Being ‘gay’ and Muslim: Dealing with same-sex attraction
“The Prophet said one of the most difficult jihads is speaking truth. I am speaking my truth, and I’m not here to offend anyone. I just want to create a world of love and authenticity, and to speak my truth.”
On TMV’s most recent podcast, Salim Kassam sat down with Ali Jaffery, who bravely agreed to come forward to share his story on the feelings of same-sex attraction that he has lived with since childhood. Addressing topics such as sexuality, feelings of shame, and faith, Ali has approached the issue of same-sex attraction with a sense of openness and devotion towards telling his truth.
While he may offend certain people, or cause disagreements from both the LGBTQ and the more conservative groups of society, Ali hopes that by starting this conversation a more nuanced and tolerant discussion can be sustained for the future.
Realizing from the young age of 5 that he was different, Ali explains that he had always struggled with his identity in the realms of masculinity and femininity. For him, he found himself in the middle of two different camps – while firmly identifying as a religious Muslim, Ali also stands quite firmly in having the feelings of same-sex attractions. This created, according to him, a “conflict of desire”. His sexual desire, and his desire for God, were at war within himself.
I had cultivated so many layers where my brain said I’m different…from a religious perspective, this brought on a lot of trauma. At one point I thought God hated me, so I actually distanced myself from God. It was the darkest time of my life…I used to cry all the time.”
Admitting that he didn’t tell a soul about his feelings until the age of 23, Ali suffered for a long time in silence. The need for male connectedness played a large role in his suffering, explains Ali. Because he was surrounded by powerful feminine role models, and almost no positive male role models, Ali felt that he grew up wanting to imitate the feminine – with masculinity as something foreign or exotic.
This exotic sense of masculinity is what pushed him towards feelings of lust for the masculine, Ali explains. While his feelings are, according to Ali, innate, he reiterates again that he is not attempting to explain the feelings and reasoning behind all who fall under the LGBTQ identity – he is simply explaining his own journey.
The lust that is seated is always with envy. Like I can’t do this, but this person can…I would get mesmerized by them and the attractions would happen. The need for male connectedness was then sexualized.”
After struggling for many years on his own, Ali explains that he finally sought help, first through therapy, to open up about his personal conflict with religion and sexuality. Known as reparative therapy, or as the more controversial name of conversion therapy, Ali used this type of therapy to help build his confidence, stop his negative feelings of shame, and reconcile his faith and sexuality. Also known as SOCE (sexual orientation change effort), Ali believes that although some in the LGBTQ community stand firmly against any kind of therapy, for him, this was one of the most important steps towards helping him understand himself more.
I used to think, why hasn’t God taken these feelings away from me? God hasn’t taken them away because I still have some work to do…now I say alhamdulillah I have these feelings. If it wasn’t for these feelings, I wouldn’t have gone towards Allah.”
One of the most important points that Ali hopes to get across can also be deemed quite controversial to some: Islam does not, in fact, have concepts of heterosexuality or homosexuality. In Islam, there is no “gay” or “straight”.
Ali explains that from his understanding the Quran only explains the concept of marriage, and the concepts of what not to act on, which can include acts of same-sex activity, pre-martial sex, and other so-called forbidden acts that may harm the concept of marriage. As Ali describes, same-sex attractions, or the feelings of same-sex lust, is no different from wanting to have a boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage or having lustful thoughts at the opposite gender. The point is to not act on them, as Ali says.
I’m not straight. And I’m not gay. Islamically, we need to come out of this box. The concept of homosexuality and heterosexuality doesn’t exist in Islam. Islam says there is no such thing as sexual identity…what we do find is the concept of marriage.”
Ali has now moved onto a new phase of his life, where he has learned to love himself as he is and reclaim his relationship with God. Focusing on living a God-centric life, Ali has now created his own blog and community support system to help others like himself, who are struggling with reconciling their faith with their sexual preferences.
Only recently having come out of his own struggles with depression, feelings of shame, and body negativity, Ali hopes that by creating a community of like-minded Muslims, who for so long have had little to no help with sexuality in religion, he can help future generations to come. He has set up an organisation called Strong Support, which can be found here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Muslims, as people of faith, we need to be better. Why is it still a shock? Saying ‘I’m gay’, ‘I’m straight’ is meaningless. What is meaningful is living a God-centric life. As long as [people] are striving to live a God-centric life, we shouldn’t push them away.”
Whatever one’s opinion on same-sex attraction and the LGBTQ community may be, there is no doubt that the Muslim community has a long way to go in terms of accepting differences and struggles within the community. Having a mature and meaningful discussion on sexuality, and on the topic of sins, should be prioritized more than it is, according to Ali. While he himself has come to a better place where he is able to openly tell his story and help others who are struggling as well, Ali hopes that this is only the beginning of a more accepting and educated Muslim society.
The Prophet said one of the most difficult jihads is speaking truth. I am speaking my truth, and I’m not here to offend anyone. I just want to create a world of love and authenticity, and to speak my truth.”
To understand and find out more about the topic of same-sex attraction, you can find an article by Muslim Matters on Same-Sex Attraction, as discussed in the podcast, here.