of the Qua'ran which has been historically obscured for political reasons (Siraj al-Haqq Kugle 2010).

The issue of formulating universal sexual rights is still debated because it requires an universal definition of homosexual identity, which it is not easy because in many countries the terms "gays" and "lesbians" carry different connotations (14) (Blackwood 2007, Habib 2007). Furthermore the notion itself of universal human rights is often criticized by non-Western countries as a Western imposition, as an example of cultural imperialism which disregards cultural differences and local perceptions. Offord and Cantrell (2001) compare the progress of the notion of sexual rights between Indonesia and Australia in order to show how local conceptions of the notion itself of "identity", deeply influence the capacity of the minorities to emancipate themselves. Because in Indonesia there is a strong communal identity, the process toward the recognition of sexual rights is much slower than in Australia: the western emphasis on individualism, which favours the social recognition of sexual minorities, is considered a threat to the unity, coherence and order of the State, which has been strongly stressed by government programs.

During the New Order (1966-1998) the construction of a "national community" based on Muslim religion was strongly advocated by the state and the nuclear household family has been taken as its foundational unit (Blackwood 2005, Boellstorff 2005, Marching 2008). Consequently the role of the woman as wife and mother was strongly emphasised by state programs and young girls were oriented toward the career of housewives since their earliest years of school. The government efforts toward the affirmation of the Islamic notions of gender which clearly defines masculine and feminine attributes according to their social roles, damaged lesbians more than gays, because it often forces them to get married so as not to lose their social status together with the respect of their family. According to Murray (1999) class appurtenance deeply influences the way Indonesian lesbians experience their condition and relate to each other: the ones coming from upper classes tend to create their own hidden circle in order not to renounce their social status, while the ones coming from the lower status represent a more visible subculture mainly confined in the suburbs characterized by night clubs and circles of drugs and prostitution.

During the last decade, as a response to the intention of the government to reform the Penal Code and more strictly regulate citizens sexual activities, upper-class, educated lesbians started to become visible and involved in international gay movements, joining the challenge for the affirmation of sexual rights. Moreover, local organisations like Swara Srikandi, Sector 15 and Gaya Nusatra, which had before a low profile, begun to work actively with the media in order to show an alternative positive image of Indonesian lesbians and publicly resist the dominant normative discourse (Blackwood 2007). Compared to other Islamic countries, Indonesian social environment appears much more tolerant toward homosexuality, in fact the presence of gays and lesbians are evident and their representative organizations are spread and visible within the territory: Gaya Nusantra, the largest gay and lesbians organization in South East Asia, is active in AIDS prevention programs and regularly publishes a journal which is sold in general book shops, while Sector 15 is a part of Indonesian Women's Coalition, active for the recognition of women's and sexual rights. On the contrary, in the majority of Muslim countries homosexuality is still considered "illegal" (15) and organizations of Muslim activists cannot even exist: in fact gay and lesbians Islamic organizations are mainly settled in Western countries, and the internet is the only possible channel to spread the reformist message in their countries of origin (Habib 2007, Siraj al-Haqq Kugle 2010).

The fact that in Indonesia the attempt to criminalize homosexuality is facing a strong public resistance by activists and that the topic of female homosexuality is not a public taboo but it is rather a fashionable, although controversial, object of debate within the media (Marching 2008), means that the repressive religious discourse about homosexuality is not so powerful.

Blackwood (2005) demonstrated that the Indonesian attitude toward homosexuality is influenced by indigenous conceptions of gender, which were precedent of the advent of Islam. She considers the diffuse presence of tombois (16) as the modern reinterpretation and manifestation of pre-colonial practices of "ritual transvestism" during which individuals, both men and women, assumed gender-ambiguous roles. The women who were performing these sacred rituals, called balian, were female priestess who symbolically assumed a "sacred gender" based on a complex and powerful combination of both masculine and feminine attributes. In fact, according to Javanese indigenous cosmology, humans represent the two divided halves of the godhead, which have to be recombined periodically by these practitioners through embracing the opposite sex's features.

By the late thirteenth century, balian were gradually removed from the popular rituals, because Muslim religion tried to impose a completely different notion of gender:

"Islamic discourse 'naturalized' gender by emphasizing gender difference and gender boundaries that restricted women's lives; they also tended to deny the magical powers arising from gender and the ability of humans to contain gender ambiguity". (Blackwood 2005:862)

However the penetration of Muslim religion within the country has not been so deep as it has been spread, because Indonesians seem to be still influenced by their innate "common sense" (Geertz 1968:93) (17), which derives from indigenous cosmology. Analysing Indonesian religiosity in comparison with Moroccan, Geertz (1968) notes that the fact that Islam arrived in Indonesia only during the fourteenth century through "trade" (instead of "conquest" as in Morocco) and appropriated a civilization already characterized by its own system of believes, resulted in a malleable "syncretism" completely different from the rigorous orthodoxy which characterizes other Muslim countries:

"Compared to North Africa, the Middle East and even to Muslim India, whose brand of faith it perhaps most closely resembles, Indonesian Islam has been, at least until recently, remarkably malleable, tentative, syncretistic, and, most significantly of all, multivoiced" (1968:12).

The fact that the diffusion of Muslim religion in Indonesia has been characterized by pragmatism instead of rigorism and moral perfectionism, has made Indonesian people less infected by the religious leaders and state officials attempts to impose a strict morality derived from the Qua'ran. Nowadays Indonesia, thanks to its population, is the country with the highest number of Muslims (Boellstorff 2005), however the way people deal with their religiosity and assume, or not, a defined moral code, is still deeply influenced by a secular and local, system of beliefs.


