Solidarity with our Shia family.
Before the Kaaba, we stop at a masjid near the Battle of Uhud to make wudu and change. It’s night, the masjid’s closed. An old man let’s us in. We pray, wash, change in darkness.
I’m struck by how small the masjid is. Four walls, a roof. Not much else. It reminds me of the mosques i grew up in. Converted houses and gas stations. Portable buildings we’d have to repair after Sunday school. Jummahs under an aluminum roof, the khutbah crackling through an old speaker.
The Harem was different in every way. 90 acres of marble, limestone, silver and gold. Lights illuminating every corner. Sound echoing through dozens of speakers. Multiple levels and ready access for the elderly and disabled. An army of staff to keep it spotless/organized at all times. It’s no exaggeration to say it is the most advanced, modern mosque on the planet.
And at the center is the Kaaba: a 40 foot granite box draped in a black tarp. And even that’s ornate compared to the original, a set of walls no higher than Ibrahim and Ishmael. Look at these side by side comparisons:
Look at it! This is house of God, the holiest site on Earth. What does that tell us, that something so revered comes in such a simple, humble presentation?
Every masjid falls somewhere between the Kaaba and the Harem, in terms of intricacy, size, modernity, etc. In the years since my Hajj, I’ve noticed a distinct trend towards the Harem. Even in my hometown, the portable buildings are being replaced by grander and grander structures.
Not that that’s a bad thing. I’m not one to fetishize tradition. There isn’t a single improvement to the Harem that I don’t agree with. Each one helps more and more people perform their sacred duty.
But it’s important to remember that not having these things isn’t something to be ashamed of. The sacredness of a masjid comes, first and foremost, from the prayers we offer there.
Next to prayer and Qu’ran, the sheik said, was zakat.
Here, zakat wasn’t just something you put in the masjid drop box. It was direct. Personal. We’d come face to face with the poverty we were alleviating.
In certain cases it wouldn’t even be asked for. People, even in the most dire situations, would just be happy to be on Hajj. It didn’t mean we shouldn’t give them zakat.
As if to illustrate this point, a man walked up to us and asked when the next prayer was. His walking cane trembled as he clutched his ragged clothes. When he walked away, a man in our group leaped to his feet and offered some money. Sheikh Ahmed praised him for it.
The rest of the Hajj, we came face to face with some of the most extreme poverty I’ve ever seen. I understood my privilege in a whole new light. I travelled easy and slept in a comfortable, fancy apartment. Some had petitioned the government for years, and traveled by foot, just so they could sleep on the floor of the Grand Mosque.
But they were on Hajj. For all their suffering, they would be rewarded, and greatly. And that’s the same with all suffering, in a way. When we worry about Allah and suffering, I think we worry that the injustices we see will carry on to the hereafter. But it won’t. Allah will not be unfair in judging us. Allah will not be unmerciful.
I’ve never stopped giving zakat. Whether it be to charities or to people on the street. That’s what Muslims do. We help each other, and those around us. The things we get in life, our money, talents, resources, all this comes from Allah. The question is what we do with those things.
This is how I’ve come to see zakat, and that view came from my time in the Hajj.
Even at my worst, I still gave zakat.
That was the advice our guide gave us on the way to Mecca. I was travelling with a group of a dozen, including my mother, who’d booked the trip. I was a teenager, and pouring my adolescent angst into Islam. I’d take every chance to learn from our guide, Sheikh Ahmed.
Prayer was vital. Prayers on Hajj be counted thousands of times (pilgrims joked that the total would make up for the ones they’d missed). Not only that, but there was also the pushing, shoving crowd to deal with.
"Don’t think about the crowd." Sheikh Ahmed said, "If you do, they’ll overwhelm you. Put you head down, and pray. ‘Oh, Allah, guide me. Keep me safe.’ If you do this, the crowd won’t touch you. Walk calmly, deliberately. There’s no need to worry about your steps, Allah will protect you, guide you. Believe that. You must always pray with assurance that Allah will answer you.”
In the coming days, I saw ample evidence of it. When it came time for tawaf or jamarat, the sheik would gather us around him. Heads down, we’d walk.
It was like something out of a movie. All around us was a maelstrom of people. Stones flew in all directions. But here we were, a line of five, calmly strolling as if nothing was there.
(But of course, something was there. When you pray, Allah is with you, whether you feel him or not.)
