While the majority of countries that criminalise homosexuality do so via legislation, there are several where it is the application of Sharia Law that leads to such an outcome.
The severity of penalties for homosexuality range from fines to the death penalty. Imprisonment is a common form of penalty, while corporal punishment is also imposed in some countries.
Notorious for its adherence to Wahhabism, a puritanical strain of Islam, and as the birthplace of most of the 9/11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia holds sharia (Islamic law) as its sole legal code.
That means smoking, drinking, going to discos, and mixing with unrelated persons of the opposite sex are all “haram” (forbidden).
Sodomy is punishable by death. However, paradoxically, the strict laws limiting the mixing of the sexes mean that it is in many ways easier to be gay in Saudi Arabia than to be straight. As long as gays and lesbians maintain the appearances of conforming to Wahhabist rules, they can do what they want in private.
Visitors to Jeddah and Riyadh can find thriving communities of homosexuals – who meet in schools, cafés, on the streets, and on the Internet.
“You can be cruised anywhere in Saudi Arabia, any time of the day. They’re quite shameless about it,” Radwan, a 42-year-old gay Saudi American who grew up in various Western cities and now lives in Jeddah, told The Atlantic magazine.
Talal, a Syrian who moved to Riyadh in 2000, told a journalist that the Saudi capital is a “gay heaven.”
However, what surprises Westerners is that many Saudi men who have sex with other men do not consider themselves to be gay.
The sight of men holding hands is commonplace in Saudi Arabia and many other Arab countries, and is not seen as a suspicious act.
Homosexuality is outlawed by the Afghan constitution, but Shariah law is more likely to be enforced by vigilante groups than by the authorities.
But like Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is widespread – namely relations between adult men and young dancing boys, known as “bacha bazi”.
The practice of wealthy men forcing boys to dress up as women and dance at gatherings goes back to ancient times – but has seen a sharp revival in post-Taliban Afghanistan, according to human rights groups.
Boys who become bachas are seen as property, and those perceived as being particularly beautiful can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars. The men who control them sometimes rent them out as dancers at male-only parties, and some are prostituted.
Despite the negative social attitudes and legal prohibitions, there is an institutionalized form of bisexuality within Afghan culture.
This occurs when boys are kidnapped to act as sexual slaves for adult men, typically in a militia, or when an adult man buys sexual favors from young boys with money or gifts.
These activities are tolerated within Afghan culture because they are not perceived as being an expression of a LGBT-identity, but rather an expression of male power and dominance; as the boy in these situations is forced to assume the “female” role in the relationship.
Use of the death penalty remains persistently high in Yemen — the Middle Eastern country was ranked in 2012 by Amnesty International as one of the eight worst offenders for capital punishment in the world, with at least 28 cases that year.
While sodomy carries the death penalty by stoning in Yemen, reports suggest the extreme punishment has not been used for it in recent years, according to Death Penalty Worldwide.
However, it’s extremely rare for a Yemeni to publicly come out as gay, even though a thriving underground LGBT community exists.
Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, homosexuality has been outlawed – and lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have been punished by floggings and death sentences.
Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli, an influential Iranian cleric, said in a speech last April that homosexuals were inferior to dogs and pigs and blamed them for spread of Aids.
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Nigeria. The maximum punishment in the twelve northern states that have adopted Sharia law is death by stoning. That law applies to all Muslims and to those who have voluntarily consented to application of the Shari’a courts.