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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #39 – Crompton 1997 “Male Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain”

Full citation: 

Crompton, Louie. 1997. “Male Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain” in Islamic Homosexualities - Culture, History, and Literature, ed. by Stephen O. Murray & Will Roscoe. New York University Press, New York. ISBN 0-8147-7468-7

Publication summary: 

It is an unfortunately useful rule of thumb that any academic collection that both includes the word “homosexual” in the title and is edited solely by men will tend to be oblivious to the existence of lesbians. Fortunately, Murray & Roscoe’s Islamic Homosexualities does not follow that rule of thumb. The collection is a bit of an odd combination of historic studies and modern ethnographic work. Another somewhat unusual feature is that 2/3 of the contents are authored (or co-authored) by one or the other of the editors. To the best that I can tell (based purely on authors' names), the only authors that themselves come out of Islamic cultures are in the section on modern ethnographic work. Overall, although the editors seem to have made a sincere attempt to include diversity both in their topics and authors, it has a tacked-on feel. Despite that, the collection includes 5 articles that contain and least some material relevant to the LHMP. The first two I’ll present have a brief mention of lesbians in the context of articles primarily covering male topics. Next week I’ll finish up with the other three articles. One is the sole article focusing on lesbians as the primary topic, the other two being ethnographic studies of recognized cross-gender roles for women in specific Islamic societies where there is not an expectation of same-sex sexual activity.

Crompton, Louie. 1997. “Male Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain”

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As the article title indicates, this primarily focuses on men. The bulk of the article focuses on a treatise on love titled “The Dove’s Neck-Ring about Love and Lovers”, written by Ibn Hazm in 10th century Spain. Ibn Hazm includes a scattering of anecdotes and discussions of love between men in a greater preponderance of heterosexual material, but also contains a single reference to love between women. The item is short enough to be worth invoking fair use and quoting Crompton’s paragraph in full:

"This chapter also contains Ibn Hazm’s sole reference to lesbianism. “I once saw a woman,” he tells us, “who had bestowed her affections in ways not pleasing to Almighty God.” But her love changed to an “enmity the like of which is not engendered by hatred, or revenge, or the murder of a father, or the carrying of a mother into captivity. Such is Allah’s wont with all those who practice abomination” (Ibn Hazm 1953:249). But again, Islamic references to lesbianism were apparently not always this condemnatory. At least a dozen love romances in which the lovers were women are mentioned in The Book of Hind, who was herself an archetypal lesbian. The ninth century produced a lost Treatise on Lesbianism (Kitab al-Sahhakat) (Bosworth 1954-5:777b; Foster 1958:84-85) and later Arab works on eroticism contained chapters on the subject. In this respect they are perhaps unique in pre-modern literature.”

Time period: 

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