Confessions of Sulayman X
by Sulayman X
November 11, 1999
This article is written as a response to the many people who have
asked for more information about who I am.
I am an American convert to Islam. I made my Shahada, or Profession of Faith, at a mosque in Kansas City on June 4th, 1993, in the presence of several Muslim brothers after due instruction and a great deal of personal research and soul searching.
Childhood was difficult, filled with poverty, abuse, alcoholism, and tragedy -- the deaths of parents, a sibling, and that of a close childhood friend in an accident at age 10 in which I survived and he did not -- which lead to a life of drugs, hustling, booze, a nervous breakdown and several suicide attempts. It took years of counseling to sort out the mess that was my life.
In my mid-twenties I rejected 'god' as a concept that had no relevance to my life. Having been raised Catholic, I was infused with Catholic guilt over my supposed 'sins'. Being gay as well, I was also filled with self-rejection and self-hatred -- most of it courtesy of Catholic doctrine which taught that I was evil, instrinsically disordered, immoral and so on and so forth. I was certainly not taught that it was okay -- or even remotely desirable -- to be who I was. Years of trying to be someone else had failed.
It was in the midst of this suffering and despair, this inability to love myself because I was not allowed to, that I discovered Islam.
In my early twenties I had to decide whether or not I wanted to live: I decided I did. Plagued by self-pity, one of my worst battles was learning to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with living. Life is not fair. All that can be done about it is to move on. Having skipped high school completely, I studied for and obtained a GED, then enrolled in a local college and earned a degree. I learned, slowly but surely, to stop abusing myself, to stop repeating the past, to start being honest, to start dealing with reality. I crawled my way out of the gutter.
Part of the reality I needed to deal with was that I could no longer believe in God. But when I read the Qur'an, as part of research for a history class I was attending, something changed. Perhaps it was the frequent Qur'anic injunctions that widows and orphans -- me, in other words -- should be cared for, that just and fair societies should be created, that all men and women were equal in the eyes of Allah, that there was to be no priesthood -- no men dressed in black dispensing guilt as a means to control and manipulate -- these things were profounding moving.
At that time, in Kansas City, most Muslim converts were Black. I was not. I was quite frequently the only white face staring up at the Iman during his sermons. Given the racial tensions of the time, I expected to be kept at arm's length, but I found just the opposite: these Black men, these Muslim converts like myself, made no issue of race. I was welcomed as any other Muslim would be.
I discovered that these Muslim brothers were, like me, struggling to put their lives together, and had found, in the Qur'an, a way to do that, a belief system that supported their desires to be contributing members of society, good husbands, good people. They were not perfect; neither was I. But Islam, with its emphasis on personal responsibility for one's life and actions, provided a framework on which to build. There was a sense of community, of brotherhood, of support, of working together to create a world where we could contribute, be valued, be treated with justice and fairness. Such a world, as you could imagine, appealed to me greatly -- and still does.
When I made my Shahada, in their midst, I chose the name 'Sulayman' as my Muslim name, and that is what they called me. I chose the name 'Sulayman' because it is the Arabic form of Solomon, said to be one of the wisest kings who ever lived. I aspired to wisdom and felt an affinity with this name. They said I needed two names, however; I said they should choose the second. So it became 'Sulayman Muhammad.' This became shortened, as a form of protest, to 'Sulayman X' when I began to be told that the Prophet Muhammad said homosexuals should be thrown off the tops of high buildings. (After a great deal of thought, I have decided that I do not believe the Prophet -- Peace be upon him! -- ever said such a thing. It would be unworthy, in my opinion, to attribute such statements to a man of his spiritual stature.)
But, why Islam?
Islam is a beautiful, elegant religion, free of the doctrinal difficulties encountered in Christianity, with a positive message for mankind. There is no strange ideas about a 'trinity' of gods, or of God having a son who had to die in order to redeem the world, or of original sin, or of worshipping the 'mother of god' or saints, or a priestly caste -- no, Islam has none of these things. It's simple, yet highly profound: there is only one God. Acknowledge this God; submit to this God. Do good to others and build just, fair societies. Don't cheat people in your business dealings. Be moderate in all that you do. Avoid intoxicants and lewdness. Help widows and orphans. Remember that you were created by Allah, and unto Allah you will return -- and you will be asked to render an account of yourself.
