Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On being honest

"Always speak the truth, even if it is bitter." (Baihaqi)

The word honest comes from the Latin word which means honourable. In my dictionary it is defined as "free from fraud and deception, genuine, real, humble, plain, reputable, respectable, frank, innocent, simple." And these are all things that Muslim homosexuals are asked not to be by the Muslim community that insists we be dishonest about our sexuality.

The Buddha, talking to his son Rahula in a famous Buddhist text known as the Ambalatthika Rahulovada Sutta, says: "Therefore, Rahula, you should train thus: 'I shall not utter a falsehood even in jest'".

In commenting on this encounter between the Buddha and his son, translator Nyanamoli says, "If one wishes to train in Dhamma (Buddhism), which is the way of truth and straightforwardness, then it is no good to have a deceiving mind and worse to speak words which may deceive others."

In Toward Understanding Islam, Abul A'la Mawdudi says, "Islam has strictly forbidden the telling of a lie in any shape or form, for lies sully the liar, harm other people and become a source of menace to society."

Muslim homosexuals are confronted with a paradox: we are told, on the one hand, that honesty and truthfulness are the only proper course of action for any Muslim. We are told that lies become a "source of menace to society". But on the other hand, we are told that such honesty and truthfulness about our homosexuality is not necessary, that, in fact, the Muslim world does not want to know the truth about our homosexuality. Those of us who do try to speak about it are accused of "advertising" our personal "sin" and we are held in twice the contempt.
Still, I was taught from a young age that truth was preferable to dishonesty, that telling the truth was always to be preferred to telling a lie. I see no good reason to change that policy now simply because some people are uncomfortable with truth.

Honesty is so central to authentic spirituality that no dishonest person could ever hope to carry on a relationship with the Ultimate Truth Itself while living in a state of continuous dishonesty. The two are mutually exclusive. How could I get down on my knees before Allah everyday during prayer and then go out into the world and lead a life of deceit and dishonesty, which is exactly what I have to do when I pretend that I am not a homosexual? Who am I fooling? Allah? Certainly not.

Is there a need for my honesty about homosexuality?

You might argue rather convincingly that such things are best left unsaid, that it's a personal matter between me and my God, that I should keep quiet about it out of respect for the sensibilities of others.

Such a course of action, however, is really a denial of who and what I am, and yet one more form of condemnation. It is a message that says my homosexuality is so shameful and disgraceful that not speaking about it is the best course of action, that silence is the only appropriate response.
How can my needs be met when I am not even free to say what they are?

It's a bit of a spiritual cruelty to demand that homosexuals be dishonest, to praise honesty in others but condemn homosexuals for it. Why should anyone be so shamed of what they are that they would even consider trying to cover it up and pretend to be something different? A homosexual, after all, is not a Nazi war criminal, or a child molester, or a mass murderer. Why should he be so shamed, and so ashamed, that a life of deception seems the only possible course?

In Teach Yourself Islam, we are presented with a list of human rights, as expressed in the Qur'an and hadith, which include the right to equality, the right to freedom, the right to freedom of opinion, the right to political freedom, the right to remove oneself from trouble and oppression, the right to justice, the right to protect one's honour, the right to marriage, privacy and security of private life, the right to dignity, and not to be abused or ridiculed.

I wonder if the author, when compiling this list, meant to include or exclude homosexuals. Do I, a Muslim homosexual, have the right to "dignity, and not to be abused or ridiculed"? Do I have the right to remove myself from "trouble and oppression"?

Or are these rights the exclusive property of heterosexuals?

I ask because the Muslim world itself needs to be honest about homosexuality. Do we, Muslim homosexuals, have the right to "freedom of opinion" on the matter of homosexuality - or not? Does being homosexual mean that our rights and privileges as Muslims are null and void, that we are fair game, that we can be killed wherever you find us - or not?

By speaking the truth in these matters we can reach some conclusions, perhaps even go forward.
In speaking the truth, I can reveal who I am, and what I am, and what my needs are, and what my hopes and dreams are. The Muslim world can begin to see that what I, and other Muslim homosexuals, want is to be accepted and understood and part of the community. We want to attend Friday Prayers at our local mosques - we don't want to stay home out of fear or shame or indifference. We want to live our lives according to the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet - we don't want to be left to fend for ourselves in the spiritual wilderness. We want the ability to get married and carry on committed loving, lifetime relationships in the full view of the community - we don't want to be trivialized and marginalized and forced to find fleeting solace in discos and Western-style bars.

The need homosexuals have to be dishonest carries a heavy price tag. We spend an enormous amount of time and energy maintaining a double life. Our feelings become split: in some situations, we are free to be ourselves; in others, we must put on our "straight" face and pretend to be heterosexual.

