I believe [being gay] is natural and depending upon when the person discovers they are sexually attracted to the same sex, whether or not in their youth or when they grow older, the essence has been there all along. I speak to this from personal experience.
By Imam Daayiee Abdullah
I write this article to help individuals who may not clearly understand the ongoing debate that is utilized by Muslim religious institutions to claim that LGBT people are by nature not LGBT. I’m a gay Muslim man and, therefore, this article will discuss my gay life, as well as my America culture and Islamic faith. However, I believe the same is true for all of us, whether one is a member of the LGBT community or not. This article is born out of the repeated questions I get about what it means to be gay and Muslim. There are those Muslims who hold that one cannot be born gay, but it is a problem of nurture, i.e., the atmosphere by which the person becomes gay. Although this debate has been discussed over the past 150 years, as well as the scientific evidence that there is a “gay gene,” it is crucial that people have a clearer understanding of what the debate means to people today, and especially from a personal point of view.
Nature versus Nurture
Nature is the determiner that Allah creates a person gay. It is nurture that claims it is the person’s environment causing the irreversible and irreparable change in a person’s sexual orientation.
I believe it is natural and depending upon when the person discovers they are sexually attracted to the same sex, whether or not in their youth or when they grow older, the essence has been there all along. I speak to this from personal experience.
I am a naturally born gay, as I was always aware that I was uniquely different from the very early age of four. I knew that I was attracted to other boys. I never felt that I was a girl or wanted to be a girl. I remember a discussion I had with my mother about a photo of two little African-American boys, which was from the 1940s and where one little boy was on bended knee holding the hand of the other little boy seated on the curb—as if he was proposing. My mother said to me, “Oh that was you at four years old always talking about my boyfriend and how we would get married and live together, and I would be the daddy. My mother considered this nonsensical child’s play, but as I grew older, I began to show real signs that my sexual orientation was not whimsical.
When I entered junior high school, I met a boy a couple of years older by the name of Otis, who lived in the neighborhood a couple of blocks from where I lived. We became closer and began spending a lot of time together, and over that year we fell in love. This love affair lasted for several years until my senior year of high school (I was 15 years of age) when Otis committed suicide. I have my idea, and I’m sure the loss of his mother may have been one of the triggers, but I will never truly know why he took his own life. As I grew older I realized that he might not have been happy because of what society did to people who were gay—society would berate, shame and shun you—and like today, some young people take their lives because of social pressures.
When I graduated from high school, I came out to my parents, who were very supportive and did not reject me. They fully accepted me and my sexual orientation. They also informed me that I had to uphold the high standards they had for all of their children and that there was nothing wrong with me. With that knowledge and understanding, I went forth being a man who is attracted to other men—not a man who wanted to be feminine or a woman—and would seek a life partner.
In my younger adult life, I met other men and women who were in the LGBT community, who did not grow up with such support from their family or friends. They often had been shunned and berated in their communities, especially in their spiritual spaces. Some of these individuals developed problems with accepting themselves. They tried to hide their true nature and attraction to the same-sex, and they would live as society expected them to live. However, what was very consistent, at some later date they would come to the realization that they were sexually attracted to the same sex. Unfortunately, they created harm by that time. Now the injury was to both the spouse and their children; because society still did not accept the sexual orientation of their spouse’s spouse and the children’s parent. Such disruption to a spouse’s life and the lives of their children sometimes will place a barrier that causes irreparable harm to the whole family. Although this was unintentional, the injuries nevertheless are present. Therefore, we find far too often that’s a big mess they created, which they could have avoided if they had the strength to face society at an earlier age about their sexual orientation.
As it relates to my relationship with women, I never had an interest in women sexually. No matter what, I have never felt sexual arousal towards women. Although I had a great relationship with my mother, my older half-sister (who I did not meet until I was 40 years old) and my full sister who is eight years my junior, but also one of my best friends from high school who married my other best friend is a woman. As an adult, I collaborate with women professionally. In other words, women are around me and in my life and occupy great spaces in my heart. I’m just not sexually attracted to them. A woman will never have to fear that I will hit on her, sexually harass her, or even rape her. I’m just not interested in them that way. You will understand later why I’m making this emphasis here.
