A Way Beyond the Rainbow

#29 - On Support Systems: "Straight Struggle"

October 16, 2020 Yousef Salam and Waheed Jensen Season 3 Episode 3
A Way Beyond the Rainbow
#29 - On Support Systems: "Straight Struggle"
Chapters
0:38
Episode Introduction
1:58
On Yousef and His Article
14:44
On Straight Struggle Throughout the Years
29:04
Shift to "Discord" Platform
31:17
Services Provided
36:52
Demographics of Members
41:39
Clearing Some Misconceptions
48:52
Admission and Verification Processes
51:48
“Asking for Trouble”?
56:24
Final Messages from Yousef
1:04:29
Ending Remarks
A Way Beyond the Rainbow
#29 - On Support Systems: "Straight Struggle"
Oct 16, 2020 Season 3 Episode 3
Yousef Salam and Waheed Jensen

In this episode, Br. Yousef Salam from Canada joins me as a guest speaker and talks to us about the online support group Straight Struggle. 

How did Straight Struggle evolve throughout the years from the "Yahoo!" to "Discord" platforms? What are the services that the online support group provides? What are the demographics of members who benefit from such services? These questions and others are explored in this episode.

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

- Br. Yousef’s article, “From a Same-Sex Attracted Muslim: Between Denial of Reality and Distortion of Religion”
- Br. Yousef’ podcast interview, “I don’t view this as an identity”, on the BBC Radio 4 series “Muslim Pride”
- Straight Struggle website (Discord platform)
- Br. Mobeen Vaid’s article, “Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Quranic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle”

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, Br. Yousef Salam from Canada joins me as a guest speaker and talks to us about the online support group Straight Struggle. 

How did Straight Struggle evolve throughout the years from the "Yahoo!" to "Discord" platforms? What are the services that the online support group provides? What are the demographics of members who benefit from such services? These questions and others are explored in this episode.

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

- Br. Yousef’s article, “From a Same-Sex Attracted Muslim: Between Denial of Reality and Distortion of Religion”
- Br. Yousef’ podcast interview, “I don’t view this as an identity”, on the BBC Radio 4 series “Muslim Pride”
- Straight Struggle website (Discord platform)
- Br. Mobeen Vaid’s article, “Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Quranic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle”

Waheed  00:38
Assalamu alaikom wa rahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakatuh, and welcome to a brand new episode of “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, this podcast series dedicated to Muslims experiencing same-sex attractions who want to live a life true to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and Islam. I'm your host, Waheed Jensen, thank you so much for joining me in a brand new episode. This is our third episode in our series that talks about support systems. As you guys remember, in the previous episode, we had brother Ali Jaffery join us all the way from the UK to tell us about his organization “Strong Support” and all the efforts he has been doing to help individuals struggling with same-sex lusts. In this episode, inshaAllah, we're going to be talking about another Muslim initiative that is the online support group “Straight Struggle”. Joining me to talk about this initiative is my dear friend Yousef all the way from Canada. And just an FYI, Yousef’s voice has been modified for privacy reasons.

Waheed  01:46
Assalamu alaikom, Yousef.

Yousef  01:47
Wa alaikom assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu, brother Waheed, how are you?

Waheed  01:51
Alhamdulilah, I'm doing very well. How are you doing?

Yousef  01:53
I'm doing alright, alhamdulilah.

Waheed  01:55
Thank you so much for joining me in today's episode. So, we will be talking about Straight Struggle today, inshaAllah, to introduce the listeners to the support group and what it involves. But before we do that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Yousef  02:10
Sure. So, my name is - not my real name, obviously, but my name on the group is Yousef. I've been involved, I guess, with Straight Struggle since, I think the first year actually that it got started. I live in Canada, I am currently working as an engineer. And I am married, I have four kids, alhamdulillah. I've been dealing with same-sex attractions since I was younger, probably preteen, teenage-hood I suppose. Then I guess after university and stuff, I found my wife and we got married.

Waheed  02:57
I remember Yousef and I started talking after he published his article on Muslim Matters, which was called “From a Same-Sex Attracted Muslim: Between the Denial of Reality and the Distortion of Religion”. Can you tell us about a little bit about that article and how it came about? 

Yousef  03:16
Yeah, so, just to give people a little bit of background: I joined Straight Struggle in 2003. I think I was like member number 10 or 12, or something like that. The group itself had been started by brother “Mujahid Mustaqeem” [i.e. Straight Struggler] who has moved on to other activities now. But before he had moved on, he and I talked, and he sort of passed on the moderation of the group to me. I've spoken to many, many brothers and some sisters over the years, obviously Muslims, about same-sex attractions and how they're dealing with it. So, an article like this had always been in the back of my mind, to write something, either an article or something to get to get the word out there. And I think many can imagine, in 2003, it was not the same as it is now. And in 2003, the situation was quite different. There wasn't as much awareness as there is now. It was like at the brink of when gay marriage was being legalized in Western countries and all these things. And so, there was a lot of talk about, you know, LGBT rights and all these things, but Muslims really were so far away from the discussion, save for a little bit of a discussion about, you know, how homosexuality is haram, and what the punishments are, and all these things. So really, there was very, very little talk about how to deal with same-sex attractions or acknowledgement of same-sex attracted Muslims who did not want to live as, you know, in a sort of a gay lifestyle. So that's, 2003 onwards, and then 10 or 13 years later, I was speaking with different brothers over the years. Like I said, very few sisters but mostly brothers. I think, I mentioned in the article, it really was like an article that was 10 years in the making in the back of my head, but I finally got it out on a website that would be able to publish it. And then the article itself, alhamdulillah, when it was first published, there was obviously some negative feedback from people who thought that we were trying to “normalize”, whatever that means, but normalizing same-sex attractions in the Muslim community and all these things. I mean, I don't know what “normalizing” it means, because it's there. It's not like we're trying to say that something's there that's not there. It's a phenomenon. It's there, and it happens. And we're very clear, obviously, that we're against the lifestyle. But the overwhelming majority of comments were like, something along the lines of, “Finally someone said what I've been thinking,” or “Finally someone has brought this to the limelight,” and people were talking about it. So, it's not about self-praise or anything, but that's honestly, I personally hadn't read anything of that sort published by Muslims up until that point. And so that article was out of necessity more than anything else, because there really wasn't anything out there that really dealt with this topic comprehensively. There were topics and articles talking about punishment or articles talking about this and that. 

