6 Deadly Realities Of Being Muslim And Gay Around The World
In Islam, homosexuality is all about location, location, location. In some places, being a gay Muslim is like winning the anti-lottery, where the main prize is base-jumping lessons without a parachute or a trip to an actual concentration camp. Things are miles better in the U.S., where Muslims are much more accepting of homosexuality than, say, Evangelical Christians. And then there are all the places in between. We sat down with Khaled and Omar to find out what it's like to be gay in Muslim-majority Middle Eastern countries like Jordan and Pakistan. They told us ...
The Quran Doesn't Explicitly Condemn Homosexuality, But Plenty Of People Do
Here's an interesting thing about the Quran: Unlike the Bible, it doesn't condemn homosexuality outright. All it does is recount the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, wherein God destroys two whole cities because of the male population's "immoral" behavior. That's largely taken to mean homosexuality, but the story also mentions that the people there tried to rape angels, so hey, maybe that's what God didn't like so much.
Some prominent Muslim clerics denounce homophobia because it isn't supported by the scripture. Sadly, Khaled never met anyone like that when he was coming to terms with his sexuality. "I realized that I'm different when I was nine, probably. At that stage, I started having dreams of the guys in the Gillette commercials hugging me. After some time, those dreams turned into wet dreams. It freaked me out -- thinking about yourself that you are a different misfit is a horrible experience. I was 13 when I stared going to the library at school [during] the break to look for information, and I found that the encyclopedia, an Arabic one, talks about homosexuality as a horrible lifestyle -- it makes people sick, causes diseases and eventually death, and that it is not accepted in Islam."
Now, a lot of this might seem similar to what gay men in conservative Christian communities go through, but it can be so much worse in Muslim countries. In Jordan, being gay can get you thrown down the stairs, so Khaled's concern was more than justifiable. "I tried to be a good Muslim," he continues. "But every time I heard that the punishment for practicing homosexuality in Islam is to be killed, I would shake and get terrified. I literally hated my life, I was in a dilemma all the time. I love God and I don't want to upset him, but I couldn't overcome my needs."
Coming Out To Your Family Could Be Lethal
Despite Jordan being one of the most LGBT-friendly Muslim-majority countries -- with gay cafes and its own widely circulated gay magazine -- it's still not entirely safe. That story about gay people being thrown down stairs? Not only did it happen in Jordan, but it was also carried out by the victim's own family. Homosexuality remains a taboo subject, which is why Khaled still wasn't able to come out to his family.
"My mum would hate and blame herself. My dad, if he survives a heart attack, would kill me for sure. My father is the best father in the world, I love him a lot, I think I'm his best friend ... however, my father is a tribal man (very proud and traditional). I really wouldn't blame him if he kills me if he discovers I'm gay. Once, someone killed his son for being gay -- it was the first we heard about this in Jordan -- my father's reaction was, 'I would do the same.'"
Pakistan has far stricter anti-LGBT laws and social customs, and one time people there even openly praised a serial killer of gay man. And yet Omar, who was born and raised in Karachi, is out to his family, and even able to joke about it with them. "My mum is notoriously stingy and used to dress me up in clothes passed down from my older female cousin, so I wore girl clothes until I was five years old. To this day, my mum says I turned out gay because she made me wear girl clothes. 'That's what you get for being a cheapskate,' I tease her."
Omar was pushed into coming out to his family over a pair of pants, of all things. "My parents took me to a family wedding when I was 19 years old, and everyone started gossiping because I decided to wear bright green chinos. To beat someone else speculating wildly to my parents, I sat them down and just told them. They try their best to understand, despite the huge cultural and generational differences between us."
Or You Might Consider Killing Yourself
In 2014, Nazim Mahmood, a gay man in northwest London, jumped off a balcony to his death after his conservative Muslim family refused to accept him. It was an unimaginable tragedy ... that's not that unimaginable for Khaled. At one point, he considered the same thing: "I didn't have sex, because I wanted to be a good Muslim, and I wanted to eventually go to heaven ... I kept suffering, I didn't know what to do, and I started having suicide thoughts. But suicide is the worst sin in Islam, so I was really suffering, and thinking, 'What shall I do?' I wanted to die, but just couldn't."
Unlike homosexuality, Islam is very clear on the topic of suicide -- it's not a fan. So Khaled started considering more creative workarounds for his problem. "I thought of going to Iran, or Saudi Arabia, where the punishment for gays is the penalty of death, so I could end this drama without committing suicide." For another option ...
