Religion, as a spiritual and moral part of people’s lives, has always had a great influence on people’s way of thinking and acting. It is closely interwoven with a person’s worldview and his or her mindset. Religion has always had the power to convince the believers of certain views and assertions, and, undoubtedly, it had an influence on people’s attitudes towards the question of sexuality. The interconnections between the religious and the sexual issues can be seen throughout the history of different religions.
In Islam, considered being repressive from the Western point of view, sexuality is seen in a positive light. Sexual desire is not blamed for but encouraged. It is not considered to be a corruption of body as in some other religions, but is spiritually and socially beneficial, having positive functions of procreation, sexual satisfaction, which is necessary for intellectual activity, and an opportunity for men to try Paradise on earth. While Western Christianity reproached sex and sexual issues to be even discussed as something evil and vicious, the Muslims saw sexual instinct and aggression be necessary to relieve, but in the right direction and for good purposes of God’s will. Without this relief, the soul of a person can be destroyed; that is why it is important to free the natural instinct of the body and not suppress it as per Christianity. The Koran does not censure sexuality, equating it with sin, but encourages fantasies and orgasm. In Hinduism, attitude to sexuality has changed through the course of history. It was exposed to the influence of Muslims and the British impact on the Hindu during the colonization period. In the earliest Vedic period, sexuality was associated with the powers of creation. Males and females completed each other for the purpose of the proper functioning of humanity and the cosmos. Then was the period of metaphysical view on sexuality with a body being a sordid shell incarcerating sublime soul. These are the two main opposing concepts of sexuality represented in Hinduism throughout its history.
The sexual and relationship issues have been discussed in religions since their very beginning, leaving the voluminous works, such as Mahabharata and Ramayana in Hinduism, and discussing the proper relations between a man and a woman in the Bible, the Koran, and the works of many religious historical figures. It is necessary to indicate Kama Sutra in Hinduism as a book not religious in the genre, but showing the Hindu aims in the ordering of life.
Almost every religion recognizes the complementary character of a man and a woman. Males and females in Hinduism are understood to be parts of one another. It was shown during the Puranic period when God was understood to be incomplete without his feminine aspect seen in Shakti. In Islam, it is God’s will for people to marry and multiply, and He created them in order to complement each other. The Muslims believe that He is pleasured to see men and women satisfying their sexual desires.
Different roles are prescribed to women in religion. Western society endows women with passive sexuality. For some period in the history women even were thought to play a minor role in procreation, being only a carrier and a provisional shelter for a child, while a man was considered to play the main role, inseminating a female. Muslim society is characterized by the contradiction of explicit and implicit theories of a woman’s sexuality. The explicit theory agrees with the Western opinion of a woman being passive. The man is considered to be a conqueror or a hunter. In the implicit theory, women are believed to have aggressive active sexuality, being Satan in the flesh. The majority of the Muslims adhere to the implicit theory and endow women with active sexuality, hiding them in veils in order not to distract men from their spiritual activities, praying to God. Women are considered to be aggressive, and the veil can keep them under control.
It is interesting how sexual plays were also subject to religious review. According to Freud, the role of the foreplay is exaggerated. He claims it unnecessary, as it can hinder and prevent the coitus. However, Imam Ghazali, the medieval Muslim philosopher, recommends foreplay in order to suppress woman’s aggression and satisfy her necessities. In Islam, the sexual plays are considered to establish special emotional bonds between the partners and believed to be encouraged by Allah. Sexual plays are also important in the Hindu tantric traditions, in particular, unorthodox, or left-handed tantra, which believes that the sexual union of a man and a woman serves the purpose of communion with God.
One of the most controversial contemporary questions regarding the relations of religious and sexual issues is homosexuality. The differences in the attitude to homosexuality can be followed in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Christianity has been quite reproachful towards non-heterosexual relationships. Western society has invented the term of homosexuality as opposition to heterosexuality, as something sick and unnatural. Though today this attitude has weakened, there are still people adhering to this position, and some of the Muslims are among them. The Muslim gays and lesbians stop to take active participation in their religion and start to seek solace in gay communities, mostly because of the fear to be rejected, reproached, and expelled. They do not understand that Islam does not stand against homosexuality. The Koran encourages the diversity in religion, people of different color of skin, constitution, physical appearance, so the Muslims should be comfortable and understandable with all of them. There are many examples of the same-sex relationships in literature or history of Islam, though there is no specific term for homosexuality or homosexual in the Koran; thus, it does not censure it, as well as it does not state it to be something unnatural. However, the Koran shows the example of a man that does not need a woman. It can be interpreted both as an absence of a sexual desire in a man, because of an illness or age, and as a need of another man as a partner. However, no negative implication can be seen in the text, as the Koran only describes the diversity of people in their sexual desires. The reason for the misunderstanding of homosexuality in Islam lies in misinterpretation of the sacred text. When people read the text, they see what they want to see in it, associating their concepts and thoughts with the text, and trying to find evidence of their rightness. Today gay and lesbian Muslims should hope for the reassessment of the sacred texts in their religion.
For the Hindu, homosexuality is not a critical issue. There appeared prohibitions in some of the ancient religious books. However, there is little discussion on homosexuality in Hinduism today, it is just being ignored. Some blame Victorian scholars in creating a homophobic environment. There is not a certain gay or lesbian movement of the Hindu, but there is a Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA), which brings up the most important and controversial issues for discussion.
There is no doubt, that religious views are closely connected with people’s understanding and experience of sexuality. Religion has a great power of persuasion and can influence people’s opinion on certain sexual issues even today, as in the case of homosexuality. However, the final decision, on what to believe in, always depends on one’s personal beliefs.