In a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, researchers interviewed twenty British Pakistani Muslim gay men, between the ages of 19 and 26. None of them had come out to family members or straight friends, and all identified as both gay and religious. Here are the three main themes from the interviews:
1. Inconsistencies in being Muslim and gay leads some to doubt how Muslim they really are.
“There’s a big conflict in me, in my mind and my heart. I’m thinking that like I know what the Koran says about men who do it with men so I’m starting to think I’m not a real Muslim. I mean I am a believer. I know my beliefs. But what the hell’s a gay Muslim? This side of me doesn’t really match.”
Even though they may have high levels of personal spirituality and religiosity, that may not be enough to feel they have a ‘true’ Muslim identity. Many of the participants also felt that family members or close friends would never accept them as real Muslims. During Ramadan, one participant often thinks, “…it’s a religious time and you see the whole family together and start to think ‘am I actually part of these people? Do they accept me for who I am?’”
2. Some Muslim gay men utilize religious rituals or festivals to affirm their religious identity.
“I feel that at Ramadan I can kind of make up for it, like being gay. Being gay isn’t something that I can choose, having sex with guys isn’t something I can resist but I can, I mean I do follow Ramadan, because like food is something that I can resist.”
Strict observing of fasting is done by some to increase their religious identity. Others also avoid any sexual contact during Ramadan, following the norms of heterosexual Muslim life. In fact, the degree of strictness may be a way to affirm their commitment to their religious identity. One participant felt that his family didn’t think religious rituals applied to him “because [he] is going to hell” anyway. In response he stated, “I am a Muslim and all this just makes me want to prove it more.”
3. Religious identity can be more core to the self than sexual identity.
“Even though those guys were handing out leaflets, deep down, I can understand it. It ain’t no big mystery to me and I can’t really say that it was wrong either. What else do you expect a Muslim to do? […] They have a problem with people flaunting it, I think […] Not just flaunting it. They just want people to take the right path. There ain’t nothing wrong with that.”
In this case, other Muslim men had distributed anti-gay leaflets “calling for the death penalty for gay people.” Yet, some participants in the study were tolerant of homophobic acts, because, as the researchers noted, “Muslim identity can be more core to the self-system, thus requiring a rationalization of apparent wrongdoing by in-group members, even with the target is another in-group.”
Being gay threatens the religious identity of the Muslim men in the study, which leads some of them to “hyper-affiliate” to their religious in-group, and safeguard their own religious identity and authenticity. For these men, any identity after their religion must “somehow be made to co-exist and fit in with this apparent hierarchy of identities.” These
Muslim gay men are seemingly left with three options:
- Stop identifying as gay.
- Stop identifying as Muslim.
- Make room for both their religious and sexual identities, using strategies to enhance or safeguard their religious authenticity.
“Given the tendency for many Muslims, regardless of sexuality, to prioritize Muslim identity as a kind of superordinate core identity at the heart of the self-system, it is not altogether surprising that sexual identity, when perceived to be incompatible or threatening towards Muslim identity, may be relegated to a lower status or sometimes concealed.”
How effective any of these strategies are, remains to be seen. Research in this area appears to be increasing, with, for example, related studies on gay men and women who are Mormon.
Jaspal, R., & Cinnirella, M. (2014). Hyper-affiliation to the religious in-group among British Pakistani Muslim gay men. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 24, 265–277 doi: 10.1002/casp.2163