Occasionally I’d ask how her parents were coping with the fact that their daughter was a lesbian, and naturally the conversation covered the general hurdles that many face. Specifically, her raw pain at losing the trust, faith and potentially, the love of her parents.
After we moved out on our own and into new circles of friends (she with gay culture and clubs and me with Muslim culture and clubs), she invited me to an “all gurlz” house party. Excited, I said, “ooh great! I don’t have to wear my hijab!” She responded by saying, “but some of my guests are gay. Is that an issue?”
Hijab is supposed to be a hetero-norm marker of modesty and “shield” ones’ sexuality from, well, the opposite sex. So what do you do if you’re surrounded by people of the same sex who may find you attractive? Do you still wear your hijab? What about the reality of gay men or the medieval Muslim tradition of allowing eunuchs to live freely among “women of the harem”?
It took me about 30 seconds to say the Qur’an (24:31) teaches that women do not have to guard their modesty among one another. Since the guest list was all women, hijab was not mandatory. At the last minute however, a bunch of guys arrived, and despite them being incapable of finding me sexually attractive, I again used gender, not sexuality, as a reason to cover. In the end, it was a fun time had by all and it was lovely reconnecting with my girlfriend (who is still the super, awesome, beautiful and strong woman she was then. And today she has the trust, faith and love of her family as well as her equally awesome, beautiful and roller-derbying partner).
A gay Muslim’s acceptance by the community or family is dependent upon many factors outside of religion. On the one hand, it may be easier to come out in North America, Europe or Australia, where there is a larger gay support network as well as a secular culture pushing for gay acceptance. While in many Muslim countries, the practice of sex segregation has given rise to a kind of “homo-culture” — where one’s first sexual experience is with a person of the same sex, simply because the opposite is unreachable.
Some gay Muslims don’t even know or think that they are gay. Some heterosexual Muslims engage in gay activities without thinking anything of it. For women, gay sexuality is rarely spoken about. It’s almost laughable or assumed to be so innocuous for women to love each other, that it’s not worth paying attention to. In public spaces, men openly hold hands, stroke each others’ arms and thighs, and kiss on the cheeks. It’s normal. There is no secular culture clamoring for gay rights. But there is a religious culture calling for condemnation. Hijabman recently flipped me this video. This is a raw and warm message from a young gay Muslim to others who says:
Your sexuality is not incompatible with Islamic teachings.
Made for the Dan Savage-It Get’s Better Program, this Shia, Pakistani Muslim talks about his experiences growing up gay in a conservative community, and how he survived by being upfront about his feelings. He went through high school like many gay teens — feeling awkward and different from the hetero norm of school crushes. But instead of as he says, “following the stereotypical gay culture,” he just portrayed normalcy while still being honest about his preference for the same sex.
Despite any prejudices he encountered, his main concern was his family. His father made it clear that if any of his children turned out gay, he’d turn his back on them all. He was not prepared to bear the shame of what the community would think about him as a father. So this young man’s sexuality was kept hidden until the day his father found out accidentally.
The initial response was as you’d imagine: “It’s not natural. It’s wrong. It’s disgusting. You’re a failure of a son. What will the extended family think?” It turns out however, that his immediate family didn’t care one way or another and eventually his father came around.
It’s a success story.
Gays throughout the Muslim world are persecuted, beaten, whipped and executed under the aegis of Islamic law. And you will be hard pressed to find a mainstream or conservative scholar who will say that homosexuality is fine and dandy, seeing that Islamic tradition is clear that sodomy is not permitted (which may be why there is less emphasis on gay women? Let’s also forget for a moment that penetration isn’t a requirement of sexuality, and that a few Muslim men who do have their first experience with other men, expect sodomy with their wives later on. But this is religious law and sex we’re talking about. And that always gets sticky).
What you will find are cultural arguments saying that homosexuals are abhorrent, hated, abominations, and are beyond the pale of Islam. It’s interesting that the Qur’an uses similar terminology when speaking about backbiting, lying, drinking, usury, and just about any other sin. The most strongest language is reserved for shirk, assigning partners to the “oneness” of God.
So the traditional position on homosexuality is that it’s a sin. This does not mean however, that a gay Muslim should be excommunicated, banned from prayer, condemned to hell or executed. Sherman Jackson, a brilliant community leader and scholar of Black Islam and Medieval Law, says exactly that in a speech on creating space for gay Muslims.
There is a wide spectrum of reaction to homosexuality in Islam. From outright persecution and condemnation to a progressive acceptance and call for the redefining of marriage to include same-sex partners. People argue that there is no word for gay or lesbian in the Qur’an, and that Islamic jurisprudence is guided by male scholars for a male audience, as well as coloured by culture, politics and context. (Gee, sounds EXACTLY what I argue when speaking about women in Islam.)
When I’ve spoken with gay Muslims, the sentiment I hear is that, “I don’t want to be a part of a religion that sees me as sinning. If I’m sinning I’m going to hell regardless of me being accepted. God made me this way. What’s normal for you is NOT what is normal for me — so why should your religious standards be applied to me?”
What I’ve found refreshing about these two videos is this: The “It Gets Better” video was the first time I’ve heard a gay Muslim say, “You know what? It’s ok. Sexuality is compatible with Islam — the two are not irreconcilable. It sounds like he has a great support network among his family, and that he’s found peace in his life and in his religion.
Even while supporting the traditional legal position on homosexuality, I think it’s rare that you hear a mainstream Muslim scholar coming right out and saying, you know what, Gay Muslims are our brothers and sisters in Islam. This means they are deserving of our love, support, and protection.
It’s our deeds that we will be held accountable for in the end. And no one has the right to assume that a person isn’t worthy of God’s love.
Image credit: Muslim 365