So, I should mention though, before this, there was actually a blog called “Eye on Gay Muslims”, and that was also started by brother “Mujahid Mustaqeem”. But that was like around I think 2005/2006 or so. It's still there, if you search for it, you will still find it, but that blog was a bit different. That was mainly trying to combat the distortion that some of the Muslim community who turned themselves “progressive”, who were trying to really change the teachings of the Qur’an. There were some ideas there that were born out of there as well, about the difference between attractions and actions and all of these things. So, like I said, that article tried to strike a balance between those two extremes of, “let's talk about punishment,” versus “let's say it’s not haram.” And so, that's really what the intent of that article was, to deal with the topic comprehensively, a sort of a middle correct understanding, from an Islamic perspective, and to finally talk about this properly, let's lay the groundwork for this to be talked about properly.

Waheed  08:53
Brilliant, mashaAllah. And I remember reading that article and being amazed by the eloquence, first of all, and the content and feeling like “Finally someone's actually engaging in the conversation.” And I could see that a lot of comments on that website, a lot of people were engaging in the conversation, and I was so happy to actually read that. But, personally, as I've told you, and we've been discussing throughout the years, it kind of created a sort of cognitive dissonance for me, because it was the first time that I ever heard the term “SSA”, and I always used to refer to myself as “gay”, because that's what we're used to, right? That's what the media says, and that's the prevailing paradigm. So, it took a lot of effort for me to change the terms that I used to describe myself, but it was definitely necessary.

Yousef  09:38
Yeah, and it really is. Another part of that article was to introduce this paradigm shift of, “Hey, let's use proper terms,” because it's not just about the terminology, it's really about this mindset that the article talks about, this mindset of it being such a deep-rooted identity and all these things. And I know some people do believe that. I personally don't. And, actually, that belief of it not being such a deep-rooted identity really helped me deal with it much better. And so, this paradigm shift of what the media around us, what the politicians were, I mean, I'm talking about the West at least, what the media in the West are trying to portray, that this is a human rights issue, that people identify this way and that people live a certain lifestyle. In some cases, as I mentioned in the article, it really boxes people in, and so this paradigm shift of me saying, “Look, I'm a Muslim first and foremost, Allah is more important to me than myself. I'm a Muslim, I'm a man like other men, however, I deal with same-sex attractions,” really helped me deal with this issue a lot over the years and helped me feel like my brothers. But I have something extra that I'm dealing with that maybe some of them are also dealing with, I don't know. But yeah, I'm not belittling the struggle at all. I'm just saying this idea of it being such a deep-rooted identity, for me, it was problematic, and shifting my mindset away from that helped me deal with it much better.

Waheed  11:40
Absolutely. MashaAllah, I completely agree with you. And, inshaAllah, I'll be adding a link to the article itself in the episode description. So, whoever hasn't read Yousef’s article, please do so whenever you get the chance. It's a brilliant piece, inshaAllah, that’s worth it. So, jazak Allah khairan for that. You have also done a podcast interview on BBC Radio right, where you talked about your own personal journey?

Yousef  12:05
Yes. So, on BBC Radio 4, they had a series called “Muslim Pride”. And they did interviews with Muslims they termed as “LGBT Muslims”. And they wanted to offer different perspectives about the topic. And so, they had someone who identified as a lesbian Muslim who gave an interview and all these things. And so, most of the people were, I think, actually all of them except for myself, were people that were living the lifestyle, whether discreetly or openly. So that was done by BBC Radio 4. I was approached to give my perspective on that, and so there is an episode there that basically told my story, being Muslim and dealing with same-sex attractions, and I made it clear to the producers and the host that I don't identify as “gay” or “LGBT” or any of these things. I identify as a Muslim who has same-sex attractions. And obviously, they were surprised and baffled, especially the non-Muslim producer who found out that I was married, and that I've been married for over 10 years, and that I had kids and all these things. Anyway, I think it was important for me to give my perspective on something like that, because otherwise, all we're hearing are the voices of, you know, the “progressives” who don't think it's haram and who want to live the lifestyle. Which is not the case, I think the vast majority of people do not want to do that, but they feel helpless and they feel that they have to live that way if they experience same-sex attractions. I thought it was important to have our voices heard, my voice at least, giving our perspective.

