Question 3-2021 from Ms TMZ

I love my husband, but love a woman with feelings of intimacy and comfort. I believe this is Islamically acceptable.

Full question: Hi. I was born and raised as a Muslim. I practice my faith diligently in almost every aspect, except in one area. I love my husband dearly but I have feelings for my own gender. Feelings of intimacy and relationship with a woman whom I have known since my university days. But I do not consider this relationship as an infidelity as I am not with another man. And from what I understand Islam only frowns upon homosexual sexual relationships but I am not in a sexual relationship, rather only one of intimacy and comfort with another woman. I feel at peace with her and I feel I should be with my own gender. I don’t intend to leave my husband but I don’t wish to give up on being with this woman who makes me feel whole.

Dear Ms TMZ,

From what you are saying, we understand that you love your husband but also love a woman with whom you cherish feelings of intimacy and comfort without any sexual relationship. And you believe this is Islamically acceptable. We believe so too, based on what you say. But what you did not say make us see grey areas.

Firstly, humans have the natural capacity to love more than one person. Islam has never curtailed that capacity, otherwise we would not be allowed to love our parents, children, siblings, friends, and so on, all at one go. If you understand its true meaning, there is no such thing as different kinds of love. The object and intensity of love may differ. But love is love. Period*. So, in Islam, to love two persons at the same time, regardless of gender, is not an issue. The issue is the expression of love. How you express your love for your parents, spouse, and sibling, differs according to what you consider as right and wrong. So, as far as Islamic acceptability is concerned, how you express your love to your lady friend should conform to what Allah and His Prophet s.a.w said.

Secondly, when you say “feelings”, we wonder if you realise that the word has two dimensions, namely “sensation” and “emotion”. So, what is grey to us is whether you are cherishing intimate sensations or intimate emotions with this lady. Are you sensually comforted or emotionally comforted by her? Or all or a mix of the above. This is not mere semantics. Distinguishing between the two makes a lot of difference in terms of Islamic acceptability. We shall explain why after touching on this third grey area because they are inter-connected.

Thirdly, if you have no sexual relationship, we cannot see anything Islamically objectionable in your relationship with your lady friend. Except that “sex” is understood differently by different people. Generally, people associate “sex” with copulation, coitus, intercourse, the insertion of the penis or other objects into the vagina or other orifices; for sexual gratification. But not sex therapists, for example. To them “sex” refers to any activity that evokes the human sexual response cycle from desire, to excitement, to its sustainment, climax and resolution. In other words, touching, caressing, hugging, cuddling, talking, and even texting … if any of these evokes part or the whole cycle, it is sexual activity. It does not have to involve the genitals even. So, we wonder what you meant by an absence of sexual relationship. 

Luckily, we don’t need to know. What’s important is you do. And you can compare it with what the Prophet s.a.w “frowned upon”:

“A man shall not look at the aurat of another man, nor a woman of a woman, nor should a man go under one cloth with another man, nor a woman with another woman.” (Hadith reported by Muslim, Abu Dawud, An Nasai and Ibn Majah)

In this hadith, there is no explicit mention of genital intercourse. Rather, it resembles the above-mentioned sexual therapists’ understanding of sex which covers the full spectrum of sensual pleasuring, including but not limited to genital stimulations and gratifications. So, whether your relationship with your lady friend is acceptable in Islam really depends on whether it evokes the human sexual response cycle, regardless whether you call that “infidelity” or that it is with a woman or another man. The Prophet’s s.a.w understanding of sex as a spectrum of sensual pleasuring is further corroborated by this hadith:

“Each son of Adam has his share of fornication (zina). The zina of the eyes is looking, the zina of the ears is listening, the zina of the tongue is speaking, the zina of the hand is touching, and the zina of the foot is walking. The heart wishes and longs and the private part confirms that or denies it.” (Hadith reported by Muslim)

Let’s get to the crux of the matter. We hear from some LGBTQ clients that their homosexual feelings are natural and inborn. Whereas, some others would allude to some form of deliberate or circumstantial grooming. We are not going to debate the LGBTQ discourse on nature versus nurture, because possibly, it takes all sorts to make this world. Be that as it may, LGBTQ Muslims must understand that they are not alone in having to fight against inborn instincts to lead life as a Muslim. Among others, so do male Muslim womanisers whose desire for multiple women lovers is an inborn tendency, corroborated by no less than the scientific theory of “natural selection” where males “spread their seeds” for the survival of its species.

