Male sexual quirks among the Ottomans

In the days of the Ottoman Empire, pederasty-like relationships were common between pre-pubescent boys and bearded older men. Though today it seems homoerotic, the relationship had a deeper meaning according to the mystic Sufis and their search for God "Your airs have turned my head! Say, who has brought you up so impudent?

That stature by no cypress rivaled, who planned its development?

Your tender body in respect of scent and color's choice and pure,

'Twould seem 'twas at the breast of some rare rose that you found nourishment.

You come, O vintner's lad, a rose in hand, in the other wine;

Which shall I choose? Is it the rose, the wine or you will give content?"

[Nedim, in "The Penguin Book of Turkish Verse"]

Nedim, who lived at the beginning of the 18th century, was one of dozens of Ottoman poets who openly expressed their interest in persons of their own sex. But what was this interest? The first interpretation that leaps to the modern, western mind is homosexuality and sexual activity (sodomy).

But a serious look at Ottoman culture, and before that, Islam provides quite a different picture.

Until the modern era, there was no word for sodomy in Arabic or Persian. Nor is there any prohibition of it in the Quran. Some make reference to the destruction of the town identified as Sodom of the Old Testament (which is supposed to be the origin of the word sodomy) in the Quran, Surah 15: 73-77 as if it were the source. But it is quite clear that the city was destroyed because its inhabitants refused to offer hospitality to strangers. Where does the prohibition against sodomy come from? The reference is to some hadith, the sayings and acts of the Prophet Muhammad, which the...

Continue reading on: