WE ASKED A QUEER MUSLIM ALL QUESTIONS THAT YOU WANTED TO ASK BUT DIDN’T AND HERE’S WHAT HE HAD TO SAY.
Queer and Muslim are two words that are not supposed to go together and if you were to place them right next to each other, it would be termed as an oxymoron. It’s pretty simple: if you’re Muslim, you cannot be queer. If you’re queer, you cannot be Muslim. There’s no middle ground. Choose one and stick with it. You’ll often find people saying, ‘Don’t you know what happened to the people of Lot (a.s)?’ to justify their hatred against the LGBTQ community. Many don’t even consider them proper ‘Muslims’. This coupled with the rampant stigmatization of the community since the British Raj has made matters worse, because this time the hatred became societal and cultural. The hatred is now the norm.
Image sourced from Google
Musab Khalid Naqeeb has grown up listening to the story of Lot (a.s) all his life.
My friendship with Musab goes way back, around the time when I was in high school. When I met Musab, he was still not out to anyone. He was dealing with two distinct identities of his: being queer and Muslim. Coming from a conservative Muslim family, he was forced to live in harsh structures. He didn’t know what he was feeling and for most of his life, thought that it was wrong. And that it will go away. He was the model boy of a desi khandaan: Engineer, topper, smart and religious and someone who respected everyone. Musab didn’t want to hurt anyone by coming out as queer.
When Musab finally moved out from his house in Hyderabad to Abu Dabi for his higher education, he was finally free. He didn’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations and he didn’t have to lie. He found his freedom and a group of people who accepted him and loved him. Our friendship deepened during this period of Musab’s life. By that time, even I was one of the closeted homophobes. I used to say, “you do whatever you want to do, I don’t support the LGBTQ community but I won’t take away your right to live.” Very liberal, I know. But he didn’t call me out.
Even at the expense of his mental health, he took time out for me.
I didn’t realize it at that moment, but it must have taken a toll on him to constantly clarify and justify his existence. We have to acknowledge the labor that comes from the marginalized communities. To constantly answer questions, deal with people and to keep exposing their private emotions and stories takes immense strength. Those of us who are privileged have an opportunity to listen. We have to use this privilege to agitate and make space for the voices in the margins of society. With that being said, however, we have to remember that no one owes us their time and explanations. They do so because they choose to and we have to respect that.
And I think it’s his compassion and unending patience that has helped people around him become more accepting. I called Musab to ask if he would be willing to do this article and he was more than happy to do so. He firmly believes in educating people around him as he believes hatred never brings anyone closer. We scheduled a Skype session earlier this week where we spoke about the common misconceptions of religion and homosexuality.
*However, this is a disclaimer that we acknowledge Musab’s pain and voice and this should not be used as an example of expecting people to justify their identities.
Q: What do you identify as?
Musab: I identify as a grey-ace gay Muslim. Wow, that’s a mouthful. I don’t think anyone would understand what grey-ace means. Gray asexuality is the space between sexuality and asexuality. It means grey-aces experience sexuality on rare occasions. I’m attracted to men. That means I’m gay. It’s quite a lot to explain so I just go by the term ‘Queer Muslim’ because it covers everything under an umbrella and doesn’t force me into binaries.
Q: What is the usual reaction you get from people when you say you’re a Queer Muslim?
Musab: Well, there are usually 4 reactions that I get from people. I posted a thread about it on Twitter as well. (You can find it here!)
The first reaction is a genuine question, usually by close friends. The honest answer is usually very short. I am not a religious person. I understand there exist contextual reasons for all rulings and teachings in Islam. With that we interpret new rulings in different ways. As such, I think reforms are necessary in our religion as well. Why don’t I just shun religion altogether? It is a part of my background and my cultural identity and seeing so many people being hell-bent on erasing that identity, I would like to stick to it.
The second reaction is when a Muslim attacks your sexuality by using the story of Lot (A.S). This one is fun because most homophobic Muslims don’t have a good grasp of Islam. So they panic the moment you start questioning them about how Islam targets homosexuality. And the third reaction is by a non-Muslim who is looking to attack your religious identity.
The fourth is a regular troll who wants to attack you regardless. To deal with these trolls, I just post a lot more gay content everywhere. It’s a lot of fun and I would recommend this to everyone.
Q: What is it about Lot (A.S) and how do people misinterpret it?
Musab: It’s a story about a prophet who was sent to a city to help people and call them back to Allah. People refused to listen to Lut Alaihi Salam. They engaged in rape and sodomy. Lut A.S tired for years and years but he was exhausted so Allah sent some angels disguised as beautiful men. When Lut A.S got to know about these men who entered the city, he was scared. He asked them to follow him home and tried to tell them to go away. When people got to know about these beautiful men, they came and were pounding on his door to let them meet these beautiful men (but we all know it meant that they wanted to have sex with them) Lut A.S got really worried and that’s when the angels revealed themselves and asked him to gather his family to leave the city. After they left, the city was destroyed.
