Gay and Muslim!? Yes, It’s True!

I saw this documentary, called Gay Muslims, quite a while ago…it came out more than two years ago! Still, I found that not too many people knew about it or had seen it. And with A Jihad For Love touring around the country right now, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at what Parvez Sharma’s predecessors have come up when it comes to queer Muslims.

The video above is only part 1 of 6. The documentary, which follows the lives of (mostly) young, gay, Muslims in the U.K., starts with the statement that “Islam is fierce in its condemnation of homosexuality” and that led me to be a little bit worried about what was coming next. What is funny is that almost right after, the narrator says that “homosexuality has been legal [in the U.K.] for almost 40 years.” Okay well FORTY YEARS is really not that long. I wish that the self-righteous attitude of the filmmakers didn’t come through right away because it left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the film…which was actually not that bad!

The portrayal of these people’s struggles with being queer and Muslim simultaneously was something that was gravely needed. Too often are young queer Muslims pushed away from their religion because they are taught that their religious and sexual identities are mutually exclusive. This documentary shows otherwise, and through a variety of different perspectives. This was especially apparent in the bit about London’s Gay Pride (episode 6). While one Muslim gay man was trying to blend with the rest of the festivities, another queer Muslim woman was wearing her burqa and niqab and saying that even if she is gay, she need not flaunt it. So wait – not all Muslim queers think alike?? My first thought was to get defensive at how that particular woman was portrayed, but then I realized that they had successfully shown a variety of perspectives and that her viewpoint was a valuable one that also needed to be publicized.

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The subject of Muslim queer people is somewhat new in the media, probably because of the mass denial of any sort of sexuality other than heterosexuality in Muslim communities. But also, as one of the participants lamented, the ‘mainstream’ queer community is centered around White, middle-class ideologies and can be extremely racist at times. It seems, though, that as both queer and Muslim invisibility diminishes, this growing minority may face more media scrutiny in the next few years.

So what is next for queer Muslims? As the documentary so vividly showed, the fear of being outed is so strong and the consequences of being gay are so real that most of the participants in the film asked for their faces to not be shown. So when most queer Muslims are afraid to come out, how can a supportive community be created? How can Muslim communities reach out to their queer constituencies to show that they can be both Muslim and queer at the same time?

Your thoughts on the subject would be great to hear! And of course, I would love to know what you thought of the documentary too.

Editor’s note: Here are the other episodes: episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, and episode 5.

  • Tuba

    Salaam,I’ve only been on this blog a couple of times but masha’Allah, it’s really good! This post, I think, is really interesting, and the video that accompanies it even more so. I would really like to watch the other five videos (you mentined there were six), so I was wondering, can you please post the link to the video? I would be very grateful.JazakAllah khair.

  • Tuba

    Salam,The video was really…interesting,to say the least. I would like to watch the rest of them (you mentioned there were six) so I was wondering, can you post the link for these videos? It would be much appreciated.:)JazakAllah khair.

  • MarkyMark

    As depressing as it may sound, and as bad as I feel, I am tempted to say this is one of the lower priority issues in the muslim community, esp. with the work necessary with our women and our relations with non-muslims even here in the United States. However, I am curious, and it was hinted in that first part of that documentary the variety of religious justifications/reasoning that queer muslims use to keep the “muslim” tag, if, in fact they keep it for religious conviction vs. cultural ident. I think this could go a long way to reforming the attitudes of our own religious leaders in accomodating this niche in our mosques and other public/private spheres. Does anyone know of an American organization that explicitly identifies strongly with both queer and muslim labels and aims to help this community? Thanks.

  • Khalid

    How can Muslim communities reach out to their queer constituencies to show that they can be both Muslim and queer at the same time?Uh, so should Muslim communities also reach out to drug- or alcohol-using communities to show that they can be both Muslim and high at the same time? While Muslims should treat everyone with compassion, such behaviors are sinful and to be opposed. There will never be an Islamic gay marriage, and that is a good thing…(I say that as someone who used to pro-gay-marriage.)

