Gay in Ramadan: Caught between Fasting and Sinning
Al Bawaba Special: From the streets of Beirut.
Is Ramadan any different for the gay members of the Arab region, when it comes to the decision to fast or not to fast? For the very devout, there is no decision process in the matter. Muslims are enjoined upon to fast the month of Ramadan provided they are deemed fit and able. And gays for some of the conservative sector would be excluded from the religion by virtue of the non-orthodoxy of their life-style. However, perhaps gay people tend to ‘feel’ differently come Ramadan time- about fasting, about family and about society’s judgments. How do the gay community in the Middle East regard this holy season, and how are their Ramadan choices regarded by the rest of the Muslims or the ‘heterosexual’ majority?
There's no reason necessarily that Ramadan in itself should be any different than other days of the Muslim calendar for those of alternative sexualities. Perhaps we could regard that the holy month of Ramadan throws into relief the practicing from the non-practicing in the orthodox sense. Would a gay man keeping the fast be shunned by fellow Muslims who find it in abomination of their religion to dream that a 'deviant’ or non-abiding (in the Orthodox sense) Muslim's fast would be accepted by Allah? (Editor)
The relationship between deviance and religion has almost always been troublesome, and under that heading, there are split views on the relationship between homosexuality and religion; most classically, that members of the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer) automatically go to hell, or they don’t and are like the rest of the people, and not to be judged in death based on their sexual orientations. Narrowing down to Islam, the split is the same, however, more on the side of the condemnation, despite there being many views on homosexuality among Muslims, owing to factors such as the scholarly interpretation of the Quranic verse “we created you as partners” as not necessarily referring to heterosexual relationships. One of the five pillars of Islam, i.e., a religious obligation, is fasting during Ramadan.
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, where they are religiously instructed to fast from sun-up to sun-down for the entire month. This task is quite challenging, not only in the endeavor itself, but also in the interpretation, as what constitutes fasting is not completely agreed upon by Islamic scholars, but what is agreed upon is that ‘fasting’ includes refraining from eating and drinking.
This abstenance is undertaken by those who can, and those who can’t or don’t want to, simply don’t, leaving their religiosity and their environments to weigh on them varying ounces of shame and guilt. So an amount of interesting questions come to mind after this teasing out of religiosity and the LGBTIQ – What do you do during Ramadan my L/G/B/T/I/Q buddy?
I did some interviews with some LGBTIQ male and female friends of mine, where some statements exchanged were quite revealing, as you will see:
Q : Do you fast & why?
Khaled Itani: “Yes, because in the day time I’m always home I can’t eat in front of my parents, and I love the Ramadan vibe.”
Awesome Rebel (male): (Doesn’t fast because) “fasting is keeping oneself from all kinds of pleasures including eating, sex, swimming bla bla bla… I like the Ramadan spirit (and) the Ramadan food but I think people exaggerate (in) dealing with it -ok they get drunk one day before Ramadan then they act like it's a complete taboo during it (Ramadan) while in Islam, alcohol should be out of your body 40 days before (Ramadan) for example.”
Yoko (male): “Yes, I do thanks God. It is thanking God and trying to obey him/her.”
These three members of the LGBTIQ represent the varying degrees of religious commitment to the Ramadan tradition, with Khaled Itani being the middle member, Yoko being on the more committed side, and Awesome Rebel being on the less committed side. This spectrum of commitment, roughly divided into three leanings: Conservative, middle-ground, and liberal, are also found among heterosexual Muslims, as some, like Awesome Rebel, see that because the amount of commitment to the religion as a whole is wavering, there is much less pressure to conform to the trial of Ramadan, and choose not to, as Dima clarifies below:
Dima: “Ramadan used to be about being humble and grateful for what you have, but now, you see all these people curse and lie during it, and they stuff themselves with fancy foods. To me, if no one else is doing it right, I don’t have to, it’s just frustrating to go hungry and then eat humble food, when everyone else is not! I guess I’m not religious that way.”
