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.

26 thoughts on “Gay Muslim Survival Guide

  1. Hi — this isn’t directly relevant to me, but it’s deeply interesting nonetheless. Thanks for writing it.

    • Bill,

      Whenever I see your name, I feel like I’m meeting an old friend. There’s something very special about from these older forms of social media, blogs and forums, that allows for a closeness that is missing from Facebook and Twitter.

      And you’re most welcome.

    • Probably why people of my age don’t tend to gravitate to them…. (I’m not a curmudgeon yet, but I’m hoping to get there soon!)

  2. You have put so much thought and love into this post, Ify. There is room for all of us in Islam. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

    • Kate,

      Sometimes, I don’t write because of my own fears of inadequacy or of not being able to do justice to a subject. But every now and again something happens where I feel this moment of clarity and then the courage to stand up and be seen, to live authentically, and to write flows much more easily. Love is greater than hate and courage is better than fear. Allowing myself to breathe more freely by being open has allowed to let go of emotions, which didn’t serve me well and to embrace those which do, like love in all its many forms.

  3. Well i do not believe that gay people must be encourage.ALLAH does not agree with same sex relationships.Satan likes to bring in issues like this and then people do what they like. the do things to suite themsleves and i have recently embraced Islam leaving my christian life behind me. ALLAH /God says abstain from ALL Sin and it is a sin to go against His Word being the Quaraan,Bible,Thorah

  4. Gay people also like to say they were born like this.That is also not true. God was not and will never accept this.He created us perfect as man or women. People are abused when they are young.by same sex people they start to enjoy that and then they think it is right. sorry i will never agree that gay is right.and by encouraging this act is also a sin. God will never tolerate it. why are there so many gay people who have contracted HIV also.???????????? it is sin. why is there so many people dying of hiv because it is a sin to just sleep around and have sex with every dick,tom,and sally.THINK WHO CREATED YOU SOMEONE THAT PUT THE RULES IN PLACE or just someone who does not care.If ALLAH did not care about Humans He would never have revealed all the the rules and they way to live through our Prophet SAW (i think people who are gay do not know what they are in God that is why they say it is right.) and sorry if you do not know if you are a man or a women how can you make good dessisions.?????????????

    • Salaam Amaal,

      Surely, you think that speaking without knowledge about God is an enormity? Personally and theologically, I believe Allah is the creator of everything.

      I know for some people with conservative ideas that their only way to understand or relate to homosexuality is to refer to it as a pathology stemming from abuse or some other vice in society or simple confusion. I was never abused nor was I influenced by other gay people. I just knew from a young age how I felt.

      May Allah forgive you and all of us really for our own lack of empathy and insight. We don’t know why God blesses us with good or why we may be afflicted with something of harm. But one of the surest signs we are far from the prophetic example is in the hardness of the heart reflected in the ugliness of our speech and character.

    • “That is also not true. God was not and will never accept this.” How do you know for sure? How do you know for sure what God will or won’t accept? How do you know that a sister as sincere as Ify would want to do this to herself if it wasn’t anything, but the truth? I don’t know what it means to be LGBT, but I have met and read about people’s stories that cannot be anything but heart wrenching for them to admitting to being what we all consider to be obnoxious, disgusting, wrong, sinful, repulsive, etc.
      There is letter of the law/text. However, there is spirit of the law.
      - compassion
      - love
      - undestanding
      - caring
      There is, “it is not part of one’s deen to be concern about what does not concern one”.
      Nobody has asked me to be gay. I will be asked about me, not about anyone else. Wala taziru waziratu wizira hukura

    • Tola, I think this is where many of us struggle between understanding the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. I am committed from a spiritual and ethical basis to Islam and its sources yet we live in the world and not simply on paper. It is and always has been a struggle for us as Muslims to actualize our faith in accordance with its overarching principles.