Waheed  14:23
Yeah, hundred percent. Barak Allahu feek for doing that interview, it's really, really amazing, and I will, inshaAllah, add a link to that interview in the episode description so everyone can give it a listen, inshaAllah. Now, let's go back to talking about Straight Struggle. You said that you joined back in 2003 and there were only a couple of members. Can you tell us a little bit more about that group and how it progressed throughout the years? How did it function as a support group?

Yousef  15:02
So, the group, like I said, was started out by brother “Mujahid Mustaqeem” as a Yahoo group. Yahoo was the thing back then. So, it was a Yahoo group, we started sharing ideas. It was mainly just emailing back and forth. We're talking about 2003, so still early days. There was Facebook and all this stuff, but it wasn't as popular as it is now, with all these social media apps. So, really, Yahoo groups were a big thing back then. Everyone had a Yahoo group in terms of all organizations. So, we had a Yahoo group as a mailing list, and we also had a file section, and people would share their ideas that way. Like I said, there weren't too many members when I first joined. And then, over the years, there’s different types of people that join - there are people that join because they want help right then and there, and there's people that join and they just drop off, either because they no longer feel that they need that help, or they no longer are interested, or whatever. And then we have people that have, actually very few, that have stayed over the years, in terms of just like constant participation, and we have people that are still there, but they just listen, and they don't really participate much. And so, that's how it has been over the years, we had hundreds of people go through the group.

Waheed  16:44
So, you said that it functioned on the basis of emails, so people would just write in anonymously, and they would describe, for example, whatever issues they're going through, and other people would reply to their queries or issues, right?

Yousef  16:58
So, yeah, people would write into the group, it was a mailing list like I said, or you could actually go on to the group's website and post something, and it would get emailed to everyone. Anytime anyone finds the group, and it's the same feeling I had when I first joined, even though there were only like 10 people, there was the feeling like, “Finally I found someone that I can talk to. Finally, I found someone that I can identify with, someone that I can speak with about this topic.” Because, a lot of times, people can't really talk to their family about it, due to cultural mindsets or misunderstandings about same-sex attractions and all these things. And part of it is blamed on the media and all these things in the West, I should say, because people view it as an identity or people view it as something to be ashamed of, or people view it as someone is sinning by simply having all these feelings. So, when people first joined, really, it's always that feeling - I mean, I shouldn't say always, but most of the time, it's that feeling that, “Finally I found someone that I can talk to.”

Waheed  18:17
The sense of belonging, connection and community. 

Yousef  18:20
Yeah, someone that you can connect to, exactly. A sense of community, someone that understands me, like that's the main thing. Over the years, I've seen it change too. In 2003, I think, the people that joined, it wouldn't have crossed their minds to bring this up with their parents. I think, more and more over the years, I'm seeing that people join and they are young people, but they've already told their parents, and their parents, most of the time, were understanding. They might not have all the knowledge about the topic itself, but they weren't overly negative or kicking their kids out of the house. I've seen also, over the years, parents that want to learn more about it, because either their son or someone that they know has told them that they have same-sex attractions. So, they're trying to help them through it. Even though they might not fully understand it, they really want to. I think that's something that's changed over the years. Also, over the years, we've engaged with a few scholars, and so I've seen that change, like I said, I mean, in 2003, I don't think I'd ever heard any scholar say the term “same-sex attraction”. But now, even just recently, even in the Arab world, which is like the last place where I thought something like this will be discussed, we're getting prominent scholars bringing this topic up and using terms that we use, using terms that - not just us, but also people who are religious, whether they're Muslim or not, terms that are used by people who do not want to live a gay lifestyle, and they're approaching the topic in the same way that we would, too, which is awesome, right? It wasn't something that I ever expected. I'm not saying that like they're fully experts now or whatever. I'm not saying that I'm an expert, but I'm saying the discussion that's being had now is moving past the discussion about what the punishment is and all these things, which are fine, if you're taking a fiqh class, you can go into all those deep topics. But guess what, that's not going to help Mohammed or Ahmed get through their teenage years in high school with these feelings, telling them that they're going to burn in eternal Hellfire, or they should be thrown off a cliff or whatever. It’s really not going to be what's going to help me tomorrow wake up and not feel depressed, right? So yeah, that's really positive, alhamdulillah. I mean, there's a lot more work to be done, I agree. But, slowly but surely, inshaAllah, we will get there.

Waheed  21:29
InshaAllah. And I can imagine that, after your article came out in 2016, a lot more people joined the group, because it is explicitly mentioned that you're a moderator of that group, and there was a link to that group. I mean, I personally joined that group after reading your article, I never knew that such a group ever existed. So, I was like, “Oh my God! How come I've never heard of this thing before?” I immediately logged in, and I became a member of that group, and then you and I started talking, and I started talking to other members and, alhamdulilah, it was a huge part of my own personal growth process.

