Arab…and Gay?

Article appeared originally on Student Body magazine

When Al-Hussein, the son of a wealthy Jordanian politician, fell totally in love with the head of Jordan’s national judo team, he separated from his wife and built a house on the outskirts of Amman to discreetly meet his lover. Not long after, Al-Hussein’s younger brother caught the two men kissing. The brother threw Mr. Hussein down the stairs, breaking his leg.

Three months later while recovering in hospital, his brother shot him when Mr. Hussein’s lover came to visit. Shrouded in shame and secrecy, homosexuality is one of the biggest taboos in modern Arab societies.

For Arab men, individual sexual behavior affects the social standing of the entire extended family: to be gay and Arab is an affront to the ‘ honor’ of the family. Homosexuality is perceived as either mental illness or deviant behavior – forcingyoung gay Arabs underground and into isolation.

According to Brian Whitaker in his groundbreaking book Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, tradition and family honor keep homosexuality in the dark. People speak of ‘shameful acts’ and ‘deviant behavior’ and those who feel urges towards the same sex are often forced to lead a dual life: one of the good son on one hand, and secret gay sex on the other.

Finding love, coming out, and forming long term relationships is usually out of the question.

Unspeakable Love paints a picture of people who live secretive, fearful lives struggling to fit into traditional Arab society.

“Tradition and family honor keep homosexuality hidden and in the dark”

Al-Hussein fled Jordan and applied for refugee status in Canada. He left everything behind – his family, a 20 year career and all his assets (which hesigned over to the same brother who shot him).

He now resides in Toronto and works with a support group for gay Muslims – Salaam Canada. (

“I don’t approve of what my brother did,” says AlHussein, “but I understand why he did it. It was about preserving the family’s honor.”

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