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Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The complexities of human sexuality, and Islamic laws and regulations in Iran

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By: Azad Moradian, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology


In the following paper, the complexities of human sexuality are explored as it occurs within the present day Iran. Attention is given to the Islamic laws currently demanded and practiced in Iran, as well as issues such as the existence of Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, and Transgenders (LGBT) and gender identity within the culture. 
Historical and cultural relevance is given to each issue examined while remaining sensitive to the present day laws and regulations in Iran.

Interpersonal relationships in Iran

Currently under Iran's theocratic Islamic Government, based on Islamic law (Shari'ah), all interpersonal relationships are clearly expressed. As a rule the relationship between the sexes are narrowly restricted to lawful (Hallal) or illegal (Haram) categories. A relationship is considered to be legal only between a brother and sister, a parent and his or her children, and an uncle or aunt with his or her sibling’s children. Every other relationship, be they sexual on non sexual, outside of these narrow boundaries is forbidden and illegal.

A sexual relationship is only permitted within a heterosexual marriage. Homosexuality is completely forbidden (Duran, Khalid 1993), and the proximity of persons of opposite sex outside of marriage is authorized only within the limits set under Islamic law.

All sexual relations that occur outside of a traditional, heterosexual marriage (i.e. sodomy or adultery) are illegal and no legal distinction is made between consensual or non-consensual sexual activity.

As a result, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights described under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948). "Sexual rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity, and equality of all human beings...Was states that sexual health is the result of an environment that recognizes, respects and exercises the rights of sexual freedom." (Britton Patti PhD 2005).

In Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 have come under overt governmental persecution. International human rights groups have reported public floggings and executions of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. (

In contrast, under the rule of the last monarch of the Pahlavi Dynasty, homosexuality was tolerated even to the point of allowing news coverage of a same-sex wedding. However, homosexuality was still taboo in the society. A homosexual individual could not depend on the support and guidance of his or her family or friends and public agencies geared toward assisting youth or people who were confused or questioning their sexuality were non-existent.

Societal views toward homosexuality have not changed. Many LGBT people are pressured by their family and society to conform to a heterosexual lifestyle, which in some cases even leads to forced marriage. Unmarried men and women who have reached a certain age are considered "suspect" and will often be asked to explain their situation (Safra Project-Iran 2004).

The official view of the Iranian Islamic government is that everyone should be heterosexual and that homosexuality is, "a violation of the supreme will of God"(, and punishable by death even homosexual relations that occur between consenting adults in private do not escape punishment. Homosexual conduct is proven by the testimony of four male witnesses who is present during the events is not required by Islamic law. The punishment for female homosexuality involving persons, who are mature, of sound mind, and consenting, is 100 lashes.

If the act is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, the death sentence will apply on the fourth occasion. (Articles 127, 129, 130) The ways of proving lesbianism in court are the same as for male homosexuality. (Article 128)(Kar Mehrangiz 2008)

According to Iranian Islamic president, Mr. Ahmadinejad : "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country.” "In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don't know who has told you that we have it," Ahmadinejad said to the Columbia University audience. (NEW YORK -AFP2007 )

The restrictions imposed by the Islamic government are in opposition to the long history of Iran. The most stories and poetry of classical Persian literature are explicitly illustrates the existence of homosexuality among Iranians. The most classical Persian literature is replete with homoerotic allusions, as well as explicit references to beautiful young boys and to the practice of pederasty. (Babayan K, Afsaneh N 2008)

A significant amount of major traditional and well known Persian literature explicitly illustrates the existence of homosexuality among Iranians.

Some examples

In some poems, Sa'di's beloved is a young man, not a beautiful woman. In this he followed the conventions of traditional Persian poetry. In the Gulistan Story 18, he states: 
When I was young, my intimacy with a young man and my friendship for him were such that his beauty was the Qiblah of my eye and the chief joy of my life union with him':
 Perhaps an angel in heaven but no mortal
Can be on earth equal in beauty of form to him.
I swear by the amity, after which companionship is illicit 
No human sperm will ever become a man like him. (Shaikh Saa'di 1258 ACE)


After the establishment of the Islamic regime, Ayatollah Khomeini gave a fatwa that allows sex change operations in Iran. Therefore some homosexual men undergo sex change operations to avoid harsh penalties including imprisonment, execution or both. Transexualism is still a taboo topic within Iranian society and no laws exist to protect post-operative transsexuals from discrimination and transsexuals still report societal intolerance.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

Due to the restrictions imposed by the current regime in Iran, social gatherings in which unrelated men and women are present are illegal especially if the women are not completely covered from head to toe. In addition, dancing and music are strictly forbidden.

Even though heterosexuality is the only tolerated sexual orientation, having a heterosexual relationship other than a legal marriage is just as strictly forbidden as homosexual relationships.
Some Iranian women often runaways, have been cross-dressing as a man in order to avoid being the victim of sexual harassment, rape and to access economic opportunities, which are often only given to men. Women dressing as men or barbers cutting the hair of women short are both illegal.

