Asexuality & Queerness

#QueerSelfLove, Intersectional Harassment, and Resilience

Content warning: This post contains a discussion of multiple types of bigoted harassment that I experienced, and provides examples of threats of violence. This section is preceded with a trigger warning and its end is also marked. Please exercise self care and skip this section if you need to.

This month’s Carnival of Aces topic of resiliency proved to be unexpectedly timely. I already knew that Ramadan would be grueling - it runs from June 6 to July 5 this year and so covers the longest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Where I live, a dawn to sunset fast at the summer solstice is 18 hours long. Add to that long night prayers (tarawih) every night, and I spend most of the month in a state of sleep deprivation and profound exhaustion.

Then came the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. As a queer Muslim, this event was a much greater emotional shock than I expected. As I was just starting to regain my equilibrium after this, a tweet by Vesper led me to the #queerselflove hashtag conversation on Twitter that went viral late on the Tuesday evening immediately following Orlando.

Inspired by the diversity and positive energy that I found in this conversation, I shared my own tweet on the hashtag:

I didn’t have time for too much more, as it was late in the evening, but the conversation was still going strong the next day so I spent hours checking the hashtag for aces and queer Muslims and retweeting them.

Then the trolling started.

[Trigger warning: Discussion of bigoted harassment including examples of threats of violence ]

Nearly all of the trolling was by right-wing activists. Most of it was Islamophobic, including a number of vile racist comments about Muslims, suggestions I must be mentally disturbed to be a member of or have converted to such a religion, and the like. A few tweets implied I was in some way a race traitor for converting (I’m white). I was also told by multiple trolls that I would be stoned to death in Saudi Arabia for being queer, and I received a number of other homophobic tweets. Another line of trolling focused on my asexuality, with much of it being misogynistic at the same time, such as telling me I was only asexual (or only wear hijab, for that matter) because I’m too ugly to get a man. A few comments suggested corrective rape as a “solution” for my problems, and most of this line of trolling qualifies as sexual harassment. It was a truly toxic stew of four or five different types of prejudice, all directed at my single person because of my intersecting identities.

[End of trigger warning section]

The trolling came in three major waves, the first and the third being the most virulently Islamophobic while the second was more focused on sexualized misogyny. At one point I had to block more than 100 different users to clean out my Twitter mentions.

I’ve reported this type of harassment to Twitter in the past ([Trigger warning on contents of link] and also to Tumblr after one time it happened here) and they have declined to take action. Twitter’s anti-abuse tools are also largely ineffective against the type of trolling I experienced - each user has to be blocked individually and there is no way short of making one’s account completely private to stop the flood in the first place (this option also doesn’t work if you were away from your computer while it happened and come back later to find it already in your mentions). As well, in cases like this, the individual tweets themselves may not be extremely bad, but the cumulative effect of receiving hundreds of them is overwhelming and this is something that Twitter’s anti-abuse process doesn’t take into account. For these reasons, I simply tweeted about what was going on so that my followers were aware and blocked all the individual users who had trolled my mentions.

The way that all of this unfolded triggered memories of the period 2002 to 2003 when I was blogging actively on Muslim and political liberal issues. During a 14-month period, my blog (which was otherwise pretty obscure) was repeatedly targeted by readers of a major Islamophobic warmongering blog. Without warning at random times, I would receive a flood of Islamophobic comments on my blog and when I checked my visitor stats, I would find that a certain individual had posted a link in the comments section of the other blog to the targeted post. It was weirdly stalker-ish and I could never predict exactly what would trigger it.

The distinctive sexualized misogynistic tone of many of the comments I received 13 years ago is the same as the trolling I experienced on Twitter in the last month (and on Tumblr in the one instance). Also the same is the swarm behavior of the harassers.

Much has already been written about the pervasive nature of online harassment, of course. I’m not usually targeted by such harassment due to the relative obscurity of my online presence. However, my #queerselflove tweet went viral (it was even featured in two write-ups on the hashtag) and the particular combination of identities I represent seems to have made me an irresistible target for the trolls.

That is, it wasn’t just because I’m Muslim, or a woman, or asexual, or queer-identified, and it wasn’t even just about the mix of misogyny with both Islamophobia and acephobia that Muslim women and asexual women can experience. It was, I believe, because being queer and being Muslim at the same time are felt to be mutually exclusive and contradictory - and in the minds of some people so are being queer and being asexual. Add to that being a white convert when many bigots believe that Muslimness and whiteness are mutually incompatible, and my very existence is a challenge to their worldview on multiple levels.

