Gay and Muslim? The Advice You Should Have Received

I read with dismay the purported advice (really just a continued dig at me) to a fellow Muslim woman seeking advice about her attraction to other women:

A Cry for Help

I have a question and I really don’t know where to turn. This is something I can’t even talk to my parents or friends about, so I hope you can help me. I am a 19-year-old Muslim girl and I’m sexually attracted to other girls. Please don’t judge me. I know it’s not right to act on my feelings and so far I haven’t, alhamdulillah. But I come from a good Muslim family, and now I live away from home for college and it’s getting more & more difficult to stay away from sin. I’m part of the MSA (Muslim Student Association) & I tried to bring up this topic once (without telling them it was about me); and the Muslims got all upset & some people started making jokes about “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” And I was just asking what someone with these feelings should do to stay away from sin. I didn’t say homosexual acts are okay! Now I’m getting really depressed and feel so alone. I’m even starting to question my faith. I mean, why can’t Muslims with gay & lesbian feelings get advice or help when Muslims have no problem giving advice to Muslims who don’t wear hijab, who drink, who commit zina, and even Muslims who don’t pray! Do you know of any online resources or support groups for Muslims I can join anonymously? I don’t want to lose my faith. Please help me. -Don’t want to be Gay Muslim

Dear DwtbGM,

Welcome, I hear you and recognize your pain. I commend you for having the courage it takes to reach out for help. You are not alone in this at all. I, too, know what it’s like to be a 19-year-old Muslim girl attracted to other women.

I want to emphasize, from the beginning, that you are fully human, normal, worthy of love, respect, connection, dignity, and that you have every right to your faith. It’s not easy to be in communities, religious or otherwise, that force us to hide who we are and our struggles. It is incredibly taxing, painful, and sometimes humiliating to be on constant alert, guarding yourself against even the slightest form of self-disclosure amongst your family, friends, and peers. It can feel like you have no one to talk to about these issues and sometimes we don’t have or know anyone who is safe for us. I have reached out to clergy – imams and teachers, mostly anonymously. Unfortunately, I did not find most of these men, some of whom have expressed what can only be considered homophobic and crude statements and jokes, to be helpful in this situation. But I haven’t given up on them and some have made remarkable strides toward listening with more openness and have made better language choices in public.

I was in a Friday prayer service, when a well-known and respected local imam also made the Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve joke before encouraging the congregation to sign an petition against marriage equality. Many people laughed while I remained still and silent, cringing internally, always careful not to give any visible signs that might alert someone to my own orientation. The sad reality is that for all the lip service our community gives to following prophetic ideals including good manners, loving for someone what you love for yourself and embodying safety in words and actions for all people, we often fall short.

It is not a surprise that many people who are disgusted by the idea of being attracted to the same gender cannot really hide their disgust when speaking to or about lgbt folks. It’s easy enough for us to perceive the disdain in their words often couched in terms of sincere religious advice or concern. This uncovers the lie in the love the person not the action statement. Even without any action there is no love there. I’ve found that if you say you are lgbt, rather than having by default a good opinion of you, many of these people automatically assume you are doing something sinful.

As for support, there are some resources out there. If you have the means and the ability, I would encourage you to attend the annual LGBT Muslim Retreat held over Memorial Day weekend. I had heard about the retreat from its inception but was afraid to attend because I felt that I, as a conservative-ish Muslim, might not be fully welcomed. I attended the retreat this year and was overwhelmed by the intentionally welcoming and safe nature of the retreat cultivated by the organizers. I also met and befriended a large number of LGBT Muslims, who are diverse and lovely.

There are some regional resources including the El-Tawhid Unity Mosques in several locations, Queer Muslims of Boston or QMOB, the Queer Muslim Book Club in NYC, Queer Muslims of Seattle. Some of these groups are active on fb, so you can join their groups and find out about their activities. There are also informal groups where queer Muslims get together to just hang out and support each other. This past Ramadan, a large group of queer Muslims got together in DC for a potluck iftar. So try to join one of these groups, and hopefully you will meet a few people and not feel so alone. Because you are not alone, there are so many of us, often hidden in plain sight. I’ve known a number of queer Muslims over the years, who were equally closeted like me, and we had no idea about each other.

