What It Means To Be Muslim And Gay In Malaysia

Malaysia is known for its tough laws based on religious beliefs. There has been an Islamic ban on “gay sex” (described as “against the order of nature”) for a long time — but one anonymous Malaysian man in his 30s filed a lawsuit against Selangor after he was arrested there for copulating with a man. However, he denies the event transpired, which means we don’t have any reason to assume his sexuality one way or another. 

The important thing to consider is what the man’s victory in court means for other gay Muslims living in Malaysia.

Numan Afifi is the founder of the Palangi Campaign, an unaffiliated LGBT+ rights organization. Afifi said, “This is historic. This is monumental for LGBT+ rights in Malaysia…We want to live in dignity without fear of prosecution. Of course Section 377 is still there — it’s not the end but this is a beginning.”

The Malaysian top court ruled that the ban on sexual intercourse between consenting adults is unconstitutional and provided authorities with no real power to enforce. It was a unanimous decision.

Although the hope is that Selangor state would remove the clause banning sexual intercourse “against the order of nature,” the law remains in place throughout Malaysia, and gay men could still be incarcerated for up to twenty years if charged and convicted. The law is an old facet of British rule. 

The legal challenge was mounted after eleven men were arrested in one home, not for having sexual intercourse with the other men, but for being under suspicion of attempting such. It was a private residence in 2019.

Five of the eleven men pleaded guilty rather than fight the charges in court and face public scrutiny. They were incarcerated, caned, and fined. The brutal punishments for private activities led to an outpouring of support from the LGBT+ community and an outcry from human rights activities around the world.