|Quranic Storytelling in Dialogue (11)|
Lot and his People
Unnatural sexual act
Here is another of those prophets who were sent by God to a particular community with a specific mission. The prime objective of Lot’s noble task was to address sodomy, which was prevalent in that community. It threatened the normal conduct that God has desired for mankind to follow in their eating, drinking and all other needs, including sexual pleasure. Pleasure is not a subjective matter, insomuch as it is fulfilled alongside the need for reproduction and preservation of the human race. Should the sexual drive take to perversion, which may stem from a psychological complex, it would divert this desire from being a natural need to something that is concerned with providing personal enjoyment per se. Thus, the whole human concern would be confined to deriving pleasure in a variety of depraved ways. This is likely to turn man into a slave to his own desires, which might be motivated by a perverted imagination.
This is the reason why almost all religions have to make homosexuality a forbidden act because this is in keeping with the natural path they want man to walk in, satisfying his natural needs in a normal way.
The Holy Quran has given this subject the importance it deserves, where the story of Lot has been mentioned in some eleven chapters, reiterating that sodomy is a repugnant practice because it represents a departure from satisfying one’s sexual needs in the way God has preordained. It has been described as a deed that is vile, evil, monstrous and objectionable.
Lot was sent to the people who invented that “fashion”. This is apparent from God’s words: “We also (sent) Lot: He said to his people: ‘Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you?” (7: 80). God did not send a special emissary to address a particular problem, unless it was a threat to ethical, as well as social, life.
As we read this Quranic story, with all the bitter dialogue it demonstrates, Lot’s efforts become self-evident, in that he tried, by carrot and stick, to make his people desist from the lewd behavior they were practicing; a practice that had had a stranglehold over the entire community. The people of Lot did not only show intransigence, they took their transgression one step further by attacking his guests inside his house. They took advantage of Lot’s perceived weak position to commit more excesses against him, since he lacked the means, including personal physical strength and the power base, to defend himself.
The prophetic approach
His approach was not different from that of other prophets. It was calm, yet forceful. He was so friendly that he offered his daughters to his people in marriage because they were pure. They bluntly turned his offer down because they were not in the right mental frame to adopt a conventional sexual relationship between men and women. As is apparent from Lot’s dialogue with them, they appeared to have abandoned their wives.
Yet, when he spoke to them about their immorality, he did not mince his words, as he rebuked them for it. He made it abundantly clear that he was averse to their depraved conduct. This position was characteristic of the prophets. That is, when they reached a dead end with their people, they used to bring the dialogue to an end, by unequivocally distancing themselves from the rebellion and depravity of their people. This is so as not to leave any lingering doubt about where the prophets stand. Also, this position was called for so as not to leave any one with any impression that the prophets wavered in their resolve. At the outset, they were clear of what their noble task involved. They ended their mission as they had started it, with clarity of vision and resoluteness.
The following Quranic verses tell of the dialogue between Lot (a.s.) and his people in a number of situations:
The people of Lot rejected the messengers. Behold, their brother Lot said to them: “Will ye not fear (Allah)? I am to you a messenger worthy of all trust. So fear Allah and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it: my reward is only from the lord of the Worlds. Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, and leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!” They said: “If thou desist not, O Lot! Thou wilt assuredly be cast out!” He said: “I do detest your doings. O my Lord! Deliver me and my family from such things as they do!” (26: 160–169)
And (remember) Lot: behold, he said to his people: “Ye do commit lewdness, such as no people in Creation (ever) committed before you. Do ye indeed approach men, and cut off the highway? And practice wickedness (even) in your councils?” But his people gave no answer but this: they said: “Bring us the Wrath of God if thou tellest the truth.” He said: “O my Lord! Help Thou me against people who do mischief!” (29: 28–30)
This is the common approach that had bound all the prophets together, whether they were sent to deliver a universal message or a particular one. That is, the prophet introduced himself as the messenger of God, fully aware of the trust that was put in him and the interest of the people he was sent to. He did not expect to be paid for what he set out to do, as his reward would come from God. All that he needed them to do was to obey him in submitting to God, be pious, and follow the road where their interests lay, both in this world and the hereafter. The Prophet appealed to his people to abandon their crooked ways and be on the right path.
