In the context of this article I can only speak for myself, based on my very personal experience and current understanding. That means my viewpoint does not represent that of all Sufis, just like it does not represent that of all queers.
Let’s start with my definition of “queer.” I used the word gay in the past, but right now it no longer truly reflects how I define myself, how I really feel. After all, identity is not static, it can evolve and usually it does. Queer has an oomph to it, a clear political stand regarding human rights. It represents a more inclusive label than just the separated letters LGBTI and what they stand for.
In other words, LGBTI has room to sit together under a huge rainbow flag with the word “queer” on it and therefore could be claimed by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and inter-sexed human beings.
According to my personal understanding, and I can only speak from that, the word “queer” also symbolizes a whole-hearted celebration of unity within diversity, including the creation of a welcoming space for all those who feel like misfits! Queer implies to support women’s rights, to say a clear and loud “no” to racism, sexism, ageism, and xenophobia. It is a natural “yes” to pluralism, democracy, a progressive attitude regarding life per se, and practicing loving kindness towards “the other” and towards all of creation.
With the last part of that statement I’m already well into the Sufi Tradition. To be a Sufi is something to become. It is a spiritual process of transformation of the lower ego qualities; to turn a copper heart into gold, as they say. To become a Sufi is also a lifestyle, as well as a rather practical philosophy. Religion is about faith, dogma and following rules – in contrast to become a Sufi is mainly concerned with tasting and transformative development, above all not to forget being of service to others.
To believe that “queer” and “Sufi” are mutually exclusive is not what I experienced on the Path of the Friend, the Path of Love and Knowledge.
In the course of my Sufi training I was blessed with three very different Sufi teachers from different Sufi paths and ethnic backgrounds: one was Persian, born and raised in Iran, who came to the United Kingdom already a master; the other was born Indian and grew up in Pakistan, but spent most of his life in Germany; and yet another Afghan, who spent most of his life in Great Britain.
Aside from being people who demonstrated multicultural harmony in their own lives, both as people as well as teachers, what they had in common was their heterosexuality.
Each of them accepted me and I wasn’t hiding my homosexuality! I was taught that God created us in the way we are and it must be accepted, regardless if we desire and love a woman or a man as a sexual and romantic partner. Under the guidance and instructions of my teachers I learned that the Sufi Path was about how to refine the base qualities of the false personality, the nafs, and activate, by means of specific Sufi tools and exercises, the Divine Qualities present in all of us as seeds.
Originally I’m from the Orient, born in Egypt of an Egyptian-Italian ethnic background; and yet I grew up in the West. As an adult my restless nomadic urges got me across the planet, including living long periods in different places of the Arab World, as well as in various European countries, in Australia, and in North and South America.
To be queer and Sufi implies different things, possibly even repercussions, depending where you happen to be in space and time in our contemporary age, which on one hand is seeing great potential for true progress and human evolution, and unfortunately also for great horrors again on the retrograde front of barbarism.
As an inclusive Sufi teacher I now treat “queer” as a matter of fact, but I’m doing so outspokenly, raising the rainbow flag and openly welcoming people of the entire spectrum of identity-colors. The time is ripe and God willing, yes, we can! Didn’t Rumi exclaim: “Come, come, whoever you are, this is no caravan of sadness…”
Rahal Eks is the author of On the Path of the Friend, a memoir on his Sufi life.