Coming out as a gay Malay Muslim

Coming out as a gay Malay Muslim

I’m not going into details on how I came out to my mother. But what you need to know is that it wasn’t planned and it didn’t go well. Here are the words she used:

“sinner”, “un-Islamic”, and that she would rather die than to have a gay son.

At the same time, I also came out to my younger sister, who is a member of Generation Z. The news led her to scream in excitement,

“Oh my God, I have a gay brother! Yay! I love you!”. Another reaction that I too expected.

But what I did not expect were the conflicting emotions that transpired after my mother hung up the phone (yes, I told her on the phone – not a good idea by the way). My conservative and pious mother, a single mother and breadwinner of the family for 20 years, said brutally nasty things to me, cried and hung up. I was completely shattered.

My confidante, my mother, had betrayed my love of her. I should have felt outraged by the conversation, misunderstood even, but for some unknown reason, I felt dejected, humiliated and most of all… selfish. Selfish for thinking that my Muslim baby-boomer family should understand.

Why did I come out? Why didn’t I just keep quiet?

“Don’t ask, don’t tell”, right? Or should I just have done what my other gay friends do – nothing?

Does it really matter if we come out or not?

I am told most parents ultimately say they knew anyway. They pester you to get married, but when you hit 40 and you’re still solo, they just stop asking, and whisper, “I think you’re right, he likes men”.

Despite all the talk of “mother always knows”, my mother definitely didn’t.

Her reactions were shocking and vicious. Not my sister’s.

Both are practising Muslims and both venerate Malay customs and traditions. And yet both had very different reactions. Allow my simple mind to call these two groups of Malays the old Malay, and the new.

My sister, the “new Malay”, considers herself a citizen of the world, is well-exposed to gay matters, and was elated to accept her brother.

After coming out to her, she and her friend watched hours of coming-out videos on YouTube. It was awkward, but very funny, to see them weeping, chortling and interminably “aaawwww”-ing at a revolving door of gay people coming out one by one.

But my “old Malay” mother, however, reacted solely based on an absolute, though moot in my opinion, understanding of Islam regarding homosexuality, which could be narrowed down to just one word – haram.

I am not going to talk about how Islam absolutely spurns people like me (not now, anyway). And since being honest has nothing to do with being religious, I believe that the act of coming out can be done with or without religion.

Coming back to the question about why we even bother coming out to our parents – should we do it?

Malay Muslim parents exist on a different emotional level. Our sense of responsibility and respect towards them conceals our feelings and veracity.

Because of the respect our religion and tradition require us to give our elders, we don’t discuss this issue with our parents. Their traditions and religious upbringing would tend to spurn people like me.

There’s no natural openness when it comes to the parent-child relationship. We have limited discussion of personal lives. Our responsibility to live up to our parents’ expectations requires us to play the roles they want, so we rarely reveal our truths.

And, with today’s technology, it’s easy to wear different hats simultaneously, like when you text a guy to meet up later from a business conference or meeting or even a family gathering.

Now, if you go to the city, we gay Malay Muslims, or “double-Ms” can just be who we are and people around us wouldn’t even blink.

We can stomp at gay bars, be our “perky selves”, and then balik kampung, looking rather solemn and collected and say, “Assalamualaikum Dad…oh yes…mmhm… Alhamdulillah…shall we solat now?”.

Multitasking has become second nature. Double-M living double lives. Life goes on…right?

As a millennial gay man, I find life in Malaysia conflicting in our polarised society – the old and the new, the kampung and the metropolitan lifestyles, the practising Muslim and the non-practising.

I was conflicted to a degree where I was emotionally and physically hurt from lying to myself – thinking that I could conform to a certain virility, for letting people stigmatise and mock me, for lying to my loved ones and to women who fancied me.

I too was caught up in a world of stereotypes, profligacy, and secrecy, all the while suffocating in the loneliness (and haziness) of the capital.

