It is alleged that verses 7:81-85 of the Quran discussed below are used by extremists to establish death as a punishment for homosexuality. Verse 7:81 is oft quoted as validation for such allegations.
And We sent Lot - when he said to his people, do you commit an abomination such as no one in the world ever did before you? You approach men with lust instead of women. Nay, you are a people who exceed all bounds. And the answer of his people was no other than that they said, Turn them out of your town, for they are men who would keep pure. And We saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who stayed behind. And We rained upon them a rain. Now see, what was the end of the sinners! (7:81-85)
The preceding verses narrate the destruction of the people of the Prophet Salih:
So the earthquake seized them and in their homes they lay prostrate upon the ground. Then Salih turned away from them and said, ‘O my people, I did deliver the message of my Lord unto you and offered you sincere counsel, but you love not sincere counsellors.’(7:79-80)
Here, it is explained that a prophet of God is only an admonisher—he can only warn and implore others accept the message. His being a prophet of God does not give him the right to enforce a heavenly law on his people. This is in accordance with verse 2:257 (“There should be no compulsion in religion”). This principle applies to every prophet, including the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) who is specifically referenced in verse 88:22 below.
Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher; Thou hast no authority to compel them. (88:22-23)
The Holy Quran upholds freedom of conscience for all and declares that there can be no compulsion in religion. Neither do the Prophets of God nor their people hold the right to execute divine punishment. Punishments in this world are instead administered by the process of legislating laws through the government and their execution by the judiciary.
Thus, the punishment delivered to the people of Lot was not due to Lot’s own will, but the will of God. No precedent can be drawn that would require Muslims to execute this punishment on their own terms in the future.
And those of your women who are guilty of lewdness — call to witness four of you against them; and if they bear witness, then confine them to the houses until death overtake them or Allah open for them a way. And if two men from among you are guilty of it, punish them both. And if they repent and amend, then leave them alone; surely, Allah is Oft-Returning with compassion and is Merciful. (4:16-17)
These verses speak of the crime of homosexuality, which is separate from the crime of fornication/adultery mentioned elsewhere in the Quran. They assign temporary house arrest for women, and punishment to be determined by society for men. The possibility of forgiveness from the punishment, however, is left open. Accordingly, death cannot logically be interpreted as the original punishment, as it would be impossible for it to be lifted in case of repentance. Any Hadith attributed to the Holy Prophet (sa) that adds or subtracts from this punishment cannot be accepted, as explained below.
The Holy Prophet (sa) said: “If you find anyone doing as Lot's people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.” (Abu Dawud, Kitabul Hudud, Chapter 29)
According to the Islamic faith, the Holy Quran is God’s direct words compiled in a perfect book. Its text enjoys divine protection and has remained in its original form since its revelation. As a result, any Hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) appears to contradict the Holy Quran is unacceptable.
Such Hadith must either be rejected or interpreted in such a manner that reconciles with the teachings of Qur’an. In this instance, the Hadith may apply to extreme cases of habitual public displays of homosexuality, which would fall under the social crime stated as “spreading disorder in the land” in verse 5:34. These include all crimes deemed by society as disorderly and necessitating a legally enforced punishment.
Societies have, historically and commonly, regulated and legislated laws around modesty, orderly conduct and sexual/marriage restrictions. In Western societies, for example, nudity and public displays of sexual acts are punishable crimes. If a person is seen in a public place in the nude or engaged in sexual intercourse, he or she will be apprehended and punished. Further, marriages in several circumstances are not permitted, like marriages between siblings. Given the possibility of inbred children overcome with the availability of contraception, there is no empirical or secular reason why brothers and sisters should not be allowed to celebrate intimate love through the bond of marriage. Yet, laws prohibiting such unions are still in place.
Islamic teachings similarly place restrictions on what is and what is not publicly acceptable. Although the application may vary, it a common principle for societies to establish such restrictions so that a basic standard of morality and orderly conduct is maintained.