And some, like Yoko, do fast for religious reasons, such as Mazen:
Mazen: (Fasts during Ramadan, because) “I want to show God that I can defeat my human desires and to make up for my sins.”
So here the gay Muslim is classing himself a sinner by virtue of his sexual orientation being ‘un-orthodox’ and therefore un-Sunni or in contradiction of Islamic law
Next, I wanted to see if sexual orientation mattered to any of the interviewees:
Q: (To Awesome Rebel) Do you think there is any significance between being gay and not fasting?
Awesome rebel: No. Most of them are not (fasting) ‘cuz being gay is haram (to be abstained from in Islam) indeed, (however) I have a couple of gay friends who actually pray and stuff and some minority (of them) don't drink alcohol (which is forbidden by Islam).
Q: (To Yoko) Does being gay have any effect on your experience?
Yoko: “Yeah in Islam being gay is a sin or having same sex-sex, like in myself I wanna prove to God or myself maybe that I can be gay and still do my Islamic duties.”
So being gay and doing Ramadan are not mutually exclusive. (Editor)
Q : What would you say to those who find it weird for gay people to fast?
Yoko: Gay people are like any other people, we have our faith and beliefs.
This point of view was shared, more or less, by heterosexual interviewees:
Q: (To heterosexual Ali Badran) you, as a Muslim believer, what do you think about members of the LGBT fasting during Ramadan?
Ali: I believe what they are doing are sins, bas ‘3ade’ (English transliteration of an Arabic phrase meaning "it's normal") if fasting is exclusive to no sinner, no one would fast.
A reminder that we are all sinners, then. A notion articulated more explicitly by Christianity. (Editor)
Q: (To Mirna Tayara): Do you think gay people have difficulty fasting as much as straight people?
Mirna: No, they are people after all.
So, in summary, the members of LGBTIQ who view Islam as having something fundamentally against them, but subscribe to the doctrine nevertheless, or in other words are Muslim believers, fast out of religiousness fervour alone (Yoko), or don’t due to lack of devoutness (Awesome Rebel). However, those who would class themselves as Muslim but feel guilty about being homosexual, sometimes use Ramadan as an ‘extra credit’ opportunity of sorts to make amends to prove to their God that they can be virtuous during Ramadan, as well as to prove to themselves that they can be as religious as their heterosexual counterparts. However, members of the LGBTIQ who are not religious sometimes fast because of external pressure by their environment (Khaled Itani). These trends are also present in the heterosexual group of people and this way is embodied by Dima, who did not fast due to the 'honest' wavering commitment to the tradition of fasting during Ramadan. Gay Muslims, encouraged to stay in the closet due to prevalent interpretations of Islam deeming homosexuality punishable by death, struggle with their different identities. However when it comes to fasting, their reasons for fasting or not fasting, are often tied up with their homosexuality.
Tofy Lennox concludes a correlative pattern for the general community between devotion and fasting that the gay community to not tend to stray from. His brief scans of his friends and fellow Lebanese on the streets seems to corroborate this hypothesis, revealing that the degree to which a gay person engages with Ramadan or experiences it as a Muslim just depends on the gay person's degree of devotion generally the year round and extent of faith practiced. It usually follows that therefore that a gay practicing Muslim (regardless of what that status in itself implies for some Muslim believers) will chose to fast Ramadan, while a gay non-believer who still classes as a Muslim might forego the duties of the holy month. Within these broadbrush results is a pattern though of fasting to mitigate or compensate for any behaviors that contravene Islam. Such reasoning can be viewed as on par with, or at least comparable to a Catholic person seeking redemption from a confessional. (Editor)
By Tofy Lennox
- Post-Ramadan review of Algeria's punishments for sinners
- Feeling the pain of ‘others’: Ramadan fasting for Somalia
- Lebanon's Invasive Sex Exams: where the sun don't shine
- The not-so holy month: Ramadan dramas accused of causing moral decay
- Region-wide survey reveals that an overwhelming 98% of Muslim Arabs are observing the Ramadan fast this year