Yousef  22:05
Alhamdulillah. Yeah, I mean, over the years, because we're on this anonymously, it's difficult to really advertise this group. Even from the days of “Mujahid”, we had these discussions like, “We found something that's cool, I think we have something that's really good here, how do we tell people about it?” And then we always hit a brick wall when we get to this anonymous part. How do you advertise something anonymously in the Muslim community, right? So, it's not that easy. And like I said, we have engaged with scholars over the years, a few of them have told people that come to them and ask them about the group and stuff. But, even then, they don't really know our real identities. They know us by these anonymous identities, and it's very difficult for them, even, I can imagine, to trust someone on the internet called Yousef sending them emails telling them, “Oh, by the way, we have this.” That's made it difficult, I acknowledge that. But it's anonymous out of necessity, really, not because I feel shame, but it would make life very difficult, because the people around me would not understand it properly. And that's really the only reason why it's anonymous. If I knew that people around me would fully grasp it, and it would not affect them negatively, and there wouldn’t be any negative repercussions, I wouldn't be anonymous, honestly. But, like I said, there's a lot of things at play here, so that's why it has to be anonymous. But with things like this podcast now, and even your talk that that you had earlier. It was earlier this year, in February, in Texas. That conference that was had where they had someone participating, who has SSA, speaking in front of people. So, things are changing. But it was out of necessity. And also, I don't think there was an appetite in the Muslim community to hear about this topic being properly discussed. And now, because we're finding ourselves on the defensive, because of all the LGBT rights and all these things, and you have families where the kids are like, well why aren't we supporting gay rights and all these things, right? Some Muslim families with Muslim kids who are asking them, why aren't they supporting gay rights? And it's like, “Wait, we didn't deal with this topic properly.” People are not understanding it properly. And so, it's time for us to start understanding it properly, I think.

Waheed  25:16
Absolutely. And you said, throughout the years, members kept on joining, and the numbers increased with time. So, until last year, approximately, there were how many members? 

Yousef  25:27
I think there were close to like a thousand registered members. But there wasn't a lot of participation, either. People come and go, some people are just reading the messages, some people come by every few years. But yeah, so that was until October 2019. 

Waheed  25:47
And you said that the majority was usually males, and there were a few females, right? 

Yousef  25:52
I think I could count them on the fingers of my hand, the number of females that have joined over the years. Yeah, very, very few. 

Waheed  26:00
Why do you think that would be the case? We are asked this question most of the time. 

Yousef  26:06
Yeah. I think the main reason is because the organizers were men, right? The organizers of the actual group were men, so we understand male same-sex attractions much more than female same-sex attraction, and I'm not someone who has an academic background in sexuality and all these things, but just from my own experience, that's what I know. And, that's what “Mujahid” had known as well. And so, we just approached it from what we knew, and we didn't have an understanding or background in female same-sex attractions. I think that's the main reason. I don't know if there are other reasons, like I said, I still really don't understand female same-sex attractions as much as I do male same-sex attraction, so, I don't know if there's anything in the experience that's different, and sort of approaching a support group. I don't know, and I can't really speculate as to why that is, to be honest.

Waheed  27:34
Okay. And so, basically, we've been talking about Straight Struggle as an online platform. So, one question that comes to mind is, were there any face-to-face support groups throughout the years that were initiated through Straight Struggle? 

Yousef  27:50
No, not through Straight Struggle. I mean, if people did something individually that I don't know about, that could be the case. In terms of us a group, consciously, having these meetings - I think we tried over the years, we had a meeting with Imam Fadel Sulaiman, some of the members that were in London met at his place a couple of times. But again, that was an off-shoot or more of a personal thing that they had decided. I know he invited people over and wanted to engage with them and talk to them about the topic. He’s been really great, by the way. He's really spearheaded a lot of these discussions, even the discussions that we're seeing now in the Arab world, I think a lot of it has to do with his work too and his contact. So, anyway, he invited a few people a couple of times to come to his place to talk about it. But like a formal support group, no, there hasn't been anything that was initiated that way.

Waheed  29:04
And recently, this year in particular, like before the pandemic started, or at the beginning of it, there has been a shift to a different platform on Discord. Can you tell us more about this?

Yousef  29:17
Yeah, so, in October 2019, Yahoo groups started shutting down. So, they got rid of the files section, they got rid of posting online, it became a distribution list, like an email list, that's all. And it was apparent to us that Yahoo group was really going to shut down for good at some point. We tried a few platforms and finally “Cool Genius” suggested Discord. And yeah, we moved to Discord, and he's really taken on the technical side of things to shift things over, and he set it up nicely as a Discord group. There's a lot of stuff in the background that people may or may not know about, but he's done quite a bit of programming to get the group to function the way that it is now. 

Waheed  30:20
Quite a lot programming, to be exact. 

Yousef  30:23
Yeah, a lot of programming, mashaAllah, may Allah reward him. And then people took to it, and we started announcing on the mailing list that we're moving to this platform. So, quite a few people that were just listening and observing moved over to this new platform. And then we shifted over to straightstruggle.com, we shifted it from the Yahoo group to the Discord group. And so, that started getting people more and more involved. I think people like Discord, at least I'm aging myself here, but the newer generation really doesn't take well to Yahoo groups. So, although that was cool in my day, it's not cool now. So, people like the Discord group more. It's a lot more interactive, it's a lot quicker. You're not waiting for two days for someone to read your email and then reply back. Now, it's just a message that gets sent, and you get a notification right on your phone.

Waheed  31:17
Absolutely. Can you tell us more about the platform? So, you said it's more interactive, what are the services that are provided? How does it function? 

