Hugh Fitzgerald: A Lesbian Muslim and the “Unsurmountable Rift” (Part One)

The BBC lets Miriam, a “Muslim and a lesbian,” tell her tale here. She hid her sexuality from her strict Muslim parents for years. When she eventually did come out to them, she found it impossible to translate “lesbian” into Punjabi or Urdu. She explains how the conversation put an end to her double life “playing the straight woman” but caused a rift so deep that her father disowned her.

“I always knew I was attracted to the same gender – as young as four or five, when I kissed my best friend in the cloakroom, I knew then….

Miriam* grew up in a traditional Muslim family in Bristol where her grandfather “ruled the roost”, with Islamic sermons and prayers five times a day.

Despite knowing from a young age she was gay, she knew telling her parents would cause a rift that might prove insurmountable. She went to great lengths to hide it but found an outlet in which to explore her sexuality by speaking to women in chat rooms.

It was only when she went to university that she built up the courage to meet other women in person, travelling hundreds of miles so she wouldn’t be seen by anyone she knew.

“I went as far as Manchester or Hartlepool, as long as it was a minimum of two hours away.

“I was absolutely [terrified] of having a relationship with someone in the same city as me. These scenarios used to play through my mind – what if someone sees me at the station?”

Fearful as she was of being caught out, these relationships gave Miriam freedom.

“I made sure that my girlfriends didn’t visibly mark me, so I didn’t come home with [love bites] on my neck. But while I was there, it was thrilling – I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m doing this, I’m having a sexual experience with another woman, this is amazing’….

Under the guise of friendship, Miriam did, on one occasion, take her lover home to her parents’ house in Bristol.

“She was Muslim – if it was anyone else but her, it would have been difficult. But because she looked Asian it was easier [to explain her presence] than [bringing home] a white girlfriend. She had the cultural and religious understanding – she knew how to behave….

At 21, Miriam and her then partner got engaged. She knew she wanted to tell her mum about this “massive thing” but knew it would cause pain.

“Her words were that she never thought any child of hers could bring her as much shame as I did. And since then it’s very much been about religion. She’d reply, ‘God made man and woman – if you look at any verse in the Koran it’s never husband and husband or wife and wife’.

“It resonated with me, because I realised how much she was in a bubble – for her to not even [know] about homosexuality. But her overarching love for her daughter fights with her culture. She worries about me because she believes the life I’m living is a sin. I can tell when I look at her face that she’s hurting.”

Miriam said their relationship became very strained and for six months after, every time they spoke there was “shouting, screaming and crying”. She stopped going home as much and feels like their relationship has never recovered, but her mum agreed to keep it a secret. It was more than a decade before Miriam told her father. She and her current partner had recently got engaged and she decided the time was right to tell him.

“There’s no direct translation for gay, lesbian, bisexual in Punjabi or in Urdu that I know of, so I basically said ‘of that with you and mum’ – to liken it to a relationship.

“He said: ‘You know Islam, you’ve gone to the mosque, you’ve read the Koran, you know it’s a sin don’t you? As far as I’m concerned, I’m right, you’re wrong. What you’re doing is against Islam’.”

Miriam said her father presented her with a choice; give up her partner and return to the family home, or drop off her keys and never show her face again.

“He basically said he didn’t want anything to do with me and disowned me.”

The Muslim father is the absolute ruler of his family. He can “beat” his wife if she is disobedient. He can go into her — his “tilth” — as he will. He can divorce her merely by uttering the triple-talaq. He can take up to four wives, while his wife is limited to one husband. He is the ruler of his children, especially of his daughters, who can be punished severely, even killed, if they damage the family’s “honor” by their behavior. Homosexuality certainly damages that “honor” and Miriam can be thankful that her father is enlightened enough — or scared enough of British law — to send her into permanent exile from the family, rather than to inflict a more severe punishment, including an “honor killing.” He wants nothing more to do with her, and even forbade her mother from seeing her. He knows he is right and she is wrong, because it is in the Qur’an. He need not exercise any independent moral judgement, but need only follow what is commanded and what is forbidden, according to the Qur’an and Hadith. Allah Knows Best.

The prohibition of homosexuality comes from the story of the “people of Lot” — mentioned several times in the Qur’an — who practiced homosexuality. The details of their story differ according to the Qur’anic verse, but not the essentials: they practice homosexual acts, and therefore deserve condemnation and punishment. No precise punishment is given in the Qur’an, but in the Hadith Muhammad does prescribe punishments including, in one story, throwing them from a height. That explains why the Islamic State throws homosexuals off of rooftops and Iran hangs homosexuals from tall cranes.

In those nations that apply the Shariah most thoroughly, that is Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Afghanistan, homosexuality is a serious offense that can bring imprisonment, corporal punishment (100s of lashes), or even the death penalty.

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