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Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800 Paperback – 19 May 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (19 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226729893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226729893
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 294,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"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.... An important book by an excellent scholar." - Journal of Religion "Rectifies many... prejudices and misinterpretations in a masterly fashion." - Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies "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." - Gay and Lesbian Review"

About the Author

Khaled El-Rouayheb is assistant professor of Islamic intellectual history in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kabir Orlowski on 21 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-researched and highly informative study of complex attitudes towards same-sex behaviours and feelings in the Arabic literature of the pre-modern Ottoman world. The author, showing tremendous attention to detail and meticulous research, explains how fine-grained distinctions relevant to the contemporaries allowed for existence of seemingly incompatible phenomena of, on the one hand, widespread idealization of boy-love, and on the other, harsh Islamic punishments imposed for sodomy. By discussing such areas as Islamic jurisdiction of major legal schools, aesthetic sensibilities of poets and other belletrists, homoerotic (or beauty-loving) trends of some Sufi orders, common misconceptions and humourous anecdotes of the contemporary street crowd, El-Rouahyeb shows how complex and multi-stranded the understanding of these issues was in the Ottoman-Arab milieu. Between medical, legal, and aesthetic discourses; chastity and lust; passive and active sodomy; major and minor sins; moralistic jurisdictions, idealized poetry, and everyday lives - the author argues against any simplistic or essentialist explanation.
Most of these distinctions were subsequently blurred by the nebulous Western notion of "homosexuality" (and even of "sexuality" itself) increasingly adopted by Arab scholars after the 19th century.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lars Holmgren on 27 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Even if this is a scientific text, it is very easy to read. I am amazed that the author had found and could quote all these documents about this specific theme. I read it like a detective story, where piece by piece is added to complete a full picture of the case. The conclusion in the end is supported with lots of evidence along the way. I really recommend it to people interested in either islamic hisory or gay history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Arab Instances of Male Homosexuality 16 Aug. 2006
By Jeffery Mingo - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
El-Rouayheb looks at writings over 300 years in the Arab world to refute ideas that all forms of male homosexuality were punished or that all forms were widespread. He tries to answer how so many Arab men could openly praise the beauty of young men even if the Qu'ran may condemn such practices. Just as masculine Native American men could boogie with two-spirited men and this relationship was not seen as "same-sex," bearded Arab men could get down with younger males and not have their love be seen as that between two similars. The author tries to answer whether Michel Foucault's contentions could apply to the Arab world. In short, he maintains that "homosexuality" is too large an umbrella to translate the many dynamics that took place between older and younger males in that region at that time.

This book is much-needed and highly informative. If I could wave a wand and give a copy to every gay person and every Muslim or Arab, I would. This was a thoughtful eye-opener. As a non-Muslim and a non-Arab, I must admit that it is hard to be critical or refute this text. Since I don't know any better, I take the author at his word. I imagine that most "Western" readers will have this same feeling.

This book is not a "Who's Who of Gay Arabia." Besides Abu Nuwas, few famous names come up. The author doesn't address whether again-celebrated poet Rumi had homoerotic relationships or not, for example. With the exception of the painting on the cover, there is no section of photographs or reprints. I suppose this lack makes the book seem more serious to rigorous scholars. However, Boswell included visuals in his "Homosexuality, Christianity, and Social Tolerance." The internet provides many Arabic homoerotic paintings. Thus, I wish this author had done the same thing.

This book sometimes frustrates me with its disinterested, arm's length tone. Yes, this may make the author sound more objective and credible as a scholar, but there may be political ramifications to this text. Dr. Simon LeVay, the scientist who first argued for the existence of a "gay gene" has also made statements like, "Yes, I know if scientists find the gene, they may try to wash it out of human DNA." Similarly, this author never really says whether he supports the rights of consenting adult males, whether in the Arab or non-Arab regions, to fall in love or boogie with each other. Given the arrest of 52 gay men in Cairo and the execution of two gay teens in Iran recently, this book does nothing to ensure that tragedies like that won't happen again. This "constructionist" perspective, naively, washes its hands of modern, concrete issues around sexuality.

As important as Eve Sedgwick's "The Epistemology of the Closet" was to gay studies courses when I was in college, only the introductory chapter was ever assigned. The body chapters were just examples of a theme already set out. Time-strapped students assigned this book could easily get away with just reading the first and last chapters of the text.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating, and easy to read 12 Feb. 2014
By D - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
El-Rouayheb has done a great job of diving into a scantily researched and often ignored topic. Information is presented in a topical manner that makes it easy to understand and digest.
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