Many within our community incorrectly think that “homosexuals need to be converted to heterosexuality.” This is a mistake because, again, we do not have these categories in our understanding of human nature and many of the questions surrounding these desires, their origin, their mutability, etc., are not strictly known or defined by our Islamic worldview. For example, do we believe that Allah has tested some people by creating them with an innate and exclusive same-sex desire? Or are such desires the result of the environment of the person or some other set of developmental circumstances that have impacted the person beyond his own choosing? In either case, can this condition be changed? And should we seek such change, whether in the same way that many Christian groups have sought to address what they believe are environmental factors that influence a person having same-sex attraction, or in some other way?
Ultimately, having answers to these questions is not something upon which our moral stance is predicated. We do not need to answer these questions as a pre-condition for holding same-sex acts to be forbidden. From the perspective of normative Islam, and depending on the situation, we could treat the issue like we treat any other shahwa. If a brother comes to an imam and tells him that he is constantly struggling with indecent thoughts about non-mahram women he sees, the imam would not try to “convert” this brother or to fundamentally change his identity. Rather, the imam would give tips on how this brother can train himself and discipline his heart and mind so as to avoid the danger of falling into sin. This could also be a basic approach for those Muslims who are struggling with indecent thoughts about same-sex acts (with the caveat, of course, that some Muslims may need much more extensive counseling from professionals, ideally Muslim professionals, who are also sensitive to the Islamic norms on same-sex acts). Our religion provides much guidance on controlling and mitigating evil desires, and same-sex desires need not be treated as fundamentally different on this level. (Regarding the possibility of overcoming or otherwise addressing possible root causes of same-sex desires in a given individual, this is something that ought only to be addressed by trained professionals with relevant experience in dealing with such cases, not something that the imam, mosque, or religious community as such should take a position on or try to guide someone through in a haphazard manner.)
Related to this, it is not always best to advise Muslims with same-sex attraction to simply find a good Muslim of the opposite sex and marry him or her in an effort to control same-sex desires. This could lead to much grief and misery, especially if the spouse later discovers that his wife or her husband “is a homosexual.” There are many painful examples of this happening in our communities. However, if a Muslim realizes that his same-sex desires are a test like any other and that those desires do not fundamentally change his identity as a Muslim, then it should not be out of the question for this person to get married so long as he can maintain the rights of his spouse. The same goes for sisters with same-sex desire. In fact, in some Muslim countries in the world, we already see this practice, where Muslim men have a desire to penetrate other men despite the fact that they are already married. Unfortunately, some of these men do commit liwat, usually with male sex workers in these countries. But even so, they do not consider themselves as “gay” or as “homosexuals.” Some of them may even be married. None of this is to say that their actions are anything but major crimes. The point is simply that having same-sex desire is not necessarily antithetical to having a healthy marriage with someone of the opposite sex (though it may, indeed, constitute a significant risk factor for some, and the advisability of marriage can only be determined on a case-by-case basis). And there are examples of this in our community as well.
What if a spouse discovers that her husband has same-sex desires? For many Muslim women today, to discover this would be a disaster because, in their minds, this means that their husbands are “homosexuals” who do not have any sexual desire for women, including their own wives, which means that these husbands have been deceiving their wives. But, again, if we discard this notion of homosexuality, there is no irresolvable problem here. As long as the husband does not act on his desire and he works to mitigate and control that desire, then this is like any other case of shahwa in that it does not disqualify the possibility of him feeling sexual desire for his wife and, practically speaking, he does not reveal these shahawat to his wife or others. Neither husband nor wife is immune to shahwa, so why should this particular kind of desire or temptation be discussed openly or treated as an enormity or a cause for divorce? As long as a husband is able to maintain the rights of his wife and control his desires, then there is no technical reason for a wife to shun or separate from him if she discovers somehow that those desires exist, especially if it is a loving, healthy relationship. The point is, it is a fallacy to think that if this husband has feelings of same-sex attraction that automatically means he is “gay” and, therefore, has no sexual attraction to his wife. To think this way would be to accept the notion of exclusive, immutable sexual orientation that constitutes a person’s identity. In actuality, human desires are far more complex, dynamic, and cannot be pigeonholed in such a simplistic fashion. The Islamic understanding of shahwa bears witness to this fact. We should not abandon this Islamic perspective in our rush to accept the categories and value systems of modern liberal culture.
[Excerpt from my essay “Tough Conversations,” which can be downloaded here.]