Gay "Cures" Are Still Big In The Muslim World
When Nazim Mahmood came out to his father, he told his son to try to cure his homosexuality. In Malaysia, the federal government itself promotes gay conversion therapies. It's a popular, if wildly misinformed idea.
"After deciding against suicide, I decided to change my sexual orientation," says Khaled. "I started reading articles on the internet, successful stories about people who managed to turn straight. I realized that I needed a professional help, so I started my journey with therapy, psychiatrists, and physiologists. Horrible experience in the Arab world." Mainly because their general approach seemed to be less "pray the gay away" and more "shame the gay away." Khaled explains: "Most of them make you feel guilty, and that you are not a good Muslim ... Some of them treated me in a bad way, as if I'm disgusting, though some of them felt sorry for me ... The last one was horrible. He used to give me exercises of watching naked women and [masturbating]. It was awful, I used to cry every time I did that."
Finally, after all the humiliation, Khaled had an epiphany. "At the end, and in the last session with him, I asked him 'What is the fruit you hate the most, and can't eat?' He said 'banana.' I asked him ... 'What is the one you love the most?' He said 'mango.' I said to him, 'If you can change, and love bananas and hate mango in three months, I will continue with the sessions.' Of course, he answered that it is impossible, and that's when I became totally OK with my sexuality ... God is fair, he won't punish me for something I didn't choose. Being gay is part of my life."
Islam And Homosexuality Have A ... Complicated Relationship
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, only 2 percent of Pakistanis are in favor of homosexual relationships. And yet at the same tim, Pakistan is the world leader in online searches like "man fucking man" and "gay sex pics."
A BBC investigation claims that behind the scenes, Pakistan is a "gay man's paradise," thanks largely to its secret gay cafes. Dr. W. Dickson, who specializes in Islamic studies, explains why: "Today, many Muslim-majority societies have some form of legal prohibition of same-sex relationships on the books, though this hasn't prevented the formation of somewhat underground gay scenes to develop in places like Saudi Arabia, based around particular websites, chatrooms, and cafes. In more liberal cities, like Jeddah, men often find it easier to develop romantic relations with men, as their families -- and the police -- are generally unsuspecting of men who spend time together, whereas it can be very difficult for unmarried men and women to see each other. Lebanon tends to be a more liberal country, especially in larger cosmopolitan cities like Beirut, where gay men live their lives more openly."
This isn't new. The Ottoman Empire decriminalized homosexuality back in 1858, a century before any country in the West. In the early 20th century, Muslim Morocco became, for lack of a better world, a Mecca for gay Westerners wanting to live in peace. But we can go even further back.
"Perhaps the most notable historical example," Dr. Dickson says, "is found in the openly gay Caliphs (emperors or kings) of early Islam. Al-Hakam II (d. 976) was an Umayyad caliph based in Muslim Spain who had a harem of men, while Al-Amin (d. 813) was an Abbasid caliph based in Iraq who was also openly gay ... Although their preference for men was sometimes seen as a character flaw, little in the way of open condemnation of them is found historically."
Many Gay Muslims Live A Complicated Double Life
Countries like Pakistan or Jordan have very patriarchal societies, focused on family (gay adoption sure isn't a thing, and probably won't be for a long time). And that's one of the reasons Pakistan became such a "gay man's paradise" -- it's all thanks to women willing to marry Pakistani homosexuals in order to maintain their cover while they pursue gay relationships. Yes, Pakistan has more beards than a Duck Dynasty marathon.
It's basically the same in Jordan, as Khaled explains: "My parents nag a lot about me getting married, actually all the time. However, I always have a social cover. I introduce my (expat) female friends to my family as if they are my girlfriends, so basically every year I have a new girlfriend ... The last one was my friend, she is French, beautiful lady, my family fell in love with her. Once my family invited her and my boyfriend for dinner. My mom loves my boyfriend, but she thinks he is just my friend."
Seems like a setup for a Three's Company episode, but all the evening did was remind Khaled that he may never be able to be himself in front of his family. "Every night I have to leave the bed of my boyfriend at 1 in the morning to go home so they won't suspect anything. Because it is not accepted in my culture to live alone or to move from your parents' house 'til you get married. If you do so, you will bring shame to the family."
When family is everything, carrying their shame is a unique and terrible psychological pain. That alone would be incentive enough not to come out. But some families also ask you to meet them at the top of the staircase ...
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter. ASL, a travel-writer and photographer, also contributed to this article.
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