That was my choice as a closeted gay man. It was just exhausting and depressing. One surely shouldn’t live like this. It affected my health, finance, relationships with family and friends. I became reclusive, lost, even hateful.

“Alone. And the saddest part was nobody cared. Because nobody knew.”

And I’m sure many gays out there, “double-M” or not, young ones especially, can understand the need to share emotions and to lead their lives with integrity.

Starting a conversation

I am not proposing gay marriage in Malaysia, or proclaiming our rights on the street of Kuala Lumpur. All I ask is for us to have a culture of conversation, where people listen and think with some sensibility and logic, so we can understand and move forward in a respectful manner.

Let’s have conversations where people don’t say things simply to silence others. And most importantly, for gay “double-M’s” to talk to their families about matters that are critical to them. We may not change the country but change begins within ourselves, within our families.

Coming out to my mother made me realise one thing. I was as alone as a closeted gay man, as she was as a parent who had just learned that her son was gay, in a Malay Muslim community.

And now, she too has the exact questions all gay “double-M’s” have about the norms, reasons, social and religious stigmas, shame, and answers to everything that is associated with being gay. It is not acceptance we should expect from our family, it’s discovery.

My mother may have wanted herself dead there and then, but when I came home days after that phone conversation, she greeted me as she opened the door, smiling.

And somewhere between the TV3 drama and our dinner, she suddenly spilled things about herself, things that she’s been keeping from me all these years, of her feelings about being a widow. They have since become our little secrets, and she too now knows that she doesn’t have to suffer alone.

We all have reasons for holding in our emotions. But only when we speak our truths, can we hope for acceptance from our loved ones. Maybe they already knew, maybe they didn’t. Whether we gain acceptance or not, we have a responsibility to start the conversation.

Before, my mother was my friend – now she is my soulmate. We have become two people making amends and progress, knowing that at the end of the day, when others don’t get us, we still have each other.

To people who are like me, do you think it is better to live in the safety of the unspoken, or be honest and discover new chapters in our lives so we may no longer have to write alone? What say you?

Dear Malaysians, stop being hypocrites!

Dear Malaysians, stop being hypocrites!

In Malaysia, you have to choose sides – if you decide to stand in the middle, it gets said that you’re trying to stir something between both.

I wrote a piece not too long ago about the halal laundrette in Johor, entitled Hentam Melayu, Muslim lebih seronok?

The article highlights other racial practices in Malaysia which are often ignored, such as accommodation and job opportunities only offered to a specific race, and questions the reasons why such practices have not made Malaysians jump off their seats as they did with the laundrette.

Sadly, the article failed to be understood by both Malay and non-Malay readers.

While some readers in the comment section began supporting the halal laundrette, using the other racially inclined practices as a point of reference, others said I was trying to sow racial enmity by writing such an article.

Some readers who have been victimised by racially discriminative practices themselves failed to realise the irony of supporting Muslim-only policies, while others failed to see that other policies can be considered equally discriminative.

If we lived in a non-biased society where people are truly able to think without prejudice, we would’ve long been rid of other racially inclined practices. Sadly, that is not the case here.

Many use our muhibbah concept to reject the halal laundrette – we say it is a disgrace to our multiracial society. Why then, may I ask, aren’t offering accommodations or job opportunities exclusively to people from a specific race, for example, considered a disgrace to this muhibbah?

Likewise, when people are criticised for their choice of skin-baring apparel, some people take to social media to give lectures on human rights and the freedom to express oneself through their choice of clothing.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t take long for the same group of people to turn around and condemn those who cover themselves up in the niqab and burqa – calling it “Arabisation” while conveniently forgetting that revealing clothing can just as easily be dismissed as “Westernisation.”

If we champion the human rights agenda, should we not support the right of every human being to dress as they please, whether skin-baring or fully covered?

Likewise, if we champion the muhibbah agenda, should we not condemn those who practice racial discrimination, regardless of their ethnicity?

Why then are we accepting one issue while condemning the other? I will tell you why – because we are bloody hypocrites.