For members of socially dominant groups, a challenge to their worldview can be perceived as an act of violence in itself, because it destabilizes their privilege and power. In their minds, this justifies an act of violence in return. When it’s your very identity that’s the challenge, you may face violence (such as harassment) just for occupying space in the world. The trolling I experienced after publicly stating pride in my identity was a sobering reminder that there are a good number of people out there who do not want me to exist in the particular way that I do.

Thankfully, the trolling has mostly died down as attention turned to other events, though I still receive occasional “one-off” replies on my original tweet (now over two weeks old). Not being under active siege and having some distance from the incident has also helped me to regain my emotional equilibrium and to reflect.

The trolling could hardly have come at a worse time, when I was already physically exhausted from Ramadan and emotionally fragile in the wake of the Orlando shootings. It felt at times overwhelming, especially the third wave which was the largest and worst and came after several days of relative quiet.

But I never considered giving in and I was determined throughout that they would not scare me off. I knew I had outlasted this kind of harassment before (the 2002-2003 period discussed above) and could do so again. The support of both friends and random kind strangers online helped a lot, so that I didn’t feel I was facing it alone. Participation in both asexual and Muslim communities has also strengthened my sense of identity and commitment to that self-identification. I’ve learned a lot about resilience over the years and that helped me get through this most recent period.

More than all of this, though, the #queerselflove hashtag itself helped me get through. Although there were some people trolling from the outside (most of my trolls didn’t use the hashtag so weren’t seen by anybody but me), everybody who was participating was positive and welcoming. There was no gatekeeping over who is “allowed” to identify as queer or who is “worthy” of support and learning to love themselves as they are in a world that too often does not love or support them. It was a genuinely inclusive space and represented a real diversity not just of sexuality and gender identity, but also race, religion, age, ability, and other axes. I was delighted to see dozens and dozens of aces participating and even a range of queer Muslims.

It reminded me of the best of Tumblr, without the gatekeeping and hate that has tarnished the experiences of many aces over the last five or so years. The recent round of this as “The Discourse” has largely passed me by, but #queerselflove on Twitter was a good antidote to that as well.

Above all, it showed how we all, in our many diverse and intersecting identities, can take a reclaimed slur and build something positive and beautiful for ourselves from it. This is the potential of what queer can be and I felt affirmed in identifying as queer because of it.

In this time of trials and difficulties, queer is an act of solidarity and a badge of resilience, one I am proud to wear.

My Islam is Queer

I first became fascinated by Islam in the summer of 1994. I remember spending many afternoons in the university bookstore, lurking by the Religion shelves, at one point poring over English translations of key verses in the Quran.

I went to college across the country from where my family lived, so on the summer breaks, I would return home and take a class at the local university purely for my own interest. One year it was meteorology and weather. The summer after my junior year it was Islam and the Muslim world.

I’d had little contact with Muslims prior to taking this class, as there were few at that time in the area where I lived. I enjoyed the class and learned a lot but I hardly thought of the experience as life-changing... and yet, there I was regularly lurking at the bookstore to look at books on Islam outside of class.

My junior and senior years at college were a transitional time for me. My freshman year, I became significantly alienated by the new expectations around sex that I was encountering. But it was only in my junior year, when I moved out of the dorms to live in my own apartment for the first time, that I was really able to create an autonomous space for myself. Over the years, this would become my Fortress of Solitude, though I didn’t know it at the time. I also didn’t know that Islam would come to be an important part of the safe space I was creating for myself.

Despite my fascinations that summer in 1994, when I returned to college in the fall, my interest in Islam fell away as it seemed to have little to do with my life there.

Two years later, I found myself fascinated anew. By then, I was back in my home state and was pursuing a master’s degree at the same university where I had taken my summer classes. But grad school was very different than college had been, and my increasing alienation and isolation left me without a support system.

It was in the wake of grad school failure that I became interested in Islam again. As it had been the first time, my interest was intellectual. This time I was particularly fascinated by similarities between Islam and Judaism, particularly cognates in Arabic and Hebrew religious terminology. Even while I struggled with my classes, withdrew from my program, and then looked for a job, I would spend hours every day reading and learning about Islam.

