Sexuality > Contemporary Gay Muslims in America

Sooreh Hera

Controversial photo by Sooreh Hera.

The Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera caused controversy when she photographed two gay men in masks of Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali. Some galleries censored the images from their exhibits following public outcries, and the artist even received death threats from extremists in the Muslim community. Hera says the project is a protest against what she calls Islamic hypocrisy regarding homosexuality.

America is currently at a crossroads, both in terms of LGBTQ acceptance and Arab relations. Therefore, for Arab American homosexuals, coming to terms with their personal identity and finding acceptance within the greater world is an extremely challenging endeavor. It is difficult to collect research on this topic because issues of self-actualization are compounded as people struggle within both Arab communities and LGBTQ communities.

 

“On the Edge of Belonging”

“On the Edge of Belonging,” a short story by Iranian-born Muslim American lesbian Khalida Saed, describes the pain of straddling separate identities and of coming out to her mother as homosexual. It is important to note that Khalida Saed is a pseudonym, because although the author has shown great strength by sharing her story, she still fears public backlash as many conservative Muslims, Jews and Christians find a common enemy in the LGBTQ community.

The reason her account is so remarkable, besides being one of the few available, is that along her journey to self-discovery she vacillated between many different identities, never becoming fully engrossed in a single one. Much of her identity is interwoven with her community, and her natural state as a lesbian was seen as a personal offense against her mother, as if it were a selection specifically chosen to hurt her family and her community.

For Saed, one of the most devastating aspects of coming out, both for her and her mother, was that as a lesbian she would never participate in one of the greatest institutions of Islam: marriage. She would not be able to be officially married, and consequently she also barred herself from traditional approaches to reproduction and motherhood. Perhaps that is why her mother told her that self-love was anti-Islamic. This concept is intriguing because it essentially forced the author to choose between her family’s happiness and who she is as a person.

Her ability to grapple with issues of identity was fostered by outreach. She attempted to find herself in Islam and within her family, but when she felt denied by the community, she became semi-immersed in LGBTQ communities, particularly as she began dating women. The creation of the Al-Fatiha Foundation will give hope to many gay and lesbian Muslims in America as technology is able to put people experiencing similar crises of identity in touch with one another.

The Al-Fatiha Foundation

Members of Al-Fatiha participate in an LGBT Pride parade in San Francisco, 2008. Image by Franco Folini.

As contemporary LGBTQ organizations are forming, one of the most effective assets they are utilizing is social networking, including sites like Facebook. The Internet has made access to people and information easier and more widespread, providing new avenues of gay and lesbian outreach within Muslim communities. In addition to voicing their opinions, people are able to do so within the safety of anonymity since they are shielded by their usernames.
Besides providing information for people wrestling with their sexual orientations, the Al-Fatiha Foundation is serving communities by emphasizing the importance of collecting and disseminating information relating to Islam and homosexuality. They are doing ground-breaking work collecting surveys; hopefully soon they will be able to collect data that shows what a significant presence there is of LGBTQ Muslims in America and, eventually, globally.

Al-Fatiha is catering to a specific group with specific concerns. Their initial research indicates three themes are prevalent amongst gay Muslims: debates concerning religion, East-West cultural contrasts and racial discrimination. By catering to a minority demographic Al-Fatiha is attempting to meet the immediate needs of a diverse group of individuals who are, in many cases, still coming to terms with their own religious, cultural, and sexual identities.