The thing is, it evaporated as soon as your concentration broke. Your mind would wander, or you’d notice a rock flying through the air. And it was like the protective shield vanished. Instantly you’d be elbowed or hit by a rock, and you’re in the frenzy.
And it wasn’t just us. One time, I saw a crowd gathered around a closed, locked door. Pushing, shoving each other to get to the front. Hoping to be let in so they could join the crowd inside.
At the back, two men looked at each other, smiled, put their gaze to their hands, and stepped forward. Next thing I know, they’re inside. Still walking, still praying.
Like, what’s a wall to Allah? It’s not a guard that lets you in. It’s Allah. Those two guys were just the only ones who asked him.
Here’s where I’m supposed to say it was a miracle. But was it? Or, more accurately, was it more of a miracle than all the other things we see in the world? The sunrise, a birth, the shade of trees, singing of birds. All of that is as much the grace of Allah as walking through walls. It’s just that the latter is less common. But it’s not impossible. With Allah, nothing is impossible.
The Hajj made me realize that.
For those of us who are rainbow identified, we are painfully aware of the fact that being queer or trans or gay or bi or a or inter… this does not exclude us from having to contend with the rollercoaster ride that is iman. The prophet Muhammad, PBUH, said that faith goes up and down. There are references in the Qur’an to things that will increase and decrease faith. There are countless books, stories, and khutbah about ways to improve our iman.
Even though this is something that all faith-havers have to deal with, it is especially difficult for LGBTQ* Muslims because if we turn to other Muslims that we trust to discuss faith and spiritual issues, we can be completely destroyed when the suggestion is to NOT be the way Allah made us.
I am a queer femme. I am also Muslim. And when I tried to have a conversation about personal issues with salaat, it was suggested to me that I leave my wife. My sexuality was mentioned as the quick fix for the problem. And to be completely honest, this was the last time I opened up to non-queer Muslims about how I was feeling.
I am, alhamdulillah, part of a queer Muslim community of people I can talk to and share with now. And fortunately, I have access to uplifting literature by some of the female Islamic scholars whose writing has really done wonders to help me through the open challenge to the patriarchal, heteronormative standards for the way we come to know and understand Islam, and Islamic knowledge.
"Reading the Signs" by Dr. Rabia T. Harris is the specific essay that has filled my heart up and done wonders to help increase my iman. This essay is in a book called "Windows of Faith" edited by Gisela Webb. If you can get your hands on it, do so. There are several works in this book that have helped me feel like I was not going crazy when I thought that it would be possible for me to be queer and Muslim.
And so with that, I’m starting to feel.. to really get why it was so important and so perfect for Allah to use “READ” as the very first command to Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)…and to us. Because it has been through reading that I was inspired to go to Jumu’ah.
In spite of the fact that I hadn’t gone in months.
In spite of the fact that the documentary I’m in is showing at several places in the country.
In spite of the fact that there are people in a community that I am no longer in community with.
There is a space for me to grow in Islam. There is a space for me to manifest my Islam in my life in a way that works best for me. And one of those ways is for me to pray the prayer of Muhammad SAWS. That prayer is the one that I’m working to establish 5 or more times a day. That prayer is the one that I like to breathe through and feel the benefits of each pose it contains. I especially like to pray when no one is around. When I’m not being rushed or dealing with the hustle and bustle of the day.
InshaAllah, I will continue to make strides in that area. InshaAllah, you will, too. May Allah make it so.
As a Muslim, however, people do expect me to show evidence of my soul-searching over a single event, and I am regularly instructed by popular media to imagine 9/11 as a cancer within my own self. Journalists ask me about Islam’s “crisis” as though it’s a private demon with whom I must personally wrestle every day; meanwhile, my whiteness remains untouched and unchallenged by the decade of hate crimes that have followed 9/11. Journalists don’t often ask whether “white tradition” can be reconciled to modern ideals of equality and pluralism, or whether the “straight male community” is capable of living peacefully in America. When it comes to my participation in America, my whiteness and maleness are far more likely than my Islam to wound others, and thus perhaps more urgently in need of “reform” or “enlightenment” or whatever you say that Islam needs. Again, this is only if numbers matter.
A lot of people come to us asking for advice on coming out, specifically coming out to muslim families and parents, and how best to approach this massive hurdle that many muslims of the spectrum face. In truth, there is no one way in which to approach this matter, as each individual will have their own set of circumstances unique to them, and this will greatly affect the way that this process will work for them. Having said that, there are some universal things that can apply to many of us, and aid us in preparing best to deal with this part of our lives. These “tips” will not apply to every person word for word, of course, but they may be able to help pave your own path in revealing the truth.