As for fearing for the loss of your religion and faith, hold on to it, in whatever way possible. I’ve written about this before, just scroll down a bit to previous posts. One tragedy of the harmful discourse around lgbt issues in our community is that queerness is often placed in opposition to faith. I believe this is a unfortunate aiding of the sower of disbelief against a believer. I am queer and Muslim. How that plays out in my life may be different from how it will work for you or for someone else. If Islam is universal, as is often claimed, then it must be for everyone including you and me.

I think our faith community still has a lot of work to do in articulating a viable life plan that includes queer Muslims beyond the deception marriage or lifelong celibacy options. In my own experience, I have benefitted from reading some works by Jewish and Christian writers, as those communities in the West seem to have started this work much earlier, but also from Muslim scholars. I find great comfort in the overarching principles of shariah and how these principles work to affirm my life in so many ways.

Making Mistakes & Respecting My Parents

Just some thoughts swirling around in my head this week:

Not blogging much these days

Someone recently asked me why I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to in the past. Several reasons come to mind, which include the increase in other social media outlets. But I think at a deeper level, I haven’t been writing as much because I’m at a better and healthier place, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve realized some of my best blogging (cue the Penalty Box post) has come from a place of (hopefully righteous) anger at injustice.

And while I still get angry at injustice, I think I’ve found a number of constructive ways to channel that anger into positive outcomes. I’m also living in the beauty of the grays, no longer willing to parrot the mostly black and white moral certainties of conservative orthodoxy, which I don’t and maybe never really believed in, though God knows, I sincerely tried to believe and practice it.

An Embarrassing Mistake

Yesterday, I made an embarrassing mistake. I barely glanced at two people and I asked, “Who are you two ladies?” Thee was an awkward pause and recoil from both of them. One said her name and the other said, “I’m so-and-so’s husband.” Yikes! I immediately felt shy and embarrassed and wanted to make amends but wasn’t sure how. The husband had long hair down his back and I didn’t really look at him, kind of just assumed with my cursory glance that he was a woman. I couldn’t unsay what I said even though I dearly wished I could take those words back so instead I pretended to be engrossed in some activity all the while trying not to look in the man’s direction.

I couldn’t help but replay some of the recent discussion around the incendiary comments by AlMaghrib Institute and Prophetic Guidance instructor Abu Eesa. I certainly didn’t intend to be stubbornly belligerent, defensive or mocking but here I was in a real situation standing just a few feet away from someone I may have offended. I chose to stop avoiding the situation, put down my things, turned and looked the gentleman in his eyes and said, “I’m sorry, I just saw your hair, and not your face.” He didn’t respond and I didn’t and still don’t really feel much better. But we were able to interact normally without any overt awkwardness after that and as he left he wished me a good weekend and I wished him a safe drive home.

Making mistakes, saying things we don’t necessarily mean, and hurting people in the process is a part of the human condition. It’s not the mistake, which defines us, but how we respond when we realize or if we even realize we have made a mistake is the mark of a person’s character.

I’m working on a post tentatively called Inside AlMaghrib Institute: An Insider’s Perspective, which will revolve around my own decade long experience with the organization so stay tuned for that.

Respecting My Parents

I am so thankful for my parents. I haven’t always and probably still don’t fully appreciate them and all they’ve done for me. My parents are my biggest unwavering supporters. They have taught me so much and given me so much. And I’m sorry to say that my encounter with various strains of Islam has not always led me to accord my parents the deep love, honor, and respect they deserve from me.

My family tells a story about my grandmother, my father’s mother, Mama 71, as she was known by many. She had seven surviving children including four sons, of which my dad is the youngest son. My dad and my three uncles all left Nigeria to pursue their undergraduate and graduate studies abroad. Mama 71 and maybe grandfather, too, ensured it was well understood that none of the boys, much less the daughters, would marry from outside i.e. a non-Igbo. And none did.

While completing his graduate studies here in America, my dad dated an African American woman. She, according to family sources, was very much in love with my dad and they even traveled back to Nigeria together for a visit. However, she was aware that my dad would never marry her because she was not from our tribe. And he didn’t, auspiciously enough for me, as he would later marry my mother.

I’m struck by this story because after I converted to Islam, I did so many things that I know must have riled, rankled, hurt or upset my parents. I hid my conversion to Islam fearing the reaction from family and friends. In my mind, I didn’t need anyone’s permission, I was an adult, though,  just barely 18 at the time. I bowed to Muslim community pressure and started going by the Arabic name Zainab, though I didn’t legally change my name and my family always called me Ify.

