Integrity of Heart, Peace of Soul: Finding My Path as an Asexual Muslim

Integrity of Heart, Peace of Soul: Finding My Path as an Asexual Muslim March 26, 2015

LauraP headshot photo

I’m not able to be a “good Muslim wife”. In fact, I’m not able to be in a conventional marriage at all.

I’m asexual, aromantic, and sex-averse. Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by experiencing little or no sexual attraction to any person1. Aromanticism means that I do not experience romantic attraction, or falling in love, to any person either. As for the sex aversion, that’s what ultimately makes marriage out of the question for me. While not all asexual individuals are sex-averse, a majority are2 and, like me, the vast majority3 of asexual people prefer not to engage in sexual activity and do not do so.

Muslim discourse around marriage, especially the fiqh of marriage, tends to present the purpose of marriage as being the regulation of sexual desire. Sex, we are told, is a right that each partner has on the other. To withhold that right is to commit nushuz (recalcitrance) and to put the marriage in danger. For women especially, the consequences of nushuz can be severe because of the degree that Quran 4:344 gives husbands over their wives. Add onto that the difficulties that Muslim women can face, in fiqh and in real-world situations, in seeking divorce, and marriage comes to seem like a place of entrapment. With nothing to draw me toward it, given my lack of sexual and romantic attraction, it’s always seemed best for me to just avoid it and to choose a celibate path in life.

Celibacy is a safe course for me, but it can also be profoundly isolating. I have a pretty high tolerance for being alone – I’m an introvert and I like living by myself. But being unmarried often places me on the margins of Muslim communities, especially since as a convert I do not have a Muslim family. And this is, after all, the religion which teaches that, “Marriage is half the deen”.

I am not half a person, and I don’t have only half a faith. But trying to explain why I can’t be married, why marriage could end up as a site of oppression for me – a place of being coerced into sex I don’t want to have or punished for refusing it – and that this is because of having a non-straight sexual orientation… yeah, that’s a conversation I’ve always actively avoided getting into.

For much of my adult life, I didn’t know that asexuality was an actual sexual orientation. I thought it was just something weird about me, that I wasn’t made the way other people are. It wasn’t until I was 31 that I learned about asexuality through a news article (even today, most discussions of sexuality do not mention asexuality or present it as a possibility). And it was only in 2012 (by which time I was 39) that I found an active asexual community online that I could join.

Knowing that there are others who share my experience, that I am not alone, has made a big difference for me. But, more than that, asexual discourse has given me a new way to look at things. For instance, I had previously characterized myself simply as “not interested in sex” but I learned to tease apart lack of sexual attraction, lack of sex drive, and sex aversion as different phenomena and that asexual individuals may differ significantly from me in some areas while sharing a lack of sexual attraction. I learned that many asexual people have a distinct romantic orientation and to identify myself as aromantic. I’ve also learned about other attraction types including sensual attraction, aesthetic attraction, and emotional attraction and determined which of these I do and don’t experience. As well, I have a much deeper understanding of sex aversion after reading the experiences of others and have learned to parse out the different elements that comprise it for me.

Another area of asexual discourse I have benefited from is exploration of non-conventional relationship types. In contemporary American society, we tend to create two boxes, one for romantic relationships (which will always involve sex at some point, it seems) and one for “just friends.” There isn’t really a cultural model for a relationship that is non-romantic and non-sexual while also being emotionally intimate and deeply committed, and which is the primary relationship in a person’s life. However, for many asexual individuals, such a relationship (often called queerplatonic5) is ideal.

As I’ve read about queerplatonic relationships that others are building, I’ve come to realize that I would like to have such a relationship myself someday, inshallah. It would provide me with both emotional support and the practical benefits of having a partner, while not asking of me feelings I am not able to give or putting an expectation of sex on me.

I’ve also come to recognize in myself a quiet but consistent emotional attraction to other women and that I would only want to be in a queerplatonic relationship with a female partner. Finding such a relationship and such a partner seems a very distant possibility at this time, especially since I would want her to be an observant Muslim who can share prayer, fasting, Quran, and learning with me – I’ve only come across four other asexual Muslims6 total so far. Still, it is a source of comfort to know that the potential is there.

The path to a committed love may be extremely narrow for me, and fraught with many difficulties, but it does exist. All praise is due to Allah, al-Latif, al-Wadud.

Laura P. is a European-American convert to Islam, asexual, and queer. She is a contributor at The Asexual Agenda, a group blog for asexual spectrum individuals, and maintains a personal blog, Notes of an Asexual Muslim. You can also find her on Twitter at @muhajabah. She works in online tech support and volunteers with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.