To help those who face significant confusion by believing sexual activities are focused on creating children, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, it is important to discuss sexual diversity. Whenever I hear this argument, which I sadly hear often, I wonder why these individuals never consider that the Qur’an indicates that procreation is not guaranteed. There are plenty of young, healthy men and women who are intent on having children but find themselves in a situation where they’re unable to conceive. Additionally, when we look at older adults who seek to marry but were beyond the age of bearing children, our society does not demand from them that they create children. Therefore, these individuals are promoting a social myth and not an actual truth concerning procreation.
The Qur’an provides essential lessons in several places. In Surah 30:22, the verse speaks to the diversity of humankind. It discusses the different tongues and colors of humanity. Of course, this speaks to the exterior aspect because people speak different languages and different ethnicities and skin tones. However, when people are asked to understand this aspect from the “ghaib” (unseen, unknown), which speaks to the internal aspect of our psychological makeup, tongues refers to our tastes and styles, and our colors referred to our psychological temperaments. Thus, we can see how our Creator has billions of people on the planet, and each of us can be uniquely different.
Other verses in the Qur’an, such as 24:30-32, also provide us insight into the sexual diversity of Allah’s creation. 24:30 speaks to men who are attracted to women to lower their gaze and not to gawk at women. 24:31 begins by explaining to women the male relatives they do not need to “cover” before, and “those men who have no desire for women,” and children who do not know about sexuality. The Qur’an acknowledges that there are men who have no desire for women and the question is: whom would they have a desire for? It seems very logical that it would be other men. Additionally, the logic would also mean that those men would be attracted to other men. It is not rocket science. We also know from logic that the same applies to women (i.e., lesbians).
Finally, in 24:32, the verse encourages individuals to marry from the “single” among you, even if they come from your male and female slaves. Although this statement may be confusing for some because of that ending reference to male and female slaves, it is not difficult to understand what it references. The verse speaks to avoiding relationships with married people. Additionally, if a person is divorced or has never married, they are “single” and eligible for marriage. That would also mean that the person with whom they would marry is not designated by gender. Of course, the latter part of the verse specifically speaks to “male and female” slaves. To understand this aspect one must know the historical reference, as it related to slavery in Arab societies in the seventh century. Due to the nature of Arab sex slavery, “whomever the right hand possesses” provided him the right to have sex with them—and that right was not limited to the gender of that slave. (There are legal cases within Islamic law that did not prevent owners of slaves from having same-gender sex.) The reference is that marriage should be between “equals,” and therefore a master and a slave are not equal. Thus, the slave would be freed and then have the right to marry their former master as their equal, with all the rights and privileges of a free person.
It is vital that Muslims who live in Muslim societies come to understand that some of their beliefs of what is from “the Islamic faith” is filtered through their societal biases that have a foundation in their earlier cultures. Consider the case, for example, of Muslims living in societies that were previously tolerant of sexual diversity. They tend to be more liberal today than the Muslims living in communities that were intolerant prior. It is one reason you have legal limitations for homosexuality in some Muslim countries, whereas in other countries that may not be the case. Yes, gay Muslims in those societies will face social and legal challenges.
It is also essential that Muslim immigrants who live in non-Muslim societies come to understand that the cultural attitudes of those countries are different. Consider the case of Muslim immigrants in Europe or North American, for example. They have to respect the laws of their new nations, as those laws developed out of the larger development of the overall culture of those societies. The United States, for example, has had a history that emerged from abuse to tolerance to equality. Gay people, Muslim and otherwise, do not have to face legal difficulties, even though, as previously noted, social challenges are still in place for segments of society. Therefore, Muslims living in non-Muslim states—and not susceptible to sharia law—have a different standard through which they can develop their interpersonal relationships outside of the cultural limitations of a different society.
I hope that this has been a clear explanation that helps you to understand better that Allah’s diversity of creation is not limited by a human interpretation that is restricted by cultural mores.
May Allah continue to guide and bless us all.
Imam Daayiee Abdullah is an American man who converted to Islam in China in the 1980s. He has lived in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. He has appeared on major media networks worldwide, on behalf of LGBT Muslims. He is currently the Executive Director of MECCA Institute, a progressive Islamic institute with a think tank and a school.