Reading was a safe space for me, a place where I could explore the things I really cared about, instead of having to deal with other people’s expectations I didn’t understand and didn’t seem to be able to meet.

By the time I found a full-time job in 1997 and moved closer to home, I was spending much of my free time learning about Islam. I’d ranged far beyond my earlier interest in cognates and was delving into the religion and its sources.

As a religion, Islam made a lot more sense to me than Christianity ever had; I was brought up Catholic but my family were not particularly observant and I had dropped out of Confirmation class when I realized I didn’t and couldn’t believe in the Trinity. I’d been agnostic since then.

But Islam’s monotheism made sense to me. Reading about theology and mysticism from this perspective opened up whole new intellectual worlds to me. It seemed that there was always something new and fascinating to learn and I loved it.

In August 1999, I converted to Islam. In all this time, I had had only limited contact with other Muslims, all online (primarily through email discussion groups and forums). There was no mosque where I lived (one wouldn’t be established until 2002). When I converted, it was alone in my apartment. I recited the testimony of faith to myself then offered the ritual prayer for the first time. I began wearing the hijab a month later.

Because my journey towards Islam had been so intellectual and because I was by that time so isolated, I had given very little thought until after I converted about what other people would think of my new religion, a degree of sheltered naivety that I boggle at today.

Islam is not just any religion, you see. Even at best, most Americans know little about it and think of it as something “foreign”. At worst, and increasingly so since 9/11, they think Islam is inherently violent and fundamentally opposed to everything that they feel the U.S. stands for.

American converts to Islam often lose friends and become estranged from their families after their conversion. Even if the people close to them accept their new religion, as my family did, they may find themselves alienated from the larger society they used to be part of, which now sees them as Other.

For white converts, identification with Islam can be particularly complex because Islam in America is racialized. It is not simply that most Muslims are people of color, but that many white Americans believe that the foreignness and Otherness they associate with Islam makes it incompatible with whiteness.

Women who wear hijab often experience this dichotomy the most acutely. Someone who believes that “Muslim” and “white” are mutually exclusive may experience cognitive dissonance seeing a person who is phenotypically  European-heritage white wearing a garment that is so strongly associated with Islam and with images of Islam as oppressive and foreign.

This cognitive dissonance may lead them to racialize the woman in hijab, often as Arab (most Americans think of Islam as specifically an Arab religion). I personally have experienced this on numerous occasions over the last 17 years.

From the relatively benign “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” questioning on a regular basis to job discrimination and various types of street harassment including a stalker yelling at me to “Go back to where you came from”, being asked “Are you one of the people that killed our people?” and even having “Sand [epithet]” shouted at me from a passing car, I’ve had a number of experiences that my white privilege had shielded me from previously. The transition to this non-normative whiteness has had a profound influence on my politics and other beliefs.

For many converts, the experiences of alienation and marginalization they face after publicly proclaiming a Muslim identity are too much to handle, especially if the transition was sudden or if they are also trying to make major changes in their way of life (for instance, giving up a party lifestyle or marrying a spouse from a different culture). The shifts in privilege can be particularly jarring for white converts. Some converts who find themselves unable to continue as Muslims leave the religion entirely; others drop out of Muslim communities and navigate their lives as if non-Muslim even while still believing in the tenets of the faith.

Only a minority of converts stick with the religion for the nearly 17 years that I have. In thinking about my journey of faith recently, I realized that there is a special resonance the religion has always held for me that is deeply rooted in my identity and is at the core of why I’ve never gone away from Islam.

Islam came into my life at a time when I was already significantly alienated, isolated, and marginalized from the larger society because of my asexuality. Those ties were already cut, those friendships lost. Feeling myself an outsider, an Other, I drew comfort from a faith that in my cultural context is also Other.

I do not believe that I would have become Muslim if I were not also asexual, if asexuality were not also queer. My Islam and my asexuality, my queerness, are part of the same experience, so intertwined that they could not exist without each other.

My Islam is queer.

Coercion, violence, and queerness in the context of Islamic orthodoxy

Note: This was originally published in f-ace-ing silence, issue 4.

Content warning: This post discusses coerced sex and domestic violence and systems that give religious sanction to these actions.

I have never experienced coerced sex or any other form of sexual or domestic violence. I chose the path of isolation 22 years ago and have strenuously avoided any kind of relationship, especially with cis men, where there might be any pressure on me to provide sex.