Confidence in your faith and yourself
Before asking your family to accept you, you must make peace with yourself. Growing up as both queer and muslim takes its toll on many of us, especially for those that are from practising muslim families. You will feel many things both negative and positive about your place as a queer muslim. Whatever you feel, you must deal with what is raging within yourself first and foremost. This can in a lot of cases be the longest and most difficult part of the process, but if you haven’t accepted yourself, then how can you expect others to do the same? Whatever and however you may be, remember that the Almighty has created you in this way with His own hands and He makes no mistakes, which brings forth the next point:
Many of us feel isolated from our religious communities because of what we hear in the media and the masjids, and even from our own relatives and friends about islam’s stance and interpretation of non-heterosexuality. We hear stories of condemnation and punishment and of course this is disheartening, but please remember that these are interpretations of our religion by people - and there can be more than one. Read the Qur’an and study religious texts for yourself, particularly from scholars who are known for alternative viewpoints. There is a wealth of information available to those who are willing to seek it, and you may be surprised by what you find. The Qur’an is beautiful in that it may reveal a message to you that it does not for other people, and you can only find this if you study it.
Realise that you have time
For many people, discovering their sexuality is a bittersweet process that toys wildly with emotions, especially because of the young age at which it happens. This can cause someone to make rushed decisions, and coming out may seem like the most important thing in the world that has to be done straight away. This does not have to be the case, if you are young and have years ahead of you inshaAllah, it may not be necessary, or even safe, to come out until you are prepared in every way possible. It is a delicate subject that must be approached with sensitivity and caution, and is not something to be rushed into head first with no back up.
Unfortunately, we must prepare for the worst-case scenario. Nobody knows how your families/friends will react upon hearing what you have to say, even though the best person will probably be yourself, and it is essential that you have somewhere to go/someone to confide in if things go belly up and you are left stranded. If possible, ensure that you are able to support yourself if it comes down to it, and do the best you can to provide yourself with an alternative if your families are not accepting right away. Finish school and your degrees if you are doing them; save money; make friends who may be able to help you out if need be; learn of the resources available around you because regrettably, rejection happens more often than it should.
Gauge a “test” response
The topic of queerness may arise in conversation, and this can be an opportunity to find out what your families and friends stances are with regards to it. But this must be done carefully and not forced in order to minimise suspicion if it is a danger to you. It’s not a definitive indicator of a response, but you will most likely get an idea of how they feel and then how best to approach the matter.
Find the right time and place
Coming out in our communities is by no means a simple task, and it must be stressed that sensitivity and caution is key. It makes sense to leave the conversations until later if your family is going through a difficult time, or when stress levels are high, because coming out will no doubt add a level of stress that can push certain people into making rash decision that are not in your favour. If you are worried about any physical/verbal abuse, try to conduct the conversation in a public place, perhaps at a restaurant when out for a meal with your family or when going for a quiet walk in the park. This will inshaAllah help minimise the risk of violent outbursts and, if necessary, provide witnesses to any adverse outcomes.
Patience is key
Be patient with your family. They may accept you straight away in which case Alhamdulillah, but if not, you must understand that their initial response does not necessarily reflect their final attitude. It is likely that they will be hurt and confused, and may blame you or themselves. It takes time. It took time for you to accept yourself, and it will take time for them to accept you, and you should be supportive of their attempts to make sense of what you have told them. At this point perhaps space is good if that is financially/socially possible.
Many queer muslims find themselves alienated from the muslim community and this can unfortunately lead to detachment from faith as well. It is important to keep close to Allah despite what others may say, as after all your faith is between you and your creator only. Prayer is one way in which closeness to God can be established, and can reaffirm ones relationship with religion. Salaat-e-Istikhara especially is a valuable tool that we can use to help us make the difficult decisions that many of us face, especially when the line between right or wrong is blurred. Allah has all the answers that we seek and through Him you will InshaAllah find what is the best path for you.
To conclude, there is no one way to come out, and there is no one best approach, but several. Patience, caution, and sensitivity must be exercised in order to make the process of coming out safe for yourself, and easier for those you are coming out to. We pray that you are met with compassion and understanding, but if not, we hope you are able to move on without guilt, knowing that you did the best you can to convey your feelings towards the people that you love. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you, no matter what you are going through.