That’s the gist of the story. However, the story is misinterpreted. People think it’s about homosexuality and say, “Qaum-e-Lut” (People of Lut A.S) and that’s the end of the matter for them.
Yes but, what about that?
Because if you read the text it is very clear that they wanted to have non-consensual sex with the angels that were visiting. ‘Sodomy’ was the main cause why those people became cursed. But here is something interesting, exegetical work on the story has increasingly shown that the sin of the “Sodomites” is not homosexuality (consensual relations between non-hetero relations) as it is understood today, but rather concerns the aggressive abuse of strangers via anal rape (eg Bellis & Hufford, 97)
There was an excerpt from “A Muslim Non-Heteronormative Reading of the Story of Lot: Liberation Theology for LGBTIQ Muslims?” which highlights another important aspect: there is no discussion about female homosexuality anywhere in the religion. Because it is not counted as unlawful sexual intercourse, it doesn’t even have a big punishment. So we can see that Quran is not exactly against homosexuality. Sodomy becomes unlawful when it is used as an act of violence (anal rape). When people use this to justify their hate against the community, they often forget to read that female intercourse is not considered unlawful.
Here, we see the very beautiful mix of patriarchy and homophobia. When they exclude women from this narrative, they say that only men can engage in homosexual relationships. The basic understanding of sex is flawed in the society. The emphasis on penetration in the context of sex is very disturbing. It goes to show how only men are important. Even in heterosexual relations, a woman’s role is to only satisfy a man. So the discrimination, even in sex, becomes intersectional.
Q: How do you navigate the space of being a Queer Muslim?
Musab: At first, there was a clash. Reconciling both these identities was difficult. First I thought I would be Muslim and not gay. I would just pray it away. And I did, but it didn’t seem to work. I was young. So I thought, okay this is not stopping so I need to rethink my strategy here. This was very conflicting because if I was not a Muslim then what was I? Then, I became very agnostic. I didn’t believe in the whole religion thing at all. I completely embraced my sexuality. The last step in this was reconciling both my identities. This happened when I met my fellow Queer Muslims. That’s when I was stable because I told myself that I’m not going to take a scholar’s view on religion as my own.
Q: And how did you find faith in God, while being Queer?
Musab: It took me a long time to find out that religion is the personal relationship between God and me. It’s for the two of us only and there’s no need for a third person to be involved in it. I refer to religion for personal faith, as something I find solace in. Religious identity is based on self-identification. It’s supposed to be that way. But I am culturally Muslim and no one is going to stop and ask me for my personal thoughts on religion before discriminating against me. It’s like Sadat Hasan Manto said, “I’m Muslim enough to be killed.”
Q: Were you ever discriminated in your queer circles based on your religious identity?
Musab: Oh, yes! When the whole CAA-NRC thing happened, many of my queer circles started supporting it. It was bad and I felt alienated. Muslims also very grudgingly accepted my support, so long as I didn’t bring my sexuality into it. It happened with the Sharjeel Imam case as well. The Queer circles became extremely Islamophobic. When a small portion of Queer Azadi March came in support of Sharjeel Imam that night, 50 people were slapped with sedition. And then the Queer Azaadi March washed their hands off of it and withdrew the support.
When queers say that going against the state is unconstitutional, I remind them of how 377 was also unconstitutional at one point and many queer activists were charged with sedition and were called anti-nationals at that point too. However, I’m really glad that GenZ is better than this. They’re way more accepting and media representation has gotten way better than when I was growing up.
Q: How do you feel when people say it’s a choice? Is it?
Musab: You know, I actually used to explain to people about how it’s not a choice. That you can’t choose whom you’re attracted to and how Shaitan (the Devil) has nothing to do with it. But now I sort of ask them, “So what if it is?” You know, what if it is a choice I’m making. What is the issue with it? Why should this choice be hated and subjected to so much discrimination? And why is it that, in all of the choices that are offered to us, only heterosexuality is the preferred one? Now that’s something to think about, and when people do think about this, they’ll start to notice and learn the binaries we’re in and how constricting they are.
Q: Now that it’s Ramazan, do you fast?
Musab: Yes! I love to fast. I feel like there’s something so divine about fasting because it’s written that this act is for no one but God. We don’t do this to please anyone except Him. There’s no ulterior motive behind it. It’s when you’re at your spiritual peak. You understand truly that religion is a personal relationship between you and God. So I love it and I love the vibes of Ramazan. Suddenly, everyone gets together. We’re one huge group. Everyone’s more empathetic and giving and accepting and forgiving. It’s a beautiful time.
Musab Khalid Naqeeb is pursuing his PhD in Energy and Process Engineering from Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He spends his free time going to Queer events and making space for representation for Queer Muslims all around the world. Musab, for as long as I’ve known him, is a person who wants to and lives his life unapologetically. Being a Queer Muslim puts him in the spot of rampant discrimination.
When the interview ended, Musab was extremely thankful that I wanted to do this. I said that it wasn’t something to be thankful for because this is the least I could do. He said that representation and allowing space for voices is extremely important and he’s glad that he could share his story in hopes that someone would learn from it and be hopeful of their future, too.
Pause for Perspective