Islamic tradition does not allow cross-dressing. A man should only dress in male clothes. Men who cross-dress as women or are deemed to be too effeminate will also face harassment or criminal charges. The one exception is for transsexualism. There has been a rash of public executions in Iran that have involved youth or were related to sexuality and gender identity.

Gay Iranian couples are often afraid to be seen together in public, and report that LGBT people were widely stereotyped as being sex-obsessed child molesters, rapists, and diseased ridden degenerates.

Under Iran's current fundamentalist rule, a homosexual may be harassed, arrested and punished with the most extreme measures possible. (Paula E. Drew, 2004)

Girls, Virginity, Stoning

The most traditional Iranian culture demands that a bride be a virgin for her first marriage. A girl who loses her virginity before official marriage are agreed upon is not considered as having behaved immorally, women can ruin the family honor by not maintaining their virginity prior to marriage, or by involving themselves in extramarital affairs.

Iranian women can be punished by stoning to death, if they have extramarital intercourse or fornication (zena). Although the penalties for non-marital sex included in the current Islamic criminal code also apply to men (if the female partner is not married), they incur little or no social disgrace for illegitimate sex. If caught in such relationships, men can often escape punishment by producing evidence of temporary marriage to their partner.

Stoning is a pre-Islamic punishment. It was once practiced in many parts of the world, but in recent years has been almost entirely abandoned except in a few Islamic countries principally Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Saudi Arabia Stoning is a part of torturing before death, for the execution, the condemned person is wrapped head to foot in white shrouds and buried in a pit. A woman is buried up to her armpits, while a man is buried up to his waist. A truckload of rocks is brought to the site and court-appointed officials or in some cases ordinary citizens approved by the authorities carry out the stoning.

Victims are guaranteed a slow, torturous death because the stones are deliberately chosen to be large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately. If the condemned person somehow manages to survive the stoning, he or she will be imprisoned for as long as 16 years but will not be executed.

Honor-Killing, and human sexuality in Iran

Honor killing, means honor murders of persons, mostly women who are perceived as having brought dishonor to their family, and their society are often identified with Islam, although the other religion has a common believe in this regard. The most Islamic countries officially or unofficially are agreed with the concept of honor killing. In Iran , south of Iraq, and Afghanistan honor killing are legal or slightly punished. Sexual intercourse with person who is married to someone else can carry a harsh penalty according to the Islamic criminal code. (Kar Mehrangiz 2008)

A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce even from an abuse husband or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to addendum 2 to article 295 and article 226 of ‎the Islamic penal code, if someone murders another on the assumption that the victim ‎was “vajeb al-ghatl” [literally, "necessary to be killed" ], he will not be tried for first-‎degree murder.

Based on these laws, judges convict murderers who have committed ‎honor killings on the assumption that the murdered woman has committed adultery not to ‎death or life imprisonment, but rather to pay the “dia” [blood money]. As such, legal ‎incentives, protected by judges in the area of implementation, are given to men who are ‎accused of killing women. This must be noted as the most important factor behind the ‎rise in the number of honor killings in Iran. ‎((Kar Mehrangiz 2008))

Polygamy and Temporary Marriage

In Iran, a man can have more than one wife. Although the Shi-e marriage law, now dominant in Iran, allows a man to simultaneously have up to four wives. A man (married or not), and an unmarried woman (virgin, divorced, or widowed) can enter a temporary marriage contract (sigheh) in which both parties agree on the period of the relationship and the amount of compensation to be paid to the woman. This arrangement requires no witnesses, and no registration is needed.

This form of temporary marriage, according to its proponents, is a measure for curbing free sex and controlling prostitution. A man can have as many sigheh wives as he can afford, but the woman can be involved in no more than one such temporary relationship at any given time and cannot enter another contract before a waiting period (edda) of three months or two menstrual cycles elapse. Sigheh has been very unpopular, particularly among the educated middle-class families and among women who tend to associate it with legalized prostitution.


1 . Afary Janet, Anderson Kevin B., Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, University Of Chicago Press; annotated edition edition (June 20, 2005)

2. Babayan Kathryn, Afsaneh Najmabadi, and other, 2008 ,Islamicate Sexualities..., , Harvard CMES, page 200

3. Britton Patti PhD, The Art of Sex Coaching: Expanding Your Practice, 2005, W.W. Norton& Company, New Yourk, Page 61

4. Duran, Khalid. Homosexuality in Islam, Swidler, Anne (ed.) "Homosexuality and World Religions" (1993). Trinity Press International, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

5. Kar Mehrangiz, Honor killing, 2004,

6. Paula E. Drew, Ph.D ,Iran, Jomhoori-Islam-Iran,

7. Safra Project, Resource Project for LBTQ Muslim women, Country Information Report, Iran, 2004, P.O. Box 35929, London, N17 OWB, England, UK,

8. The universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nation High Commissary for Human Rights, 1948,

9. 'No homosexuals in Iran': Ahmadinejad , September 24,2007- AFP

10. (Shaykh Moslahaldin Sa'di , The Gulistan , Chapter V , On Love and Youth, Written 1258 A.C.E.)

10. (Shaykh Moslahaldin Sa'di , The Gulistan , Chapter V , On Love and Youth, Written 1258 A.C.E.)
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