Longing but not belonging

Gay Muslim author talks about a life of contradiction -- and coming to peace with himself


Badruddin is the author of ''Sex, Longing and Not Belonging: A Gay Muslim's Quest for Understanding''.

Maybe we could start with your thoughts on being a gay Muslim. Is it a contradiction to you?

I have never felt any guilt about having sex with men, or loving men - it  has always been perfectly normal and natural for me. The word ``gay'', however, is inherently political, since it is about organising and grouping people based on their sexual
orientation. It is demographically correct that I am a gay Muslim, but I don't feel compelled to describe myself that way. It is quite common for men in the Muslim world to have sex with each other, but it is generally before marriage, or in addition to marriage, but not as a substitute.

How does this square with Islamic morality?

If one has the appetite and if one is fair to one's family, provides for them, and keeps it all discreet ... I see Islam as
more  concerned with ethics than with morality.

Is it an issue of relevance to you?

The issue is relevant to me only to the extent that I could not live as a gay man in a Muslim country, unless I have a wife
and family as ``cover''. I have been away from Pakistan long enough that I could not quite handle that! However, I do not
feel that Islam lays any kind of guilt trip on me, just because I have sex with men. Islam is clear about the rights,  responsibilities, and obligations of Muslims, one of these is to raise a family and provide for them. If you meet your obligations, there is in reality ample latitude to have a private life that deviates from the norm.

What about about honesty: is there any value, in your opinion, in being open and honest about who you are, as a person, rather than hiding it and playing along with what society expects of you? And is gay sex really a non-issue in most  Muslim societies? My research indicates Islam is quite homophobic, sometimes fiercely so.

Most culture is based on white lies and dishonesty, so short term honesty for its own sake is hardly important! With regard to Muslim societies, read Steve Murray's excellent book _ Islamic Homosexualities  _ for a cross  cultural perspective. Homophobic cultures are also often phobic about lots of other things, if they make a big deal about sex between men,  something else is screwed up as well! An example is Malaysia with Mahathir accusing Anwar of sodomy! How amusing _ he did this while the Clinton affair was on. I assume he thought sex was ``in'' as a political issue. In actual  facts, Malaysian men (fool) around with each other, as do Indonesians, and  both are Muslim. So do Pakistani men, and as I described in my book I have had quite a few in my time (of course, as long as men are active, not passive, it is not really gay, is it?). However, people hate to have all this discussed in public.

How do you feel about Islam's stance? Is it right or wrong?

I am not sure about the relevance of the question. Islam describes how family life is to be organised, how inheritance is to be determined. Private sexual conduct is really not a big issue. In fact, from a pragmatic point of view, it is probably better for a young man to have sex with other men before marriage than a woman, since the only women available would  presumably be
prostitutes. Islam recognises that sexual desire cannot be denied, if serviced responsibly it is a gift from God, which is why men are in some cases permitted multiple wives and concubines. Can these same men with such urgent desires then be expected to stay celibate before marriage? I think not!

Islam's prescriptions are enlightened and wise. True wisdom seeks to channel and service both the ordinary desires of men, as well as their desire to make extraordinary contributions to society in the service of God. As long as interpersonal interactions,
including sexual, are responsible and loving, I don't see why Islam would have any serious problem. The inequality shown to women in some of the more primitive Muslim societies is a far more serious issue. Men seem to forget that Hazrat Khadija, the
prophet's wife, was a businesswoman.Sex between men is pretty much a non-issue in most Muslim societies, which would verify my point. There is frequent ``gay'' sex, without the label. That's fine with the participants, so why a problem?

The official Islamic doctrine on homosexuality seems to condemn it out of hand. There are various sayings attributed to Muhammad _ ``homosexuals should be thrown off cliffs'' or ``killed wherever you find them''. The story of the Prophet Lut is cited as evidence that homosexuality is a grave sin. What do you say to this?

I guess throwing off cliffs must have been in vogue in those days, as was chopping of hands and stoning. Technology advances with time in all aspects  of life. I think Islam allows lots of good things to balance a few sins, and we must navigate our way to heaven the best we can....

How do you deal with the Islamic teachings on homosexuality? How do you feel about them? Are they right, wrong? Do you care/not care?

Islam spends very little time or space worrying about homosexuality, and I don't think it makes sense for me to blow it out of proportion, just because I have sex with men and choose to read those sections of the Koran more carefully than I normally would. Instead, Islam is focused on other things, how we should live life, rights and responsibilities, God and the prophet's role, etc. Islam forbids sex between men in a somewhat  proforma way in my opinion. It could hardly do otherwise, given how
and where it  originated, among primitive bedouins in the desert! If they were anything  like Arabs today, there were probably few men that had not had sex with other men by the time they married women.I am not being facetious, I am merely pointing out that all great teachings point a direction, they don't expect perfection. Islam is interested in the rights of kids and families and society, and has passing interest in the infertile ejaculate of men, or any pleasure related to such activity. I would lose no
sleep over it!

To describe yourself a 'gay Muslim',  to me, indicates you try to be as good a Muslim as possible _ which also
indicates you must have some thoughts on the theology of this matter. When I read your book, I was hoping you would
discuss these matters or at least offer your point of view on how you handle them, but you did not. You must know that many people are tied up in knots by these questions.

Islam is a very sensible religion in my opinion, practical, pragmatic, fair and reasonable. I view justice and belief and responsibility as more important than mere ritual, for example, and ethical and moral relationships  as more important than who one has sex with. It is in some sense less romantic than Judaism and Christianity, and more definitive. My next book  goes a bit deeper into my choice to be a Muslim _  this first book focused  more directly on my sexual awakening.

Islam condemns lots of things, and lauds others. As humans, we must strive  for perfection, but in reality we balance imperfections. If I do noble  societal deeds and take care of my family and community, will I go to hell  just because
I (like) men? Individual Muslims might care, but I think God  will apply balance! And what if I enjoy a good California
chardonnay before giving alms to the poor? I do not interpret Islam as a set of stifling rules that bind one into submission, rather as submission to God that liberates one from submission to the judgment of anyone else in this world.

That is my  Islam, and that is why I consider myself a Muslim, and a true muslim at that. I have seen too many hypocritical mullahs in my time!!

What about ''Sex Longing and Not Belongingif?'' How has the reception of the book been?

The reception has been excellent, I have been deeply gratified. I am particularly touched by the letters I have received from individuals that relate to the book, from Pakistan, other Muslim countries, and the US. In several cases, I have had ongoing email conversations with gay Muslims, some of whom were clearly touched by the book, which I understand is the first of its kind. I am also grateful to Floating Lotus for publishing it. I am working on my next book, which will deal with issues of identity, in terms of being an ethnic and sexual minority.

Will it ever be possible for gay and lesbian Muslims to be open and honest about themselves within their Muslim communities? Is this desirable?

No. I dont think Muslim communities can support gay movements, because being gay is antithetical to family. It is not desirable, and there is nothing to be gained.

Return to Essays & Articles

Return to Queer Jihad