The Common Values Between Islam and Stoicism – Zuby Eusofe

From the lens of a Queer Writer

From the left is the symbol for Stoicism, on the right is the symbol for Islam

I have always been fascinated about religion and philosophy. Whenever I came across certain philosophy quotes I would randomly look for the commonality between philosophy and religion. Furthermore, I would also like to see if there is any similar understanding between philosophy and religion regarding their perspective on homosexuality.

When I came across a book about Stoicism, I began to do my research to see if there are any commonalities between Stoicism and Islam. This is where my journey begins…

A Brief Description of Islam

Islam has been around for almost 1500 years ago. Based on history, Islam dated back in the 6th century (c. 570 – 8 June 632 CE). It is one of the Abrahamic’s religion that teaches God – Allah in Arabic is One, and Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of God. It is the second largest religion in the world with almost 1/5 of the world’s population, the believer is known as Muslim.

Islam teaches Muslims the meaning of submission only to One God, and whatever Muslims do good or bad they will eventually have to face God the all-knowing, the almighty.

Islam teaches that God is the omnipotent, most merciful and most gracious. God has guided mankind through prophets and messengers, revealed scriptures like the Quran and Hadith (The saying of Prophet Muhammad). The Quran, believed to be literally coming from God.

Every Muslims abide to the Five Pillars of the core beliefs and practices of Islam. They are, The Shahadah – Profession of Faith, the five daily prayers, giving of alms to the needy (zakat), Fasting in the month of Ramadan and lastly, making pilgrimage to holy Makkah.

What Is Stoicism?

Based on the book ‘The Daily Stoic’ written by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, [3] Stoicism was a School of philosophy from an Ancient Greek founded by Zeno of Citium, in Athens. It was dated in the early 3rd century BC. It comes from the word ‘Stoa’, meaning porch because that was where Zeno started his teachings to his students.

Stoic is a philosophy of personal ethics and virtues that guides you how to differentiate the good, the bad and the mediocre of life within the natural world. In its teaching, as human being, the path to happiness and well being can only exist within the present moment itself.

It also teaches you how to control the desire of need such as pleasure, fear, anger and pain simply by knowing your understanding of the purpose in life. Stoicism teaches you the benefit of working together and treating others equally and just. Obviously, it is a concept that guides you how to discipline and control yourself to be a better human being on the planet. I will elaborate more as we go along with this article.

Common Values Between Islam and Stoicism

“Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.” – Qur’an 21:35

The above Quranic verse tells us that nobody will escape from death. Before we return back to God, there will be test that each and everyone us will face and that is, the good, the bad and the indifferent in life. The people we meet, the family we have, the loved ones, lovers, friends and foes. Consequently, God will test us on how we treat ourselves and how we behave with others around us.

I’m beginning to realise that all religions have components of Stoicism in their teachings. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam teaches that God is all-knowing and knows past, present and future. Although Islam teaches that just because God knows the future, it does not mean we do not have free will. Even though our ‘Free Will’ has been subjugated by God the all knoweth. It is something like in the movie, Matrix.

As a result, people can choose how they handle the situations that happened to them, whether it is good or bad. Islam views these positive or negative events or conditions as opportunities to demonstrate your faith in God and to act righteously.

Now let’s consider these words from Epictetus [11] :

“With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.”

Though Islam teaches that one should act righteously for God and Epictetus teaches that one should act virtuously to avoid discontent, the point is the same: success or failure, happiness or suffering is determined by how you behave or react when faced with situations that is beyond your control.

When it comes to suffering Rumi, the great poet and Sufi mystic, wrote, “Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy.” [4]

“Islam teaches that suffering is a special form of grace, because if we never experienced suffering, we would never feel the need to call out to Allah for mercy.” – Timothy Freke, The Heart of Islam.

Turning to God is an act of humility that acknowledges you don’t control everything. Suffering is like a reminder from God to bring you to the state of realization. When everything is going great, you feel like the world belongs to you, that you can accomplish anything. In other words, Suffering is a way to bring you back to reality and gain an understanding of the true nature of things.

The more I learn about religion and philosophy, the more I feel they are all variations on some of the keys, fundamental truths and values. They also differ in many ways, what baffles me is that how can a 3rd century Greek slave turned philosopher and a 6th century Arab prophet (who was a shepherd and an orphan) say the same thing in wildly different times and contexts?

The Islamic Sufism

Sufism[10], known as tasawwuf in the Arabic-speaking world. It is a form of Islamic mysticism that emphasised on inward looking of self that will bring the spiritual closeness with God. It is a school of practice that teaches you how to bring your inward search for God to the outside world, and shuns yourself from the material world at certain point of time. It has produced some of the world’s most famous literature, like the love poems of the 13th century Iranian jurist Rumi Matnawi and Shams-e-Tabriz.

Similarities Between Stoicism and Sufism

The 1831 publication of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in Persian comprises one of the 19th century’s most intriguing cross-cultural and inter-religious texts. Produced by the Austrian Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall and addressed to the reigning Shah of Persia, this translation negotiates a wide diversity of concerns, including political diplomacy, literary aesthetics and religious difference. [1]

The above publication shows how Stoicism intertwined with Sufism, from a wide range of diversity from ethics, religion and politics. I found out that the popularity of the Islamic philosophy emerged after the battle between Iran and the Parthian Empire and it lives on during the reigning of the Shah of Persia till today. The author stated that after examining Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation in Persian, that has let him to use it like a barometer for his spiritual journey.