      I sometimes cringe when people say the verse or hadith is “clear” because the understanding and application of the textual sources cannot exist in a vacuum and do not always remain static. Time and place and situation can inform and affect our understanding and implementation.

  5. I was brought up in a home that saw no distinction between how LGBT or straight people are treated. I was brought up around LGBT people, am friends and family with them, and never thought anything of it. It never occurred to me to hate someone because of whom they love, just like it never occurred to me that you could legislate that love.
    You are who you are. Acknowledging your true self has to the be the first step to truly getting close to God, because how can you worship your creator, without acknowledging your true self as His creation?
    I applaud your willingness to put yourself at the forefront of this battle of ideologies. I wasn’t strong enough, and left. I had so much guilt that I was carrying around already, that I could deal with the implied guide that I received from Islam, and the feeling that I could not, would not ever do ‘enough.’ I took my experience, and knowledge and grew, and changed, and healed, and came closer to God in my own way. My path has lead me to the Baha’i faith, something that I’ve been studying for years, and have grown to love. It’s a faith that accepts all, loves all, wants to unify, and educate all, and my heart needed acceptance and unity, not fractioning and disunity.
    You are a wonderful, intelligent, beautiful woman and deserve all blessings, and wonderful things that come your way. Thank you for your strength, and wonderful writing.

    • Eileen!

      It has been my experience that in trying to hide who I am, I distanced myself not only from myself, from God, and from the people around me. Always afraid that being me was somehow problematic. One of the hardest things was to believe without any reservation that God created me as I am.

      We are all individuals, we all fear social criticism and being shamed or feeling like we’re not good enough. Not good enough for God, and not good enough or worthy to be loved. Getting over these formidable hurdles is the struggle of a lifetime.

      I am happy that you’ve found a path and life that works for you. I sometimes think back to my life before Islam and if things would be easier that way but really I’ve found peace and love and so much fulfillment within Islam, in my connection God and in the new perspective on life it has provided.

      It hasn’t all been rosy but for me there’s more good than bad. Though, the bad can really get you down sometimes. My heart is always a little scared or ill at ease for converts, I don’t know how I’ve come this far, but always hope that people find the good in the face of so much difficulty.

      Thank you for your continued friendship, warmth, kindness, and encouragement. It really means a lot to me and you’ve taught me many lessons on grace and courage.

      Much love to you always! And let’s do a 5K together.

  6. Ok let me ask you this.

    Since you are trying to reconcile faith with your sexual orientation, is it acceptable to proclaim, that I love zina and I want to come out of the closet about it? Zina is an evil thing and any sane Muslim would never want to say such a thing would they? Now let’s change the word zina to homosexuality or sexual orientation. This is spreading evil in the society by saying I love Riba but I dont engage in it. Since you hate Riba why dont you hate homosexuality? Hating the sin is part of the Islamic faith. Please explain.

    • Just saw your comment today, it had been caught up in the automatic spam filters.

      So there are a couple of assumptions operating here that might be useful to separate out.

      I don’t believe sexual orientation, inclinations, thoughts, or feelings of attraction are sinful. Thus acknowledging this reality is not sinful. It appears from your words that you may disagree with this position and that’s okay, we can agree to disagree.

      You have lumped zina (sexual acts outside of marriage), riba (interest), and as you say “homosexuality or sexual orientation” together as though they are the same even though they are not. If we, as you would like us to do, put sex between unmarried individuals and interest together then we may be able to make the analogy that these actions are considered disapproved by most readings of the main textual sources.

      If we want to make a comparison of sexual orientation it might make more sense to group the relatively recent terms homosexuality with heterosexuality, neither term implies an action. If a person is hetero that doesn’t mean they are committing a sinful act even though the potential is there and vice-versa. I don’t believe we should go around hating people because of who they are or who or what we assume they are or must be doing because we ourselves are too morally weak to afford them the benefit of the doubt.

