Sara said it was natural for her to reconcile her sexual orientation and her Muslim faith, but she remains estranged from her family.America Tonight
Sara, a 27-year-old lesbian living in Brooklyn who identifies as queer, experienced a painful estrangement from her family. But she maintains deep ties to her faith and still considers herself religious.
“Reconciling my Islamic faith and my sexuality was pretty natural,” she said. “I believe this idea that Allah has created people in the best form and that Allah loves his creations.”
In New York she found support in both her gay community and her religion. She said her faith has actually grown stronger since coming out.
“Faith used to be a box that I held on to, and it looked a certain way and I could only ever be a certain way within that box,” she explained. “But as I went on with my life, I realized that faith was the promise of change, recognizing change and striving toward truth.”
And while the tradition remains that homosexuality is a sin in Islam, there is a growing movement of scholars, activists and religious leaders rereading sources and pulling from them ideas of tolerance and social change.
“The truth is that during Prophet Muhammad’s days, he appointed the first female imam, and gay people were not persecuted for being gay,” said Ani Zonneveld, founder of Muslims for Progressive Values, a Los Angeles–based organization that advocates for women’s rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
She is a trailblazer, helping create the kind of safe spaces in Islam that young gay Muslims like Omar and Sara seek, has officiated at the Islamic wedding of a lesbian couple and challenges the establishment by leading prayers — a task women are traditionally not allowed to do.
“We’re not reinventing Islam. We are actually going back to the values of Islam in the Quran, and we’re bringing those values into the 21st century,” Zonneveld said. “And we’re cutting out the middle part, all the political and social corruption of the faith.”
Sara holds out hope that her estrangement from her mother isn’t permanent. “I’m settled and living my life, and I’m happy,” she said. “I think that would mean a lot to her.”
Now 30 and living as an openly gay man, Omar still hasn’t explicitly come out to his parents. But he thinks they know he’s gay. “In the last five years or so, I’ve been more brazen about certain details,” he explained. “And this sounds silly, but even on social media, on Facebook, I’ll let some pictures go on there that could really be perceived as gay, and my family can see that.”
There are still parts of his faith and community that he misses. To his surprise, he’s now in a relationship with another Muslim.
“I think that was something I tried to deny,” said Omar, “that someone who I would be most attracted to and most comfortable with would also be Muslim.”