Mohamed is a 50-year-old Muslim man who has been gay all his life. He is also living all alone surrounded by six cats, in a tiny HDB flat. He spends his days in a job he thinks is unfulfilling as a telemarketer, and at night he finds purpose and meaning feeding all the stray cats in the neighbourhood. He doesn’t come out to his colleagues or friends about his sexual orientation. Neither does he join support groups or gay parties as he thinks “it is not necessary”.
In Singapore, most LGBTQI Malay Muslims are living lives in silent existence. Some just do not want to seek help or be identified with any kind of movement as they think, it is not necessary to be open about their sexual identity. They live lives of “quiet desperation” as Thoreau describes it.
There are some Malay Muslims who left Islam because of the negative views of homosexuality in cultural traditions. Through this lens, we can see how marginalised the Malay Muslim LGBTQI community in Singapore is. Living lives of suppressed identities can be unfulfilling at best, or worse, traumatic and dysfunctional. Not being able to reveal or express your truest self, can even lead to depression or suicidal tendencies. The trauma of being forced to undergo religious indoctrination, conversion therapy, harsh punishment from their parents and also bullying (especially for those who display more effeminate qualities for men) by relatives and friends, are the reasons why most Malay Muslims LGBTQI remain in the closet.
Reza who is a closet gay was blackmailed by one of his friends with exposure to his parents if he does not comply with her unreasonable requests. So guys like Reza and many others live at the mercy of their peers to behave or else they face the threat of punishment or being ostracised by families. The fear of speaking out still exists here in Muslim communities in Singapore, and also within neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
In the US, young Muslims are increasingly speaking out in support of gay rights, as religious scholar Reza Aslan and comedian Hasan Minaj did in an open letter to American Muslims after the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in 2016.
Even though, a 2014 Pew research study shows, Muslim Americans are less accepting of homosexuality than Americans as a whole. 47 percent of US Muslims said it should be discouraged while 45 percent said it should be accepted. That itself does not stop young Muslim Americans to support gay rights. In fact, the young Muslim Americans speak out to the general Muslim public, mostly to their elders, to be more accepting and tolerant of the gay community.
Young Malay Muslims in Singapore should exercise their right to speak up and voice out their views, as to whether they support the LGBTQI community or not. As young people, they own the future to shape the way Singaporeans live within this diverse community of differences and similarities. With their voices heard, at the very least, it will encourage the Malay Muslims who are gay and silent, to be more supported. A united voice will send a signal to the general public that everyone has the right to live in peace and harmony. I truly believe that the young Malay Muslims here do support and have the love for their Muslim brothers and sisters from the LGBTQI community. But with their silence, such heartfelt feelings will remain buried and forgotten.
As Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs said: “Younger Muslims will be increasingly confronted with the LGBTQI issue, with society becoming more open.” I believe that is an invitation for the young Malay Muslims to come out and voice out their views on LGBTQI.
As a start, dialogue between the Malay Muslims LGBTQI community and young Malay Muslims should be encouraged. Furthermore, the progressive values of some Muslims within this community should be addressed as well. To ask for tolerance without knowing why is not enough. We need to understand why there is a need for tolerance for other Muslims that has a different kind of understanding about Islam.
We should find ways to bring our Malay Muslim community to be united in diversity. In addition to that, we also need to re-look and re-interpret the story of Lot. To be able to open the minds of Muslims to understand what is the actual moral of the story, as stated in the Quran. With more critical thinking based on this story, it will open doors to further discussion and be dissecting that will lead to better understanding of one another.
I hope with this first initiative from The Healing Circle.sg to take one step forward that brings all members of the young Malay Muslim community together, we will have a more robust, intellectual and courageous exchange of ideas.
*Note: All names have been changed.