      I was once speaking to someone who expressed an attraction for women other than his wife, I don’t think that was a sinful acknowledgement just a reflection of reality and human nature. But if a LBGT’er were to say something similar, we’re all up in arms, telling them that it is sinful, they should go back in the closet lest they spread corruption in the land, etc.

      So here’s another reality, I didn’t grow up avoiding pork out of religious obligation. I grew up eating ham and BLT sandwiches, sausage, various meat-lover’s pizza, wonton soup, and bacon bits on my salad and I enjoyed them. After, I became Muslim, I made a conscious effort out of religious conviction to avoid pork in my food. Were I to tell you that I hate pork, I’d be lying. I don’t hate it but I don’t eat it. And I don’t believe it is sinful for me to honest about it just so I can preserve some people conception of conservative religious cred.

  7. Subhannallah! May Allah us all aright! You must love and know Allah to be muslim. We can come up with rules according to our will. Islam frowns upon same sex marraige, I know this is difficult and emotional. Subhannallah, Allah destroyed a nation just for the reason of sodomy. I love you for Allah’s sake and I’m not judging. But if you are a muslim, u love Allah in all totality and believe His lawa are best for you and the survival of humanity.

    • May the One for whose sake you love me, also love you.

      Be careful when you use the word “but” it often negates what came before. I’m sure you didn’t intend it that way but it can be read that way.

  8. Assalam alaykum,

    but seriously sister. i feeel sad. i mean its a gud thing about ur conversion, but u know u’ve got o keep up to the rulings to suceed.
    i mean what do i have to tell you.

    [Edited]
    I pray Allah keep our hearts firm on His religion and I pray He guides you aright.

    • Wa alaykum salaam,

      Don’t feel sad, try empathy instead.

      Listen to this conversation from two religious leaders, I was amazed and humbled by their empathy in their pastoral counseling. This often seems missed by those who think that copy-pasting some verses of Quran or hadith has fulfilled some legalistic obligation to advise or support.

  9. ” 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.”

    What concrete acceptable solutions are u suggesting that would keep this issue effectively outside the ‘jurisprudential bedroom’ and within the realm of issues that islam is silent about?

    • I don’t feel a need to or even believe one can really form “acceptable solutions” for other people. Acceptable to whom? No one can live life for another, each person must work it out on their own, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

  10. This is meant to be a personal question of what solution in ‘ your opinion’ would be acceptable to Allah Islamically . Since u bring up these issues I’m wondering what in your opinion is an Islamically viable solution. I totally understand that whatever u answer is only on behalf of ur self…. I’m just looking for a perspective on this

  11. Assalamu alaykum,

    I am a conservative Muslim, much like any other one that you know, and believe me when I say that I inquire about this with the deepest respect for your self.

    Islam very clearly makes a stance against homosexual actions – that is simply undeniable. Arguments stating that religious scriptures are ‘up for interpretation’ when justifying a lot of LGBT issues, could just as easily be used to say that, for example, hijab is not required in Islam. I can believe that some people are born homosexual, and cannot escape that, and should not be forced to pretend that their orientation is otherwise, and I can sympathize with their struggle. But I cannot agree with your attempts to justify homosexual action. You said above that you don’t feel that there is an acceptable solution, ‘acceptable for whom?’ – I guess, as a Muslim, the first thing is acceptable to God?

    • Wa alaykum salaam wa rahmatullah Rayan and welcome to the conversation,

      I don’t believe scripture speaks for itself. I believe we all read into scripture our own perspectives, understandings, and limitations. Although, perhaps more often than not, we as laypeople tend to shirk away from using our critical thinking abilities believing them to be inadequate and allow others who are also fallible to interpret our religion for us.

      Some may say that Islam is inherently patriarchal and others reading the same scripture affirm the equality of women and men before God and in our lived experience. I believe in our right to choose the understanding of Islam that accords most closely with our own path. There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution but there are indeed many possible solutions, which I believe are acceptable before God. And God knows best.

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