“Hello. My family is Muslim, and our son just told us he is gay and in a relationship with another man. We don’t know any gay people and don’t know how our community will react. What should we do now?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Teresa Kane
Oh wow. I love your family already. Your son felt comfortable enough to come out to you and you made the effort to reach out for help navigating this new information. This is a really big deal. I have so many queer Muslim friends who wish they could come out to their families. You are amazing parents, I can tell.
Your son is part of a beautiful and ancient tradition of sexual and gender diversity in Islam, and he is beloved by Al Rahman, Al Rahim-the most merciful and compassionate God. I imagine you are feeling very much alone—but please know there is a thriving LGBT Muslim community and you will always be welcome in our family. There are so many resources available online these days, so take the time to do some research about the intersections of sexuality and Islam. To get you started, you could watch this incredible theater piece created by two of my friends about their experiences as queer Muslim women, or click through to learn more about the dynamic and diverse LGBT Muslim community.
It seems like your question is two-fold, so let’s tackle it one problem at a time. One concern is about finding a community that can help you understand your son’s sexuality and what it means for your family. I know first hand how completely disorienting it is when a family member comes out to you unexpectedly. I was 16 years old when my older sister told me she was dating a woman. At the time, I had never met a gay person, and I had no idea that I would one day identify as bisexual. All I knew is that I no longer knew my sister; that everything was upside down and she was a totally different person. This, of course, turned out not to be true. With time I saw that she was actually the same awesome sister I knew, just with a girlfriend now. You are probably totally overwhelmed, and you may be grieving the loss of your own idea of who your son is. That’s okay. It will get easier with time, I promise. Your son is still the same person he always was, and now you know him even better than before.
Since you’ve already found this awesome site, may I suggest signing up for our Coming Out With Care package? It’s a free resource that is a first step into learning more about LGBTQ identities, gathering initial resources, and having the tools to explore your feelings along the way. I also strongly recommend reading This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, written by Kristin Russo (the director of this site) and Dannielle Owens-Reid. You’ll find answers to many of the questions that may come up for you and your family.
Finding your local PFLAG chapter could also be a good first step. PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays) is an organization that supports the families of LGBT people. With chapters all across the country, there is probably one within driving distance of your town. While the members of the support group might not understand the cultural and religious nuances of your situation, they will be able to empathize with any feelings of confusion, sadness, and anger you may be experiencing. By connecting with the LGBT community, you will be able to see how your son’s sexuality is not only normal, but also a beautiful thing. Seeing other successful and happy gay people can help you imagine a bright future for your son. If you aren’t comfortable talking to your Muslim friends just yet, the other parents at PFLAG can listen to you and give you the support you need.
Connecting with other families of queer Muslims via the internet is a great option, too. Reach out to others who may understand where you are coming from, like the LGBT Muslim & Their Allies Facebook Page. I am the only queer Muslim in all of Oregon for all I know, but I keep up with queer Muslim friends all over the country via WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook. Connecting with them virtually helps me when I’m feeling lonely and isolated.
The second concern you have is about how your Muslim community will react. I wish I could tell you that this will be easy, but it might not be. I became Muslim nearly ten years ago and fell head over heels for the religion. I was drawn to the ideas of love, devotion, kindness, and ritual. The focus on social justice and caring for the most vulnerable in society keeps me strong and steady. I have never questioned my faith. I have, however, occasionally struggled with the Muslim community at large. Our people can be very judgmental towards anyone who practices in a way that is not (in their opinion) “right.” Whether it’s people who drink alcohol, who choose not to wear the headscarf, who pray the “wrong” way, or eat the wrong things—we love to find fault in others. Many in the ummah think that homosexuality is a major sin and will loudly tell you so. To be clear, this is not the opinion of all Muslims. American Muslims are slowly becoming more accepting of homosexuality, and many of us consider it a holy obligation to fight intolerance and bigotry wherever we encounter it.
My belief that Islam accepts me is not wishful thinking, but instead based in research on the Qur’an and hadiths. The work of Dr. Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle in particular has helped me reconcile my faith and sexuality. I recommend reading it and sharing it with anyone who is interested in learning more.
These resources have helped me immensely, but don’t count on them to change anyone’s mind. I’ve found that people who are determined to be hateful cannot be swayed with reason. I’ve stopped trying. This type of interaction can range from annoying to truly hurtful, but it helps to remember that Allah created me just as I am no matter what other people think.
Having a gay son might occasionally pose some extra challenges for your family, but it could also be an amazing opportunity for you all. Research has shown that people who personally know a queer person are more likely to support LGBT rights. Your whole community could start on the path of being more open-minded. As for those who choose to judge and condemn? Maybe they aren’t your true friends after all. Just keep loving your son and let them see how beautiful this love can be. Perhaps they will come around. Perhaps they’ll continue to gossip behind your back at the masjid. There’s no way to control their reaction, but you can stay strong in your faith and strong in your love for your son.
I like to keep this verse of the Qur’an in mind when faced with a challenge: “Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere.” Chapter 2, Verse 153. This may feel like a hard time for your family, but with sabr and prayer, things really will get easier.
My last piece of advice for you is to stay connected to your son. Ask how his relationship is going or invite him and his boyfriend to dinner. It may be tempting to ignore your son’s sexuality and to pretend that he never told you, but please don’t. It is isolating enough to be a queer Muslim, but to have your own family ignore such an important part of you can be very hurtful. Your son needs you now more than ever. You have the opportunity to open up your family and your community to be more loving, more welcoming, and more inclusive. How incredibly lucky you are. How incredibly blessed your son is to have you as parents.
A glossary for some of the Muslim-y words I used here:
• Al Rahman, Al Rahim – This means “The most loving and compassionate God”
• Ummah – This is the word for the global community of Muslims
• Masjid – This is the Arabic word for mosque, or Islamic center
• Hadith – Various collected accountings of the sayings, actions and habits of the Prophet Muhammad. We Muslims strive to follow the example of how the prophet lived and acted.
• Sabr – A word from the Qur’an which means patient and spiritually steadfast
• Allah – The word “God” in Arabic. This is the same word that Arabic speaking Christians use when talking about the Divine.
Teresa is a teacher and writer living in Portland, OR. Her writing often focuses on the intersections of her queer and Muslim identities. She has degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University and studied American Sign Language at Gallaudet University. She is passionate about art, feminism, interfaith dialogue, and correct grammar usage.