The president wags his finger at Putin while kowtowing to Islamic leaders.

‘What,” Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was asked, “is [Islam’s] judgment on sodomy and lesbianism?”

“Forbidden,” he curtly pronounced. “Those involved in the act should be punished. In fact, sodomites should be killed in the worst manner possible.”

So what does Barack Obama have to say about that?

Cynically mounting his high horse last week in the cozy confines of Jay Leno’s late-night TV comedy program — a venue popular with his ill-informed admirers, one where hypocrisy won’t be noticed, much less challenged — the president declaimed, “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate or are harmful to them.”

This was his purported human-rights rationale for canceling a summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who in June signed an anti-gay law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Obama told Leno that “making sure people are treated fairly and justly” is a “precept that’s not unique to America” and “should apply everywhere.”


Does the president truly mean what he said? Or was he just pandering to dreamy millennials and the Hollywood glitterati, who are too uninformed or in the tank to mark the chasm between his righteous finger-wagging at Putin and his kowtowing to Islamic leaders? The answers depend on whether he finally condemns sharia’s oppressive and often brutal strictures against homosexuality, which are zealously enforced in most Muslim countries.

That brings us back to Ayatollah Sistani. He is not some wild-eyed al-Qaeda jihadist. Sistani is the most influential sharia jurist in Shiite Islam. He is Iraq’s grand ayatollah, and he was considered a critical ally of the post-Saddam democracy project by the Bush administration and the State Department — which were apparently unembarrassed by his directive that Muslims avoid physical contact with non-Muslims because, as Sistani put it, it is akin to touching “urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dogs, pigs, alcoholic liquors, and the sweat of an animal that persistently eats filth.”

In calling for homosexuals to be “killed in the worst manner possible,” Sistani was not being even slightly controversial. He was reciting mainstream Islamic doctrine — again, not al-Qaeda doctrine, Islamic doctrine.

The teaching is firmly rooted in the Koran, which recounts in several passages Allah’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose people, ignoring the admonitions of Lot, rampantly practiced the “abomination.” Homosexuality is decried in Sura 7:80–81 as “lewdness such as no people in Creation [ever before] committed”; men who “practice your lusts on men in preference to women,” the scripture adds, are “transgressing beyond bounds.” (For more of the same, see also, e.g., Sura 7:82–84, 11:69–83, and 29:28–30.) Further, in an authoritative hadith (the hadith are Mohammed’s sayings and doings), Islam’s prophet orders Muslims: “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.”

So crystal clear is the doctrinal consensus on this point that there is no daylight between Sistani and mainstream Sunni scholars. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi — the renowned Muslim Brotherhood sharia jurist, Al Jazeera celebrity preacher, designated terrorist-organization emir, International Union of Muslim Scholars leader, Hamas facilitator, and . . . Obama administration consultant for whose deputy the White House recently rolled out the red carpet — has explained:

We must be aware that in regulating the sexual drive Islam has prohibited not only illicit sexual relations and all that leads to them, but also the sexual deviation known as homosexuality. This perverted act is a reversal of the natural order, a corruption of man’s sexuality, and a crime against the rights of females. [The sheikh applies the same reasoning to condemn lesbian relations.–ACM]

The spread of this depraved practice in a society disrupts its natural life pattern and makes those who practice it slaves to their lusts, depriving them of decent taste, decent morals, and a decent manner of living. The story of the people of Prophet Lot . . . as narrated in the Koran should be sufficient for us. Prophet Lot’s people were addicted to this shameless depravity, abandoning natural, pure, lawful relations with women in the pursuit of this unnatural, foul, and illicit practice. . . . 

Muslim jurists have held differing opinions concerning the punishment for this abominable practice. Should it be the same as the punishment for fornication [In certain situations, extramarital heterosexual fornication is punished “only” by scourging.–ACM], or should both the active and passive participants be put to death? While such punishments may seem cruel, they have been suggested to maintain the purity of the Islamic society and to keep it clean of perverted elements.

Qaradawi is echoed by the popular Saudi sheikh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid, whose Q&A-format Islamic tutorial website,, is translated into eleven languages. In “The Punishment for Homosexuality,” Sheikh Munajjid asserts: “The crime of homosexuality is one of the greatest crimes, the worst of sins and the most abhorrent of deeds, and Allah punished those who did it in a way that he did not punish other nations.”

Then there is Reliance of the Traveller, the classic sharia manual endorsed by both the faculty of al-Azhar University in Egypt (the ancient seat of Sunni learning) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (the Muslim Brotherhood’s think tank — on whose board Qaradawi has sat). Reliance elaborates that the “wicked practice” of “sodomy” is an “enormity” that is “even viler and uglier than adultery.” (The manual elsewhere explains that, for heterosexual fornication, the marital status of the “fornicator” or “fornicatress” determines whether the punishment is death or scourging.) Thus, the manual instructs, “The Prophet . . . said: ‘Kill the one who sodomizes and the one who lets it be done to him’; ‘May Allah curse him who does what Lot’s people did’; ‘Lesbianism by women is adultery between them.’”

Saudi Arabia and Iran both proclaim themselves “pure” Islamic states in the sense that sharia is the law of the land. Homosexuality is thus categorically prohibited, and the death penalty (not to mention other cruel corporal punishments) is officially imposed. Similarly, several other Islamic countries prominently incorporate sharia into their legal codes — e.g., Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Pakistan, and Sudan — and formally forbid homosexuality, with varying degrees of prohibition and punishment.

That, however, is not the half of it. As I detail in Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, Islamic supremacists shrewdly comprehend that controlling culture is more important that dictating law. The game is either (a) to enshrine sharia in a nation’s law generically (i.e., without getting into the grisly details), as do the constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq, both birthed by the U.S. State Department; or (b) to soft-pedal talk of sharia but champion a revival of Islamic culture, the stratagem perfected by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Once this is done, formally enacting sharia’s specific provisions is unnecessary: The regime’s overt reverence for Islam green-lights the de facto and often vigilante enforcement of sharia standards.

Thus, for example, post-Saddam Iraq is among the world’s most notorious practitioners of anti-gay persecution. There is no formal law on the books forbidding homosexuality, but Sistani’s brutal injunctions are broadly observed. In Egypt, even under Mubarak’s “secular” regime (i.e., even before the recently ousted Muslim Brotherhood government ushered in a full-blown sharia constitution), homosexuals were routinely arrested — usually under the pretext that they had violated other laws — and subjected to savage treatment in the country’s many Islamic-supremacist strongholds. And in Erdogan’s increasingly Islamic-supremacist Turkey, homosexuals are subjected to harassment not only by mobs but also by the police, even though gay-advocacy groups are ostensibly permitted to operate.

In the greater scheme of things, Putin is a piker when it comes to oppressing homosexuals. Undeniably, he is resuscitating the stigmatization of gay life as a means of promoting traditional, procreative relationships — in a desperate attempt to reverse Russia’s death-spiral population decline. But a law banning pro-gay propaganda does not hold a candle to sharia’s license to brutalize and kill people over their sexual behavior.

So will President Obama call out King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia the way he called out Putin? Will he start lecturing and cutting off American aid to violent and thin-skinned Muslim populations? Will he start demanding that Islamic leaders in the United States loudly and unambiguously call for reform of anti-gay laws and practices in Muslim countries?

If I were Jay Leno, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Andrew C McCarthy— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.