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Mercy To All Creations: The Muslim LGBT’s dilemma in Religious Spaces – by Zuby Eusofe

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As Muslims, when it comes to religious spaces, the best place is the mosque. A sacred place where every Muslim goes to be one with Allah. A place of seeking peace and calm in a serene environment where you can go into the holistic vortex of communication with Allah.

But not for LGBT Muslims like me.

It’s different, even weird, for us to be in a mosque when many people will look at us as if we’re aliens. Firstly, our physical appearance usually shuns us away from the ‘normal’ muslim community.  Secondly, there is too much ‘dakwah policing’ from those who are not even selected nor elected by any mosque committee and their eyes are glued on you as if you’re a criminal that has committed the greatest sin upon Allah’s eyes.

One of my friends, for example, was chased away because of her butch appearance. She was chased away while trying to put on the prayer garment (telekung). One makcik came towards her, looked at her from head to toe, and gave a sneering remark: “Kamu ni bukan perempuan tulen, tak leh sembahyang kat sini.”  (You are not a “real” woman, so you can’t pray here.)

My friend’s intention to be in a mosque to find solace with Allah was halted by this makcik, who thinks that what she did will gain her reward in Jannah (Paradise).

It’s sad but true. This incident is just one of many others that I can tell you about the dilemma and obstacles we, as Muslims from the LGBT community, are facing daily.

Due to this, some of us will even go to the extent of leaving Islam because some Muslim people within the sphere are convinced that what they did is not wrong.

During the days when I was closeted and in my hijab, I remember there was a woman in a mosque who specifically policed ladies who just came back from the office and were wearing corporate clothing in short skirts. She would just say bluntly in an authoritative manner: “Ok, if you ladies are coming here, please have the decency to bring along a sarong before entering the mosque, or else don’t come and do your prayer here.”

Seriously, why do these makciks or pakciks (aunties and uncles) think they have the ‘rule of thumb’ on telling people what to wear and when not to pray within the mosque?

Since when did Allah need these kind of people to protect Allah from seeing indecency?

Allah sees us from the beginning of our soul to the day we died, and that is as naked as Allah has seen us as human beings – Allah’s creation.

[On the authority of Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) – the servant of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) – that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said :

“None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

Related by Bukhari & Muslim]

This hadith is strongly correlated with the Golden Rule which is “do as to others what you want to yourself.”

Would these makciks and pakciks want that to happen to them, being hostile and aggressive towards others whom they may assume to lack Islamic knowledge just because they didn’t dress up the way other mosque-goers do?

Where is the love and kindness that are seemingly obligatory for Muslims to show to everyone, regardless of race, culture, religion, or creed? As mentioned in Quran:

“We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds.” – Surah Al-Anbiya 21:107

And our Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessing be upon him) reiterated in the hadiths:

Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1924, Grade: Sahih

In the word Mercy according to the Islamic context, it derives from two words: Ar-Rahman (Most Gracious-Merciful) and Ar-Rahim (Most Compassion).

It is the most common name occurring in the Quran. Rahman and Rahim both derive from the root Rahmat, which refers to tenderness and benevolence.

Thus, this shows that for Muslims, it is important to treat everyone with kindness and tenderness, and this will not happen if the individual does not have the feeling of compassion and love for one another.

Going back to the issue of religious spaces for LGBT muslims here in Singapore, I can simply state that it is difficult for us to be in the mosque and commune in religious congregations with other Muslims as their ‘fear’ leads to discrimination towards LGBT muslims. They have the privilege to be with the rest of the Muslim community who are already a minority in this country. Us LGBT muslims do not have that privilege. We are the minority within the minorities.

We are being alienated and accused as an apostate (due to our gender marker) unless the higher Muslim authority are willing to give us that religious space for us to be in oneness with Allah in peace, and to be part of the congregation without prejudice and discrimination from other Muslims.

I remember the moment I did my umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca). It was around 3 am in the wee hours of the morning. I was wearing a morroccan taub (Morroccan Long Garment for Men) and I also wore my hijab. I was mocked by a young Arab man.  He tried to pull down my hijab and said that my attire did not represent a true Muslimah dressing. At that point of time, I was not comfortable wearing the telekung (the prayer gown worn by muslims women). I was more comfortable with wearing something that is masculine but loose.  I believe that regardless of the attire I am wearing, if I a covered myself decently, it is enough for me and no one has the right to judge or discriminate me whatsoever. My decency belongs to Allah and Allah alone.