Regardless, the inborn nature of any human tendency is no excuse for Muslims to violate clear Islamic injunctions. Our inborn tendencies are part and parcel of our nafs or self. The entire meaning of being a Muslim is about what the Prophet s.a.w called “the greater jihad” to tame our nafs with all its inborn tendencies and upgrade it from ammarah to lawwamah to mutmainnah, which is the highest grade of nafs that would be admitted to Paradise. So, to indulge in forbidden activities on account of tendencies which are inborn or innate or instinctive or natural and such, is unjustifiable. In fact, it is missing the whole point of being a Muslim. To be clear, we are not suggesting that you are lesbian, if you are not saying so yourself. We just want to get this argument by many LGBTQ Muslims out of the way as it is an important point in order to understand acceptability in Islam. So, where do we go from here?

Most important is that you are practicing your “faith diligently in almost every aspect”, to use your words. If you are true to your words and you understand these words correctly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with LOVING your husband and your lady friend at the same time. Provided, there are no SEXUAL shenanigans between you two – as defined by the Prophet s.a.w above. As for your FEELINGS of intimacy and comfort, its acceptability status is clarified by the Prophet s.a.w in this hadith:

“Allah has forgiven my ummah for whatever crosses their mind so long as they do not speak of it or act upon it.” (Hadith narrated by Bukhari)

The “speak” and “act” part here refers to bodily functions whose pleasures Muslims should not indulge in boundlessly, for reasons mentioned two paragraphs above. This means, “sensual intimacy and comfort” or bodily pleasures of the five senses should be subjected to Allah’s Laws, meaning it is only allowed between husband and wife. As for “emotional intimacy and comfort”, and “whatever crosses their mind”, the hadith said that it is “forgiven”. Note that it didn’t say “permitted” but “forgiven”. This is because emotional intimacy and comfort should ideally be cherished between spouses. But should it exist outside of marriage, like between you and your friend, Allah Forgives it out of His Mercy.

A divine concession is always a blessing. Capitalise on it if it leads you closer towards Allah s.w.t. We can think of one way how “emotional intimacy and comfort” can lead you both closer to Allah s.w.t. It depends on what you do when you meet. For example, if you fill your meetings with readings, discussions, or reflections on topics, issues, books, especially on aspects of Islam, the Prophet’s sunnah and the Quran, and then augmented with sessions of prayers and supplications, these meetings can lead towards intellectual and even spiritual “intimacy and comfort” between the two of you. This would bring both of you closer to God. It would be a productive use of Allah’s concesson. But if your “emotional intimacy and comfort” instead lead you towards sensual pleasures or what the Prophet s.a.w called “the lesser zina”, the “emotional intimacy and comfort” is Islamically counter-productive.

We know many women are drawn towards other women due to men’s inability to empathise with their feelings, well-being, interests, likes and dislikes, and so on, in and out of bed. Many men have no clue of the psycho-emotional connections in sex which women crave for. And even when you are lucky enough to meet one who does, most can hardly match what women can offer. To improve these men is a topic in itself. But if your solution involves another woman, do not belittle the value of “intellectual and spiritual intimacy and comfort” to replace the different kinds of “intimacy and comfort” which are absent or lacking in your marital relationship. Instead of taking the easy way out of indulging in relationships “frowned upon” by the Prophet s.a.w, consider taking Allah’s merciful concession and uplift your relationship with another woman towards both of you being closer to Allah s.w.t through developing mutual “intellectual and spiritual intimacy and comfort”.

*          You may want to refer to answer 1-2021 for introductions and reference to the subject of love.