Yousef  31:25
Yeah. So, in the essence of it, it’s a place for people to come and talk about their issues, talk about their feelings, talk about whatever they want to talk about. The difference now is, the way Discord works is that there's a server called the “Straight Struggle” server, and then we have channels. These channels are really just like chat rooms on different topics. So as an example, we have one of the rooms that's called “Growing with SSA”, where people really talk about things that they deal with as they grow while they're same-sex attracted. And then there's another channel about shame, for example, and people share how they feel shame and how to deal with it. Another topic about marriage, and another topic about fiqh. So, people come in, and we try to keep the discussion within these topics. I should be clear: we're not medical professionals or anything like that. So, people are sharing their ideas, people are sharing what worked for them, people are sharing their experiences, it's not really a place for therapy. It’s not like you’re joining the therapy topic and then that's going to be your source of therapy for the next couple of months. That's not what the intention is. People discuss therapy, people discuss different therapy methods, people discuss what worked for them, maybe resources about getting therapy if they want to. But it's never about, “Do this and that, and then you're going to be okay.” And if someone does that, we try to moderate that. It's not really a place for medical advice or mental health advice. It's a place for people to share their experiences and share what worked for them, and to have these discussions just to broaden our understanding about all these different topics.

Waheed  33:42
Right. There are also a lot of documents and books available, a lot of audiovisuals, and as you said, different chat rooms for different topics. 

Yousef  33:52
Yes, so there is a documents channel with a Google Drive on it that has all these different books. And again, anything that's published there is not necessarily endorsed by Straight Struggle to be good for you. These are books that people have uploaded, and they thought that it helped them, and so, when you're reaching out to these resources, you're seeing everything that's out there, and then you're deciding what will work for you, right? So, again, it's not like we're saying, “Read this book and you're going to be okay.” So, people are sharing resources, people are sharing what worked for them and their experiences. It's not about coming to the Discord group to be healed. People need to understand that. It's still a cool place. It's not like, “You're not here to be healed, so stop,” but it's still a nice place. There's a sense of community, even though it’s a bunch of people from around the world that have never even met each other. There's games night, there's a book club that you moderate, Waheed. There are all these things. Even just this passed Eid, you guys had a virtual meet up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t join.

Waheed  35:325
You never make it to those gatherings, but okay.  

Yousef  33:52
I never make it to those gatherings, but, yeah, I mean, it's still there, and people have a good time. People talk to each other, and there is this sense of belonging and sense of community. I think that also helps a lot of people.

Waheed  35:39
Exactly. As you said, it's a sense of community and belonging, making connections with other people who understand you, who know what you're going through – they exactly know it, they don't just say, “I can understand what you're going through.” They are going through this, and it makes a big difference. And I know a lot of friendships have been developed because of this, and people have found a sense of relief and deep emotional bonds that have flourished throughout the years that have helped people overcome a lot of their problems, whether it's addictions or attachments or lacking connections or low self-esteem. I mean, it depends on the person, like each person is different. So, whatever they can get out of, it makes a difference to them, right?

Yousef  36:20
Yeah, definitely. Those connections are really special. I mean, I've connected with quite a few of the brothers over the years. It's definitely special. A lot of times it's not someone that you've ever seen, but still, you feel this deep connection with them. Like you said, it's helped people form these healthy relationships, which is really awesome, alhamdulillah.

Waheed  36:51
Alhamdulillah. And you said that people come from all over the world. Can you tell us a little bit about the demographics, the percentage of men versus women, what is the more predominant age group, how many are married and not married, and so on? 

Yousef  37:02
Honestly, I don't have the numbers in terms of people, but it's still predominantly male. What is cool about this group is that we had more females join in the past few months than we've had over the 13 years on the Yahoo group, which is cool. We've created a separate channel for the sisters. It's a private channel.

Waheed  37:27
But they can still interact with everyone else? 

Yousef  37:30
Yeah, exactly. So, they're part of all the other channels. But in case there are sisters that want to discuss things privately, and they don't want the guys to get involved with that, we created a channel for the sisters so they can talk freely. So, there is a private channel for the sisters on there. But again, they're also participating in the other channels as well, not as much as the guys, I acknowledge that. And maybe it's because it is being run by guys, and that might be the main issue. If there are sisters out there who do want to start something similar for sisters, like a server even just for sisters, where they talk about things the way that they want to talk about them, which may be different than the way that we talk about them, I'm more than happy to help facilitate something like that or help them set that up. And I've brought that up with some of them too. If someone's listening to this, and they feel that there would be benefit to facilitate something like this just for sisters where they have a whole server to themselves, with all the different topics that would be relevant to them, then I would be more than happy to help facilitate something like that. But yeah, in terms of numbers, I think we have people from all over, maybe not like Antarctica, and I don't think we have anyone from South America, to be honest, I don't know why. But all other continents are present. I think a lot of people are from North America and the UK. Again, I think it's just because the people that are involved with it, and Europe, I suppose. We do have an Arabic channel where there's quite a few people from the Middle East, and that's actually quite an active channel where people are engaging in Arabic. And then we have other languages too, but they're not as engaging. The Urdu channel does get a little bit of traction too. 

Waheed  39:51
A lot of brothers from Pakistan and India as well. 

Yousef  39:54
Yes, the Indian subcontinent. We have brothers from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan.

Waheed  40:06
Africa also. 

Yousef  40:08
Yeah, we have people from Nigeria. We have people from North Africa, some of the Arab countries there, we have people from Algeria and Morocco. Europe, I mean I think there's a lot of people from Germany, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, France as well, and the UK. And Canada and the US, there's a lot of people from there. I think the vast majority are not married on the group. A few have actually said that they are married. As for age groups, I mean, we had someone join who was like 14, 15 or something. That's the youngest I think we've had joined. And then we've had people well in their 40s and early 50s as well, so it is wide ranging, but quite a few people are in their 20s. I think that's the biggest age group. It's like I mentioned in the article, honestly, there's people from all over the place. There are people from different walks of life. Mostly professionals, successful people who have work and families and stuff, just like everyone else around them. So, nothing out of the ordinary, but most of the time, they're nice people. 

