As the sun lowered in the sky, they contemplated their friendship together, which had steadily intensified despite their cultural and religious differences. Mina’s family were of Lebanese heritage and Muslim. Jess’s family were of British heritage and atheist.
The pair lay together in the grass. Jess told Mina that she loved her in a way that Mina understood transcended purely platonic friendship and Mina replied with a kiss.
When Mina’s parents eventually learned of the romantic nature of the relationship, a period of crisis followed. They could not understand that Mina’s sexuality was neither a lifestyle choice nor a rejection of her religion and culture.
Mina told me this story in an interview I was conducting for my doctoral research. I am an anthropologist and for the past five years I have studied sexual health, gender and sexual diversity among Muslim communities. Whenever possible, I use my research to advocate for people within the Muslim community who are often not heard.
My work with local non-profit group Sydney Queer Muslims allows me to apply my research findings to help my group assist people like Mina.
Islam is a religion of freedom; it has no central religious authority and this provides believers with a great liberty. The Arabic word “Islam” has links to meanings such as submission and surrender, and Muslims do indeed submit to what they understand to be the will of God, yet how they do that is very much up to them.
Many Muslims follow the religious interpretations of their family or Muslim community. However, Muslims are free to seek religious guidance from a local imam, a religious scholar overseas or even from their own personal readings of sacred texts.
This freedom of interpretation gave Mina hope. “Like any other Muslim, I am doing my best. Nobody has the right to tell me I am not Muslim because of my sexuality, or not Muslim enough. I did not choose it [my sexuality], but I choose to be Muslim every day. My faith is between me and God and if anyone else doesn’t like it, that is their problem,” she said.
Mina did not see Islam as responsible for her family’s rejection of her even though they framed their feelings in religious terms. Similar to many other queer Muslims with whom I’ve spoken, Mina believed that the homophobia she faced was incongruent with the mercy of Islam and she held fast to her faith.
“I’ve spent a lot of time studying Islam and reflecting on the topic of sexuality and I do not believe I was born to be doomed [because of my sexuality]. There is such a strong emphasis on justice and mercy in Islam, and homophobia is not just or merciful,” she said.
Mina believed her family’s homophobia was motivated by ignorance and fear, and she avoided publicly coming out to avoid causing her relatives shame or worry. “They don’t understand,” she said. “They thought I could be cured by ‘tough love’ but had no idea that you can’t cure sexuality. They are worried about me living in sin and tried to protect me. I get it, but it still hurts.”
Sydney Queer Muslims is currently working with people like Mina to find ways of improving communication and relationships between LGBTQ+ Muslims and their families. There is no need to change Islam to do this. Islam is perfect. Instead, it is through promoting education and compassion that we challenge ignorance and fear.