We complicate our lives needlessly. Parents continually ask when we will "get married" - we long to tell them the truth and put such questions to rest, but know we cannot. So we must devise excuses, or arguments, or deceptions to throw them off the trial or disinterest them.
On and on it goes. We are continually pretending to be something we are not, trying to remember "who knows" and "who doesn't" and who it's safe to talk to and who it's not safe to talk to, constantly juggling the truth and the lie depending on the situation and the place. One's entire life begins to revolve around the "dirty secret".

It goes deeper.

In being dishonest, we are tacitly agreeing that our homosexuality should indeed be condemned, that there is indeed something wrong with us. We pick that up quite naturally from our surroundings and unless that notion is examined carefully and revealed to be what it is, we often find ourselves in agreement with it.

To live one's life with the knowledge or belief that we are unworthy, that we should be condemned, that there is something wrong with us, creates any number of emotions from sadness and shame to fear and rage, and can result in depression, suicide, despair, hopelessness, spiritual conflict and turmoil. Many a soul, in such a state, abandons Islam because it is unable to bear up under the weight of the condemnation.

Because these feelings are never shared with loved ones, with parents, they fester within and cause all sorts of damage.

Fear is what keeps us in silence.

Peter Gomes relates the story of author Bette Greene as she was making preparations for her novel The Drowning of Stephen Jones, based upon the true story of a young gay man who was thrown from a bridge to his death by a group of young gay-bashers. She interviewed more than 400 young men in jail for various forms of gay bashing. "Few of the men, she noted, showed any remorse for their crimes. Few saw anything morally wrong with their crimes, and more than a few of them told her that they were justified in their opinions and in their actions by the religious traditions from which they came."

As indeed they are, which all homosexuals know. Whenever I pass by a group of young men, I know they might just be passing the time of day, but I also know they might be waiting for someone like me.

But it's not just the fear of physical violence, it's also the fear of emotional and psychological violence. Despite my age, I am still unable to approach an imam and discuss my homosexuality with him. I am completely terrified of just the thought of it, much less the actual doing of it. I know that it will result in shame for me, perhaps shunning, or pity, or expulsion from the community.

What of the young man or woman just entering adulthood? How do they, in the turmoil of adolescence, dare approach an imam, or their parents, or even their friends with such a "dirty secret"?

The truth will set you free.

There have been hardly more marvellous or wonderful words written than those: the truth will set you free.

One of the most revolutionary thinkers of our century, J. Krishnamurti, learned the truth of those words in his own life. From childhood onwards, he had been groomed by a mystical religious group to be a prophet, a messiah, and when the moment of his "unveiling" came he stunned his supporters by turning away from them and following his own path. He knew that he was nothing more than a man and that no matter how enticing it might have been, he could not portray himself as anything other than that.

It was a huge risk, but it was the right choice, and his fame only increased with age until he was well known all over the world in every intellectual and social circle there was.
"If there is a cornerstone to Krishnamurti's teachings, it is that one was really the master of one's life, one's destiny. That stemmed from the fact that he considered the key to living the ability to look at facts as they are; not to indulge in self-pity, not to look for causes, not to blame others. It is from this conviction that honesty and facing facts - and that no one can help you face facts - comes the idea that one must be, as he put it, a lamp unto oneself and not rely on anything. There is no refuge, neither in God nor in other human beings. Man is not the refuge for man. One is one's own refuge; one's own teacher and one's own disciple. That gives one both courage and a certain independence and no self-pity. He always thought that self-pity was the door to hell..""

Being a "lamp unto oneself" is straight out of the teachings of the Lord Buddha, or course, as is self-reliance, facing facts, and being wrenchingly honest.

It is this facing facts and honesty that we need in the debate on homosexuality. As a Muslim homosexual, I need to be honest about who I am; I need to address my concerns to the Muslim community; I need to be heard, and understood; I need compassionate, pragmatic guidance; I need the Muslim world to face facts, to deal in facts, to shift through the hysteria and hype and begin to understand that I have no choice but to be what and who I am.

For its part, the Muslim world needs to be clear about its own position, and it needs to be aware of the consequences it carries in the lives of people like me. Policies of hatred and discrimination are directed at Muslim sons and daughters, at friends, at relatives, at co-workers. These policies reduce the quality of life and happiness of all those involved. They weaken the community. They weaken, and sometimes destroy, families, relationships, and friendships. Islam needs to be clear about whether it finds this acceptable, or if perhaps the Muslim world could do better.
Krishnamurti says, "When we remove the division between the 'me' and the 'you', the 'we' and the 'they', what happens? Only then and not before, can one perhaps use the word 'love'. And love is that most extraordinary thing that takes place when there is no 'me' with its circle or wall."

(By Sulayman X)


tom said...

Wonderful article.
Peace be with you.

wei chun said...


nicely written but with all due respect, you do not think there is something fundamentally wrong with any religion that refuses to acknowledge the existence of at least 10% of its followers?