This was just what Lot did with his people. He was not surprised at the response he received from them to his invitation to mend their ways. They had become addicted to the lewdness they were doing. It had become ingrained in their psyche. They did not want to talk about giving up the addiction. They accepted neither counsel nor reproach from anyone. To them, the issue was not a matter of right or wrong, good or bad, because it was a deep-rooted practice, which they did not want to abandon, come what may.
It was this stance that dictated the tone of their debate with Lot (a.s.). So they did not heed his admonitions and warnings of impending punishment, if they were not to see sense. They responded with threats to evict him and his family from their village. They challenged him to bring down the punishment he was threatening them with, if he was truthful. It was the age-old position of people who, although they can feel guilty, try to vent their anger on others, telling them to their face: This is what we do and shall not abandon. Go away and do whatever you like. Do not bother us with your talk. This had been the reaction of the adversaries of the prophets, from time immemorial, in that there seemed to be no place for an honest and well-informed debate, apart from issuing threats and requesting the wrath to descend forthwith.
The Divine happy ending
In some of the verses you can detect the depressed frame of mind, Lot (a.s.) appeared to have been in, especially when the guests knocked at his door. He felt embarrassed because of the behavior of his people in satisfying their depraved sexual desires. This was what he faced when the angels called on him, assuming a human appearance. Lot’s people were waiting for this opportunity, rushing to his house and asking him to let go of his guests. In the dialogue that ensued between Lot and his people, he tried his best to make them give up his guests, yet to no avail. The showdown ended with a kind of surrender on Lot’s part, since he had no power to defend himself and his family, let alone his guests. Yet he had great confidence in God’s victory. Thus, he turned to Him in prayer, asking for that victory when he and his family would escape his people’s harm and aggression.
God’s answer came fast. Those guests of his, whom he could not protect, came with the power that would destroy the arrogance of his people and their wicked ways. Complete annihilation of his people, including his wife – who was collaborating with them and condoning their practice – was in the making. Thus, the punishment, which they were calling for, and making fun of, was fast approaching.
This is how the Holy Quran relates the story:
When Our messengers came to Lot, he was grieved on their account and felt himself powerless (to protect) them. He said: “This is a distressful day.” And his people came rushing towards him, and they had been long in the habit of practicing abominations. He said: “O my people! Here are my daughters: they are purer for you (if ye marry)! Now fear God, and cover me not with shame about my guests! Is there not among you a single right-minded man?” They said: “Well dost thou know we have no need of thy daughters: indeed thou knowest quite well what we want!” He said: “Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could betake myself to some powerful support.” (The Messengers) said: “O Lot! We are Messengers from thy Lord! By no means shall they reach thee! Now travel with thy family while yet a part of the night remains, and let not any of you look back: but thy wife (will remain behind): To her will happen what happens to the people. Morning is their time appointed: Is not the morning nigh?” When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer, Marked as from thy Lord: Nor are they ever far from those who do wrong! (11: 77–83)
Lessons to be learned
What do we learn from this story/dialogue? This is what we will try to sum up:
1. Destroying the edifice of immorality
It is incumbent on the Muslim activist to discern the importance of the Islamic standpoint, i.e. putting human sexual relations on an even keel. This has come across very clearly in the Quranic narrative of this story, not least by reiterating this aspect several times. This has also been made manifestly clear by the punishment meted out to Lot’s people, who invented this depravity.
Accordingly, we have to plan to put this aspect of Islamic legislation in a right and comprehensive framework. Islam wants man to be insulated from any form of unsavory conduct. This being so as to put him on the right track in achieving the great goal of life that is anchored on a solid basis.