I almost married a couple of guys without so much as discussing it with my parents, though, I did discuss it with several imams. None of the imams who were supposed to have my best interests in mind seemed particularly interested or bothered with the enormity of decision at hand and the exclusion of my family. Their main concern was fulfilling assumed jurisprudential requirements. I didn’t discuss this with my family, I simply informed them that I wanted to marry so-and-so. A remarkable change in just a single generation. My dad and my aunts and uncles bowed to parental pressure to marry within the Igbo tribe. I, born and raised in America, decided to inform my family of my intention to marry after I’d found who I wanted, not even asking nor really caring for their input.

For too long, I’ve relied on the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of Muslim preachers as a substitute for that of my family. As I get older, hopefully, I’m a bit more mature and wiser, I really want and need for my family to be involved in my life. I want to discuss issues with my parents to hear and respect their advice and wisdom. I sometimes feel that converts are given advice which minimizes or harms our family ties and leaves us vulnerable to be preyed upon by others so I always advise converts or the newly practicing that we must not discard our families.

Moving Forward Amid Disagreement about Gay Muslims

I finally got around to reading Scott Kugle’s Islam and Homosexuality as well as its recent companion book, Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s Wrestling with God and Men, which while specifically dealing with Jewish tradition resonates with issues common to many conservative religious communities. These books have been tremendously illuminating and spiritually healing for me. Reading and reflecting on these works and the very real voices and lives from the lesbian, transgender, and gay community, a community that has been as the Muslim gay activist Faisal Alam notes, “so spiritually wounded” was in many ways humbling, devastating and enriching.

I’ve heard conservative voices, which claim the mantle of orthodox legitimacy poorly paraphrase or summarize the arguments about understanding homosexuality elaborated with much care and detail by Kugle, Greenberg, and others. There is no substitute for reading their works, reviewing their evidence, arguments, and intellectual creativity in full. Irrespective of one’s own personal views being open to learning and truly hearing another person in attempt to foster greater understanding and empathy is a worthwhile challenge.

It seems that we should be able as a religious community to move the discussion forward beyond a simple rehashing of legal rulings regarding particular sexual acts. That discourse has dominated the conversation but is only a side point. I’m going to use broad brushstrokes here so bear with me for a moment. The LGBT community doesn’t need to seek permission from religious authorities for what they do in their bedrooms. It’s none of your business. What we, as a community, do need is a pragmatic religious and spiritual paradigm, which allows us to be fully present, seen, and included in our communities. And as Rabbi Greenberg says, “a way to envision a life of love, intimacy, and commitment…in the context of a religiously alive Orthodox (or otherwise) community.”

For many religious gays, our orientation is not on the table for reconsideration or debate. Many of us have spent the majority of our lives working through the issues surrounding our sexual orientation so what is at stake is our faith and our lives.

Scripture can be read in a multitude of ways, not every reading holds the same subjective weight of validity or truth. Our challenge as we continue to be out and remain in our religious communities is to read scripture in ways, which Greenberg argues “replace the depiction of perversity with mere difference and sinful desire with the simple human longing for loving.” If you want to see that as a slippery slope that’s your business.

Rabbi Greenberg offers that “the challenge of gay inclusion tests any tradition’s capacity to engage with diversity, to encounter the world responsibly as it is rather than as it is wished to be.” How many of us would willingly accept a religious tradition that offers no path or way forward other than lifelong celibacy or “deceptive heterosexual marriage.” If we’re not going to leave our faith, it’s time that we move beyond religiously sanctioned lying about who we are toward the moral imperative to “stay and tell the truth.” I am disturbed by how easily my tongue has become accustomed to reflexively lying in order to hide an integral part of my life.

I wept after reading the conclusion of Rabbi Greenberg’s book, which mentioned three points to help move the discussion forward:

1. For religious leaders: No humiliation. They will agree not to humiliate or intimidate gay and lesbian people from the pulpit and work to prevent such humiliation in their congregations.

2. For gay and lesbian congregants: No public advocacy. Gay and lesbian members will acknowledge the limits of the scriptural process and not presume the Orthodox community will adopt the social agenda of the lesbian and gay community.

3. For communities: No lying. Lesbian and gay members will be able to tell the truth about their relationships and their families.

I think these considerations point toward a meaningful start to move the conversation forward, wouldn’t you agree?

Gay Muslim Survival Guide

A number of people have asked me to explain or clarify issues raised in my coming out post, Yes, I Am. So here’s an attempt to respond to that feedback as well as offer some constructive points of advice for my fellow LGBT Muslims.

