Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Hinsdale welcomed Maher Alhaj to the June 3rd meeting. Maher told of a life filled with struggle as a young gay Muslim.
Growing up in Jordan, he knew from an early age that he was different. Sent to a boarding school as a child, the hardships there were too much to endure so he ran away. For a time he was able to hide by slipping from Mosque to Mosque but with nowhere to really go, he returned home. A loving aunt was the first to see him. She embraced him and took him to his home where he was surprised to find the rest of the family was gathered in mourning. They thought they had lost him forever.
He was loved by his family but the struggles continued. He was taunted to “Walk like a man”. “I thought I walked like a man” Maher said, “But obviously I didn’t."
A best friend suggested he see a psychiatrist. This was useless. The psychiatrist laughed at him told him he could get a sex change operation in Europe. “I don’t want to be a woman.” Maher told him.
The depression was becoming worse and medication was not helping. The only think keeping him from harming himself was his deep faith in his religion.
Maher’s family lived in an area near the Dead Sea where the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was said to have taken place. Parents would tell their children to look away as they walked past this place. They believe the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is homosexuality. A Fatwah, a legal pronouncement in Islam, condemns homosexuality.
As a desperate teen he composed a letter to the religious leaders. He told them he had tried not to be a homosexual. There was nothing he could do. If the only way to please God was to die at their hands he was offering himself to them to be executed.
Immigration papers came and he did not send the letter. He and his family came to the United States.
In the U.S., a high school Christian guidance counselor believed that with God’s help he could be changed. “That’s what I wanted to hear. It would be easier for me.” Maher said. The school social worker however, told him there was nothing wrong with him just the way he was but Maher was not ready to hear that.
College gave him the time he needed to sort things out. Now he had the opportunity to think about controversial topics. He developed critical thinking skills. “In Jordan, they keep you sort of blind” he said. In 2005 he was editor of the college newspaper. By communicating with gay people online he knew he was not alone. He decided to come out. He came out in an editorial with the words that would become the guiding force of his new life. He smiled as he told us those words. “I believe God loves you the way you are. It is not a contradiction to be gay and Muslim.”
PFLAG Hinsdale meets the first Sunday of every month at the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, 17 W. Maple ST. For more details e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or pflag.org