Gay and interested in Islam

Asked by Reader on May 29, 2024 Topic: Faith & Spirituality

Dear Hadi,

Hey there,

So, spirituality has always been a big deal for me. I grew up in a strict Christian household, but I never really felt like I fit in with all the Jesus stuff, you know? And when it became clear I was gay, my family turned their backs on me. It was rough. Plus, I've always felt like I was born in the wrong body like I'm a woman trapped in a man's body.

I hit a low point and ended up distancing myself from organized religion completely. Started dabbling in drugs just to cope. But no matter what I tried, there was this deep emptiness inside me, like something was missing.

Then, a friend introduced me to the Quran. And man, something just clicked. I found myself drawn to Islam like it spoke to me in a way nothing else ever had. But considering I'm also gay, I know that's not exactly embraced in the Muslim community.

I'm torn, you know? On one hand, Islam feels like the real deal to me, like it's where I'm meant to be. But on the other hand, I'm scared of how people will react to my sexuality.

Can I really find peace and acceptance in a faith that might not fully accept me for who I am?

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful question and for trusting us to offer our views on the important issues you raise. 

We’re so pleased that your discovery of Islam has resonated with you.  There are so many facets of Islam that bring comfort to the hearts of believers but three that come to mind are the overriding belief that there is only One Almighty God; the simple notion that each of us is individually responsible for how we live our lives; and that God is the Most Merciful.

With regard to your sexuality, and the issue of homosexuality in Islam, we would like to offer some thoughts, and make a few main points. 

First, your question is very important, since in Muslim circles, the topic of homosexuality is often avoided altogether out of discomfort, or if not, it is inadequately discussed.  The inadequacy vacillates between two extremes: one extreme involves treating homosexual feelings as unnatural or perverse while the other extreme attempts to distort the tenets of Islam to accommodate the current cultural milieu which provides full acceptance and embrace.

We believe that the issue is more nuanced, and needs not one, but many thorough and honest discussions.

Our first main point is that we would like to begin our discussion by taking the topic out of the current cultural overlay that we find in the West, and discussing it instead in terms of the cultural terms of Islam.  What do we mean by this statement?  We mean that we, in the West, approach the topic of homosexuality in very binary terms of homo/hetero, and homosexuality no longer simply refers to “same sex attraction,” or “same sex encounters,” but has much bigger connotations -- it is no longer a behavior, but rather has become a defining, core identity.  This point is well made by Khaled El-Rouyaheb, Harvard professor of Arabic and Islamic Intellectual History, in his book Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800, where he notes that in the Islamic world during that epoch, the core identity concept of homosexuality we have today simply did not exist. 

The current core identity approach is problematic, because when we say that Islam does not condone homosexuality, it is no longer an objection to a particular behavior, but becomes a repudiation and rejection of the person as a whole.  Islam definitely does not do that, regardless of the behavior.  As an aside, this identity approach can be seen in other facets of our modern world, such as jobs.  For example, someone’s identity may be that he is a policeman, or that she is a doctor – it is no longer their job, but how they define themselves.  Then, at retirement, when they no longer have that, they are lost.

In Islam, our core identity is as spiritual beings, and we try to define ourselves in terms of our relationship to the three main characteristics of Islam that we mentioned above, and to assess the extent to which our lives are in harmony with those realities.  

The second main point is that we believe, and God knows best, that we are not held accountable for our thoughts, feelings, or natural tendencies, including sexual attraction.  That being said, a core tenet of Islam is that we are responsible for the actions we take and the behavior in which we engage. 

Some of our readers may be surprised to know that same-sex attraction was not taboo, unspoken, or uncommon in the early Muslim world. On the contrary, it was sometimes explicitly romanticized, just as poets would romanticize the sexual beauty of women to whom they were not married.  There are even some prominent Muslims who readily admitted same-sex attraction.  The overwhelming general consensus is that it is not the experiencing of homosexual desires that Muslim scholars deem forbidden, but rather homosexual acts.  Based on this, sexual orientation alone is not considered “deviant” or “perverse.”   

However, engaging in homosexual behavior is prohibited, and as you noted in your question, not generally embraced in mainstream Muslim communities.  This prohibition stems from clear verses in the Quran describing the behavior of the people of Prophet Lot (of Sodom and Gomorrah).

In the interest of intellectual and academic honesty, we will note that there is a very recent modernist approach that attempts to re-interpret the Quran in a way that posits that homosexual behavior is not prohibited.  Probably the best-known proponent of this view is Scott Kugle in his book, Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims.  While we genuinely understand the underlying desire to reach such a conclusion, we strongly disagree with it, and believe that rigorous analysis of this modernist approach has revealed it to be deeply flawed. 

We believe that Islam endorses the traditional view that sex is permissible only in the confines of marriage between a husband and a wife.  Therefore, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, and same-sex practices are all considered outside the bounds of Islam.  Once again, however, there is no notion that, for example, heterosexual fornication is less of a sin because it is “more natural.” 

Certainly, Muslim communities contain within their folds those who do not abide by these dictates, whether in terms of premarital sex, homosexual relationships or even extramarital sex.  Similarly, Muslim communities contain within their folds those who do not abide by other Islamic mandates (e.g. prayer) or prohibitions (e.g. alcohol). 

We believe that Muslim communities should accept all of these Muslims as congregants, treating all individuals with dignity and respect, and striving to provide a non-threatening environment that allows all Muslims to grow in their Islam. 

For this reason, we believe that if the message of Islam speaks to you, we do not think that your sexual orientation should preclude you from becoming a Muslim. 

We understand, of course, that we are not in your shoes, and to some extent cannot appreciate the totality of what you are experiencing.  To that end, we wanted to share with you a link to an article From a Same-Sex Attracted Muslim wherein the author discusses dealing with his own strong feelings of same-sex attraction while also believing in the traditional opinion of the impermissibility of homosexual activity in Islam.

The author of this article makes a clear distinction between same sex attraction and same sex encounters, and presents the view of Islam on each.  He also presents how he chose to handle his same sex attraction without cajoling or proselytizing.  He is a compassionate and reasoned voice, and we believe you may find it interesting.  You may ultimately choose to handle things as he did, or very differently.  Either way, we believe that your life will be better off with Islam than without it, and hope that God blesses you in all of your choices.

We hope you found here at least something that might bring you solace regarding where Islam stands.  Also, we know that parts of our answer may not be what you hoped for, but we respect you and our readers too much to not be forthright in our views.

In peace.