Waheed  41:26
Yeah, alhamdulillah, they are a wonderful, wonderful community, may Allah bless them. A very common question that we get asked is that some people think that this is a Muslim support group, so only religious topics are addressed. And you know, the typical Muslim support groups are about “praying the gay away” and using the Deen to “cure SSA”. I know that we've said that there are lots of channels that we have different discussions on, but can you just clear this up and tell people that this is not how we go about doing things. 

Yousef  42:02
What was the topic, I think you guys were talking about the other day, about which better Netflix show was out there? And you guys were arguing about that, was it “How To Get Away with Murder”, or..? 

Waheed  42:14
Oh, God! Are we gonna advertise this right now?

Yousef  42:16
Well, I mean I don't know if you want to advertise them on your podcast, but yeah, you're right – yes, religious topics are discussed. But a lot of times, it’s people having fun, and it’s just like you said: a community, it's people, it's like you're talking with your friends about what you think and about things that are happening. We have a channel for COVID, so people are talking about how they're dealing with COVID or how COVID is affecting them and their situation. And there's an off topic channel, and there's a comedy channel.

Waheed  42:52
Yeah, there's a comedy channel with lots of memes and jokes. 

Yousef  42:55
Yeah, lots of talks about elephants and chickens and all these things. 

Waheed  43:00
Yeah, that too! That's an inside joke for people who join, they’d understand that. 

Yousef  43:06
Especially Waheed. Waheed really likes elephants. 

Waheed  43:08
Mmhmm, yeah. I'll just leave it for people to imagine why! Anyway, yeah, but there are like tons of discussions. There's also a discussion on gender dysphoria for any individual who struggles with that or experiences that. A channel for people who have opposite-sex attractions as well as same-sex attractions. There's, as you said, a book club and a channel for bookworms who love to read books. There's another channel for people who like to write poems or short stories. So it's a very interactive and kind of multidisciplinary platform.

Yousef  43:42
Exactly. And actually, we have someone who's not even Muslim who's on that group. He is a religious Christian. He's engaged in a couple of the conversations too. And so yeah, I mean, it's not like we're your like rigid, Shari’a-compliant group. We actually are Shar’ia-compliant though. 

Waheed  44:03
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, we live according to the values of Islam and according to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, of course, but we're happy and we're chill. Alhamdulillah. 

Yousef  44:16
Alhamdulillah. Except for Waheed, I don't know why Waheed is always all upset and stuff. 

Waheed  44:19
Me? I’m not. No, come on, bro! No. The way that I describe myself is like, “I'm all colors of the rainbow, no pun intended.” 

Yousef  44:31
Beyond the colors of the rainbow! 

Waheed  44:32
Beyond the colors of the rainbow, absolutely! So, you were talking about a brother who is non-Muslim, so my question would be, it's predominantly Muslim, but are non-Muslims also welcome to join? The answer be yes, right?

Yousef  44:46
Absolutely. I mean, it's not like we’re saying if someone's not Muslim, that we're not going to talk about things or something like that. We’re discussing topics regularly. I've passed on some resources to him on approaching the topic from a Christian perspective. But he is still in the group, and he signs in every now and then, and we've chatted a few times. So, no, it doesn't matter if you're not Muslim. Obviously, you might not find all the topics relevant to you, but you may also find a lot of topics that are relevant to you, because if someone's still religious, they still want to approach this from a God-conscious perspective, from a taqwa perspective, then that would still be relevant.

Waheed  45:37
Yeah, absolutely, 100%. One question that we get asked is, have you guys had any negative experiences on the group, like any problems arising throughout the years and misunderstandings, and how did you resolve them? So how would you answer that?

Yousef  45:53
Yeah, I mean, look, you gather a bunch of people in any place, and there's going to be conflict. In terms of negativity, you have people that are trolls. When we were in the Yahoo group, that was a lot easier to handle, because all the messages were moderated. So, nothing could get through except by a moderator saying “Okay.” So, there were quite a few messages that I never let through, just because they weren't relevant to the topic at all, or they were hateful. However, in the Discord group, it’s a bit different. And we have had at least a couple of trolls that have joined since we started in March, where someone joins under the guise of being someone who has SSA or wants help or whatever, but their intentions are not that. Alhamdulillah, we have six moderators. And so, they get kicked out that way.  As for misunderstandings between members, I mean that’s something that's inevitably going to happen. I think we've handled it properly as a group, everyone. We had discussions about therapy, and some people were for therapy and some people who were not for therapy, and some people were not for reparative therapy, and some people thought about identity therapy and all these things. So, I think we handled those properly. To be honest, it took us a bit of discussion on the group, if you remember. I think we're at a point now where everyone just respects everyone else's opinion on these things. So long as we're not like attacking each other, and so long as we're telling our own experiences, and we're not imposing or pretending to be medical professionals or all these things, or mental health professionals. But I'm all for it, if someone has an experience that they want to share, then they should be able to share it, to be honest, whatever that experience is, as long as it's not against any anything Islamically, then why not? They should be able to share it, and they should be able to share it without the fear of bullying, without the fear of intimidation and all these things. I think everyone would agree with that. So, I think when all these topics come up, we deal with them, like I said, we try to deal with them in an Islamic manner, in a respectful way, for everyone to be respectful. And at the end of the day, people don't all have to agree, but we just have to disagree nicely.