  • Zeynab

    Khalid, just because you used to be pro-gay-marriage, doesn’t make your statement less bigoted. You’re referring to homosexuality as a behavior; the author (along with many of our contributors and the editor) view homosexuality as a type of “being.” Gay isn’t something you “do”, it’s something you “are.” A person cannot be sinful simply by being born a certain color, sexuality, or gender. Keep that (and our comment moderation policy) in mind next time.

  • Duniya

    Khalid:Drug and alcohol users can be drunk/high AND Muslim at the same time. One does not negate the other. Islam is not so narrowly defined. Drug and alcohol use is not equivalent to homosexuality. Those are vices (or can be); homosexuality is a sexuality, an identity.markymark:Salaam Canada is a organization for queer Muslims in Toronto. I know there is at least one in the US but I can’t think of their name right now.

  • Khalid

    A person cannot be sinful simply by being born a certain color, sexuality, or gender.Yes, I agree, but when queers and their supporters talk about eliminating homophobia, they are not asking to simply be accepted for their being. They also want their practices to be accepted, and even validated by marriage. This cannot be religiously justified, unless you have an awesomely shallow understanding of religion and human nature. Gay relationships are profoundly different in kind than heterosexual ones. Religion is about objective meaning, not moral relativism. Hopefully your comment policy allows for genuine discussion, and not just about enforcing your own point of view.

  • Khalid

    Duniya:Drug and alcohol users can be drunk/high AND Muslim at the same time. One does not negate the other. I never said they did. Please read carefully. :-) Drug and alcohol use is not equivalent to homosexuality. Those are vices (or can be); homosexuality is a sexuality, an identity.Many people build an identity around their drug use, and some people are more genetically predisposed to getting high off substances than others are. It sounds like you are opposed to all forms of meaning that aren’t self-defined.

  • Arabista

    Great post! I recenly wrote about this myselfhttp://arabista-arabista.blogspot.com/2008/07/gay-imam.htmlHowever I declined giving my own opinion as I do not know how it is to be gay…whether it is something someone just is naturally or if it is an active decision. I know what the Islamic view is on the matter and agree that one should try and fight these urges, though obviously some are stronger than others in repressing themselves.

  • I need my Sisters, where are You?

    Wow, great article Fatima!I don’t know where I stand on this issue.Because I’m very ignorant about it. But don’t translate my lack of knowledge as lack of interest. I do want to learn more about it. However, one thing I vehementlystand against are some Muslims threats of murder towards gay Muslims or other gay people that they claim are justified by Islam. And there always so loud about it.I think alot of Muslims are in denial about this existence. It’s nothing new, we’re in denial about a lot of things.Regardless, let’s admit the reality of this….. that there are people who are Muslims and Gay.

  • Sakina

    I’ve seen this before and while I do believe that Islam (as well as Christianity and Judaism) is against homosexuality, I personally find it hard to get worked up over whether or not someone is gay. Maybe it’s because I come from a fairly secular background and have identified as bisexual for many years, and I suppose I still do. But I still can’t make myself care about what one person does in privacy as long as it’s not hurting anyone else, and no, I don’t believe it really hurts society at large.

  • Duniya

    Khalid:Then please explain what you meant by this remark:”Uh, so should Muslim communities also reach out to drug- or alcohol-using communities to show that they can be both Muslim and high at the same time?”It comes across as sarcastic.

  • Sakura Kiss

    Thank you for posting this. A Jihad For Love has been getting a lot buzz. What I really like about this is that one, it focuses on gay and lesbian Muslims, and two, for once, it’s a good thing that it doesn’t deal with Muslims being terrorists. And I think that’s great. Gay and lesbian Muslims are invisible.

