Right off the bat, this is just a personal post. I do not intend to convey any marginalizing sentiment against gay people, nor do I speak for all Muslims/the religion of Islam. I am not out to light the spark for intense debate, because doing such a thing would be social suicide. The following is just an attempt to summarize what I have observed over the past few years, and how my opinion has changed as a result.
As some of you may have already guessed, I am a Muslim. Growing up in an Islamic household, the set of values I was taught did not readily match those of my non-Muslim peers. For instance, I knew we worshiped only one God. I knew that we couldn’t eat pork or drink alcohol, and that we had to pray five times a day. I was also warned by my dad that the blood of all girls outside my family pulsated with extremely contagious and volatile pathogens, called cooties…and that I was to stay away from them until ready to marry.
I should mention now that this is not another story where a boy, brought up in a religious household, eventually saw the proverbial light that freed him from the “chains of theological doctrine.” While I cannot call myself a “good Muslim,” I do love my religion. I love how, when one does an honest and sincere study of the faith, they find it replete with teachings of logic, compassion, and mercy. It was not just a set of rules I was forced to follow (though it did feel like it sometimes), but guidelines for those who wanted to live a purposeful life. I pray that the conviction to my faith remains strong, for in times of hardship, it is one of the very few things I can cling to for support.
Anyway, I should also mention that I was blessed to be born in the United States and to have been immersed in cultural diversity. From the schools I went to and the people I’ve met, I was very comfortable with talking to and mingling with those of different religions and ethnic backgrounds. I took pride in the fact that my high school had an annual “Asian Fest,” and that I was able to give a speech in front of my entire 7th grade class about Eid-ul-Fitr, one of Islam’s main holidays.
It wasn’t until after middle school when I was introduced to the idea of same-sex couples. I’ll admit, right off the bat, the idea sounded so strange to me. I grew up taking for granted that the only type of romantic relationship one could have was with someone of the opposite gender. I mean…my dad never mentioned that BOYS had cooties (although my sisters did love to say that to me). While I love my dad to death for all he has done for me and my family, I can honestly say that his words were never really kind when it came to same-sex couples. I guess his sentiment had more to do with his cultural upbringing in India than it did with the true Islamic perspective on the issue.
Like all issues that initially come as a shock, the idea of gay rights had slowly become something I had gotten used to hearing about. I began to open my ears more to pro-gay sentiment in movies and TV shows, and noticed how many of my friends and peers supported the cause. I became more aware of hate crimes committed against gay people, and how gay people had become ostracized by their orthodox families for having such inclinations. Pro-gay sentiment around me soon exploded when I learned about how Tyler Clementi, my classmate since middle school, jumped to his death.
Now, despite all of this, my faith remained strong. I knew gay marriage was forbidden in my religion, and I did not allow any pro-gay sentiment to cripple the conviction I had to sticking with the values I was raised with.
But before I am labeled as a horrible satanic robot, there was a second gut-emotion I felt…one that was invoked by all of the horrible news of anti-gay hate-crimes. I knew this was wrong. I knew that such violence and animosity towards harmless individuals could not, by any civil standard, be justified.
So I began to ask myself…what does my religion say about the way we should treat those who say they’re gay? Do gay Muslims exist? And could this possibly be genetic? Although I had an Islamic upbringing, my knowledge in these matters was very limited.
As I mentioned, I was truly blessed to have grown up in the United States. Being exposed to different ideas and cultures helped craft my outlook into one of tolerance and respect. Going to Rutgers has also helped me in this regard, as it is one of the most diverse schools in the country. It helped that Rutgers was also home to thousands of Muslim students who could help increase my knowledge about the faith I had grown up with.
I learned several things as a result…some of which were new, others of which were common sense. As for the new…I learned that contrary to popular belief, homosexuality is not a genetic trait, but one influenced by several complex social factors. Islamically, I learned that homosexuality was a desire, just like drinking, gambling, and dating. Different people have different desires. This being said, having gay desires is not a sin. Just like how it’s not a sin in Islam to have feelings for someone else or to have a desire to gamble or drink. Because Muslims believe life to be a test, we use our conviction to suppress such desires for God’s sake. Granted however, nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes by acting on tendencies that fill our minds, which explains why there are Muslims out there who have given in to dating, drinking, and homosexuality. But, no matter what the sin is, it is the duty of a Muslim to look to his brother/sister-in-faith with love, and never hostility…because hostility only contributes to the rift that has been created between people of religion and people who proclaim their homosexuality.
I guess all I’m trying to say is that gay people do not deserve to be treated with hostility. In fact…I wish there could be a moratorium on the phrase “gay people.” They’re just people who, as long as they respect others, deserve to be treated with respect.
I’m exhausted. Perhaps I’ve said things that might offend…and perhaps I made no sense at all. If I offended anyone, I’m sorry for doing so. If I didn’t make any sense, I’m sorry for wasting your time.