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.

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.

An Argument for the Constitution | Gay Marriage | When Personal Morality and Public Policy Collide

When issues of personal religious morality and public policy collide, as they sometimes do in discussions of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage or to legalize same-sex marriage, which way do you vote and why?

Dr. Sherman Jackson in On Morality & Politics (no longer available), Itrath Syed in Equality: What it Means, How it Works, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin in A Muslim American’s Thoughts on Gay Marriage, and Melody Moezzi in Muslim States Must Support LGBT Rights argue that instead of getting bogged down in arguments of whether one’s own religion condones a specific activity or orientation, the larger issue of concern is an appeal to Constitutional rights in a pluralistic society.

If we as Muslims appeal to the Constitution in order to practice our religion freely in America then it is hypocritical and inconsistent to use religious arguments to deny others the rights guaranteed to them under that same Constitution. In the case of same-sex marriage, rights guaranteed, some will argue, by the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses contained within the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

When one former supervisor told me that I could not wear hijab at work, I confidently told her that I wore it for religious reasons and had a First Amendment right to do so. When the case was forwarded to the chief legal officer of our agency, he ruled in my favor not because of evidence from the Quran or hadith, which my former employer did not accept as an authority or source of legislation but because I was entitled to the First Amendment protection to exercise my religion freely. Continue reading “An Argument for the Constitution | Gay Marriage | When Personal Morality and Public Policy Collide”