  • Khalid

    Duniya,The point is that homosexual behavior, like the use of drugs that make us high, is sinful. And so we should be clear that while there is nothing wrong with inborn tendencies, we should not be championing the homosexual agenda, equating such relationships with heterosexual ones. That is what the orignal post above seems to do.—From Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (T.J. Winter):But what is increasingly suggested by recent research is that homosexual tendencies are not always acquired, and that some individuals are born with them as an identifiable irregularity in the chromosomes. The implications of this for moral theology are clear: given the Quran’s insistence that human beings are responsible only for actions they have voluntarily acquired, homosexuality as an innate disposition cannot be a sin. It does not follow from this, of course, that acting in accordance with such a tendency is justifiable. Similar research has indicated that many human tendencies, including forms of criminal behaviour, are also on occasion traceable to genetic disorders; and yet nobody would conclude that the behaviour was therefore legitimate. Instead, we are learning that just as God has given people differing physical and intellectual gifts, He tests some of us by implanting moral tendencies which we must struggle to overcome as part of our self-reform and discipline. A mental patient with an obsessive desire to set fire to houses has been given a particular hurdle to overcome. A man or woman with strong homosexual urges faces the same challenge.

  • Nadir

    The issue of homosexuality should be addressed in a more compassionate manner by the community. It is not sinful to have homosexual feelings, but in no one way can homosexual practices be condoned from a Shariah perspective.The whole point for us is to adapt completely to what our religion requires us to be be, and not to mould our religion into what we want it to be.

  • jamericanmuslimah

    I have to agree with Nadir. While I can be compassionate towards their struggle, I would not accept homosexuality as a “normal practice” any more than I would accept zina (adultery and fornication). I guess I’m confused about what exactly the Muslim community is supposed to do. Are we supposed to accept practices that are CLEARY considered haram and an abomination in the Quran? (Thinking of the story of Lut, s.a.w.) Or are we being asked to be sensitive to the struggles of an individual who is trying to overcome feelings of homosexuality? And where is the line drawn then? Do we start to accept every action as okay as long as some Muslims desire to participate in it? Should we then have no problem with people living together without being married, fornicating, consuming alcohol, taking drugs, gambling etc? These are all CLEARY forbidden in Islam as they are in other religions. I am not suggesting we go around and act as the morality police. However, Islam has a moral standard that we (hopefully) are trying to uphold…

  • Coolred38

    Considering the very long and detailed homosexual commentary all throughout Arab/Muslim history…its rather strange that Muslims in general are such strong advocates against it. Obviously homosexual activity has always been a part of Muslim life…the only difference being that before they werent made to feel ashamed about it as they are now. Why the difference…what happened that made a once fairly acceptable position in life to suddenly become tatamount to deserting your religion? can anyone say “Wahabi”?btw I really dont like the way the word “queer” rolls off the tongue…it tends to stick in my throat…it has strong anti gay conotations and seems an unacceptable word to use today in referring to them…just my opinion.

  • Zeynab

    Coolred, most LGBTQQIA movements use the word “queer” when referring to themselves; the term has supposedly been reclaimed for their community, and so that’s why I use the term (and I imagine why the author did).But I know what you mean. There are definitely time when the word isn’t used in its “reclaimed” sense, but in its derogatory sense.

  • Duniya

    The issue of homosexuality is a tough one, but an alternate interpretation has been presented. It is that the story of Lut in the Qur’an refers not to consensual but rather to forced sexual acts. Now I haven’t read this interpretation is detail so am not in a position to critique it.

  • jamericanmuslimah

    duniya,I’m sorry but I think that’s stretching the interpretation…homosexuality has been forbidden in every major religion. However, it is the people who have tried to reinterpret the scriptures to their favor. Again, where is the moral standard? What about the fact that Islam will require an individual to abstain from certain things or give up certain things eventually? It’s part of the religious experience and it’s also part of our test as human beings. I think it’s one thing to struggle in order to implement certain teachings into your lifestyle and it’s another to try and twist the teachings to suit your own needs. Where is the spiritual growth if every person can leave off what doesn’t suit them or reinterpret teachings so that it justifies their behavior?

  • Jana

    Duniya: The story of Lut is not the only reference to homosexual acts. If they were permissible, then why would the Prophet (saw) prohobit two men or two women from sleeping under the same blanket??Aside from that, since any sexual acts outside of marriage are strictly forbidden, then how on Earth can ‘consensual homosexual acts’ be permissible?Whether you like it or not, whether it’s PC or not, whether it ‘nice’ or not, it is as clear as day to anyone that these acts are haraam. The simple fact that ‘different interpretations’ exist (and just who exactly has put forward this version?) does not mean that they are all valid., especially when they blatanty contradict other teachings!