Waheed  48:42
100%. Absolutely. And you said, you were talking a little bit earlier about trolls who come on just to spam. I think you've upped the verification process. So how does someone join the group nowadays, what is the process that they have to go through? 

Yousef  49:00
Oh, man. Okay. So, the process is they have to go to straightstruggle.com. 

Waheed  49:07
I will add the link, by the way, to the website in the episode description, so everyone can easily access that. But yeah, go ahead.

Yousef  49:13
Yes. So they will go ahead and join, and you if have a Discord account, I think you just automatically join. If you don't, then you have to create a Discord account, and then you join that way. And then, you'll get to the rules, you'll see the rules channel. And then, on the rules channel, you have to read the rules and put a “like” on them. And then, you'll get a link to actually register. So, in the registration process, you will go ahead and say your username and just very few information, your email address, your username and if you want to actually disclose why you want to join with the rest of the members. And then that sends us a notification on the admin channel for the administrators, and then you get approved, and then you get an email saying that you got approved. So, it's a little bit of quite a few steps. I think they're necessary, because we were getting these trolls, and we don't want people to be discouraged by such negative comments. And, really, on Discord, we can't really moderate every single message. There's so much going on in that server, we would need to hire someone like full time to be able to do something like that. And obviously, we're all volunteers ourselves.

Waheed  50:42
100%, and something that I've noticed was that the members themselves, they are very protective of the community. So, if anyone comes in just to troll, or to attack others, they all jump in, and they want to kind of defend the group and defend each other, and they all step up. So, that's something that's wonderful.

Yousef  51:02
Alhamdulilah, yeah. I really think that people take this to heart. I think people understand why this group is important, to me and to everyone. People understand that. I don't know of any other group where you can discuss this topic from an Islamic perspective in a comprehensive way. I'm sure there are, but I may not know about them. That's why this is important, to me and to the people, we know what it feels like to have a place where you feel that you belong. And so, we don't want that to be attacked or taken away from us, right?

Waheed  51:45
Exactly. 100%. One person might be asking, isn't putting an individual who experience same-sex attractions in one place, kind of, you know, “asking for trouble”, particularly if there is no supervision from, let's say, therapists or counselors or community leaders or scholars or whatever? How do you respond to this statement?

Yousef  52:06
Look, like I said, I think this group, even when it was a Yahoo group, it sprung out of necessity, more than anything else. We need a place where people can talk about this in a way that they don't feel judged, in a way that they don't feel bullied or intimidated. And so, that's what we hope people get out of the group. Now, if there are people who have bad intentions, then there are people that have bad intentions, and people have to watch out for that. But I still maintain that, if people are looking for sex or looking for illicit relationships, there's far more platforms out there that they can use than this Discord group that we have.

Waheed  52:54
Which we don't advocate for, obviously, but we’re just saying.

Yousef  52:57
Absolutely, no, no. I'm just saying that we should not be closing this group because we're afraid of people having bad intentions. If people have bad intentions, then people have bad intentions. I feel there is a lot good coming out of the group that would outweigh any of that. And so, for people that are doing that, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is watching you, and you'll have to answer to Him. You don't have to answer to me, that's fine, but you have to answer Allah. But again, I don't think we should shut down something that's so good because of fear of something that's so bad. And like I said, people who have bad intentions, they can find all that stuff on a lot more platforms, a lot easier than going through the Straight Struggle registration process, which is unfortunate, but that is the case, that's the society that that we live in. But, you know, what can we do? Are there people that are like that? I'm pretty sure there are. If I find out that there are people like that, they will be kicked out and banned. Not right away, I may talk to them and see what's going on. But if there are people that are insistent on doing something like that on the group, obviously, they will not be welcome. But, we deal with that as it comes up, we don't just cut something off out of fear of people using it in a negative way. 

Waheed  54:43
Absolutely. And there are rules and regulations, there are admins and moderators, and people can actually point this out if they are getting any unwelcome messages. And I would say that, if it happens, it's a very rare occurrence, ahamdulillah. Most of the people are there to benefit and to support each other and to develop these friendships and support systems. So that's way more important, and it’s more prevalent, right? 

Yousef  55:12
Yeah, I absolutely agree. And brothers that are dealing with that, I mean brothers that are approaching people in a negative manner, just think about what you're doing, think about what it's doing to someone else, people that are trying to deal with this in an Islamic way, and you're putting them in that situation where they might be vulnerable, they might be going through something difficult, and then they end up doing something haram because of that person. You've just multiplied your sin, right? So, just be conscious of that. And if you are feeling something like that, just reach out. No one's going to judge you, if you feel that if you're going through something like that. People will help out, people would point out resources that may be able to help out as well. So, do reach out. We're here for each other.

Waheed  56:24
If I were to ask you, how has Straight Struggle, throughout the years ever since you joined it in 2003, up until this moment, so almost 17 years - what has it given you personally, as Yousef, throughout those years, how has it benefited you?

