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19 Mar 2001

queer religion part III: jalan with allah

What is it like to be gay and a Muslim? In part 3 of our series, Joshua Kreig speaks to several Muslims to find out.

(Author's note: Compiling this piece was difficult, as no one would permit a direct one-on-one interview to be published. The quotes here are composites of several individuals spoken with in-person, via emails, and Internet chat rooms and websites. Particular details have been altered to respect individuals' wishes not to be identified.)

"If I had to choose between being a Muslim and a gay person I think I would choose to be a Muslim. My faith and life with my family is very important to me and being a part of my family means I cannot be gay."

Being a Muslim, one is born into a closed society and religious faith. It is a system of beliefs and practices that permeates the very fabric of life and order of society. It has very strict codes of behaviour, cleanliness, and the roles of each gender. Being a Muslim is very much about making oneself pure in the eyes of Allah.

Behaviour codes range from strict guidelines for prayer, including body position, direction, and times of day to washing the body in preparation for prayer. Funeral rites and prayers are also very exact in preparation of the body for burial and how and where the dead are to be buried. Behaviour around the dead is also prescribed - crying is prohibited during burial.

As a religion based on purity for God it is easy to see how anything outside of the behaviour codes would be perceived as defying the will of God. Homosexuality is seen as an abomination in the eyes of God that is to be punished. One man, one woman. No other allowances. To say one is gay and Muslim is an oxymoron.

The reaction to gay Muslims is often stronger than other religions because Islam is a way of life, and to go against that way of life is to go against God. There is no greater sin than to go against God. To go against God is to be an infidel. In some Muslim countries one can receive a death sentence.

"Malay law is very strict when it comes to homosexuality. If a gay is caught having sex he will be sentenced to 20 years in jail, plus 5 strokes of the cane across the ass."

For many gays there is no choice. To come out would be to be ostracised from the community. The pressure to conform to the society and religious customs has caused extreme reactions for many gays.

"I stopped practising my faith when I was in my late teens. It caused a big rift between my family and me. I was gay. I could not pray because as a Muslim being gay was a sin. I felt like I was a hypocrite. It became a non-issue. But when my father died a little while ago that was hard because I felt obligated to take part in all the burial rituals and offer all the prayers for him and I feel I should be an observant Muslim. Now this has caused a great strain on my relationship. It is almost impossible to balance being a Muslim and being gay. I have not found a way to do it yet."
"I think many traditional Muslims just pretend it does not exist, especially the older generation. I think in many ways Islam is hundreds of years behind, let's say, Christianity when it comes to accepting gays."

Like many other gay groups, gay Muslims have also begun to organise. It is more for a sense of community than a sense of political advocacy. The struggle to integrate sexuality and spirituality is seen as an irreconcilable issue. According to one Internet source, over 90% of Muslims who accept their sexuality stop observing their faith practices. For them it is impossible to be both.

"For me I just can't be bothered with it anymore. My life is my life. I love my family and respect them. But I have made my peace with God. I will be judged on the last day by how I have treated people, not based on whom I love sexually. I am a good person and try to be at all times. That is what will decide my fate, not some stupid religious codes from the past."

On all message boards for Internet sites the anger and violence directed at gay Muslims is even scarier than the Christian "God hates fags" campaigns.

"I know you have not read the Qu'ran because the Qu'ran orders us in many, many, many verses to restrain from being perverted faggots. I hope Allah punishes you correctly. If I could, I'd cut your head off. There is no possible way to be a gay Muslim. Being perverted and sick goes against the word of Allah. Fuck you!"

But there are those who have struggled to integrate their faith, families, and sexualities. But it has been a great struggle. In North America there is a greater tolerance of sexuality, and so inroads have been made. There are organisations for gay Muslims to come together and worship Allah together and to support each other. But it seems in Asia it will be a long time before Islam will welcome its queer brothers as members of the faith. In Asia the Internet is proving once again to be a place for people to unite, as gay Muslims find peace with each other online.

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