When I first read the Qur'an, it was like a bolt of lightning flashing through me. Suddenly I knew that God did indeed exist, and that there was a religion in which I could feel at home, a religion that would not offend my sense of reason by demanding belief in absurdities, a religion concerned with the plight of people here and now, a religion that valued the things I valued. It was, in a way, shocking. I had never thought, up until that point, that religion could be anything other than endless disputes over doctrine, guilt, condemnation, self-rejection and self-hatred. But in Islam, I found a positive message that literally changed my life and, in a way, saved my life.
It helped me to begin to think of myself as a member of the community, a 'brother' to other brothers and sisters in Islam, someone called upon to be successful and to take care of my own, someone called upon to contribute. I was told that reason and intelligence were valued, that Islam had a proud past filled with achievements in the arts and sciences. I believed that the ideal Islamic society was something worth striving for, something worth achieving, that in such a society injustice would give way to fairness, the poor would be cared for, learning would be valued. Rather than 'slaves, be subject to your masters' and 'turn the other cheek' I was told to fight for Islam, to stand up to those who bar entrance to the 'holy places', and that a 'good Muslim does himself what he would do for his brother.'
I believed those things. I became a Muslim because of those things.
Never once in all my study and research preparing for this change in my life did the subject of homosexuality present itself. In every book in every library that I searched, the issue was not mentioned. Concerning sex, I was told that it was a gift from Allah, to be enjoyed, that there was no sin in it, no reason for shame or guilt. A Muslim man was allowed to have up to four wives, if he could treat them all fairly. I did not see any signs of prudishness, only a heathly sense of reality: sex is human. Nothing more, nothing less.
By the time I made my Shahada, I was too infatuated with Islam to even ask about homosexuality. I assumed -- wrongly, it seems now -- that it was a non-issue. If it was not important enough to be discussed in any of the many Islamic books and magazines I had access to at that time, it was probably not much of an issue.
So I became a Muslim, but I kept my past -- and my sexuality -- to myself. But one day I decided to set up a web site devoted to the issue of Islam and homosexuality. I wanted it to be a resource for others like myself, and I also wanted to hear from other gay and lesbian Muslims -- I wanted to know what their lives were like, how they addressed the issue, what they thought.
The result was Queer Jihad.
The response was simply overwhelming. I had no clue, no idea whatsoever, that there was such a homophobic streak in Muslims, that Muhammad was supposed to have said that all homosexuals should be 'killed wherever you find them' or 'thrown off the tops of high buildings' or that if you 'come upon two men doing what Lot's people did, kill the one who doing it and kill the one it's being done to' and on and on.
I was completely shocked by the amount of hate mail that arrived in my mailbox, at the intense anger and hatred my site stirred up, and at the numerous death threats and the profanity that came my way each day. I was completely at a loss, dismayed, saddened, angered, and many times wanted to leave Islam. I thought often of going back to Catholicism, of finishing my studies for the priesthood -- I even, at one point and not so long ago, enrolled in a seminary and was preparing to start over with my studies to be a priest.
I stopped going to Friday prayers and associating with Muslims. I stopped my Salat. I wanted nothing to do with Islam. While I was out there telling other gay and lesbian Muslims that they shouldn't let the homophobia of a few drive them away from their mosques and spiritual homes, I was not following my own advice. I was letting myself be driven away by the hateful and the foolish, and in so doing, I was accepting their judgement of me -- that I was not worthy to be one of them. That I did not deserve to be a Muslim.
But I have come to realize that I have no wish to be anything other than a Muslim. I still believe in the Islam that I learned back in Kansas City, the Islam that valued the dignity of each person, the Islam that called for the building of just and fair societies, the Islam that respects human rights, the Islam where Muslims 'do for their brothers what they would do for themselves.' I have not lost my belief that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His slave and messenger.
I read something the other day which summed it up quite well. It was an instruction, used during funerals in an Islamic country, to help the deceased navigate his way into eternity, and it goes like this:
"When they ask you who is your god, and who is your prophet, and
what is your Imam, and where is your quibla, and who are your brothers
and sisters, then say: 'Allah is my god, and Muhammad is my prophet, and
the Qur'an is my Imam, and Mecca is my quibla, and all believers and all
Muslims are my brothers and sisters.'"
