Skip to main content

Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800

Attitudes toward homosexuality in the pre-modern Arab-Islamic world are commonly depicted as schizophrenic—visible and tolerated on one hand, prohibited by Islam on the other. Khaled El-Rouayheb argues 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, biographical literature, medicine, dream interpretation, and Islamic texts, he shows that the culture of the period lacked the concept of homosexuality.

208 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Gay and Lesbian Studies

History: Middle Eastern History

Law and Legal Studies: Legal History

Middle Eastern Studies

Religion: Islam


“This is the best contribution to the history of homosexuality I have read in some time. For centuries, Arabic-Islamic cultures have been notorious for their occasional celebration and practice of male homosexuality. Western travelers have talked about it and, in some cases, Western novels and scholarship have portrayed or alluded to it. Yet, there has never been a reliable or systematic treatment of the topic—that is, until now. Working from an impressive range of primary sources that include poetic, theological, Koranic, historical, legal, and literary texts, Khaled El-Rouayheb, with this book, fills an important gap in our knowledge about the nature of attitudes toward male eroticism in the early modern Arab-Islamic world.”

David M. Halperin | David M. Halperin

“Khaled El-Rouayheb’s book is a very useful corrective to those views that have misinterpreted and misrepresented premodern Islamic attitudes toward homoeroticism, or that have ignored them altogether. In addition, it is a welcome contribution to the study of a period in the history of Arabic literature that is still very much under researched. Not for the prudish, it is a provocative, serious, and eminently readable study.”

Geert Jan van Gelder | Geert Jan van Gelder

"[The book] rectifies many . . . prejudices and misinterpretations in a masterly fashion. . . . [The author’s] careful distinction between the different categories of feelings, expressions, behaviour, terms and actors of same-sex love shows . . . that many of the evaluations of modern scholarship on Islamic societies and Arabic literature, and on the comparative history of homosexuality need to be revised."

Sabine Schmidtke | Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

"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

"A remarkably learned volume that provides an excellent introduction to a long-neglected area of study in the English-speaking world. . . . A trenchant, insightful, and even brilliant book."

Donald L. Boisvert | Gay & Lesbian Review

"El-Rouayheb discusses a rich and complex range of behaviors around the theme of male love, and how these are perceived and represented. He relies on a vast array of Arabic literary sources, such as chronicles, biographical dictionaries, adab, poetry, mystical treatises, and legal works. ... [He] addresses important questions about identity and social and cultural roles of Muslim men, refined members of the elite, in the pre-modern Middle East."

Journal of the American Oriental Society

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Pederasts and Pathics
Chapter Two: Aesthetes
Chapter Three: Sodomites

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press