Since discovering online asexual communities three years ago, and especially since beginning to write about Islamic orthodoxy from an asexual perspective in the last year and a half, I have thought a lot about the likelihood I would have experienced one of those forms of violence had I chosen to marry.

When I claimed queerness for myself in March 2014, it was not on the basis of same-sex attraction, although I am exclusively emotionally attracted to other women. Rather, it was on the basis of my rejection of sex with men and the way that Islamic orthodoxy marks me as deviant because of that.

Living in a context of Islamic orthodoxy as a woman who rejects sex with men means being marginalized, isolated, and excluded from communities when I choose to reject marriage, or facing the potential of entrapment, coercion, and even violence if I marry. Traditional Islam offers no third choice.

Starting around 800 CE (about 150 years after the establishment of Islam as a religion), Islamic legal scholars began to construct marriage as a contract for exclusive sexual access to a woman. Her sexual availability at nearly all times became a necessary condition for the validity of the marriage.

Framing marriage in this way allowed these scholars to justify the husband’s control of his wife’s ability to leave the house and even her voluntary religious observance. If she engaged in these activities without his permission, traditional Islamic law deemed her disobedient and subject to punishment.

The Quran itself grants husbands the right to take disciplinary action against wives they consider to be “recalcitrant”. Disciplinary action can include verbal admonishment, separation from the marital bed, and hitting.

Islamic feminists and other progressive Muslim scholars today have argued that the normative example of the Prophet Muhammad, who never hit a woman, should be taken as the definitive interpretation of the Quran.

However, the consensus of the traditional scholars is that hitting is allowed and that a wife’s refusal of sex constitutes recalcitrance and thus is worthy of punishment.

In addition to the options of verbal admonishment, separation from the marital bed, and hitting, traditional legal scholars also allowed a husband to cut off the financial maintenance (housing, food, and clothing) that he is otherwise legally required to provide to his wife. (This financial coercion has no basis in the Quran.)

On top of all of this, the traditional legal scholars placed significant limits on a wife’s ability to seek divorce when she feels she cannot fulfill the role expected of her, or in cases of the husband’s mistreatment.

Taken together, these rules create a regimen where an asexual woman would have little to no ability to construct a celibate marriage and where she can be subject to measures of entrapment, coercive control, and even physical violence if her husband deems her asexuality a form of “recalcitrance”.

The stories of Sawda bint Zam’a and Rabi’a bint Isma’il, two potentially asexual women from early Muslim history, illustrate the vulnerability of the asexual wife and her dependence on her husband’s willingness to refrain from using his patriarchal authority against her.

Both Sawda and Rabi’a sought to avoid sex with their husbands. Sawda’s husband (the Prophet Muhammad) accepted this and sought to fulfill his sexual needs through polygamous marriages with other women. Rabi’a’s husband, by contrast, persistently sought to coerce her into sex despite having initially agreed not to.

My own decision not to marry is based primarily on the fact that I think I’m much more likely to end up in Rabi’a’s situation than in Sawda’s. I just don’t trust most men when they have that much power over me. The extremity of my vulnerability in an orthodox Muslim marriage gone bad scares me.

I want to be able to talk about these issues in Muslim spaces and add to the growing Islamic feminist dialogue on domestic violence and the legal tradition.

I also want to be able to talk about coerced sex and domestic violence as asexual issues and as queer issues.

The topic of whether asexual individuals can or should use the label “queer” for themselves is one that come up in recent years in some online spaces such as Tumblr. I believe this debate is based on overly narrow definitions of what it means to be queer.

When we understand queerness solely as the experience of same-sex desire, asexuality is not queer in and of itself. But if we consider queerness to include the absence of cross-sex desire and the failure to adhere to the norm of heterosexual behavior, then we open up the possibility for asexuality to be queer on its own terms.

And when we recognize my experience as an asexual woman who rejects sex with men as queer, then we must also recognize that some queer experiences are distinctly gendered. In Islamic orthodoxy, asexual men would face few of the issues I have described here, because of the patriarchal authority that this orthodoxy grants to men.

Much of the discourse about queerness that I have seen in these online debates seems to be rooted in the experiences of men (specifically of gay men) and I do not believe it sufficiently takes into account the distinctive issues that queer women may face.