Yousef  56:40
You know, I think part of the bounty that Allah has given us is the bounty of being forgetful and forgetting things. And so, I think if I think back to the state that I was in when I was 20 some years old, it was difficult. I wasn't diagnosed as being depressive, but I definitely had those feelings. I felt helpless. I felt like there was no future for me. And, really, finding the group, honestly, finding the group really just changed all that, even though we were only like 10 people on the group. And even then, there were only four or five that even participated. But just having those discussions with “Mujahid” mostly, in the early days, having those discussions with him, really working out what these feelings are and how we deal with them, what does Islam say and all these things. We didn't have the benefit of having all these scholars talk about it like now, all these YouTube videos. So, we really had to really try to figure things out on our own, mostly. Like I said, we engaged with scholars later on, but really, in the early days, it was just us trying to figure all this out on our own. So that was transformative. It totally changed my view. Totally. Really helped me evolve with these feelings. And I didn't feel helpless anymore. Obviously, it took time, but I didn't feel helpless anymore. I felt like I had a future, I felt like I found a place, I found my belonging in life. And after that, I mean, now I'm in a very good place, Alhamdulilah Rabb Al-‘Alameen, when it comes to these same-sex attractions. But, talking to others, offering my experiences, how I've dealt with things, and seeing if others can use the same thoughts, the same processes or whatever, like just the same things that I did and seeing that it can help them really was also very helpful and beneficial, and just reinforced in me that, alhamdulilah, that this is the right way of doing things. This is the correct way, Alhamdulilah Rabb Al-‘Alameen. So, the flip side to this is it just made my faith much stronger. It made my relationship with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala a lot stronger. I'm not saying just like by joining the group all this happened, but there was a lot of things, like joining the group, finding out how I could deal with this, talking through it. And then things that worked with other people that I tried, that worked for me. I mean, Alhamdulilah Rabb Al-‘Alameen, I feel that it's made my faith a lot stronger, made me want to be a better Muslim because of it. I think this is what it's about. We're talking about our lives, we're talking about Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, which is where we ultimately want to go. And pleasing Allah - we're putting Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala above everything else, above even our own feelings, even our own attractions, even our own selves.

Waheed  1:00:38
Indeed, 100%. Absolutely. This is all there is to it, at the end of the day, right? Subhan Allah. 

Yousef  1:00:45
Exactly. Exactly. 

Waheed  1:00:46
My last question for you today is, what last words would you like to give the listeners who are listening to you today?

Yousef  1:00:52
I think partly what I've said really in the BBC radio interview. First and foremost, look, you're not alone. People that are dealing with this, I know times can get difficult. This is not an easy struggle, by any means, especially when you're in your teens or in your 20s, this can be really, really difficult. And I acknowledge that, and I think all of us can acknowledge that. But rest assured that you're not alone. Rest assured that, in the vast majority of cases, things do get better with time. And stick to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. You know, no matter what happens, sticking by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, sticking by Islam is ultimately all that really matters to us as Muslims. And then the flip side is not to get drawn to people who are trying to deviate from the teachings of Islam or distort the teachings of Islam. They're out there, and may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guide them and guide all of us. But, you know, they are misguiding people. There are people that are being misguided by their teachings. Read Mobeen Vaid’s refutation of Scott Kugle’s work. Scott Kugle is what all these people really depend on in terms of reinterpreting the verses of the Qur’an, when it comes to the story of Qawm Lut. Please read his rebuttal, it's very robust, it is very comprehensive. And I think anyone who reads it would honestly like just completely reject what Dr. Scott Kugle had written. So yeah, find your place on this path, on this struggle, and may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guide you and all of us and bring about everything that is good for us. We're not going to succeed always, and if we fail, then the only option that we have, as Muslims, is that we get up and keep on going, until the last breath, until we meet Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. That is what's asked of us, that we continue on this path, that we continue on this path of Islam, and that we do our best to stick by Allah. 

Waheed  1:03:35
Indeed, indeed. Beautiful words, jazak Allah khairan. I will, inshaAllah, put all of the references and all the resources that we've spoken about, the links to all of these will be put in the episode description for everyone to access, inshaAllah. Yousef, I want to say jazak Allah khairan and barak Allahu feek. Thank you so much for your time and for doing this interview. This has been a pleasure, and I really hope that people have benefited, inshaAllah, from this interview. And I know that you are accessible to people whenever they want to contact you, you’re always available on Straight Struggle, inshaAllah. 

Yousef  1:04:06
Wa iyyakum, thank you for having me. It's always wonderful to hear from you and to hear about the podcast, and may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala bring it to people, and may people benefit from it, inshaAllah. 

Waheed  1:04:19
Ameen. Barak Allah feek. I really appreciate that. Thank you so much for your time. And with this, we have come to the end of today's episode. I hope that you guys have enjoyed it and learned from it, inshaAllah. Joining me, inshaAllah, in the next episode, all the way from Melbourne, Australia, is our guest speaker Chris who will be talking to us about 12-step programs as well as Sexaholics Anonymous and support groups that help individuals deal with and overcome their sexual addictions. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and I look forward to talking to you in a couple of days, inshaAllah. This has been Waheed Jensen in “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, assalamu alaikom wa rahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakatuh.

Episode Introduction
On Yousef and His Article
On Straight Struggle Throughout the Years
Shift to "Discord" Platform
Services Provided
Demographics of Members
Clearing Some Misconceptions
Admission and Verification Processes
“Asking for Trouble”?
Final Messages from Yousef
Ending Remarks