Coda

The title of this post is taken from The Sustenance of Hearts by Abu Talib al-Makki, as quoted in Celibacy and Religious Traditions:

God has decreed neither marriage nor celibacy… But he has decreed integrity of heart, preservation of faith, a soul at peace, and the execution of commands needed for these… And if one’s healthful condition, integrity of heart, and peace of soul reside in celibacy, then that is better for him, since these are the things that are desired of marriage. If one can reach these without marriage, then celibacy causes no harm.

Notes

1To learn more about asexuality, I recommend reading The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.

2According to the 2014 asexual community census, 55% of asexual respondents are sex-averse.

3According to the asexual community census, 87.5% of those on the asexual spectrum are not currently sexually active. Specific data for the asexual subset is not available at this time.

4I’ve written more about how Quran 4:34 could impact asexual Muslim women at Islam, Patriarchy, and the Recalcitrant Asexual Wife. I’ve written a number of other posts on asexuality and Islam as well and I hope that you will check them out if you are interested in learning more, inshallah.

5To learn more about queerplatonic relationships and where the terminology comes from, I recommend downloading the Queerplatonic Primer.

6Fun fact: according to the asexual community census, 0.5% of respondents were Muslim. That comes out to around 70 people out of 14,000! It is likely that there are many more asexual Muslims than that, they just aren’t in online communities where they would have found the census survey. About 1% of the general population is believed to be asexual.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Deep Govinddas

    hi

  • Lou Gallo

    Thank you for this article. I’m a convert and not asexual, but somehow what you say resonnate with me. Dealing with tradionnal expectations in human relationships, wether in the muslim community or a secular one (I live in both), is far from easy, especially for introverts (which I am too). I sense a kind a peace in your article, behind the thoughtful reflexions, and it comforts me … So, thank you !

  • Anjabeen

    Thank you for sharing your story! It takes courage to live your truth.

  • Maleeha

    Fascinating. Cant say I understand it, but I’ve learned a lot. Good luck to you on your journey.

  • Carey salaam

    Really interesting! I wonder if there is any other terminology other than queer platonic for asexual close relations. Because you know the community will get hung up on that terminology.

  • Arabask

    I may be wrong but it seems to me like the relationship she is searching for is what I would just call “Best Friends”? I am also a female convert, and while it is perhaps not the primary relationship in my life, the relationship I have with my best friend (also a convert) is exactly as she described- “a relationship that is non-romantic and non-sexual while also being emotionally intimate and deeply committed” and so much more. the two of us are separately and happily married yet we have this enduring, eternal soul-bond that is indescribably beautiful (and obviously non-sexual). It is completely unlike, and yet in some ways more intimate and fulfilling than our relationships with our husbands.

    It’s totally cool to not like sex and not get married, but that is a separate issue. There are in fact two issues going on in this article, as I understand it, that have been lumped into one. The other, having an extremely close non sexual relationship with another girl is also totally natural. It’s not called “queer platonic” it’s called Best Friends Forever! Everyone needs a BFF and those who have one know how lucky they are.

  • Thank you for your comment!

  • Thank you for the lovely comment!

  • What a lovely comment, thank you! I didn’t really talk a lot about my experiences as a convert in this post, but that’s impacted me a lot too. It can definitely be challenging to move between different worlds

  • Naghma Husain

    Sister, I’m saddened to hear of your loneliness. It is certainly upsetting when others pass judgement. Our responsibility to each other is to encourage towards Allah’s pleasure with love for our fellow brothers and sisters in faith. After that, judgement belongs to Him alone.

    On a side note, where do you live?

  • Gabriella

    This was so well written and very interesting. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Joe

    didn’t Morrissey come out as asexual in the 90s? anyway, I guess you have to be glad to be in this time and place. other than being in the future, this is certainly the best time in history to be in your situation. as you say, ‘marriage is half of your faith’. not sure why muslims say that, but I hear it all the time. seems quite short sited to say the least.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUjZjyIyNoE

  • Thanks for commenting! Morrissey seems to be deliberately ambiguous about his sexuality but there’s definitely a lot of speculation in online asexual forums about whether he could be asexual.

    The comment about marriage being half the religion is based on a hadith.

  • Thanks for your comment!

  • Thanks for your kind words!

  • Hello. I would encourage you to read the links I included in my article and in the footnotes in order to learn more about asexuality and about some of the terminology that I used and the context of what I am talking about. I think this will help deepen your understanding.

  • The term “queerplatonic” was coined to express that this type of relationship does not fit into the normative categories we often see in Western society. So the word “queer” in it is intentional. However, some people use terms like “platonic life partnership” or “quasiplatonic” if they feel that the term “queerplatonic” does not fit well for them.

  • Joe