That I am not only asexual but socially classed as a woman under patriarchy matters to how I understand my queerness. That I could face coerced sex and domestic violence because of my queerness matters. I want a discourse that acknowledges that.

Without such acknowledgment, I feel erased and silenced, unable to articulate my experiences in a language that others recognize. That I am not straight has had a profound effect on my life and I need to be able to talk about that.

“I’m Queer”: Grappling with Orthodoxy as an Asexual Muslim Woman

Note: This was originally published at Love InshAllah.

Recalcitrant. Disobedient. Deserving punishment. These words filled my mind one night in March 2014 as I bowed then dropped to the floor to prostrate before Allah.

Prayer before bed is usually my quiet time. Standing alone in a darkened apartment as the rest of the world goes to sleep, I often find stillness of mind. A renewed connection with Allah after a busy day.

Not always. Sometimes my mind is sticky, refusing to let go of a problem that frustrates me. Or a minor comment from the morning looms large. They’re wrong and this is why, I think. How dare they? Other times my thoughts, though still distracting, are more productive. The solution to a puzzle presents itself. Words form a lovely turn of phrase for an essay.

But that night my thoughts were darker. I’d been reading commentary on Qur’an 4:34. The verse reads in part:

…And those [wives] who, you fear their recalcitrance, so admonish them and separate from them in bed, and hit them…

The Qur’an doesn’t explain exactly what “recalcitrance” (nushuz in Arabic) is, but most traditional scholars agree that sex is a man’s right in marriage and for a wife to withhold that from him is the most fundamental form of recalcitrance.

Sex is not something I will ever want to do. I have no interest in it and the very thought leaves me cold. It’s not something I can compromise on.

Does Allah want me to be hit for that? For a way that I am innately?

The Prophet never hit a woman and that, I believe, is what Allah really wants. For too many Muslim men, however, it seems their nafs comes before this Sunna of the Prophet. Looking at how 4:34 is commonly understood today, I’d long since decided that what the verse really means is that marriage is not a possibility for me. To protect my own integrity (and perhaps my safety), I can’t and won’t put myself in that position.

Those were old thoughts, though. What pulled at my mind that quiet spring night was different. What does it mean that my religion, as traditionally constructed, sees me as innately disobedient, as led by my created nature to act in a way it has set as haram?

My mind still swirled as I finished my prayer and crawled into bed. A sleepless hour later, I sat down in front of my computer and typed out, I’m queer.


A modern word. A word with a long and sometimes painful history. At various times it’s been used as a slur against gay men and lesbians, especially the former; it’s been contrasted with “gay” as the more radical or political identity; and it’s been used in sometimes abstruse academic discourse to talk about subverting dominant paradigms.

Many LGBTQ people today use it to refer to anybody whose sexuality or gender is non-normative, or as an umbrella term for LGBTQ communities. It can be used as a non-label label (“I’m not straight but I don’t fit into any of the existing identity boxes”).

In some LGBTQ spaces there’s a debate about whether asexual people can or should use queer as a label. Is queerness associated with same-sex attraction? With experiencing certain types of prejudice or oppression? If queerness is defined narrowly so as to exclude asexual people, but we’re not straight, where do we fit?

No matter how many times I’d grappled with those questions, I’d never come to a definitive answer. Perhaps there is no way to answer in a Western context whether asexuality is queer. Perhaps the word’s meaning is too tied to a specific history.

But in an Islamic context? My sexual orientation cuts me off from how my community and the traditional authorities of my religion expect me to experience and express my sexuality. Within marriage, it would lead me to act in a way those authorities consider deviant. I've had to search for alternative interpretations and obscure texts to justify my choice to go away from marriage, to defend the validity of lifelong celibacy. I've kept silent for 15 years about why I've chosen this path, because explaining it means telling people my sexuality is not the way they believe Allah created everybody to be. That I'm not "normal".

I need a word to describe how excluded I feel by Muslim orthodoxy, to express the frustrating impossibilities of my life, the marginalization, the alienation, the silence. I need an alternative to the harshness of nushuz. Whether or not I’d ever face physical hitting, that word pummels me.

When the tradition makes no space for you, you have to create your own. Queer that night offered me a new way to think about myself, a new way to help others understand me. My emotions beat down by the refrain of recalcitrance, disobedience, and punishment, I found comfort in a word from a different tradition. Neither orthodox Islam nor Western LGBTQ discourse alone had given me answers. It was only when I wove them together, created a new meaning for myself out of my unique experiences, that I found the place I needed.

