Gay Muslims: The Elephant in the (Prayer) Room

Muslims, I find, tend to be quite good at avoiding open discussions about deeply personal matters affecting our communities. The problem is that this attitude leads to the circulation of myths and thus unhelpful solutions and the subsequent worsening of the original matter. Muslim communities tend to treat such deeply personal matters as elephants in the room. Of course, one such elephant is homosexuality, specifically the idea that someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) can also be a devout Muslim.

I'm a student at a British university. I have not come out as gay (I know: shock and horror!), and I happen to be quite active in the Islamic Society (ISoc) on campus. When I'm in the company of other students in the ISoc, I hear a few "gay jokes" (although this is a wider societal problem, too). Do you think I enjoy that these so-called jokes come at the expense of people like me? Given that no one has their sexual orientation stamped on their forehead, those who make these jokes have probably already prayed alongside LGBT people without realizing it. Was there anything "lesser" about these people then? And given the homophobic rhetoric, attacks and social exclusion that LGBT people often have to put up with, do those who hold conservative attitudes toward homosexuality genuinely believe that someone like me would have actively chosen to be gay rather than straight? I can't count the number of times I've wished that I weren't gay. One simply cannot choose to be gay. How many of you actively chose to be straight?

Now that we've established, I hope, that sexual orientation isn't a choice, Muslim communities need to stop sweeping the topic under the carpet and start providing the right kind of support and advice. For starters, does your local mosque provide a confidential online or drop-in advice service -- and not a service run by an old, traditional-minded scholar who can barely speak English but one run by someone who is fully aware of the contemporary environment and is a good communicator and someone young people can relate to? Does the Islamic Society at your university only ever discuss topics such as perfecting prayers and how to do charity, or does it openly acknowledge that students may be dealing with a range of personal issues and therefore advertise suitable services? Do our community leaders shun discussion of very personal problems, or do they lead the way in acknowledging that personal problems do exist, and subsequently create initiatives to tackle these problems in an effective and Islamically compatible way? When you ask yourself each of these questions, you will see that as a community, we Muslims need to be doing far more to support the LGBT individuals among us.

Fortunately, I met an extremely knowledgeable Muslim who had given a few talks at my university. I got to know this person, and given their open-minded nature, I knew that I could approach them to discuss my sexual orientation. The day we met up and I came out to this person, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I no longer had to struggle on my own but could talk to somebody if I needed to. I then told a couple of my closest university friends whom I also knew I could trust. One of them later gave me a hug, and that meant the world to me, knowing that this person wasn't going to treat me any differently.

I'm now at a stage where being gay no longer bothers me as it once did, and I can now focus on the more important things in life. I have the odd struggle, but I guess sexuality just isn't a straightforward thing. Having been through all the mental anguish, though, I feel for those who are on their own right now, unable to turn to anyone for advice and support. If you're a Muslim coming to terms with the fact that you're gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, I'm not going to offer you some generic advice and avoid the your actual concerns altogether, as some scholars might. I really wish I could point you in the right direction, but that's part of the point of this piece: The Muslim community needs to do more to support those of us who are LGBT. However, I can say that you're definitely not alone. There is an Islamic viewpoint that says that being gay itself is no sin. And contrary to how others may make you feel, you're no less of a human being or a good Muslim. I wish you all the best, and I really hope you find the support you need.