Stoicism is one of the catalysts that brings modernity in the Western civilisation and so does Sufism for the East. Some Islamic scholars and historian believed that Sufism creates a new perspective of Modern Islam that only focus on spirituality, meditation and islamic philosophy. But most importantly, it reflects Love and Peace which is what the Modern world needs today, with the chaos that happens now.

The Presence of Homosexuality in Stoicism

The term ‘homosexuality’ was coined in the late 19th century by a German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert. Although the term is new, discussions about sexuality in general, and same-sex attraction in particular, have been discussed ranging from Plato’s Symposium to contemporary queer theory. [2]

Since then, the history of cultural understandings of same-sex attraction in ancient Greek is considered to be relevant to the philosophical issues raised by those understandings, therefore it is necessary to briefly reviewing some of the social history of homosexuality back in those times.

Even though the ancient Greeks has no knowledge about the contemporary dichotomy of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’, same-sex attraction is common in their daily life. Meaning that, if someone who is attracted to same sex and decided to have a consensual sex it is considered permissible.

The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, were known for his exclusive interests in boys and other men. At that time, the issue of gender was not that important, rather the choice of taste or preference is what they will look for in terms of companionship and intimacy. As such, gender just becomes irrelevant “detail” while the excellence in character and beauty were most important.

However, in the Modern Day Stoicism, Owen Howard, the Director of Stoic School Institute [5] stated that, Stoicism is all about living in harmony with Nature, and Nature made every animal to reproduce, while same-sex attraction is in fact, would not procreate and reproduce, therefore human population would suffer. More references as stated below:

In other words, the modern stoicism considers lgbtq issue as indifferent. [5]

Nevertheless there are many Stoic who are within the lgbt community and likewise, the heterosexual. The School considers this matter as one of the most interesting issues, because it is hard to explain how Nature would make humans that are attracted to the same sex as relatable with Nature, but it is also hard to explain how same-sex attraction came into human family if it was not by Nature.

Eventually the Stoic School has preferably to err pertaining to the reproducing members of Western people, at the same time, preventing anything that would end the civilisation. Today, they focus on reproduction, family welfare, adoption, assisting single parents, healthcare and many more. In addition, they are helping and guide the Western Civilisation to live in a prosper and harmonious lifestyle while overcoming Nature in a responsible manner.

Stoic School of Philosophy has given full details about their understanding on gender issues through this link:

Homosexuality In Islam

Homosexuality is mostly considered sinful by conservative Muslims. Although, there were histories during pre and post Islamic eras about the existence of same-sex attraction, in fact, there is no punishment that was ruled out in the Quran about being homosexual. [6]

In the year 1858, Ottoman Empire decriminalised homosexuality[7]. Back in those times, homosexuality was a normalcy in Turkey, regardless if you are royalty, statesmen or commoner.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century it is slowly being considered as unnatural. In 2014, the current government started to ban pride parades[8], those who celebrated, will be jailed. Even though there is no laws exist yet in Turkey that will protect lgbt people from discrimation, but there are several cases of discrimination existed at the workplace, housing and also health care. Due to this, most of the LGBTQ people have been secluded and closeted in Turkey.

Till this day, Muslims all over the world have mixed emotions and understanding about homosexuality and Islam. Furthermore most of the conservatives Muslims still think that homosexuality is a sin and the LGBTQ Muslims need to heal from this ‘illness’ by going through conversion therapy. This is where lgbt Muslims activists and human rights activists will step up and tirelessly fight to protest and put this conversion therapy to a stop.

Through education and dialogues, are where Muslims will learn more about homosexuality and our rights to live within the Muslims community. As an lgbt Muslim activist, I would personally advocates and fighting for the LGBTQ Muslims rights to seek for inclusion and acceptance within the mainstream Muslims community. Most of all, to guide and help the lgbtq Muslims to embrace their gender identity even though others may think it is wrong and sinful.

This mission will neither deter nor stop me from doing what is fair and just for LGBTQ Muslims to be inclusive in the society.

Now, let us come back to the commonalities that Modern Stoicism and Islam have regarding the same-sex relationships. These two ideologies, did not consider same-sex relationships as a natural way of life.

However, if we were to bring science into the picture, there is a scientific evidence to show that there are humans who were born with two sexual organs, and they are called hermaphrodites.

Plants[9] are being called hermaphroditic, which is basically coming from flowering plants. In the meantime, animals such as worms, snails and slugs are also under the categories of hermaphroditic species because they have two reproductive organs.[9]

Moreover, in the animal kingdom, homosexual behaviour has existed for number of years. They are considered to be bisexual as some male may wanted to copulate with another male before they consummate with the female, example, the male fruit flies.[9]

Understandably, this goes to show that same-sex relationships should be considered natural regardless the physical action may not have the ability to reproduce or procreate another species. Since Humans are social animals, love and intimacy play an important role in building harmony and peace within community and society at large.

Based on all the evidence I have written above, show that there are commonalities between Islam and Stoicism. It is valid to say that both ideologies have tremendous impact on the growth of humanity. In fact, if ones ideology is to promote aggression or discrimination toward certain society or community then, it is our duty to bring forward an awareness or realisation that these ideologies need to be changed for the future of mankind.

Thank you for having this journey with me 🙂

Zuby Eusofe is an Lgbtq activist and a writer. She is the Founder of The – A safe space for Muslims lgbt in Singapore. She’s also a cat lover.

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