  • Mayhem

    Thank you for posting this. I had been looking for this documentary for a while, and was happy to see it posted on YouTube. It should go out as wide as possible. A Jihad For Love is another must-see.The director of the latter, Parvez Sharma, recently gave an excellent interview with Now Toronto:http://www.nowtoronto.com/movies/story.cfm?content=163996While I am tempted to engage in the debates currently going on in the comments subject by responding to specific posts, I will only say:It is my understanding that there was a time in history when the Muslim world was thought of by Western European Christians are too soft of issues of sexual morality. Victorians invented a whole host of social constructs (including the term “homosexual”) intended to marginalize what were perceived to be deviant sexual practices. We have since turned on our own history to replicate a Western Christian understanding of homosexuality. The irony, right?Also, Islam is a timeless religion in many ways, yes, yet so much of the jurisprudence revolves around issues specific to the Arab culture of the time – population, health and economic concerns needed to be addressed as a matter of practicality, and Islam is a very practical religion. Should we now be looking to pretend that everything exists outside of a particular social context? It doesn’t make sense.

  • I need my Sisters, where are You?

    Ladies and gentlemen, Forgive me; I hate to interrupt such an interesting debate. However, Jonathan Kay recently wrote an important article about Muslims and free speech, and homosexuality plays a part in it. So in a way it’s relevant to this topic. I’m sorry if it’s too long. We have all heard of Muslim Canadians taking journalist to the Human Rights Court because of “certain” free speech that they find offensive right? “The other panellists you’ve heard from take it from granted that Muslims will benefit from censorship imposed in the name of free speech- because it will protect your community from Islamophobia. I like to challenge that assumption.”… It is only a matter of time before human rights censors come after Muslims. Like the Bible, Muslim scripture contains a lot of material that, by modern standards would be considered sexist, homophobic or even anti-Semitic…. Is this the sort of thing that human rights mandarins will someday judge as “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt. … The prospect of a human rights tribunal telling you which Suras and Hadiths you are and aren’t allowed to preach in our mosques may sound ridiculous. But it’s not. A few months ago, an Alberta pastor named Stephen Boissoin was slapped down by a human rights tribunal for the crime of proselytizing his socially conservative Christian attitudes toward homosexuality. As part of the judgment against him, he is now legally forbidden from commenting on matters of sexual orientation-even in his sermons. … Human rights mandarins haven’t gone after mosques and mullahs-yet.”Basically, like the title it further states “Canada’s Islamic community has nothing to gain by allying itself with human rights censors” by Jonathan Kay. What Muslims decided to file a complaint against free speech to the human rights bureau and what are they thinking? And this isn’t the only church that has been denied the right to denounce homosexuality because it offends others. So… it feels like we’re trapped in quick sand, thanks to some Muslims who believe they are the only ones that can be offended by free-speech. How pathetic, we’re sinking Help!But the article has a good ending, he concludes by stating, “This country is home to hundreds of thousands of Muslims who participate actively in our democratic process, and in the open marketplace of ideas that is its lifeblood. If you want to fight Islamophobia, let this be the image cemented in Canadians’ minds- not that of eggshell-skinned censors working in league with government thought police.” So will Muslims be prohibited to denounce homosexuality in the Mosques because of other Muslims pushing the idea of human rights censors? Stop going to the human rights censor over articles and cartoons. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  • fatima

    reading all these comments, i don’t even know where to start with a response…i think first and foremost, my intention with this post was not to open up discussion about whether or not islam forbids homosexuality. i know that this is the way that most discussions around the issue tend to go…but honestly, that is not the main issue at hand.the fact of the matter is that there are people who self identify as both muslim and queer…it is not up to anyone else to decide whether or not they are truly either of those things.my post was meant to stir up discussion about what kinds of community these people can rely on…is it the mainstream lgbt community? no, because that is primarily white. is it the muslim community? no, because there are so many muslims who refuse to accept that gay muslims exist and forbid their existence altogether. so where does that leave them? where can they find support?(also, i apologize for not posting logistical things like the links to the other parts of the documentary! i think this was a result of my apparently justified nervousness about posting on this subject at all…thanks for your understanding! and also, i haven’t seen any responses regarding the actual documentary…what did you guys think?)

