A couple of years ago, a controversial plot-line on famous British soap-opera Eastenders, shook the nation for highlighting one of the Muslim community’s most taboo subjects, homosexuality. The parents of the soap’s token South-Asian Muslim family were forced to confront an inability to reconcile their faith with their son’s secretive homosexual relationship, and thus the drama ensues.
I remember wondering if somebody had leaked my brother’s life-story to one of the producers.
I was about 14 when my Dad told me my brother was gay. He told me about my brother on the way to high school during my first week there, in reaction to my pressing him for reasons as to why I wasn’t allowed to speak to him anymore. The significant age gap between myself and my brother meant that by this time he was an adult and ‘out’. I remember understanding what homosexuality was, but not really having much of an opinion on it outside of the dominant conversation in my Muslim community that it was forbidden as part of an Islamic lifestyle. My family was not homophobic, and there were never any slurs or great gestures, even while the secret of my brother’s sexuality was bubbling under the surface.
The whole situation made me question what role families have when individuals “come out”. During my formative years, an opportunity to cultivate a bond between myself and my brother while he was out at university was virtually impossible. It was during this large gap of time that my brother was out battling how to be Muslim and gay at the same time. Very often, there’s little room to do that in the dichotomy between being Muslim or being Gay.
Years passed by without any contact with my brother – I wasn’t allowed to mention his name in my household, I’m still not, and I wasn’t allowed to see or speak to him. My family and I are practicing Muslims, and I’ve always understood our approach to the religion to be relatively well rounded and balanced.
The extreme response that this evoked in my father shook me to the core, we’d always been kind to things we didn’t understand.
As I myself started to grow and flourish in my faith during my A-Levels, I started to look for answers about what was going on at home. Even though I wasn’t especially close with my brother, naturally, I loved him. Selfishly, I wanted to make use of the gift Allah had given me in having siblings, and from an early age, I wanted a mentor, friend, companion and male presence outside of my Dad, who, may Allah have mercy on him, hasn’t ever really been even a friend to me, let alone anything more. My Dad is a lovely man. He’s kind, and he’s always looked after us, and I love him very dearly. As I began to learn what empathy was, I employed it to forgive my Dad for not having the resources himself to be what we needed him to be, for us. It was and is an everyday task for us, and even more so because he’s responsible for forcing us to cut the ties of kinship with our brother. I feel the need to justify him and his behavior with excuses, only because compassion for him has kept me compassionate for my brother, and the parts of his lifestyle I also struggle to agree or reconcile with.
My mother has always kept in touch with my brother but has battled with herself over the years about what the best approach would be to my brother’s situation.
It’s now been over 10 years since I was told, and there’s really not more than two days that go by without my Mum pondering on something that “could help bring him back”.
My brother took an all or nothing approach to his Islam. When he couldn’t reconcile being gay and Muslim, he abandoned a faith he once held quite close to his heart and pursued both a completely different lifestyle and a committed relationship with another man. He left the UK to pursue a life on the other side of the world, for years and years. Naturally, it put a further strain on our relationship.
I don’t think an ‘all or nothing’ approach is uncommon, and I think it’s something human being’s employ across a spectrum of issues, but it’s something that can be helped, and it isn’t helped by the Muslim community.
As I grew older, he reached out to me for my listening ear. I had taken it upon myself to be a door for him, to discuss, to debate, to learn, mutually – perhaps something he could have used at the very start of his journey – all without my Dad’s knowledge. We (my mother, my sisters and I) pursued our research in the meantime into how this beautiful faith of ours, approaches this complex and socially contentious topic of homosexuality. We spoke to people of learning, and were either advised to obey our father (even if they also acknowledged that my Dad was wrong for cutting ties with my brother), or be doors for our brother ourselves by navigating our relationship with him with what our faith teaches us about Allah and humankind, in mind.
My mother goes back and forth on her opinions about whether what we’re doing is right – in her inability to reconcile an outwardly genuine and deep seated love and fear for her Rabb, with a mother’s love for her son and a lifestyle she finds unable to embrace in its entirety. This means I have to process and defend my position to choose the latter approach quite frequently – each time with more and more reasons why. I don’t embrace or agree with many aspects of my brother’s lifestyle for reasons grounded in a firm belief in what I feel my faith guides us to, but I do accept him and provide him with the rights he deserves as a human being and my brother, to love, friendship, and all the kindest faculties of what it means to be human.
For me, it’s not a matter of ‘sinning differently’, I’m not here to either excuse or condemn someone’s behavior or lifestyle choices outside of the boundaries I’ve been afforded as a sister, friend, daughter, colleague, employee or citizen of the world. No matter how big or small these boundaries may be, or how much they differ with every role, my boundaries start and stop with affording each human being with the rights Allah (swt) has given every single one of us; dignity, welfare, and kind manners.
My Dad is now dying.
The pang in our hearts comes from knowing that his heart has hardened towards my brother, even on his deathbed. We fear that he’ll be questioned, or punished for cutting ties with my brother, who he refuses to see before he dies. Allah knows best.
As I watch this unfold, I ponder on what lessons I’m supposed to be learning here. My mother, my sisters and I, have compassion for my Dad. I don’t have to outline the reasons why here, this writing is not dedicated to justifying the acts of one person or another, or all their related parties, the compassion we have as mere human beings gives me hope for Allah (SWT)’s compassion and mercy in all its entirety. The big takeaway for me is that a hardening of the heart is a very real thing. Allah’s warnings are real. I’ve been both burdened and privileged enough to see it in this trial, and I’ve been more privileged to have been shown how a hard heart is made.
It comes from depriving yourself of knowledge, and being selective about what you agree with or want to learn.
It comes from not internalising many of the most important, wise and beautiful teachings of our religion, or abandoning them to pursue your own desires.
It comes from not being shown true love and dedication from friends, family and teachers of life and faith.
It comes from not being self-aware, or shown the tools necessary to become so.
It comes from being brainwashed by overpowering cultural traditions – ones that preach faith or morality, but at the same time ones that create openly conflicting paths intended for you to cross.
The absolute key here is, that I see the above, hard-hearted scenarios play out in both my father and my brother’s life choices. Completely different men, from completely different cultures with completely different desires.
This shows me more than anything that in whatever version of right you believe you exist in, there’s always wrong, and that Allah is the ultimate judge. Never fool yourself into thinking otherwise.