With about 49 majority Muslim countries in the world and over 1 billion adherents, it is quite frustrating to categorically assume that places like Saudi Arabia or Iran represent the religion. Or that groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda are native sons of the religion itself. To prove my point, I would like to point out five Muslim countries where being gay is not a crime. What is interesting about these five is that none of them were formally colonized by the British Empire. Many “Global South” countries use colonial laws that existed before their independence and the subsequent formation of their penal codes. This is true in West Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Let’s be clear here, Mali has a pretty homophobic local culture, but the law does not deem homosexuality illegal. In fact, Article 179 of the Malian penal code does not specify heterosexual or homosexual activities but rather discusses decried public indecency. Thirty-eight countries in Africa have specific laws against homosexuality with some requiring the death penalty. Egypt is not one of them by the way.
Jordan’s laws from 1922-1945 were subject mandated by the League of Nations. In 1951, Jordan made homosexuality legal!
Indonesia has never ever made homosexuality illegal. Moreover, the country has the longest running LGBT organization on the entire continent of Asia! Singapore which is its neighbor and is non-Muslim does have laws which make being gay illegal.
In 1858, the Ottoman Caliph decriminalized homosexuality. When Turkey became its own nation in 1920, it didn’t change this law.
Being gay has been legal in Albania since 1995.
There are a lot of other countries with a sizable Muslim population where being gay is not illegal.
Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Niger, Northern Cyprus, Palestine, and Tajikistan.
Listen, it isn’t easy to be gay in a Muslim country. No one is saying that societies are not largely homophobic, but it is important to check your presumptions at the door when you think about Islam and the Middle East. It just isn’t as simple as one may think!