A few days ago, I received the shocking news that a dear brother in another community has come out as gay on social media. This brother belongs to an amazing family, and as far as I’m concerned, is a really great guy. He is married to a beautiful woman, inside and out, and has been blessed with children. To say that I was disheartened would be an understatement. I was also heartbroken to hear about his wife’s response on social media. Instead of the predictable reaction of shock and anger, she chose, very insightfully and lovingly, to remain married to him, to have a “different kind of love” for each other and to stay together but lead “separate but liberated lives”. I say I was heartbroken, not because they chose to live together, but because the crisis seems to have affected her faith, and made her ambivalent about the clear lines of demarcation between lawful and unlawful behavior in the Islamic faith tradition. The “acceptance” as natural of a sinful lifestyle bears far more consequences than legitimizing a behavior that God prohibited. It makes it easy for us to simply drift away from the faith.
Let me acknowledge some facts:
Homosexuality is not alien to our Muslim community. There are many brothers and sisters of ours who struggle with homosexual tendencies or behavior. It is undeniable that we have a massive problem in the Muslim community with regard to how we discuss homosexuality. While we tend to generally look down upon, but accept men who might engage in illicit heterosexual behavior, homosexuality tends to shock our sensibilities. Most of us think of it as a much worse moral offense and view those who engage in it as less than human. The reality is that the only accepted form of sexual behavior in Islam is between husband and wife, and anything else is considered haram and wrong and must be viewed on a level moral field.
Muslims who have tendencies for, or engage in homosexual behavior are exactly that: Muslim. Committing sin doesn’t remove people from the fold of the faith. Gay Muslims are constantly being presented with the false choice: it’s either homosexuality or Islam. It doesn’t have to be that way. Homosexual behavior is certainly haram, but it’s not an act of “kufr” for sure.
I cannot even begin to fathom what gay Muslims might be going through. Between feelings of guilt, rejection, despair, there is no way for me to understand their plight and the magnitude of God’s trial upon them. They are subject to ridicule, harassment, mockery and worse, violence. Their feelings are constantly being put down, and they have no platform to vent their grievances.
Having said that, there is another set of truths that must be pronounced:
Homosexual behavior, in which one engages in sexual activities with someone from the same gender, is prohibited in Islam. This is the unequivocal consensus of the scholars of every madhab and school of thought.
In addition to that, there is a distinction between thoughts and actions in Islamic law that must be observed. While we cannot control our feelings, thoughts and emotions, we can certainly control our actions. The mere possession of homosexual thoughts or tendencies may not be haram in and of itself. It is acting upon such impulses that constitutes sinful behavior. As the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Allah has excused my Ummah for evil thoughts in the head, as long as we haven’t acted upon or articulated any of them” (Bukhari).
إن الله تجاوز لأمتي عما وسوست أو حدثت به أنفسها ما لم تعمل به أو تكلم.
Moreover, whether a homosexual tendency is a matter of nature or nurture remains the subject of contentious debate, even in the scientific community. Some say people are born with it, while others say it’s determined over years of rearing and upbringing. The fact of the matter is that it hasn’t been scientifically established yet whether homosexuality is genetically determined. Either way, I think this is an irrelevant question. Predisposition doesn’t justify action. Many of us are predisposed to be heterosexual. This cannot be an excuse to be promiscuous with the opposite gender.
I consider myself to be many things. I’m a Muslim, an Egyptian American, a father, an imam, an entrepreneur, a hiker, and a social scientist. I love the outdoors, good steak, classical music, fast cars, clever movies, and I’m a heterosexual male. On what basis would I select only one item on this list and let that be the defining quality of my identity? I am every individual thing on this list and all of it at the same time. My identity is constituted of the sum total of all these qualities and much more. I wouldn’t want to be known as just a hiker, or an Egyptian, or a heterosexual male for that matter. Although I comprehend their plight, I don’t understand why men and women with homosexual tendencies reduce themselves to just that and call themselves gay, while they’re much more than that?
Finally, it is one thing to commit a sin, but pronouncing it in public bears a different consequence. We are all sons and daughters of Adam, and Adam came from clay. We are all fallible and sinful and that’s the norm. But when we publicly describe our sins, and give detailed accounts of them, in the name of liberation and venting, it creates an environment where others say to themselves: “Wait, I’m not the only one”! And if they were deterred to commit that same sin before, they might be emboldened to do so now. The Prophet (pbuh) says: “All of my Ummah will be forgiven, except those who pronounce their sins publicly. It is shameful when someone commits a sin in the night, enveloped by Allah’s preserving veil, and then brags about his sins to others” (Bukhari).
كُلُّ أَمَّتِى مُعَافًى إِلاَّ الْمُجَاهِرِينَ ، وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْمَجَانَةِ أَنْ يَعْمَلَ الرَّجُلُ بِاللَّيْلِ عَمَلاً ، ثُمَّ يُصْبِحَ وَقَدْ سَتَرَهُ اللَّهُ ، فَيَقُولَ يَا فُلاَنُ عَمِلْتُ الْبَارِحَةَ كَذَا وَكَذَا ، وَقَدْ بَاتَ يَسْتُرُهُ رَبُّهُ وَيُصْبِحُ يَكْشِفُ سِتْرَ اللهِ عَنْهُ