The right to protest

A few days ago, Umno Sungai Besar division chief Jamal Md Yunos created headlines when he smashed some beer bottles with a sledgehammer as a sign of protest against the organising of beer festivals in Selangor.

While I do not condone his behaviour, I do support his right to protest on matters close to his heart.

Come on, if we have the right to march on the streets of Kuala Lumpur wearing yellow tees, supporting the call to clean up our voting system and get rid of corrupt leaders despite it being labelled illegal, doesn’t Jamal have the same right?

We may not agree with the matter of his protest, nor the manner in which he conducted it. But shouldn’t protesting itself be a right for every Malaysian, regardless of whether we agree with what is being protested?

Just because we disagree with something, it shouldn’t mean that others should be stopped from doing it, surely?

A few days ago, a 27-year old housewife was charged in court for stealing a variety of things worth a total of almost RM600. It was a clear case of theft, not rocket science, really.

However, although her actions were a clear violation of the law, many netizens on social media took her side and condemned authorities for punishing a “helpless ordinary Malaysian” while allowing some politicians to plunder millions or billions from the country.

Now, how can we justify an act of theft simply because one is greater than the other? Be it RM600 or RM2.6 billion, a theft is a theft, no? Or is this a result of the accumulated hatred we feel for the corrupt leaders we have in our country?

Perhaps our desire to condemn the other matters highlighted above (while condoning the rest) is also a result of hatred, but hatred towards the extremism lurking beneath the sheen of social propriety?


Look, I get it. I really do.

We are tired of all the drama, and our flip-flopping is how we react by default. But the time has come for us to change our ways and stop being hypocritical, because if we do not, the gap that has formed between us will only grow bigger.

How can we then see eye-to-eye when our thoughts and reflections are only based on our perceptions, and our perceptions alone?

If we believe in freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom to do whatever we desire as civilised human beings, why don’t we believe in the same freedom for everyone else?

Everything begins with us – the people. It begins with us fighting hypocrisy with diplomacy. Learning to stick our noses in matters that concern us should always come hand in hand with learning to understand and respect the fact that everyone has a different way of thinking about matters close to their hearts.

Perhaps when we have obtained a little more integrity, then it wouldn’t be so hypocritical of us to demand leaders with some of their own.



A rite of passage for Muslim boys

A rite of passage for Muslim boys

A rite of passage for Muslim boys

Thousands of Muslim Malaysian boys begin their journey into adulthood at mass circumcision ceremonies each year during school holiday seasons.


Md Nazir Sufari   |   17 Dec 2016

Fear means nothing to these boys aged from four to 12, who bravely face the ritual of berkhatan or bersunat (male circumcision) at Bandar Tun Hussein Onn in Balakong last Sunday.

Circumcision, usually performed on boys aged between six and 12 years, requires the foreskin of the penis to be removed.

It is believed that this will make it easier for the boys to clean themselves, especially after urinating. Islam demands that Muslims cleanse themselves before they pray.

Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s 30 million people.

Young Muslim boys are doused with water prior to a mass circumcision ceremony at Bandar Tun Hussein Onn in Balakong near Kuala Lumpur.

A boy covers his face with his sarong while being circumcised. It is traditional for boys to don the sarong during and while recuperating from circumcision.

A father consoles his son while medical officers circumcise the Muslim boy during the mass circumcision ceremony in Bandar Tun Hussein Onn.

Medical officers are silhouetted as they circumcise a Muslim boy during the event at Bandar Tun Hussein Onn, near Kuala Lumpur.

A Muslim boy is shown a video on a mobile phone to distract him during the circumcision procedure.

Some of the equipment used by medical officers during the circumcision procedure.

Four-year-old Amirul Daniel cries while being circumcised.

Twins, Muhammad Amjad Najdi Mohd Faisal (left) and Muhammad Ammar Najdi Mohd Faisal, recuperate after their circumcision.

Photographs by Md Nazir Sufari