Aesthetics and Ethics of Islam: The Art of Being a Gay Muslim

Ala Rabiha Alhourani


This essay explores the ways in which the aesthetic experience of Islam enables LGBTIQ Muslims to form and claim an Islamic identity, beyond the debate and contradictory views of the compatibility of homosexuality with Islam. The ethnography focuses on a gay Muslim artist from Cape Town, Igshaan Adams, whose life trajectory and artwork offer an insight into LGBTIQ Muslim’s struggle and reconciliation of their religiosity and sexuality. Despite the freedom and equal rights that the post-apartheid secular constitution grants its citizens, LGBTIQ Muslims in Cape Town do not compromise their religiosity and their right to claim an Islamic identity. While historically, they have reconciled their religiosity and sexuality on the bases of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in post-apartheid South Africa, LGBTIQ Muslims in Cape Town have “gone public” and challenged the constraints of heteronormative interpreta-tions of Islamic traditions, claiming a constitutive part of the debate, reason-ing, knowledge, and history of Islamic discursive traditions. The formations of Islamic discursive traditions are marked with diversity, contradiction, contesta-tion, disagreement, rupture, and transformation. While the compatibility of homosexuality with Islam is an open debate, aesthetic experiences of Islam offer LGBTIQ Muslims a technology of self-perfection that allows them a sense of being a Muslim and belonging to a Muslim community. This in turn empowers them to overcome the doubt of heteronormative interpretations of Islamic discursive traditions and to openly perform an Islamic identity.

Full Text:



Ahmed, Shahab. What is Islam? The Importance of Being an Islamic. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.

Alhourani, Ala R. Personal Conversation with Igshaan Adams. 20 August 2013. Woodstock.

Alhourani, Ala R. Personal Conversation with Igshaan Adams. 3 December 2014. Woodstock.

Alhourani, Ala R. Personal Conversation with Igshaan Adams. 3 November 2015. Skype.

Alhourani, Ala R. Personal Conversation with Igshaan Adams’ father and mother. 8 November 2013. Woodstock.

Alhourani, Ala R. “Performance of Muslim-ness in Post-apartheid Cape Town: Authenticating Cultural Difference, Belonging and Citizenship. PhD diss., University of Western Cape, 2017.

Alhourani, Ala R. “Aesthetics of Muslim-ness: Art and the formation of Muslim Identity Politics.” Journal of Religion in Africa 48 (2019): 185-203.

Ali, Kecia. Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflection on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oneworld, 2016.

An-Nai’im, Abdullah A. 2008. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Baderoon, Gabeba. Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-apartheid. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2014.

Bank, Andrew. “Slavery Without Slaves: Robert Shell’s Social History of Cape Slave Society.” South African History Journal 33 (1995): 182-93.

Behardien, Ilhaam. “Dying and Become Through the Art of Igshaan Adams.” In Igshaan Adams: When Dust Settles, edited by Ilhaam Behardien, 123-33. Cape Town: Blank Projects, 2018.

Davids, Achmat. The Mosque of Bo-Kaap. Athlone: The South African institute of Arabic and Islamic Research, 1980.

Davids, Achmat. “My Religion is Superior to the Law: The Survival of Islam at the Cape of Good Hope.” Kronos 12 (1987): 57-71.

Dumbe, Yunus and Abdulkader Tayob. “Salafis in Cape Town in Search of Purity, Certainty and Social Impact.” Die Welt des Islams 51 (2011): 188-209.

Fassin, Didier. “Introduction: Toward a Critical Moral Anthropology.” In A Companion to Moral Anthropology, edited by Didier Fassin, 1-19. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Fuller Center for Housing, “Identifying Our Communities in Need.” 2014. (Accessed 29 October 2016).

Gell, Alfred. “The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology.” In The Art of Anthropology, edited by Eric Hirsch, 137-59. London: The Athlone Press, 2006.

Greatmore Studios. “Let’s Work Together.” Greatmore Studios Home Page. n.d. (Accessed 5 September 2016).

Grieser, Alexandra K. and Johnston, Jay. “What Is an Aesthetics of Religion? From the Senses to Meaning – and Back Again.” In Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra K. Grieser and Jay Johnston, 1-50. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2017.

Hendricks, Muhsin. “Islamic Texts: A Source for Acceptance of Queer Individuals into Mainstream Muslim Society.” The Equal Rights Review 5 (2010): 31-51.

Hendricks, Pepe. Hijab: Unveiling Queer Muslim Lives. Cape Town: African Minds, 2009.