At the beginning of this paper, thanks to the contribution that anthropology gave to the cross-cultural analysis of homosexuality, I showed how the way female homosexuality is perceived and performed (or not performed) in Islamic countries is deeply influenced by a strict definition of gender roles derived by religious assumptions. However the apparent absence of homosexuality is not directly related with religion, but rather with its historical interpretation. Due to lack of resources I have not been able to identify the historical factors that provoked the social problematization of homosexuality in Muslim countries, however my prior intention was to demonstrate that religion is only the tool used to legitimize and stimulate an increasingly popular intolerance, instead of the cause of it. Dominant morality is often connected with religion but it is never defined by religion alone. In fact, religious texts are apparently fixed, but their interpretation is variable according to historical social necessities. It is this variability of interpretations that give the possibility to gay and lesbian activists to challenge the hegemonic religious discourse, which is based on historical and local interpretations more than universal truths. The case of Indonesia is in this sense paradigmatic, in fact it can be seen as the proof that Muslim religion can not only be more flexible than it appears, but also that its orthodoxy can be resisted by those individuals who are able to demonstrate that the repressive morality toward homosexuality does not belong to God, and so, it is susceptible to change.


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1. In a comparative analysis between Australia, Sweden and Finland, Ross (1983) confirms McIntosh's theories, showing that within the societies with a higher level of anti-homosexual attitude and sex-role differentiation, gay people have the tendency to attribute themselves feminine/masculine attributes, while in the countries with more tolerance there are not necessarily this self-ascription within conventional categories.

2. In fact transgenders are much better accepted than gays, because the transsexual operation is considered a reparative option for those men who have feminine sexual preferences: turning passive gays into the other sex is considered the only possible way to preserve the gender paradigm based on binary distinction. (Habib 2007: 14-15)

3. 'As for those of your women who commit the immoralities [al-faisha], have four from among yourselves bear witness against them. If they do witness, then confine them [the women] to their rooms until death causes them to perish or until God makes for them a way [of release]. And for any two from among you [men] who commit it, then punish the two of them, then if they repent and reform then leave the two alone, for indeed God is forgiving and merciful' (Quaran 4:15-16 cited in Siraj al-Haqq Kugle 2010:64)

4. In the work Christianity, Homosexuality and Social Tolerance (1980) Boswell shows that there was a certain degree of tolerance toward homosexuality in the early Christian church, although the church itself is widely recognised as one of the main responsible for the diffusion of anti-homosexual attitudes. Thanks to this historical references he can demonstrate that such people now called "gay" always existed. (Habib 2007)

5. In the chapter entitled 'Certain Practices', Bouhdiba refers to ancient Islamic literature to confirms the presence of female homosexuality around the tenth century, when he writes about the public bath (Hammam): 'Uqbani gives us clear indications concerning the lesbianism that was widespread in his day and which obviously blossomed in the atmosphere of ostentatious nudity that reigned in the women's hammam'. (1985:167)

6. Siraj al-Haqq Kugle confirms these assumptions referring to "neo-traditionalism" as the new ideological strategy that militant Muslim extremists advocate as response of Western "islamophobia" after 9/11. The repression of homosexuality is part of it within a wider project of return to Islamic tradition. (2010:23)

7. According to Habib the contemporary popular Arabian epistemology of female homosexuality is based on five assumptions: "harshness" of men, experience of sexual trauma (with men), suffering for mental ailment, ..., wrong education (2007:91)

8. Al- Mutat wal Azab, director Niazi Mustafa 1973.

9. Al- Suaood Ila al-Hawiya, director Kamal Sheik 1979.

10. Genoun al-Shabab director Khalil Shawqui 1980.

11. Siraj's pseudonymous of the girl interviewed.

12. Islamic morality is based on the distinction between two spherese: haram and halal. The former refers to all the behaviours that are considered contrary to the Qua'ran teachings, and so strictly prohibited. According to Al-Quaradawi: It remains haram no matter how good the intention, how honourable the purpose, or how lofty the aim may be. Islam can never consent to employing a haram means to achieve a praiseworthy end. (1994:31)

13. In order to demonstrate that the Qua'ran does not condemn homosexuality, Siraj al-Haqq Kugle reports some verses which -according to his interpretation, refer to the existence of gays and lesbians in a positive or morally neutral way, as creations of Allah (2010:66).

14. According to Murray (1999) Indonesian women with homosexual attitudes do not even like to be defined as "lesbians" because it is considered a western term which refers to certain stereotypical behaviours expression of a pathological deviance. In fact the term itself was not existing in Indonesia before the 80s and has been quickly manipulated by the media in order to create a repressive discourse about homosexuality.

15. In Morocco, for example, homosexual acts are considered a crime of "abuse and exploitation of Islam", which is usually applied to extremists and terrorists. Because it is a crime actively persecuted, homosexuals have no protection in case of public humiliation, sexual abuse and violence. (Siraj al-Haqq Kugle 2010)

16. "Tombois speak and identifying as men, look and dress like men, and have the freedom of mobility and bravery generally associated with men in Western Sumatra" (2005:867)

17. According to Geertz common sense consists of "a body of assumptions, some of them conscious but the bulk merely taken for granted, about the way things in the simple nature of the case are -about what is normal and what is not, what is reasonable and what is not, what is real and what is not"