And only Allah that I seek mercy and repentance…

Rahmatan lil’alamin (Mercy to all creations)

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Zuby Eusofe is an LGBT Muslims activist and the founder of The Healing Circle.
She and her inspiring team hope that one day, LGBT Muslims will be accepted within the community without prejudice and discrimination from other Muslims.

She is also a writer and blogger.  She has written two stories for Perempuan and Growing Up Perempuan.

The article is taken from :  https://beyondhijab.sg/2018/10/25/mercy-to-all-creations-the-muslim-lgbts-dilemma-in-religious-spaces/

Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu

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Discrimination – Same sex couple being detained at the Singapore Immigration.

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Recently I was detained by the Singapore Immigration Authority when re-entering Singapore.

It was an unpleasant experience and I was kept and questioned for about 45 minutes.

I was asked who I’m with and said I’m with my partner who I pointed to waiting for me to come through immigration.   I was asked for my flight details to and from Ireland.  I submitted this but my return to Ireland was still 6 months away.  I was held in a back office while my partner was being questioned. I was able to tell my partner that I will be telling the truth of the situation, knowing full well that I may be deported.  It was a risk I was prepared to take because for too many years I have been treated differently to heterosexual married couples.

 

In the meantime, I was sitting and waiting.  Eventually, a different person came to question me.  I was allowed to enter shortly after this.

 

What I told immigration:

“We are a legally married couple and have been married for 10 years.  My spouse works in Singapore and for the past couple of years, I only get to see my spouse for 5 months of the year.”

This situation put a strain on our marriage and we came to the decision to stay together immaterial of the risk.  As a lesbian married couple, our marriage is not recognized by the Singapore government.  Year one I made certain that I left Singapore before my 3 months was up.  I told immigration they can check my passport and see that I have entry stamps, showing what I have had to do to remain with my spouse legally, albeit is a tourist.

I was asked where I live if I work in Ireland and what I do to occupy my time.

I’m retired, I’m a housewife and I work with the stray cats in Singapore.  I was asked if I get paid to work with the stray cats to which I responded does anyone get paid to work with stray cats.

 

This situation made me feel less than human, my privacy was violated, and my human rights were violated.

 

I’m not asking for special treatment, I’m only asking for my human rights!

 

Written by: FEMI

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THE PRAYER STONE: A Queer Muslim’s Story of Connection

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I tell myself Allah—God—is watching and guiding my life. I used to talk to Him when I was a teenager, before I had a name for Him. I talked to Him before I came out of the closet as a gay man in my early 20s. I talked to Him when I went back in the closet several years later, believing my sexuality would keep me from getting closer to Him on my newfound path as a Muslim. And I talked to Him again last year, when, after nearly 30 years, I finally realized that, for better or worse, it was time to fully own who I am and come back out again.

The question was, and is, can I really do that and still hang onto my Muslim faith?

Sometimes after I talk to Him, Allah responds. It’s not always right away. The response comes in subtle ways, through a moment or a sign. He’ll show me something I need to see, or answer a long-held question, or clarify something that’s bothered me for years. One of those moments happened recently, while I was attending for the first time a retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims.

To be openly gay and Muslim in the 21st century America is, to say the least, to be part of a pretty select group. LGBT Muslims are among the most rejected and least understood minorities on the planet. We are shunned by our mainstream Muslim brothers and sisters, who condemn our authentic expressions of sexuality. And we are met with blank stares by friends and allies in the LGBT community, who cannot understand why we would hold onto a religion with such a violent history of intolerance against us. That’s why the safe space afforded by the annual Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Their Partners, organized by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) and now in its seventh year, is so precious.

Experiencing this space for the first time, as I did one Saturday in October outside Philadelphia, was profound. It was a gathering like none I’d ever attended: a blend of tradition and edge, youth and maturity, freedom and devotion, all with a distinctly Islamic feel. My fellow participants were black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, and everything else in between and beyond. Brothers walked arm in arm, sisters held hands, same sex couples embraced on outdoor benches scattered throughout the park-like grounds. Some heads were covered and some were not, hairstyles were all shapes and colors, tattoos were written in Arabic on legs, chests, and bulging biceps, and body piercings were everywhere.