At this juncture, we may have to address the question of sex and its role in life, which has swept through human thinking. Sexual freedom has come to the fore in this day and age. The parameters put in place to practicing sex, licit and illicit alike, are perceived as an affront to man’s liberty. Those demands have been met with a chorus of shouts, so much so that gay and lesbian parades are now commonplace in Western countries. They call for homosexual freedom to be enshrined in legislation, so that civil laws cater for human needs. They claim that this is a natural course to solve the problems of many groups of people, who still feel constrained when it comes to fulfilling their pressing needs. Strangely enough, these campaigns succeeded in gathering momentum in some European conservative countries. The British Parliament passed a law legalizing homosexuality. This was done under the pressure of the practice becoming widespread, especially among the higher echelons of power and society. Abnormal sexual practices took another turn by condoning marriages between couples of the same sex, i.e. a man to a man and a woman to a woman. There was even talk of solemnizing such “wedlock” in churches.
We have to face this dangerous trend with a typical Islamic approach. That is, you should not criticize any negative phenomenon outright. Rather, you must look for the real causes and the ideological justifications as well as social conditions, which gave rise to such improper conduct. By critically examining the social realities where these tendencies emerged and developed, you should be able to demolish the wrong bases and arguments on which they stand. This could be done with reference to Islamic principles and norms for building the individual and society on sound foundations, away from deviations and defects.
2. Rediscovering conceptions
This can be done through pondering the terminology that the Quran used to describe sodomy in Lot’s campaign against it. If we analyze words such as lewdness, wickedness, overindulgence and monstrosity in detail and in a modern context, we should be able to prove their effectiveness in the movement of Islamic activism in life. This is so, because words can become archaic when their connotations die out by virtue of changing times and outlooks. However, the meanings may assume a new reality, should we be able to give them a new life by clothing them with new attire. We should be successful if we manage to tie in these meanings with the results brought about by abnormal sexual practices. We can then show modern man a vivid and lively picture of all the meanings that had been imparted by the Holy Quran to early Muslims.
If, for example, we take the words “monstrous” and “wicked”, we may not be able to invite any rejection of the sexual malpractice because the reality of the sordid situation turned it into a “commendable act” after it had been an “abominable one”, and “good” after it had been “bad”. This is on account of its becoming an expression of man exercising his personal freedom and choice.
In this case, we need to delve deep into the words to revivify the meaning in them that would render the meanings of “monstrosity” and “wickedness” as mere superficial adjectives. We should aim to reinforce the umbilical relationship between the meaning of the words and the malpractice, in that it has a direct effect on the interests of man, on a private as well as public level. They have a bearing on man’s future and destiny. In a way, it is like a fruit that may initially taste delicious, yet it may leave a long-lasting bitter aftertaste.
Once we resolve this question, we should soon find out that man’s exercising of his freedom should not be subjected to personal choices at any cost, such as his personal well-being and future. Rather, the issue is the place of that freedom in the entire movement of life and society. The individual may, in certain situations, feel the need to forgo his own personal preferences for the good of his freedom in matters of destiny. Thus, venting personal inclinations could turn into a monstrous thing because it might clash with the individual’s life and future.
3. Abandoning nervousness
Controlling one’s anxiety is the lesson we should learn from Lot’s way of facing up to his people. He was blunt in explaining to them how disastrous the result of their practice of sodomy was and how adversely it would affect their capacity to pass rational judgment on things. After he had explained everything to them and how he viewed their vile deeds, he distanced himself from what they were doing and turned to his Lord. In all the verbal exchanges he had with them he was dignified, calm, and collected. He was neither tense nor did he use any inflammatory language, which might have led to injuring their feelings or sidetracking the main issue. This approach was part and parcel of the prime aim of his invitation to them to mend their ways, by convincing them of the strength of his argument and evidence. His aim was never to vent his anger at them, humiliate them, or look down his nose at them. Unfortunately, many Muslim activists, who let their personal feelings control their actions, are prone to just that. They should know full well that the task is one thing and their personal feelings is another. The two do not gel.
4. The promised triumph
The hope for victory should be kept alive in the heart of the activist because God gives victory to those working for His cause in many ways, regardless of how long the oppression might last. This is manifestly clear from Lot’s story and how God came to his rescue at a very critical time, i.e. when he was almost on the brink of giving up