I am Muslim, by choice. Faith is central to my identity and without it I’d be lost as I still clearly remember my life before Islam.

So how do we reconcile faith with sexual orientation or sexuality? This is perhaps the most commonly asked question for gay Muslims but for me the question misses the larger point that orientation is not the same as sexuality. Beyond semantics, some of the language used to describe orientation is unhelpful. Orientation is not limited to who you sleep with and who you sleep with does not necessarily define your orientation. While our community has many hang-ups when it comes to sexuality, I think part of the challenge of having a discussion with gay Muslims is an inability to see beyond the jurisprudential bedroom. Islamic law is concerned with classifiable acts and is silent on matters, which are not so easily classified.

The idea of reconciliation or counseling for LGBT Muslims begins with an assumption that there is a conflict between faith and orientation. Not everyone agrees with this view. Nearly everywhere you look there is a growing movement of scholars and activists challenging old assumptions and interpretations to fuel a more progressive understanding.

Even if you’re like me, schooled in more conservative cultural interpretations (and every interpretation has its own cultural baggage), the progressive understanding holds an undeniable appeal though for me the arguments are not fully convincing. You will have to decide for yourself, which interpretation or understanding of Islam works best for you as no one else can live your life for you. So keep the lines of communication open between you and God and try to surround yourself with good and supportive family and friends.

Should you come out? Each decision to come out is incredibly personal and it’s a continual process with each group of people you encounter. I am out to some people and not out to others, it just makes life easier that way for me. You have to evaluate your own life situation. In reflecting on the life story of the Prophet Muhammad and in listening to Brene Brown’s research into vulnerability, shame, and whole-hearted living, there are so many lessons to be drawn from embracing vulnerability as a means to seek out authentic and meaningful connection with others.

You do not have to accept the idea that your orientation is sinful or unnatural nor do you have to accept the opinion that coming out is publicizing something that should be hidden. I’m always amazed by people who sincerely think that remaining closeted is the optimal solution when they themselves are completely open and in your face about the reality of their own orientation and relationships.

Know that a huge part of reconciling between your faith and sexuality or the courage to come out stems from your own self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. You are worthy, beautiful, and deserving of love and goodness. You have to believe this. Cultivate your relationship with God, your relationship with those who sincerely care for you, and take care of yourself. It’s very possible you will encounter haters along the way but you don’t have to value or accept their criticism.

In my experience, fearing how others might react, is a mostly useless and paralyzing activity. Despite my best efforts, I was not able to predict, with any sense of accuracy, how my family and friends and people in the wider community have reacted to my coming out. Not every experience has been positive but the overwhelming majority have been positive. As a rule of thumb, people who spend a lot of time online (so rarely in person because that would require courage most don’t have) trying to tear you down are usually in pain in their own lives trying to compensate for their own insecurities. If they were happy, they’d be out enjoying their own lives more than they enjoy commenting on your life. Spare a thought for those deeply closeted LGBT folks so scared that someone might think they are gay that they take up the anti-gay banner with more energy than the real homophobes. I know some of you are secretly reading this now and I wish you much love and healing.

What about the “love the person, not the action” distinction? This is problematic, is that even really love? This dichotomy works for some people but not for others. Certainly, we can give credit to those holding this supposedly more compassionate view over the more fire and brimstone exclusionary types but what does this really offer to the LGBT Muslim?  It appears that lifelong forced celibacy is unnatural and maybe even harmful. Marriage to someone of the opposite sex can work for some but not for others, leaving aside the question of fairness to the unsuspecting spouse.

The interesting observation from the “marriage solution” is that despite assuming an outward facade of heterosexuality that inward orientation rarely changes. I could marry a man and almost did yet my orientation was as settled then as it is now despite my efforts to pretend otherwise. In 1971, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), didn’t just stop referring to homosexuality as a disease based on a whim and switch to offering guidance that sexual orientation cannot be changed. Most people involved in ex-gay or reparative therapy programs also encounter this reality of stable orientation. I hear the “abuse argument” a lot from some Muslims i.e. that being gay results from sexual abuse, but this myth is also addressed in the link above about the APA decision. Give it a listen, it’s a good program, and won’t make you or your children gay, I promise.