In recent years I have begun following the path of Sufism and mysticism, and because of this I have become increasingly tolerant and have come to realize the importance and value of compassion and love for all beings. I do not care much about doctrines or externals -- I will haply assent to whatever is at hand. They are not what's important, after all: only Allah is important. And anything that helps a soul approach closer to Allah has value and is of worth.
It is for this reason that I urge gay and lesbian Muslims to accept themselves, to come to terms with who they are, to embrace what has been given to them, and then -- well, then, to move on. Allah is waiting. One cannot approach Allah when one is in a state of confusion and tension and filled with self-hatred and self-rejection. But if you can navigate through these things, and approach Allah, then Allah can guide you the rest of the way.
That is what I wish for: that gay and lesbian Muslims remain true to their Islam so that they can break through the barrier and begin the approach to Allah. For it in approaching Allah, in coming to understand who and what Allah is -- and is not -- that healing will be found, and peace, and joy.
By leaving Islam, gay and lesbian Muslims deprive themselves of this rich source of comfort and personal growth, and they become far less than what they could have been. It is this which saddens me, and angers me whenever I come across messages from 'Muslims' stating that gays and lesbians have no place in Islam. If not Islam, then where? And how have we come to this pass where a Muslim brother tells another Muslim brother it would be better that he leave Islam? What purpose does this serve aside from satisfying the need some homophobic souls have of rejecting and hating other people who are different?
Each and every day I am told that I cannot be gay and Muslim, and yet, I wonder, what else can I be? You can frighten me so that I stay away from your mosques and celebrations, but in my heart I believe that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet and his messenger. That will not change. You can exclude me but you cannot stop me from being a Muslim.
Sometimes I scratch my head: how can I be anything else but gay? That is what I am. No amount of trying to change that has ever produced results. There is no 'cure'. There are millions of people just like me, who say the same thing: we are what we are, and we cannot be anything else. When will people listen?
There was a time when I followed the debates religiously, reading endless material on the finer points of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and what the Prophet did and did not say about homosexuals, and so on and so forth -- but these days, to be honest, I no longer care. The issue is really quite simple, and there is no need for endless talk: gay people are human beings with human feelings and needs, and spiritual needs too, and the love they feel for others is the same love anyone feels for anyone else. Rejecting or hating them serves no useful purpose. Just because some homophobic people get a buzz from hating gays and lesbians does not mean that Allah agrees with them.
We have been silent, until now, unware of how many of us there really
were; I suspect that silence is now coming to an end. We are here; we are
what Allah has made us to be; it is time to stop apologising and to start
being ourselves the way we were meant to by the One who created us. Life
will go on.
It has occurred to me, of course, that I could be wrong, that in encouraging gay and lesbian Muslims to accept their homosexuality, I could be leading them astray.
Many have accused me of this. They could be right. I might find myself standing before Allah with a great deal to answer for.
If I'm wrong, then I'm sincerely wrong. Not wickedly wrong, or obstinately or perversely or unrepentedly wrong, but sincerely. Wrong because I loved my fellow brother and sister Muslims too much, and wanted to help them end their suffering. Wrong because I wanted them to be able to accept themselves and be at peace, and gave them the only advice that ever worked for me: be yourself. Be who you are. Be what you were made to be. Wrong because I wanted them to learn to love Allah, to get through the rough patches so that they could wake up one day and realize what a beautiful thing life is, and how wondrous is it to have been created -- and to have a home to go to when this earthly life is through.
Does the Qur'an condemn homosexuality? I don't know. It sounds that way. But the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is open to many and varied interpretations: the inhabitants could have been destroyed for being gay, or for many other reasons (much more likely, in my opinion). How can I know? I wasn't there.
Does Allah condemn homosexuals? If so, then why create them in the first place? The logic -- if there is any -- escapes me.
Did Muhammad really say homosexuals should be thrown off the tops of high buildings? I don't know. But I'm willing to bet that a man of his spiritual stature could have found a more compassionate answer than that.
All I know for certain is what's here, now, my reality, my life. I am a gay man. That has never changed. And there has been no end of gay men who have testified to the same truth: we cannot change. We are what we are. And nobody gets to choose their sexuality.
