Analysis

It's Not Easy to Be a Muslim Lesbian

Friends and family reject them, send them to the doctor, and sometimes even threaten their lives. Muslim lesbians look to social media for some solace

A bus with a sign that says, 'Some Muslims are gay' at the Gay Pride Parade in London.
Tom Morris

“Come my love and let us embark on a journey to the land of love. This is the key to happiness. Come let us enter the depth of life, because I have not tasted the taste of happiness except with you. Let me drown in the sight of you, perfume myself in your breaths, in the love of your heart and the warmth of your bosom. There is nothing more special in my life than you, my heart is filled with you, my apologies to others,” a woman named Tamara posted on the Facebook page “Muslim Lesbians”

“I am a young Sudanese woman, 21 years old. I’ve been a lesbian since the age of 15 and a Muslim in my way. And like all the lesbians in our Eastern world, I have no outlet nor a way to meet a group of lesbians like myself with whom I can share our thoughts and problems before we share our love. I, and many lesbians, are hiding as much as possible so that our future and our sexual orientation will be secure. I’m proud of being a lesbian and I hope for the day when I can meet lesbians in my country,” wrote another woman on a different site, asking that her name not be published.

Other women are not afraid to publish their photos, some with romantic partners and others without, and even the ruling of the grand mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, that “no one has the right to harm homosexuals or discriminate against them,” appears on the site. That is an important ruling that stirred major controversy when it was published in 2016.

Allam subsequently clarified that homosexuality is forbidden according to Islam, but that “homosexuals are no less valuable human beings than others.” He did not say how great a sin it is or whether it reaches the level of apostasy.

Like many other experts in religious law, the grand mufti of Egypt regards homosexuality as a sickness or the result of confused identity, and therefore “anyone who shows this disgusting tendency should go to an expert doctor to try to treat this ugly sickness.”

Lesbians who visit the site can take no great comfort from the mufti’s statements. Some of them told of their difficult experiences when they revealed their sexual orientation to their families. Others were thrown out of their homes or forced to marry quickly to “heal the perversion,” and the lives of some were put in danger. One woman posted that she had decided to see doctors of her own accord to “heal” herself.

“They took huge sums of money from me. They gave me strange medicines and psychologists whom I went to started to explain to me how to arouse my feelings of sexual attraction to men. I realized that they are bound by the same male and religious thinking that my sexual orientation is a sickness that can and should be healed,” the woman wrote.

Last year, a Lebanese judge, Rabia Maalouf, dared rule for the striking from the criminal code of a law that calls for a year in prison for anyone whose sexuality differs from the “order of nature.” “Homosexuals and lesbians have the right to have human and romantic relations with anyone they want. That is the basic right of every human being,” Maalouf declared.

He based his ruling on the World Health Organization’s conclusion that homosexuality is not a sickness or a deficiency, and therefore does not require healing, “especially not conversion therapy or what is known as correction treatments.”

Maalouf’s ruling, as expected, stirred stormy responses from the Lebanese council of Islamic clergy, which stated that it “clashes with all laws of all religions, with rational thinking and with accepted custom. This ruling is illegal.”

If homosexuality among secular people in Muslim countries is unbearable, how much more so is it among religious gay people, who find it difficult to resolve the contradiction between religious rulings and their forbidden sexual orientation. Aisha, from Syria, the administrator of the “Muslim Lesbians” Facebook page, explains:

“Religious rulings place homosexuality in contradiction to religion. Thus, when a homosexual cannot give up his sexual orientation, he is forced to leave religion and become an infidel or a person of no religion.” Aisha herself decided to remain in the faith after studying the sources and concluding that Islam does not prohibit homosexuality.

Fatmeh, a Palestinian lesbian and Aisha’s partner in administrating the page, says: “There is not one verse in the Koran that prohibits homosexuality.” According to Fatmeh, religious leaders rely on a verse relating to the sin of Lot and his family. “The sin of Lot’s family was not homosexuality, but the rape of men and highway robbery. That is, the way the sexual act was carried out is prohibited, not the very act itself.”

This original interpretation does not persuade most believers, nor religious leaders, but it allows women like Fatmeh to find a reasonable way to interpret the prohibition and continue to see themselves as faithful believers.

The fortunate lesbians are the ones who have been able to immigrate to a Western country, where they can live a lesbian lifestyle and even marry, and also receive political asylum, if needed, with the rightful claim that being returned to their homeland could cost them their lives.

One of these women is Jana, an Iraqi lesbian who lives in Canada, and her only wish is someday to return to her country and help other lesbians become accepted in society. “I am a lesbian and a believer. I keep the tenets of the faith and pray, and at the same time I have a romantic relationship with a young woman. I am sure that if homosexuality was prohibited,” she said, “Allah would not have created it within us.”