I’m queer, I wrote, and my heart found peace. An hour and a thousand-word blog essay later, I settled back into bed and immediately fell asleep.

Sometimes Allah answers the prayer of night in the most surprising of ways.

Sex-Normativity in Islamic Discourse and the Queerness of Asexuality

Note: This was originally published at The Asexual Agenda

In my post, Islam, Patriarchy, and the Recalcitrant Asexual Wife, I analyzed orthodox Islamic discourses on marriage and how they may impact asexual Muslims who are seeking to get married but who do not wish to or who are unable to provide sex.

My analysis showed that there are two elements of Islamic discourse on marriage that may be oppressive to asexual Muslims. The first element is the idea that the purpose of marriage is the regulation of sexual desire. In the discourse, this is taken to create a right to sex on the part of each spouse, and an obligation on the part of the other spouse to provide sex. This in turn leads to conceptualizing a spouse who withholds sex as recalcitrant. Recalcitrance (nushuz) is seen as putting the marriage in danger and thus triggers a series of rights and actions for the other spouse than can ultimately lead to separation through divorce. The second element is patriarchal interpretations of Islam that severely disadvantage women and put an asexual wife in a much more vulnerable position than an asexual husband.

There is already a great deal of Islamic feminist work to dismantle patriarchal interpretations of Islam so I will not spend more time on this element here. Instead, I would like to focus on the first element, the sex-normativity of Islamic discourse on marriage.

As I argued in my earlier post, sex-normative discourse about marriage leads to the conceptualization of the asexual spouse as innately recalcitrant. Or, as I put it there, as an asexual woman who is unable to provide sex, I am not able to be a "good Muslim wife". There are a variety of tools I can employ to secure rights for myself to a celibate marriage, but as long as the sex-normative framework remains in place, these can only be exceptions to the general rule or special arrangements. The state of innate recalcitrance remains in place and I would revert to it whenever the exceptions or special arrangements fell through.

This creates a situation where behavior that I engage in because of my sexual orientation (i.e., avoiding sex) becomes marked as inherently disobedient to what these discourses tell me are God's commands. Moreover, if I attempt to avoid this inherent disobedience by choosing not to marry, I can then be stigmatized as going away from the way of the religion (I should also note that stigma for failure to marry is often much greater for women than for men because we are seen as failing to fulfill our womanly duty to be wives and mothers).

There's no way for me to win here. Whether in or out of marriage, I am seen not only as not "normal" by not having sexual desire, but as innately disobedient to God's commands regarding sexuality. The only way for me to avoid this would be to submit on an ongoing basis to something I would experience as oppression and trauma (i.e., unwanted sex).

It is for this reason that I consider asexuality to be queer within Islam. It is not hypervisible in the way that homosexuality is (indeed it is invisible and erased) and the stigmas are different. But it is still in some way deviant.

Asexuality is usually not seen as deviant in Western discourses. Ianna Hawkins Owen argues that this is due to the racialization of asexuality as white. I think this is true, but it is also very specific to the U.S. context and to the recent historical period.

I believe that its deeper roots are in Christianity and a perceived association of celibacy as purity. In reality, most Christian discourse is very sex-normative as well. Moreover, as much as celibacy is seen as virtuous or pure, the concept of self-restraint is central to it. Purity is achieved by overcoming desire and showing self-mastery (interestingly, Ianna Hawkins Owen argues the same thing about whiteness and sexuality). Having a lack of desire is seen as unnatural or somehow "lazy". If asexuals are "pure", we're doing it wrong!

Nonetheless, this is a trend that is found to some degree in Christianity. The thing is, Islam is not Christianity. Celibacy or self-restraint from desire is not seen as the ideal in Islam. In my original post on Asexuality, Islam, and Queerness, I quoted several foundational texts in Islam that strongly discourage celibacy and encourage enjoyment of sex in marriage. 1,400 years of Muslim scholarship has followed this lead.

Even in Christianity, sex-normative discourse means that in reality asexuals are often seen as not normal or not natural. But without the countervailing factor of the idealization of celibacy that one may find in Christianity, I believe that asexuality is much more obviously deviant, and queer, in Islam.