There were workshops and plenaries, delicious meals and communal prayers.  We prayed in an old Christian chapel where the long, wooden pews were pushed aside to make room for thick, plush prayer rugs. The prayers themselves were traditional. But men and women prayed side by side instead of in separate sections, and women alternated with men leading those prayers, something that never happens in mainstream mosques. Circling up afterward, we offered spontaneous duas – supplications asking Allah’s blessings. Some were in Arabic, some in English, some traditional, others simply from the heart. It was real and raw and human: a community asking for Allah’s help as it works to claim its space by affirming things the rest of the Muslim world has rejected. It was the most vibrant celebration of love, devotion, diversity and support I’ve ever been part of in connection with my chosen faith.

***

I found my own spiritual path more than two dozen years ago, after I’d become disillusioned with the gay life I’d embraced in college. Coming out in the early 1980s was a joyous, exuberant experience, but the supportive gay community that meant so much to me broke apart after we all graduated. I felt increasingly alone and adrift trying to connect with the larger gay community, which at that time was preoccupied with increasingly strident political activism and coping with the AIDS epidemic. The bar scene was no longer working for me, there were no dating apps like Grindr or OkCupid back then, and I lacked the social skills to meet the overwhelming need I felt for nurturing and connection. I began looking elsewhere as the next chapter of my life unfolded.

I’d long searched for a spiritual teaching that fit for me. The Protestantism I was raised with always felt bland and generic; it failed to help me understand more deeply the Power I felt inside me. In college I studied Zen Buddhism, devoured the mystical writings of Carlos Castaneda, and read books by psychics who claimed to channel spirits from the beyond. After school I checked out a cult whose leader, though later discredited, based his approach on well-respected Hindu teachings. But it wasn’t until I found a community whose teacher preached a clear, practical form of Sufism—the centuries-old mystical tradition that flowered in and around Islam—that I felt like I’d come home. In that community and through those teachings, I found the connection to God and the sense of shared values and safety I craved.

The one price of admission was the free expression of my sexuality. Not all Sufi teachers frown on homosexuality, but this one did. It was not a hellfire-and-brimstone, gays-should-be-killed kind of thing. But the guidance was clear: a person seeking God won’t engage in this. In my state of disillusionment with gay life, this seemed like a small price to pay for what I got in return: a brand new life in a welcoming community. I let go of the few gay friends I had left, wrapped up life where I was living, found a job near this community, and started over. I immersed myself in Sufi teachings, learned to pray as a Muslim, made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and became an enthusiastic participant in my new life. I struggled in the beginning to put away my gay identity. There were lonely, late-night drives through the gay areas of my new city, and I wrestled with ongoing attractions to other guys. While the yearning never went away, the acceptance and sense of belonging I found in my new community eventually helped ease the pain.  I became comfortable with a new identity, which, while less authentic, allowed me to walk a new path for the next two dozen years.

***

During Saturday morning breakfast at the retreat, I sat in on an informal “Converts’ Caucus” then made my way across the wooded campus to attend the Prayer 101 workshop. It was held in a large meeting space and billed as a class for Muslims who, due to discomfort or shaming in their communities, may not have learned salat.  Salat is the formal prayer Muslims everywhere perform each day, standing, bowing, and prostrating as we face the Kaaba, God’s House, located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  Before addressing specifics, the Progressive Muslim scholar leading the workshop had us talk about the different varieties of Islamic prayer. I was struck by the diversity of traditions in the room. There were Sunni Muslims, who pray the way I learned; Shia Muslims, who have a slightly different approach; Ismaili Muslims, who pray three times a day instead of five; and a few Sufis, who, like me, supplement their formal prayers with a form of meditation on God called zikr.

At one point a woman in the group started talking about the “stone” she uses when she prays. At first this didn’t make sense to me, because I had never heard of stones used in connection with daily prayers. But as she was speaking, it suddenly occurred to me that I may have seen one of these things before. I asked if she had one with her. She did, and as she passed it across the room, a shock of recognition flushed through my body.

The “stone” was smooth and round and felt soft to the touch, as if it had been lying at the bottom of a stream for centuries. I later learned it wasn’t actually a stone at all. It’s called a Turbah, and it’s made of clay taken from the ancient city of Karbala, located in modern-day Iraq, which Shia Muslims consider a holy place. Shias place them on the ground in front of them when they pray so their heads touch a piece of sacred earth when they prostrate before God. Turbahs are often stamped with some kind of prayer or inscription in Arabic.