Can I be LGBT and a good Muslim? Of course! Don’t ever allow people or their opinions or your own actions to come between you and your faith in God. Every person is more than simply an orientation or an action. When I stand before God to pray, I am Muslim, a human being, a daughter, a woman,  a sister, black, gay, American, a nurse, a neighbor, a student and so much more than these labels can convey.

I’m okay saying to Allah as I bow down that I am here at your service, turning to you. I don’t always understand everything perfectly, but I ask you for help in everything, and I know that you will and always have helped me, and that you are the best of those who offer assistance.

Hold on to your faith, you are not alone.

HRC Love

Yes, I Am

Rachel Maddow: “I think the responsibility that we have as gay Americans to the extent that we can — and we ought to be really ambitious about the extent to which we can — we have to be out. That’s the thing that we owe the people who came before us who are the pioneers, and that’s the thing we owe the next generation of gay people in terms of clearing the way and making life easier for them. I think that there is a moral imperative to be out, and I think that if you’re not out, you have to come to an ethical understanding with yourself why you are not. And it shouldn’t be something that is excused lightly. I don’t think that people should be forced out of the closet, but I think that every gay person, sort of, ought to push themselves in that regard. Because it’s not just you. It’s for the community and it’s for the country.”

My name is Ify and this is a part of my story. There is much more to me than this but it’s here none the less. I’ve been asked, “How do you know?” Really, just as you know yourself, it’s the same. You don’t need to try everything else to know what feels most real and authentic to you. No, I was not abused as a child and I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had such a loving and nourishing upbringing.

I lived in fear for many years, afraid of what my family, friends, fiancés, and social circle would say as I tried mightily to discern what God intended for me. I don’t claim to have any answers but what I do have is my faith in God, a loving family, and some sincere friends. I’ve come to understand that these connections are more dear to me than anything else.

Perpetually living in a state of anxiety and fear is an awfully heavy burden to carry alone and a diminished way of experiencing the world. I’ve learned that hiding the truth about an integral part of  myself leads to dishonesty. And dishonesty is a poor foundation for building one’s faith or meaningful relationships. It is a quicksand-like foundation for beginning a marriage.

Anger and sadness became my close companions even as I turned to God seeking and hoping for a way out, struggling to maintain my faith. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as I joyfully immersed myself in strengthening my relationship with God and with my community through learning and volunteering. I found a fullness and contentment of faith while cultivating my defense mechanisms. It takes a lot of effort to consistently maintain a neutral facade as those around you confidently express the most ridiculous or hurtful opinions. Over the years, deep fissures appeared in this facade and I unconsciously used anger and sarcasm in an attempt to keep my anxiety at bay.

At one of the last Friday prayers I attended, the imam made an impassioned plea exhorting the congregation to sign their names to a  petition to have a referendum ballot this year on the issue of gay marriage in the state. As a joke at the end of the sermon, the imam said, “We all know that God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve,” which received some chuckles from the audience. But I’d like to offer as a correction that God not only made Adam and Eve but he also made Steve and me. That some in our communities readily display an attitude of willful ignorance and harshness rather than gentleness and compassion on a wide array of issues can and does alienate the most vulnerable from their faith.

I try to listen attentively with all of my being to hear the whispers of the divine message in my life. I’ve been deeply inspired by people across faith traditions who in their negotiation of faith have found it within themselves to recognize and respect each person’s inherent dignity and to love for others what they love for themselves. Slowly, I’ve gained the courage to allow my family and some friends in to get to know me and have been surprised to find their hearts soft and open enough to continue to love and embrace me even if it’s not always easy.

I am not giving up on my faith.

Ramadan items

In Praise of a Simple Ramadan

All praise and thanks are due to Allah alone, the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and earth, the Turner of our hearts, and the One who has knowledge of our every heartbeat, breath, thought and action.

Ramadan is a blessed month of fasting and devotion, good deeds and charity, and increased communal bonding.

In this month, the rewards of good deeds are multiplied even more than usual so we are often exhorted to exert ourselves to reap as much benefit as possible. Ostensibly, this is a good thing.

Yet, I am reminded of the hadith of the Bedouin that came to the Prophet (s) to ask about Islam:

Bedouin: Muhammad, your messenger came to tell us you claim that Allah sent you as a Prophet.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Who created the heavens?

Prophet: Allah.

Bedouin: Who created the earth?

Prophet: Allah.

Bedouin: Who created and raised the mountains?

Prophet: Allah.

Bedouin: By the one who created the heavens, earth, and raised the mountains, has Allah sent you (as a Prophet)?

