Who is Sulayman X?
In the early 1990s, long before the “war on terror,” and long before the average American knew what a Muslim was, I became one after reading the Qur’an and experiencing a sort of spiritual awakening. I lived in Kansas City at the time and made my shahadda (profession of faith) at a local mosque. When asked what Muslim name I would take, I chose Sulayman (Solomon in the Old Testament) because I aspired after wisdom, and Soloman was known as the wisest of the wise. The imam then added “Muhammad,” so my Muslim name became Sulayman Muhammad.
I attended a tiny mosque in the black community for Friday prayers. I was the only white face there. I was always made to feel welcome and experienced for myself the claim that Islam is colorblind.
About a year after my conversion I had moved to Bangkok and I started a website called QUEER JIHAD, hoping it would become a resource for gay Muslims. I had been unable to find much information on the internet about gay Muslims, so I thought I would blaze a trail.
I was not prepared for the sheer volume of hate mail that quickly descended on my inbox. I quickly learned that homosexuality was utterly forbidden in Islam. I was told repeatedly that the “Prophet Muhammad said homosexuals should be killed wherever you find them” or that the “Prophet Muhammad said homosexuals should be throw off the tops of cliffs and high buildings.” These are from sayings (hadith) attributed to Islam. Many Muslim scholars dispute such sayings, but they are nevertheless very popular and taken to heart by Muslims all over the world.
I learned that in countries like Saudia Arabia and Iran, homosexuals were routinely jailed and/or executed.
I learned that “real Muslims” (mostly those in Arab countries, or those of Arabic descent) detested homosexuals, that it was a “sin,” that the “Prophet Muhammad said you should kill the one doing it and the one it’s being done to.”
You can find an archive of some of that hate mail at the Queer Jihad site, which is maintained by Faris Malik, a friend.
After three years of this verbal assault, I quite lost my faith in Islam, its claim of being a “religion of peace” no longer holding much water. For me it had become nothing but a wall of hatred and shrill intolerance.
A taste of my experiences can be found in my first book called Bilal’s Bread, published by Alyson Books, and for which I received a Lambda nomination. This book chronicles the abuse a gay Muslim boy receives at the hands of his elder brother. All the hateful rhetoric directed at Bilal came straight from my experiences with Queer Jihad. The abuse he suffers is also not uncommon in Muslim countries where strict segregation of the sexes is in place. Older brothers routinely molest younger brothers, or a young boy in a given neighborhood is singled by the older boys for sex.
My next book, Adventures of a Bird-Shit Foreigner, also featured a mix between Islam and homosexuality, only the tone was softened and a more hopeful approach was offered. That book was eventually republished as The Queer Who Loved Allah, which is now available as an ebook.
The book is about a Thai boy named Isa, whose prostitute mother got pregnant by a GI during the Vietnam War. Many such “half and halfs” (farang kee-noks or “bird-shit foreigners,” as they are called in Thai) were left over after the war, abandoned by fathers who never knew they were fathers. In The Queer Who Loved Allah, Isa runs away from home and is taken in by a Muslim imam, a kindly, compassionate man who gives him a home and helps him make his way in the world.
Thai Muslims, unlike Arab Muslims, are not overly homophobic or unduly worried about a child with homosexual tendencies. Thais have a let and let live attitude.This is also true of Indonesian Muslims.
In light of my experiences, I dropped “Muhammad” from my name and replaced it with “X,” in much the fashion and for the same reason that members of the Nation of Islam dropped their own last names (usually given to them by the slave-owning families from which they came) and replaced them with “X” as a protest.
Since “Muhammad” was given to me by an imam, my replacing it with an X was a symbolic protest and rejection of Islamic homophobia.
For the record, I don’t believe for a minute that a spiritual genius like Muhammad ever said such hateful things about gay people (or anyone else). Many, many sayings were attributed to him after his death, so many that there is no way to figure out exactly what he said about any given subject. I believe, after all I’ve experienced, read and researched on the subject, that this fierce homophobia is a byproduct of Arab culture that has little to do with Islam itself.
And while I am no longer a Muslim, I am also no longer a Christian, no longer a “believer” in any real sense of the word. Despite detours with the Hare Krishnas and other religious groups and going to Mass now and again, I don’t find much satisfaction in organized religion.
Rather, my thoughts are mostly with the Buddha these days. Of all my many religious experiences — as a Catholic religious brother, as a Muslim, as a devotee of Lord Krishna — only the Buddha has actually given me peace of mind.
I continue to use the name “Sulayman X” when I write to distinguish my “gay books” from my other books, which I write under my own name.
Ironically, my experience with “Sulayman” has brought me much wisdom.