I have been a proud Muslim for as long as I can remember. I have been proudly queer for just as long. Growing up in a progressive, mixed-faith, mixed-race home in Morocco, I had the privilege of simultaneously living in several worlds at once. My father, a Muslim man who lived with integrity, kindness, and a strong sense of social justice, was “woke” before the dawn of the internet. My mother, a white Scottish Presbyterian, had lived internationally and was always keen to learn about others.
While some of my classmates at my American school in Tangier used homophobic slurs as punctuation in their sentences, most of us simply never addressed sex or sexuality. If you think U.S. sex ed is regressive, let me take you back to my 5th-grade classroom: our gym teachers (both men) divvied up the class one period (pun intended), telling the boys that now they would need to use deodorant and telling the girls that we might experience ~*changes*~ and that we should let him know if those ~*changes*~ meant we needed to miss P.E.
Since moving to the U.S. in my late teens, I’ve never really “come out” but just lived my life as a queer woman; it was and is no more of a secret or publicized aspect than any other aspect of my life. Despite the distance of over four thousand miles, my father actively welcomed my wife to our family. Even while she and I were still dating, he would ask after her in every phone call, beaming with happiness when she shared her intention to take our last name.
Growing up in a progressive, mixed-faith, mixed-race home in Morocco, I had the privilege of simultaneously living in several worlds at once. My father, a Muslim man who lived with integrity, kindness, and a strong sense of social justice, was “woke” before the dawn of the internet.
Throughout our relationship, she and I have explored Islam together and shared how regressive interpretations of our respective faiths have hurt us in our youth. Her family shunned her when she came out, as did many of the friends she had grown up with in the church environment. All of this to say that she had been burned by religion, and our exploration of Allah was sacred in a multitude of ways. . We found belonging in the words of the Qu’ran and the ethos and message of the Prophet Mohammed (صلى الله عليه وسلم).
When my father suddenly became gravely ill, she and I prayed for his recovery and I tried to travel back to Morocco to be with him. Even as he struggled to catch his breath and winced in pain, he asked how she and I were doing, always sincere in saying that he wished her good health and happiness. My father lost his life to lung cancer within a few weeks of his diagnosis. My wife supported me and continues to support me in my grief, always taking time to celebrate his life and mourn the void he has left in both of our lives. Seven days after his passing, we went to the local masjid to pray his Janazah together.
I had never connected with the small, Midwestern masjid out of fear of rejection. The previous times I had reached out to the local Muslim communities in other states where I had lived, I was met with nostalgic misogyny that shamed me for my voice and insisted that I pray in dingy backrooms while men enjoyed the luxury of open spaces and belonging.
I knew that my wife was also nervous to attend as we live in a smaller, homogenous community: What if they ask us questions or judge us? What if they find our names and try to humiliate us publicly? Will we be physically safe if they condemn us? Despite the ghosts of her previous experience of ostracization from the church that still haunt her, she came to the masjid with me, and we prayed for my father.
The Imam made dua for him and welcomed us both initially. However, at the end of our salat, we spoke with the Imam, and I was moved to ask him a question. Perhaps it was the spirit of my father, who was a bit a cynic, that prompted me to be direct. Or perhaps it was my protective nature of my wife and my own survival instincts to not find myself immersed in a community that did not value me. Nevertheless, I asked the smiling Imam if she and I would be welcomed in the community of the masjid. His beaming face faltered, as he said, “You know, we have people like… that… People who smoke and drink and, you know… they just don’t advertise it… I mean, some people believe it’s ok, but we in Islam…in Islam, it’s a sin. It’s a sin.”
Nevertheless, I asked the smiling Imam if she and I would be welcomed in the community of the masjid. His beaming face faltered, as he said, “You know, we have people like… that… People who smoke and drink and, you know… they just don’t advertise it… I mean, some people believe it’s ok, but we in Islam…in Islam, it’s a sin. It’s a sin.”
With those words, any illusion of congressional prayers, communal breaking of fasts, and Eid celebrations disappeared in an instant. I would like to think of myself as a strong advocate who does not shy away from tough conversations. But I am also conflict-adverse and loathe to put myself or my beloved into any uncomfortable or compromising position. My wife and I blinked at the Imam before offering a half-hearted thank you and leaving.
We spent the car ride on the way home between intermittent moments of sad silence and sputtering indignations. I sought both knowledge and comfort in the only way I know how: prayer and research. I dove into books, articles, interviews, and non-profit archives on queer Muslim belonging. My wife and I debate reaching out to the Imam to say he is gatekeeping our faith, to ask for sources for his homophobia, to ask if he knew alienating he had been or if he knew how offensive he was. Did he not know of any healthy same-sex relationships or had he convinced himself that straight love was above reproach?
I dream of being able to call my father to share this story. I imagine him offering a dry laugh and a muttered “He’s stupid,” before telling me that I don’t need any person or persons that make my wife and I feel like a mistake. I pray on how best to, rather if I should reach out to the Imam but no answers come as this issue is bigger than me and more pervasive than one small masjid and its uninformed Imam.
I have found community in online spaces with groups like Muslim Space and Masjid al-Rabia. While one man’s bigotry carries the weight of generations of regressive and patriarchal interpretations of the Qu’ran, his words cannot hold a candle to the words of God, “Verily, your Lord knows better, who (among men) has gone astray from His Path, and He knows better those who are guided. (Surah Qalam:7). Consensual, considerate love is a blessing, not a sin. No matter your upbringing or your personal opinions, a marriage is not a Marlboro Light.