I didn’t know any of this as I held the inscribed disc in my hand. What I DID know—and what that shock of recognition was about—was that I had not only seen one of these before, I actually owned one. And the story of how I got it—where it came from, who gave it to me, and how I’d always wondered what it was—was suddenly connecting two very different parts of my life in a way I could never have imagined.

There’s a woman I’ve known at work for more than 20 years. I’ll call her Shelley.  We were assigned to work together, and at some point we got to talking. And for whatever reason, in the course of that conversation, she came out to me as lesbian. She had no idea at the time that I been out as a gay man earlier in my life. No one at work did. But for some reason, something in her trusted me enough that she decided to share this part of herself.  We never discussed it further, but somewhere inside, it always bothered me that I’d never reciprocated by opening up about my past.

A number of years went by, and Shelley and I moved into different jobs at the same company. One evening she came over to my desk and explained she was at a festival recently where there was a Muslim table and she thought of me and picked something up. She said she had no idea what it was—she herself was not Muslim—but she knew it was a Muslim thing, and something told her I was meant to have it. She handed me this smooth, round object with Arabic script stamped into it.

I was taken aback at first, because I didn’t remember ever discussing my faith with her. And I had no idea what she was giving me. It was clearly outside the Sunni tradition I follow. I recognized the name of Allah on it, so I accepted it and thanked her. But it held little meaning for me. It sat gathering dust on my desk for years. Eventually I relegated it to a bottom drawer and forgot about it.

Well, my friend had given me a Turbah. But it wasn’t just any friend, it was my GAY friend: one of the only openly gay people I let into my world at a time when I went out of my way to avoid gay people, and one of the only people at work who had discovered I am Muslim. This friend, who had trusted me with a deeply personal part of herself, a part I had long since rejected in myself—THIS was the friend who delivered a mysterious, faith-related gift without even knowing what it was. It was as if she was a vehicle for getting it to me on behalf of someone or something else. How interesting it was that only now, years later—only AFTER I decided to come out again, only AFTER I resolved to welcome back my gay self—would I finally come to know what this object is. That’s all I could think about as I sat holding that Turbah in my hand during our Prayer 101 class at the retreat.

Allah was speaking to me again.

***

I gave up my gay identity in my youth because I accepted a version of Islam that said I couldn’t find Allah and be gay at the same time. With the devotional fervor of a new believer, I created not just a closet but a dungeon for my gay self. And in doing so, I missed an important point: accepting someone else’s teaching about God is not the same as hearing what God Himself, through my own heart, might actually be saying.

I spent years brushing off uninvited crushes on male co-workers, hiding romantic impulses toward male friends, and fighting off the happier memories of my gay past before I finally woke up to the fact that, despite all the work I’d done, the gay self I’d locked up had never died or gone away. He’d been alive all that time, living underground alongside my well-intended Muslim self and the rest of me. By avoiding and denying him, I’d arrived at the doorstep of middle age with a life half-lived. I finally realized it was time to stop pretending and welcome him back. For better or worse, I told myself, Allah will understand.

I tell myself the story of the prayer stone, my Turbah, is a sign that He not only will understand, He has understood all along. At a time when my heart was still divided, when I told myself and the world I was no longer gay, He sent a gay friend to come out to me, reminding me gently of my own truth. A few years later, He sent the same friend back with a gift, a reminder that, as much as I had learned about my faith, there was even more I didn’t know. And finally, as my heart opened again on the inside, He opened a door on the outside, in the form of this retreat, and, it seems, delivered a message:

“I’ve been watching and waiting for years for you to see the completeness of who you are. You can’t return to Me divided. Walk your path fully now, live your truth as the man I created you to be. I’ve always been here and never left. In the end, it will work out okay.”

Along with that message came example after example—the brothers and sisters I met at the retreat—of how my chosen spiritual path CAN co-mingle with my gay identity. It’s now up to me to choose what that will look like in my own life. And as that work gets underway, my prayer stone has returned to its original place on my desk, infused now with new meaning: a sweet reminder of what was, what is and what always will be.

 

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NOTE: Khabir Cory uses a pen name to protect the privacy of those who didn’t ask to be part of his unusual journey.

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Image By: Khabir Cory

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