  • dawud al-gharib

    @fatima:apparently, Islam and what Islam says doesn’t matter about who is a muslim, because there are muslims who are gay (agreed) – I’ll agree thus far, the Prophet did say that someone who committed fornication wasn’t a believer while they committed that act, but also said that a believer could remain a believer even if they stole and fornicated, so long as they repented, but couldn’t be a liar.but I’m afraid I’m not clear on what you mean when you said that muslims who were queer (or identified as such, as I understand it) couldn’t turn to the lgbt community… “because that is primarily white.” – so being gay doesn’t disqualify one from being muslim, but being white does?I’m a muslim by faith, and white only as an accident of birth – and while I’m not gay and can’t understand that as a choice, I’m quite sure that I also didn’t choose to be ‘white’ = so if you didn’t mean to say that all cultures, gay included, are ‘muslim’ without reference to what muslims believe in – but to be ‘white’ is outside of that – you may want to clarify what you mean.I know there are plenty of muslims who are sympathetic to other muslims if they said they had homosexual feelings – provided they didn’t try to justify them and take them as a source of ‘Pride’ – because arrogance is far from a noble virtue, and just the use of the word implies something outside of Islam – or do you not believe that either? that arrogance is a form of shirk is something muslims believe, and thus the very idea of ‘gay pride’ (or pride in any kind of tribal identity, of any accidental quality we have) is offensive…http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/049.qmt.html#049.013049.013YUSUFALI: O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). I think you’d find that there are Muslims who will respect a lot about people who are honest and forthright, even those who we disagree with on sexual expression or behavior – but not if people want to lie about the Qur’an or hadith, that is the “main issue at hand.”

  • Zeynab

    Dawud, I believe the inability of gay Muslims to turn to the white LGBT community affects mainly gay Muslims of color (like the ones in the documentary). However, I would also argue that even white Muslims who are gay would have a problem, because of many LGBT groups’ Islamophobia.

  • luckyfatima

    great post. can i just say that i am a religious, prayer saying, scarf wearing, relatively conservative Muslim, and I accept gay and lesbian people are part of the reality of the diversity of my community…not all of us are homophobic…thanks for posting this. It is hard to do cuz I know the flack you will get, just look above.I feel so bad for the kids in this video who are forced to live a lie and get married. I also personally know two women who are/were married to gay men—it destroyed their lives. Sweeping it under the rug with a marriage is not the solution and it hurts everyone involved.

  • lisa

    great discussion. thank you for taking such a risk and posting this article, fatima, and for bringing visibility to the struggles facing queer/muslim peoples. while i am not interested in engaging with the “homosexuality is fine as long as you don’t have sex” conversation, i do think that it’s fair to say that many queer muslim’s, and other queer people from religious backgrounds, have a difficult time accepting their own sexual identity, not because they are afraid of being seen as gay, but because they are afraid of being seen as SEXUAL. it is actually harder to come out as a sexual person than as a queer one. it’s as though the conversation is actually about SEX and not about orientation at all. in fact, a straight muslim identified person probably has the same anxiety when it comes to admitting they’ve engaged in (and enjoyed) pre-marital sex, or even worse, BDSM sex.this is a constant issue affecting women because we are socialized to believe that women aren’t allowed to be sexual. PERIOD. women shouldn’t enjoy sex. women shouldn’t have sex before marriage. a promiscuous woman is given many derogatory labels, etc. you get the point. i would even argue that queer male muslims probably have a much easier time coming out to their families than a queer female muslim. in fact, i think the documentary’s representations of both male and female experiences supports that.thanks for such a great discussion. looking forward to more articles such as this.

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