Trigger warning: mental health, homophobia and suicide are mentioned in this blog post. Support information can be found at the end of the blog.
In this stunning memoir, Mohsin Zaidi tells us his experience of growing up as gay and Muslim in a conservative Pakistani household. The author recounts the agony, isolation and danger he faced whilst hiding his sexuality from his loved ones.
Despite feeling lost and alone, Zaidi reveals the trials and tribulations he met and overcame in hope that his story would help others come to terms with their sexuality and faith.
Mohsin Zaidi was the first pupil from his school to attend Oxford University. Zaidi is now a criminal barrister at one of the top chambers in the UK and has worked at The Hague and the UK’s Supreme Court. He has been listed as a top future LGBT leader by The Financial Times and is an advocate for LGBT rights, BAME representation and social mobility.
A Student’s Review
As one of the only Muslim students in my school, my classmates would often ask me questions about homosexuality in Islam when learning about it in class. But my answer was always the same: “it’s forbidden” because that was all I knew.
As Zaidi mentions at the beginning of his memoir, discussing homosexuality is not common in Muslim households, nor is it always common for other religious - and even secular - families. For some Muslim households, homosexuality can be an uncomfortable topic to address and not all Muslim parents know how to talk about it either. As a 21-year-old today, this frustrates me:
I wonder how much easier the life of a Muslim child in the UK today, who identifies as LGBT+, would be if their parents were better equipped and willing to talk about sexuality? At the same time, perhaps my mindset is a privilege. A privilege that previous generations never had.
In fact, Zaidi makes this clear in his book. It took several months, if not longer, before Zaidi’s mother could openly discuss her son’s homosexuality. But when she was ready to address the subject, it was during a meeting for South Asian parents with LGBT+ children. In the book, Zaidi’s mother bravely states, “I love my son but I was raised to believe this [homosexuality] is wrong. I know none of you are Muslim but I think your religions might say similar things, and if they don’t, then our culture does, doesn’t it? I think it’s fantastic that you can embrace your children the way that you have, but how did you get to that point? I’m here because I want to talk about how hard it is.”
It is with this empathy and bravery that more students and parents, especially those from religious backgrounds, should read books like A Dutiful Boy.
With homosexuality being largely prohibited in Islam, I don’t think all of us appreciate the immense courage it takes to be able to accept that you, as a Muslim, are homosexual and to share this with your loved ones. But by reading books like Zaidi’s, we may be able to understand this and prevent more children from going through what Zaidi did, including homophobia, isolating himself from his family and contemplating suicide.
From what I understand, some comments regarding homosexuality in Islam today are divisive and unempathetic and suggest that there is a definitive way of life for Muslims who identify as homosexual. Since reading A Dutiful Boy and other texts, however, I’ve learnt that it’s quite the opposite. Perhaps it’s much more complicated than saying “homosexuality in Islam is forbidden” given that there is still much discussion and disagreement regarding interpretations of homosexuality in the Quran today (DiFurio, 2016; Dankmeijer, 2021). Furthermore, several Imams (leaders in a Muslim community) have identified different approaches for helping homosexual Muslims lead safe and successful lives for themselves and their loved ones today (DiFurio, 2016). Historically and socially, there is much to unpack too. For example, pre-colonialism, the East was far more accepting of homosexuality than the West, and whilst most religions forbid homosexuality, it is often Islam that is recognised and condemned the most for having such a rule (Whitaker, 2006; Whitaker, 2016; The Economist, 2021).
Islam has provided me with peace, acceptance, security, and stability throughout my life. Therefore, I was saddened that Zaidi was not able to completely reunite with Islam after coming out. Whilst reading A Dutiful Boy, I felt that Zaidi’s circumstances didn’t always provide him with the support he needed, and this is why he couldn’t totally reunite with his faith.
It is for this reason that more students and parents must read books like Zaidi’s. More of us must recognise that homosexual Muslims, and other religious homosexuals, are human beings who deserve respect, inclusion, and dignity. More of us must also recognise that it is possible for Muslims, who identify as homosexuals, to lead happy and successful lives, much like Zaidi does now.
Young or old, Muslim or not, if we don’t find ways to practise empathy, support and inclusion in our beliefs, and we avoid talking about homosexuality and religion, then we risk putting our future children and students, who may also be homosexual, in danger, much like Zaidi was.
Lastly, homosexuality and religion are complex. Add in culture and multiple generations to the conversation, it becomes something that not many feel truly comfortable to address. But reading a book like A Dutiful Boy may begin to change this. Reading A Dutiful Boy may enable a Muslim or religious student, or parent, to talk about sexuality more confidently with their loved ones.
Reading A Dutiful Boy may enable a Muslim or religious student to have faith in themselves and understand, love and accept all parts of their identity.
If you’re looking for support, I hope that some of the following places can help*:
Albert Kennedy Trust – an organisation helping LGBT+ young people at risk of becoming or who have become homeless.
Galva-108 - a charity giving positive information and support for LGBTI Vaishnavas and Hindus.
Hidayah –a charity that runs projects and activities for LGBT+ Muslims.
Imaan -a peer support group and charity for LGBT+ Muslims. They also run the IMAAN forum where you can create an anonymous account to ask questions and for help.
The Inclusive Mosque Initiative -an organisation that is creating places of worship for marginalised communities. They also hold a support group for families of LGBT+ Muslims.
KeshetUk - an organisation that ensures the Jewish LGBT+ community and their families are included in Jewish life in the UK.
LGBT Switchboard – a one-stop listening service for LGBT+ people via phone, email and instant messaging. Their helpine line is 0300 330 0630 (open 10am to 10pm everyday).
Metropolitan Community Churches - an inclusive denomination with churches worldwide.
Naz - an organisation that offers counselling and sexual health advice, particularly for LGBT+ and BAME communities.
Sarbat - an organisation offering support and advice to the Sikh LGBT community.
Stonewall - an LGBT+ charity that campaigns for equality of the LGBT+ community in the UK.
UK Black Pride - Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQ people of colour.
*the majority of these organisations are UK based.
Review written by Noor.
Noor is a passionate, inquisitive and bubbly young woman. She has recently finished her undergraduate study of studying International Business and French at Aston University and is looking forward to starting a career in government and politics with the Civil Service. In her free time, she loves reading, going to the gym, watching Netflix and learning Spanish.