Asexuality, Islam, and Queerness

I am asexual, aromantic, non-libidoist (no sex drive), and sex-repulsed. I have no attraction of any kind to men except rare instances of aesthetic attraction. I have never had a romantic or sexual relationship with a man, I do not want one, and I would not know how to navigate one. I am not willing or even able to have sex with a man and I do not believe I ever will be able. This is not something I can compromise on. This means that a romantic/sexual relationship with a man would be a site of oppression for me. Marriage is out of the question.

My religion includes teachings like, "Marriage is half the religion," and "Marriage is part of my way and who goes away from my way is not of me."

This is what it's like being asexual and Muslim.

Marriage is not actually religiously obligatory in Islam. If you dig into enough detailed texts of jurisprudence, you'll eventually find statements that it's merely neutral and not even considered as recommended for people who do not experience desire. Marriage in Islam is understood largely as a way of regulating sexual desire and giving it a lawful outlet. If you don't experience desire, you don't have anything to regulate or need a lawful outlet for, thus the exhortation towards marriage is not really directed at you. Moreover, the "goes away from my way" saying was actually addressed to a married man who had turned away from his wife out of a misguided sense of piety. It was actually meant to say, "Your wife has a right on you, and it is part of the religion to give her her rights." In another instance, the Prophet told a man who said he was unable to marry that it was OK to not marry and to follow a course of lifelong celibacy (the phrase translated as "castrate yourself" (!) could mean figuratively "live as a eunuch") because God had written out that fate of inability for him (yes, I believe that God created me to be asexual).

In my searches, I also found this quote from an early mystic:

God has decreed neither marriage nor celibacy... But he has decreed integrity of heart, preservation of faith, a soul at peace, and the execution of commands needed for these... And if one's healthful condition, integrity of heart, and peace of soul reside in celibacy, then that is better for him, since these are the things that are desired of marriage. If one can reach these without marriage, then celibacy causes no harm.

That's talking to me right there. I could not find a healthful condition, integrity of heart, or peace of soul in marriage to a man. I take this quote as explaining the meaning of Quran 57:27, which says in part:

We [God] did not prescribe it [monasticism] for them except for seeking the good-pleasure of God.

I believe that through not subjecting myself to what would be a kind of psychic violence on me, but through pursuing a life of health, integrity and peace in celibacy, I am seeking the good-pleasure of God.

So, yes, there actually is a place for me as an asexual in Islam and I don't need to fear that I'm somehow failing in my religion by not being able to marry.


It took me years to find the handful of texts I've mentioned here, to find these interpretations. Many Muslims might not know about them or agree with the way I understand them. Even if they did, that's an awful lot of explaining to do just to justify my being 40, single, and not planning to ever marry.

And then I have to explain that stuff in the first paragraph of this post. That, yes, it is possible for some people to innately have no interest whatsoever for sex. Even a lot of Western liberals seem to have trouble with that concept, judging from some of the reactions to asexuality. That I'm not just not interested in sex but that it would actually harm me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to have to engage in it. That it's because I am not straight, that God created some people to not be straight.

When your sexual orientation cuts you off from how your community or your society expects you to experience and express your sexuality, when you have to search for alternative interpretations and obscure texts to justify the existence of your sexual orientation and its validity within the religion, when you have to tell people that your sexual orientation is not "normal", is not how they believe God created everybody to be, you're queer.

I'm queer. As an asexual Muslim, I'm queer.

I'm still trying to figure out how to even have that conversation with anybody but LGBT Muslims, or if I ever will.

In the meantime, my not being married and not seeking marriage isolates me. Converts to Islam who don't have a larger community they already belong to are often very marginalized in Muslim communities in America. Many can find a way in by marrying. But I can't do that.

Being asexual and Muslim has often meant a profound loneliness and a silence about everything that made that loneliness. That's a queer experience too, to be isolated and alone because of where your sexual orientation puts you, and to not be able to explain why.

And another thing is, strawberreli is pretty much the only other asexual Muslim I've come across even on Tumblr, except for a couple of blogs that have long since gone inactive. I'm glad I'm not the only one, but that's really freaking lonely. I'm guessing that most of the other asexual Muslims (and yes, they exist and are out there) are like me, isolated and alone. Part of my motivation in finally writing this post is in case an asexual Muslim finds it and realizes they are not broken and not alone, not failing at the religion. There are a lot of answers I still don't have, but I hope I can give someone that, at least.