Prophet: Yes

Bedouin: Your messenger also told us five prayers in the day and night have been made obligatory on us.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Your messenger told us charity is due from our wealth.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Your messenger told us that fasting in the month of Ramadan has been made obligatory on us.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Your messenger told us that a pilgrimage to the Kabah has been made obligatory on the one able to undertake the journey.

Prophet: Yes.

The Bedouin then set off and said, “By Him who sent you with the truth, I will neither make any addition to them nor diminish anything from them.”

The Prophet (s) replied, “If he is truthful, he will enter paradise.”

Before the month of Ramadan, many Muslims make fervent prayers that we be allowed to live to see this blessed month. We make resolutions about how much Quran we will read or how many extra prayers we will pray, or how much will give up of tv, movies, social media, and other distractions.

But as the month wears on, our resolve may weaken and we may begin to feel guilty that we weren’t able to achieve our goals. The hadith above gives us hope, Islam is simple, even in doing the bare minimum there is a guarantee from the Prophet of God of a good outcome in the hereafter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for being a slacker in Ramadan, on the contrary, I believe in taking Ramadan seriously to reap as much benefit as possible. But along with that level of seriousness must be an element of pragmatism. Not all of us will be able to finish the Quran in this month, or pray every night prayer, or even spend a lot of extra time in devotional acts so give yourself a break and appreciate the blessings in what you are able to do.

There’s also hope in the hadith, that “the most beloved of all acts with God are those done most consistently even if they appear small.” Let’s implement this hadith by utilizing this Ramadan to find one deed, which we can do consistently for a lifetime to seek the pleasure of Allah. Can you do it?

This Ramadan, I have chosen to emphasize a single small deed, which I am working to build into my daily life so that, God willing, I can continue it throughout the year and I hope throughout my life.

Leaving the Theology of Bullies Behind

I used to wonder how people, especially converts, could after finding Islam later leave the faith altogether. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and of my friends who no longer identify as Muslim. Everyone’s life experience is unique but I can’t help wondering if some of my friends left simply because they couldn’t find a safe place within the religion for themselves. I wrote about this earlier in forgiving ourselves for not being perfect. The more I reflect on it, I’m almost certain that many people leave because we’ve encountered a theology of bullies that does not empower us to deal effectively with the pressing issues in our lives.

I was young, insecure, and confused about a lot of things when I converted to Islam. I was certain that I believed in God. I liked the easy and comprehensive answers and a well-defined life path that Islam provided. I was attracted to the repeated calls in the Quran to think, reflect, and ponder over its verses and the signs in universe. In my new convert zeal, I was overwhelmed with a desire to not only ground but also to prove myself in my new faith through learning and practice. It was then that I encountered the theology of bullies and I fell in love…with it and my own ego.

Looking back, I see how naive I was despite my quest for sincerity, which was I think and hope quite sincere. And afraid. Fear is used in theology of bullies to force each person into submission. But this fear thing is a tricky business. If God is worshipped out of love, fear, and hope then surely some fear is a good thing? But in the theology of bullies there’s another type of fear, a fear of displeasing people and of public censure. This secondary fear causes a lot of emotional distress. Some people believe that’s a good thing and to others perhaps a sign of hypocrisy. It’s a tricky thing because we want so very much to be sincere.

This is how the theology of bullies works:

Take any issue, promote your own understanding as correct and closest to the divine decree, and then mock, ridicule or revile those who differ. Setup the equation so that the good Muslim or more precisely, a Muslim, is the one who agrees with you. Thereby putting the faith of those who disagree with you into doubt.

This is how the theology of bullies gets you. If you don’t agree with them on everything hook, line, and sinker then you’re sunk or they’ll set out to sink you and your faith by playing on your insecurities.

xcwn blogs powerfully over at A Sober Second Look about the damaging effects of the psychological, emotional, and theological manipulation many of us have experienced. I see myself in much of her writing. I consider myself in the process of recovering from the theology of bullies, still holding onto my faith in God and in Islam but discovering anew what that means for me as a practical reality.

I’ve learned enough to pass pretty effectively. I know the arguments, the evidences, and proofs inside and out. I can wear the clothes and say the right words and this affords me a certain level of privilege but I know the truth. I don’t believe in much of the way Islam has been presented and taught to me. And I now know that disagreeing with the opinions of others doesn’t mean I’m disagreeing with God. It just means I disagree with you.