Returning from a business trip in Chicago back to Los Angeles, Naveed silently exited the plane, holding the Madonna biography he had been reading, when, all of a sudden, an FBI Badge was flashed in front of him. Other flashing badges followed, and soon Naveed, a 30-something Pakistani-American, was being questioned by several FBI and police officers.

They wanted to know where he was going, what the purpose of his trip had been. "I guess someone on the plane was uncomfortable with me," Naveed says.

Someone on the plane must have seen his brown skin and dark hair and decided that he was a troublemaker.

Making others uncomfortable has become a reality for today's Pakistani-descent Americans, as we have all become aware of how other, more "American-looking" people perceive us. For Naveed, making others uncomfortable and being uncomfortable himself has been a lifelong struggle.

He always knew he was different. He was even more advanced than his older brother in his Qur'anic studies, being in a higher level Arabic class and having read the Qur'an twice by the age of 12.

But it went beyond that. Often, he reacted differently than his older and younger brothers. He was convinced something was wrong with himself. He looked in the mirror and saw looking back at him a short, dark, ugly boy who was not growing as much as his white American friends were.

He hated himself. He wanted to be anything but himself, but he didn't know exactly how to solve this problem. He lifted weights and pored over body-building magazines. He trembled with intensity as he read them.

Naveed's uncle had told Naveed a story about how Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) had come upon two men having sex with each other. The Prophet, according to Naveed's uncle, condemned the acts instantly, driving his point home by striking his staff into the soil, where blood immediately burst forth from the earth.

The point was murkily clear to Naveed: homosexuality is a great sin in Islam, even worse than murder. (According to many Islamic jurisprudence authorities, the Prophet never dealt with a legal case involving homosexuality, although a few hadiths prohibiting homosexuality are attributed to him. The Qur'anic injunction against homosexuality is based on the prohibition of sodomy between men and women and the story of Lut.) "I remember, basically, anytime the subject of homosexuality came up in my family, it was patently wrong."

Yet, on October 12, 1982, Naveed realized as he wrote in his diary that day not that he wanted to be like the bodybuilders in the magazines but that he wanted them to love him.

Soon after he realized he was gay, Naveed vowed to tell no one. He was on a course to end up like another uncle of his, who had hidden his homosexuality his entire life, even marrying a woman.

But Naveed's religious life was in a tailspin. "I felt like all the devotion I had for religion was for naught," based on his immediate presumption that no room existed within Islam for those who are gay. Naveed's sexuality and religion came to a roadblock: "If I really believe in Allah, and I knew I was a good person, yet homosexuality was such a bad thing, somewhere there has to be a division between God and religion."

Angry and frustrated, he says, "I was furious, like I had volunteered for a community and lifestyle that wanted to kill everything I was." He was so upset because he had not made a choice to be gay. He had not consented to his own condemnation.

"You think you know what God is, but you don't," Naveed would say ferociously to the people at his mosque, for he had the knowledge that God had made Naveed into something that was abhorred. As the Qur'an says, "But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not" (from Surah Al-Baqara 2:216).

"Allah really made me gay," Naveed felt, but now the people of Allah were going to turn their backs on Naveed. He knew acutely that while judgment was Allah's unique province, the interpretations made by man would cause man to judge.

He told his family he was gay and prepared himself to leave their lives forever. He even moved away. "I had just done the most shameful thing," Naveed says, saddling his parents with an issue they could not even begin to comprehend. Their son was going to be in that category of people that were, at best, ignored.

Besides having to learn to love and accept himself, Naveed now had to help his parents learn to love him. He told his dad that he had a boyfriend, to which his dad responded, "What does that make you? The girlfriend?" In his dad's sincere effort to understand, he suggested that Naveed marry a lesbian: "I was like, 'Dad, it's not a bank transaction!'"

Amidst his father's reactions, Naveed's mom told Naveed, "You don't have to tell me. I know everything about you."

"To live my life as a straight man, I feel I would be mocking Allah," Naveed says now, at the back-end of a life experience most of us would rather die than go through ourselves. He told his parents when he came out to them, "You have no idea how many times I wished it not to be this way."

He left his family for a year to give them time to think. In his self-imposed exile, he continued to believe in Allah. "Being gay makes me question. Being Muslim makes me believe. You cannot have faith without questioning."

His faith in Allah, his belief in one God, and his sincerity in being a Muslim pulled him through the difficulties of being gay in a straight world. He had the luxury, and hardship, many Muslims do not have: of testing his belief in Islam straight on and coming out of that test a stronger person and a stronger Muslim. "I don't take being Muslim for granted. I cherish it. I have to grapple with it more," Naveed says.

In the post-9/11 world, many of us, like Naveed, have turned to Islam to overcome the difficulties of being Muslim in an arguably anti-Muslim climate. Like Naveed, we have all had to come out of the closet since 9/11 and show others that we are not ashamed of being Muslim.

"I am Muslim," Naveed says, just as he told the FBI and police questioning him. But he is gay too. "I can't stop being Muslim anymore than I can stop being gay. If I lost Islam, what would be left? If I lost my desire to love, what would be left?" His inner identity--that of a Muslim and of a homosexual--while irreconcilable to others is inseparable to him.

He respects that most Muslims and most people will disagree with his life choices, but he hopes that, like the FBI and police officers did, they will let him go on his way. Just like those on the plane who complained about Naveed simply for his color, those who complain about how he chooses to express his love may also be wrong.

Whether it's the FBI asking or someone else, we all face the question today of what makes us Muslim or not Muslim. The answers, while varied, do not fall neatly into right and wrong categories. In the end, Allah knows best of all.

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