Hendricks, Pepe. “Queer Muslim love: A Time for Ijtihad.” Theology & Sexuality 22, no.1-2 (2016): 102-13.

Hirschkind, Charles. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Keane, Webb. “On the Materiality of Religion.” Material Religion 4, no.2 (2008): 230-1.

Koch, Anne and Katharine Wilkens. “Introduction.” In The Bloomsbury Handbook of the Cultural and Cognitive Aesthetic of Religion, edited by Anne Koch and Katharine Wilkens, 1-10. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

Kugle, Siraj Al-Haqq, S. Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims. London: Oneworld, 2010.

Kugle, Siraj Al-Haqq, S. Living Out Islam: Voice of Gay Lesbian and Transgender Muslims. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

Laidlaw, James. The Subject of Virtue: An Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom. University of Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Lambek, Michael. “Introduction.” In Ordinary Ethics. Anthropology, Language, and Action, edited by Michael Lambek, 1-38. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.

Mahomed, Nadeem and Shaikh Sa’diyya. “Islam Between Margins: Reassessing Gender and Sexuality in Islam.” The Africa Journal of Gender and Religion 44, no.2 (2018): 120-38.

Mason, John E. “‘A Faith for Ourselves:’ Slavery, Sufism, and Conversion to Islam at the Cape.” South African Historical Journal 46, no.1 (2002): 3-24.

Marcus, George E. “Contemporary Fieldwork Aesthetics in Art and Anthropology: Experiments in Collaboration and Intervention.” Visual Anthropology 23 (2010): 263-77.

Meyer, Birgit. “Introduction: From Imagined Communities to Aesthetic Formations: Religious Mediation, Sensational Form, and Styles of Binding.” In Aesthetic Formation: Media Religion and Senses, edited by Birgit Meyer, 1-31. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.

Meyer, Birgit. “Mediation and Immediacy: Sensational Forms, Semiotic Ideologies and the Question of the Medium.” Social Anthropology 19 no.1 (2011): 23-39.

Meyer, Birgit. “Mediation and the Genesis of Presence: Towards a Material Approach to Religion.” Inaugural Lecture presented at Universiteit Utrecht, 9 October 2012.

Morgan, David. The Sacred Gaze. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Morgan, David. “The Material Culture of Lived Religions: Visually and Embodiment.” In Mind and Matter, edited by Johanna Vakkari, 14-31. Helsinki: Society of Art History, 2010.

Morgan, David. The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Osman, Mujahid and Sheikh Sa’diyya. “Islam, Muslim and Politics of Queerness in Cape Town.” The African Journal of Gender and Religion in Africa 33, no.2 (2017): 43-67.

Plate, S. Brent. Walter Benjamin, Religion, Aesthetic: Rethinking Religion Through the Art. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Promey, Sally. M. “Religion, Sensation and Materiality: An introduction.” In Sensational Religion: Sensory Culture in Material Practice, edited by Sally M. Promey, 1-23. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.

Shaikh, Sa’diyya. “A Tafsir of Praxis: Gender, Marital Violence, and Resistance in a South African Muslim Community.” In Violence Against Women in Contemporary World Religions: Roots and Cures, edited by Dan Maguire and Sa’diyya Shaikh, 66-89. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2007.

Shaikh, Sa’diyya. Sufi Narrative of Intimacy: Ibn Arabi, Gender, and Sexuality. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Shell, Robert C.-H. “From Rites to Rebellion: Islamic Conversion, Urbanization, and Ethnic Identities at the Cape of Good Hope, 1797 to 1904.” Canadian Journal of History 28 (1993): 409-57.

Taylor, Charles. The Ethics of Authenticity. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Tayob, Abdulkader. Resurgence in South Africa: The Muslim Youth Movement. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 1995.

Tayob, Abdulkader. Islam in South Africa: Mosque, Imam, and Sermons. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Tayob, Abdulkader. “Religion and Life Trajectories: Islamists Against Self and Other.” In Dynamics of Religion, edited by Christoph Bochinger and Jorg Rup, 155-70. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2015.

Tayob, Abdulkader. Islamic Discourse: Language, Performance, and Rupture. Forthcoming.

Tofa, Moses. “The Narratives of Islam and Sexual Diversity: An Anatomy of Attitudes, Challenges, Opportunities and Trends in the South African Context.” Research Report. Cape Town: The Inner Circle, 2014.

Zargar, Cyrus A. The Polished Mirror: Storytelling and the Pursuit of Virtue in Islamic Philosophy and Sufism. London: Oneworld, 2017.



  • There are currently no refbacks.