“Self-love isn’t always about focusing on all the wonderful things about yourself. More than anything, self-love is self-honesty. It is the willingness to look deep into your soul and acknowledge not only the light, but also the darkness lingering there. It is commitment to truthfulness over comfort, and betterment over convenience. It is the daily process of self-improvement—even when it hurts.”
—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah
“I’d rather be hated for who I truly am, than loved for who I am not,” the woman said, referring to her commitment to live as a “queer Muslim” acting out her same-sex desires toward another woman in “marriage.” This, she proclaimed after saying that the definition of nikaah (Islamic marriage) as revealed in the Qur’an and taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is outdated and thus no longer applicable in modern times. In defending living an openly gay lifestyle as a professed Muslim, she said, “This is who I am.”
Today, so many people seek to embrace their “authentic self” and strive to live out this personal truth for the rest of their lives. While embracing our authentic self is ostensibly praiseworthy in its own right, before we can meaningfully connect with any core personal truths, we must engage in spiritual self-honesty. This means first and foremost digging deep, beyond worldly desires and inclinations, and asking our soul, in front of the One who created it: “But deep inside, who are you—truly?”
If we do not ask ourselves this question while beseeching God’s guidance in prayer and striving upon the guidance He revealed to us through His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), then we are not seeking any true authenticity of self. Rather we are seeking to follow our lowest desires of the flesh, instead of our deepest desires of the soul.
Internal Feelings Are Tests, Not Self-Definitions
When we are seeking to understand who we are deep inside, we need to first understand the nature of our creation, and this begins with realizing that each and every one of us is a child of Adam. As children of Adam, the first human that God created in this world, we need to understand that we are spiritual beings before we are anything else—sexual or otherwise.
As spiritual beings, we will certainly have worldly experiences that test us to the very core of our souls. However, the details of these tests do not define that spiritual core; they are merely designed to connect us to our soul-center, which submits humbly and fully to God.
In our worldly tests of the soul that call us to submit to God, we will have desires that we need to overcome, frustrations that we need to calm, and even harmful actions that we need to hold ourselves back from. Even if we find ourselves battling the same desires, frustrations, and harmful inclinations over and over again, this is never a sign that we should just give up and submit to the trial instead of to the One who decreed it for us—no matter how many times this single test repeats itself in our lives.
In seeking to understand who we are while battling these tests, here are some questions we can honestly ask our souls before placing a label on ourselves that frees us from the daily battle against the nafs (inner self): If you continuously desire someone who is not your spouse, are you an adulterer? If you continuously desire food while you’re fasting, are you a transgressor? If you continuously fight the urge to respond violently when you’re angry, are you an abuser?
On what grounds then do we define a person by their sexual “orientation”?
We all have sinful orientations, consistently. But these inclinations do not define who we are—unless we choose to submit to them, consistently—without repentance.
Spiritual Orientation or Sexual Orientation?
“But we can’t control who we are deep inside,” the modern world tells us. “Our underlying sexual orientations are not a choice,” we are told. Then this same world criticizes devout Jews, Christians, and Muslims—or any professed believer in God and His Books—because they strive upon the spiritual guidance and moral codes that they believe their Lord revealed in His Scriptures.
This begs the question: Why is a person’s underlying sexual desire considered an uncontrollable choice that no one is to be blamed for, but a person’s underlying spiritual desire is considered a blameworthy human choice that these religious people have the full power to abandon, if they really wanted to be “good” and “tolerant”?
Here’s the bottom line, particularly when discussing someone’s orientation toward a particular faith: If you genuinely believe a person’s sexual orientation isn’t a choice, then you must also accept that a person’s religious orientation is also not a choice. We are not merely sexual beings. We are spiritual beings as well. And our spirituality and belief in God are often manifested in childhood (even when our environment is anti- or non-religious), the same time that people argue that sexuality is manifested.
Thus, if we believe people cannot control their sexual inclinations, then we must also accept that people cannot control their spiritual inclinations—though whether or not they act upon these inclinations remains a matter of choice, as it is with any internal feeling, sexual or otherwise.
In Islam, we are taught that each person is born upon the fitrah, the natural inborn inclination to believe in God and worship Him alone. It is our parents or environments that compel us to either embrace or disregard our spiritual nature. Thus, to blame or criticize someone for ultimately submitting to their inborn nature by making the choice to do what their heart and soul have been compelling them toward all along (i.e. accept Islam)—even as they may have tried to fight it for fear of being mistreated, slandered, or discriminated against—isn’t too much different from what you say “homophobes” are doing.
Why should your orientation be treated as natural and uncontrollable, while others’ orientations are treated as “right” or “wrong” human choices?
Or are you admitting that your lifestyle, like a person’s religion, can be right or wrong—even as your original inclination toward it was out of your control?
We Can’t Control Who We Are Deep Inside?
The people of the world tell us that these underlying sexual orientations have been around for centuries and are part of each person’s inborn nature. In this, they are saying that acting on same-sex inclinations is something that our forefathers engaged in. They are further saying that our sexual orientations are effectively inborn “commandments” from the Creator placed in our bodies at birth, thereby guiding us on how to live out our intimate lives in this world.
