Sexuality, rights and Islam—individually each of these words has a rich history, unstable and contested, but profoundly productive. Taken together, however, they signal an extraordinarily charged dynamic in the world today. Whether it is Daesh circulating footage of its executions of gay men in the name of purifying their “caliphate”, Israel promoting itself as a gay haven as part of its pink-washing campaign, European governments considering the equivalent of a homosexuality acceptance test as a condition of citizenship, the Turkish government lifting a long-standing ban on headscarves in official spaces, or reports of forced marriages in Syrian refugee camps—the world seems transfixed by questions of gender, and sexuality in Muslim societies.
Arguably, such attention should not surprise—after all, sexuality itself is a dense transfer point of power, as Michel Foucault once put it, and its management remains an integral aspect of governance in modern nation states. Nonetheless, the current moment stands out for the peculiar prominence granted to Muslim sexual subjectivity in discourses of global governance and as well as the striking emotional charge such discourses carry. Most obviously, the war on terror and subsequent securitization discourses drive much of contemporary interest in Muslims. Such attention is bolstered by “common sense” imaginations of sexuality and Islam that are a colonial legacy. As a result, sexuality is increasingly central to the production of an idea of Islamic difference—cultural, religious and civilizational. As we will see, the concept of an absolute Islamic difference complicates scholarship, activism and advocacy on sexuality, both in Muslim majority spaces as well as in locations where Muslims are a minority. It produces the contradictions and dilemmas that form a major backdrop for the issues raised in the chapters in this volume.