June 1, 2023
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Journey to Self-Acceptance: A Queer Muslim Woman’s Story

From my struggles, I finally understood why in the end love wins. It’s the purest and truest reflection of the Divine.

  • May 11, 2023
  • 8 min read
Journey to Self-Acceptance: A Queer Muslim Woman’s Story

Like most people who identify as Muslim in this country, the idea that any type of gender expressions other than the obvious feminine-masculine and heterosexual should be accepted, was absurd to me. 

When I was 17, however, a friend came-out to me an asked my views as a Muslim on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community and, to be honest, at the time I didn’t know how to answer. Feeling pressured, I answered as best I could: “I don’t think I have the right to judge you. How can I judge when I don’t know and can’t feel the inner struggle you’re experiencing?”

Before he came out to me, I’ve only ever heard about gay people from people around me who believe that gay people were sexually aggressive and contagious. But to me… I just saw him as exactly the same person I’ve known this whole time, someone simple and kind who just happen to fall in love with a man. After all, he didn’t ask for anything other than acceptance from the people around him. I can’t think of anything wrong or detrimental about his sexual orientation. If anything, his relationship with his partner makes him a better person, and as his friend, I’m happy to see him in a happy and supportive relationship.

Nevertheless, his question left me wondering… if it’s so wrong and condemned to have gender expressions and sexuality outside of what society accepts, how come someone would “choose” to pursue something that is so condemned by both God and society?

Also read: Keeping It Real in the Closet

Sure, there’s going to be people who say, “it’s the whisper and temptation that came from satan” – or something along that line, but for me it really didn’t make sense: why would someone put themselves through all the bullying, all the condemnation, all the shaming just to pursue something considered so sinful?

Looking back, I think if anything, the “whispers from satan” might as well refer to the temptation of continuing to be consumed by fear and hide behind the mask of heteronormativity just for the sake of being accepted by society. That would be the easier way out than pursuing the journey of being honest to ourselves, while being painfully ostracized by everyone, even those who are closest and dearests to us.

What I saw as real evil, however, were the people who try to bully them into mainstream gender-roles and heterosexuality. I really couldn’t comprehend how people could borrow “religious virtues” to justify their tyranny on people who have suffered over internalized homophobia and traditional gender roles. I know very well that as a gender and sexual minority, my friend has been at war with himself — just imagine how it would feel to realize that one’s true identity is against every value and belief system that have been instilled in his whole life? —  I think his journey to accepting his truest and most honest version of himself is the real “jihad” (struggle) and “hijrah”.

Nevertheless, however much I sympathized with his struggles, my understanding of the queer journey was limited by my inability to relate to the inner journey. So, it was ironic that six years later at the age of 23 I was given the “hidaya” (revelation) in the form of falling in love with a woman. I believe it’s “love” because it feels different from all the relationship I’ve had with men — the kind of relationship expected from every woman: falling in love with a man, getting married, and having kids. 

At this point, I’m sure there will be those who think that in the end I too, became “infected” with the so-called “contagious” gayness. But by the time I was falling for this woman, I had already lost contact with my old friend who came out to me. In fact, I was in the middle of planning a wedding with my boyfriend of four years.

My relationship with this woman was far from a typical relationship. We didn’t plan on falling in love. Quite the contrary, we really didn’t want to fall in love. Our love blossomed out of the mutual understanding between us, out of the safe space that we provide for each other, far from any type of judgment, and the genuine support we have to witness each other’s growth respectively, and from our sharing of unfiltered contemplations and questions about life. Her presence was like a much-needed slice of heaven in my life, an oasis in a barren desert, a place where I can be myself amidst the suffocating societal expectations. Our love, to me, is genuine, because it’s not validation from around us that we hope for — only happiness for each other. 

Meanwhile, my relationship with my boyfriend at the time was just THAT — a way to fulfill society’s expectations of me as a woman to “complete my faith” to “become a wholesome woman” – it was pretentious.

I was faced with two options: To be completely honest with myself, or to get married and play pretend for the rest of my life. Getting married was of course the easiest option. By simply getting married I can avoid all the difficulties in life. I wouldn’t have to be afraid of being judged, I wouldn’t have to keep my relationship secret. But, I will have to play pretend. 

I contemplated greatly. For months I stayed away from my girlfriend and prayed that whatever feeling I had for her would magically cease. I was angry with God for giving me these unwarranted feelings. Why did I have to have such a strong and sincere feelings for someone I didn’t expect, when I could have had a much easier life with the man I was planning to get married to?

Long story short, dozens of prayers later, I couldn’t cease the feelings I had for her. As a result of my ijtihad (effort), I was certain that I couldn’t carry on through life lying to myself. Yeah, maybe I could fool the whole world by getting married, but I could never fool myself. 

Also Read: The Heterosexual Privilege You Probably Take for Granted

Recently, I read Queer Menafsir by Amar Alfikar, and I felt so seen and understood by he’d written in the book. I thought how lucky are the younger queers in Indonesia these days to have such a validating read that encourages self-honesty. And it is so true that honesty especially to one’s selves is actually encouraged in Islam. How can one really give meaning to their life’s journey without being completely honest with themselves?

What had begun as a resentment and anger over the confusions on my sexuality finally turned into gratefulness overtime. I was thankful that I finally had the answers I have been asking for years ago back when I pondered about where LGBTQ+ people stand in the eyes of God. I feel blessed and at peace with who I am and who I love now. And isn’t that the purpose of every religion here on earth? To bestow a sense of peace and contentment amidst the trials of life? Who are we to judge and define how and who people should love?

When I arrived at the realization, I remember crying in my prayer, “Oh my God, this is so pure. So honest. There is no way, that this kind of feeling is evil or cursed. It’s a part of You and Your blessings for me.” 

The relationship I had with her truly felt like heaven on earth, a safe space where I can be completely myself amidst the suffocating societal expectations. It really feels like what’s described in the Qoran Surah Ar-Rum verse 21 which is often quoted in wedding invitations:

“And among His signs (greatness) is that He created partners for you from your own kind, so that you are inclined and feel at ease towards them, and He created between you feelings of love and affection.”

The word Azwaja (partner) is genderless, but what is clearer is the description of feeling “inclined and at ease” which really manifested in the relationship that I had at that time and that I had never felt with anyone else before.

Indeed, God’s blessings is for all that we find on this earth, rahmatan lil’ alamin. Where sincere love is found, there is God’s presence there, there shall be no fear and confusion in pursuing love. From my struggles, I finally understood why in the end love wins. It’s the purest and truest reflection of the Divine.

Editor:  Amartya
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