Yet regarding both of these claims, God says what has been translated to mean, “And when they do immorality they say, ‘We found our forefathers doing it, and Allah [has] commanded us of it.’ Say, ‘Indeed, Allah [does] not order immorality. Do you say about Allah what you (do) not know?’” (Al-A’raaf, 7:28).
Thus, we cannot argue (at least not with any success in front of our souls) that we have no control over acting on our underlying sexual “orientations.”
In fact, given the fitrah that God placed in every human soul, spiritual orientations are arguably much more difficult to battle than sexual orientations.
While withholding yourself from the sexual life your body craves can give you a difficult life in this world, withholding yourself from a spiritual life your soul craves can give you not only a difficult life in this world, but an unbearably difficult one in the Hereafter. And no matter how much we argue for an easy life in this world, nobody has an easy life in this world—no matter how things appear to an outsider looking in.
But one thing’s for sure: We will not be punished for fighting the urge to submit to our body’s sexual “needs”. But we will be punished for fighting the urge to submit to our soul’s spiritual needs.
Therefore, spiritual orientations are much more urgent to tend to at all times
Spirituality Guides Sexuality, Not Vice Versa
In my blog “Compassion Means Supporting Sin? Idols of Emotionalism and Sexuality,” I share the following reflection in response to how so many of us oddly view spirituality as less “authentic” than sexuality:
Despite the obvious reality of each person’s underlying spiritual fitrah, embracing your “sexual orientation” is what the world will encourage in embracing “who you really are.” However, we are spiritual beings more than we are sexual beings. It is our “spiritual orientation” that defines us, not our sexual inclinations.
In a spiritually healthy human being, spirituality guides sexuality; sexuality does not guide spirituality. If it did, morality would be rooted in whatever we desire. Thus, a person who has sexual desires for a young child could act on it freely based on the principle that human connection is ageless and that love knows no bounds. However, even those who champion sexual orientation over religious morality reject this on the principle of “consenting adults.” Here is where they contradict themselves unknowingly.
As I discuss in my book Let’s Talk About Sex and Muslim Love: If you believe that there is no sin in acting on any sexual orientation that (allegedly) defines you, but you then apply the condition of “consenting adults,” then you are agreeing to the same moral principle that defines religious guidance: Morality trumps desire, always.
In this, the only question is: What is your definition of “morality”? People who embrace authentic spirituality recognize only one authority in defining morality: God. Those who embrace “freedom of sexual expression” recognize only one authority in defining morality: the human being.
And here again, they contradict themselves. Because when one human being argues for sex with children (due to their “sexual orientation” of pedophilia), these people claim that this is immoral. But why? According to their own principles of sexual expression (i.e. human-defined morality), acting on pedophilia is completely moral.
“But it’s unnatural and wrong!” they’ll say.
Ah! And here again, we find another contradiction: Their words mirror precisely what people of faith say when they reject “sexual expression” in same sex relationships.
So we’re back to square one: We all accept that the concepts of morality, “natural sexuality”, and “wrong sexual expression” exist. But it is only the people of God who manage to not contradict themselves.
Understanding Your Authentic Self: Trial or Truth?
When discussing our “authentic self,” there are two possibilities: the authentic self of our fitrah (innate, pure spiritual nature) and the authentic self of our qadar (personal trial and ultimate fate). Our fitrah is based on our natural inclination toward treading a path of obedience to Allah, and our qadar is based on facing difficult personal trials while treading a path toward our ultimate fate in the Hereafter.
Oftentimes, when people talk about living a life that reflects their “authentic self,” they do not differentiate between these two. Naturally, although we know (at least in the general sense) what obeying Allah looks like, we cannot possibly know what is in store for us regarding each personal trial in this world or our ultimate fate in the Hereafter. Consequently, if we find ourselves being propelled toward disobeying Allah (which suggests a negative fate in the Hereafter), we need to, as the saying goes, “fight qadar with qadar.” In other words, we need to use our fitrah to constantly fight the possibility of a terrible fate in the Hereafter—due to the difficult personal trial that is decreed for us in this world—no matter how “authentic” disobeying Allah feels to us in this life.
In other words, when embracing our “authentic self,” so many of us make the mistake of confusing the authenticity of our qadar—the deepest desires and trials decreed for us in this world—with the authenticity of our fitrah, our life’s purpose. They are not the same. Qadar reflects the unique tests and trials that God puts in our personal paths, and how we respond to them. In contrast, our fitrah reflects our soul’s natural inclination to live a spiritual life that is pleasing to God.
In any case, both your qadar and your fitrah are “authentically you” ultimately—because both are written for you as personal realities in this world. However, keep in mind, not everyone’s “authentic self” leads to Paradise. Some people’s qadar—due to how they handle their personal desires and trials—lands them in Hellfire (may Allah protect us, guide us, and forgive us).
Thus, in seeking to embrace “who you really are,” you should choose your “authenticity” wisely. Would you like your ultimate “personal truth” to reflect failed trials and tests that were decreed for you in this world? Or would you like your ultimate “personal truth” to reflect having strived upon the path of your fitrah—the path of Paradise—despite the difficult trials and personal tests you battled in this world?
In other words, before you embrace who you feel you “really” are, learn who you really are in front of the One who created you, and Whom you’ll return to after there is no more “authentic self” to live out in this world.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.
Copyright © 2019 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
WRITTEN FOR UZAUTHOR.COM