I am an intensely spiritual person and talk to Allah every day. I have only felt acceptance, compassion and love from Allah. I have never felt condemnation or rejection. Indeed, it seems as though Allah has 'bent over backwards' to help me accept myself and get on with my life, assuring me that nothing He has created is worthy of hatred or rejection.
My conscience does not trouble me. My heart is at peace. I have begged to be made 'whole', to be 'normal' -- such prayers were never answered. I have told Allah again and again that if He is displeased with who I am, then I will change, that nothing matters to me as much as pleasing Him and living my life honestly and decently. At any point in time He could have laid it upon my heart that homosexuality was wrong. He has not. Why? Should I continue begging Him to condemn and reject me, or should I arrive at the conclusion that I am what He made me to be and leave it at that?
If anything, I have been gently 'pushed' onto the path of love. The more I have loved in my life, the more I have healed, even when that love was expressed sexually with another man. It never seemed 'sin' to me: it seemed beautiful, healing. Still, I crossed the line at times, and then it did feel like 'sin' -- I was selfish, wanted to gratify my sexual desires without regard to my partner. It felt wrong. It was wrong. But whenever I loved -- no, that was never wrong.
I am celibate now, and that seems to be the case because I have become increasingly preoccupied with Allah, like a whirling dervish spinning around his imaginary 'center' -- no time for anything else. I know now, thanks to age and experience, that nothing will satisfy me as much as Allah will and can and does. Nothing. I wish everyone could know that and experience it for themselves. And the more I spin around Allah, the more I feel how right it is to be myself, to be who I am, to be honest, to throw off the shackles of duplicity and hiding and just be me, without apology, without fear.
Will Allah destroy me? It's hard to conceive such a thought. It would be a grave injustice since I have repeatedly surrendered to Him and begged Him to teach me the right way to go, the right path, the right attitude, the right mind. He has had all manner of chances and occasions to set me straight. To wait until the time of my death and then inform me of His displeasure -- no, I cannot conceive of such a thing.
For so long I was told not to love myself, that I was unworthy of love, that I did not deserve love, that my love was a perversion, a travesty, a sin, a disgrace. And for so long I believed that, and it almost killed me, in the end. I believed it so much I went crazy, for a time. And I still have slash marks on my left wrist from 15 years ago -- a little monument to remember all of it by. If we ever have the chance to meet I'll show you my little monument and we can talk about the foolishness of trying to hate yourself.
How could love ever be a sin? Perhaps those who say such things confuse
love with lust, as they are wont to do. Perhaps that says more about them
then it does me.
If I have spoken at length about myself, and shared intimate details, even embarrassing details, it has been only because I have become weary of being accused of not being a Muslim, or of working for some government to undermine Islam, or of being Jewish, or of seeking to promote filth. I am simply what I have said I am. Nothing more, nothing less.
I have never been approached by any government and asked to help undermine Islam -- I was certainly refuse, in any case. I have never received any monies or any sort of compensation for this web site, or for any of the work I have done on behalf of gay and lesbian Muslims. I have never claimed to be an Islamic scholar.
I am simply one person who came from a difficult past and found, in Islam, a wonderful source of spiritual comfort and strength. Islam has done much to ease the suffering in my life, and has helped me to become successful and at peace with myself. I have no wish to turn my back on it, no matter what others say.
I believe Islam has value, and has a place, in the lives of other gay
and lesbian Muslims, and that is why I urge them to remain try to Islam,
to educate themselves on the issue of homosexuality, and to learn to accept
themselves and move on. Rejecting Islam provides temporary relief, but
has severe consequences in the long run.
I am currently in my mid-thirties, and have been celibate for quite some time. I am not adverse to a relationship with another man, should the right partner come along, but that has not happened. I no longer engage in casual sex, and neither have I found participation in the 'gay community' to be of much use. In general, anyone wishing to maintain a spiritual life will find little acceptance among gay people who have become fixated on sensual pleasure and rejection of anything remotely religious or spiritual.
I perform Salat and read from the Qur'an daily, and have recently begun attending services again at a local mosque.
I have studied Islam extensively, as well as Buddhism, Sufism and Christianity. I can speak or read several different languages, including Arabic, and have traveled all over the world.
I have been married, separated and divorced, and have one son, now about seven years old, whom I love very dearly and with whom I spent a great deal of time.
I am a journalist and I live in the Far East.
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