Original article published here
To many, “Muslim queer” is considered an oxymoron, as the two words seem mutually exclusive.
Many Muslims who identify as LGBTQ+ are often pushed to choose between one of the two attributes, rather than embrace them both.
This comes as a result of lack of tolerance for the LGBTQ+ community in general, emboldened by strict interpretations of scripture, anti-LGBTQ legislation, and long-standing cultural and societal norms.
Queerness is thus commonly deemed as “abnormal”, “anti-religious,” and among the worst of all sins.
In addition to fighting their own psychological battles and dealing with the general stigma facing the LGBTQ+ community, many Muslim queers find themselves marginalized in their communities. Some Muslims play the role of the divine and bully queers into believing that they have no place in Islam and that they are destined for hell.
But, Muslim queers are not having it, and are now standing up for their beliefs and right to peacefully coexist in society.
We talked to queer Muslims about their experiences and how they managed to reconcile their sexual orientation with their Islamic beliefs:
“My family sent people to beat me up … and I attempted suicide three times”
Mohamad, Iraq, Non-binary/Gay
Raised in a conservative Muslim family in Iraq, the 31-year-old’s life was at risk. When his family found out about his sexual orientation, they sent people to beat him up, breaking his back and sending him to the hospital.
He finally fled the country in 2016 and moved to Lebanon, where he has been struggling to make ends meet.
“The problem lies in the high rates of ignorance and the many misconceptions surrounding LGBTQ+ people in the region,” he says, citing several misconceptions such as “queerness is contagious” and “LGBTQ+ people all work in prostitution“.
He goes on to say that queers are not given enough platforms to speak out for themselves, with media outlets failing to adequately translate their anguish and “psychological battles”.
Still, Mohamad stays true to his Muslim faith. He fasts, abstains from drinking alcohol, reads Quran, and generally believes in God and the religion of Islam. “I am doing what I am capable of doing,” he says, adding that he is now completely satisfied with the life he is leading.
However, satisfaction did not come easy, as the feeling of guilt and non-belonging had pushed him to attempt suicide three times throughout his life.
He continues, “Allah judges us based on our actions. How can He punish me for something I have no control over, something He created me with?”
“I’m queer, Arab, Muslim, but Muslim comes first”
Yara El Safi, Lebanon, Queer
The full-time artist, who is now based in Toronto, grew up in Tripoli, Lebanon, and immigrated to Canada in 2011.
Growing up, she felt like she did not belong in the Muslim community as a queer.
“The Muslim community tends to be very judgy,” she says. “A lot of perception of me is very loose.”
Through activism, El Safi has learned to disregard the negative comments pertaining to her Muslim queerness.
She notes that “the Muslim community is getting stronger and beginning to understand what queerness is”.
“I do identify as Muslim. At the core I’m Muslim,” she says. “I’m queer, Arab, Muslim, but Muslim comes first.”
“We’re here, we’re queer, and we are ready to start a revolution”
Humza Ali Mian, Pakistani-Canadian, Gay
The Toronto-based Veterinary Technician, who enjoys dressing up in drag on weekends, says he struggles to be himself around his family. “I can’t dance freely while at weddings or other functions for fear of it being ‘too feminine’,” he says. “I was afraid to speak when I was in Pakistan six years ago because of my feminine voice.”
He has faced a lot of scrutiny and verbal harassment ever since he started being open about his sexuality. “The most repetitive verbal attack I’ve had throughout my life is that I’m going to hell,” he says. “I’ve been called a faggot, khusra (eunuch), even by my own mother, and pretty much anything homophobic you can think of.”
Concerning LGBTQ+ issues in Muslim communities, he says, “There is a huge divide of gender roles in the cultures surrounding the religion and that creates a space for homophobia to run rampant.”
“It will take several lifetimes before it gets better. But we’re here, we’re queer, and we are ready to start a revolution.”
He identifies as a non-practicing Muslim who believes in the teachings of Islam. “I do hold the culture very close to my heart,” he says. “There are so many things that Islam has taught me that I can use in my daily life, [such as] to be a respectful and peaceful human being.”
“They seem to forget that shirk is a far greater sin than being gay”
Rowa Mohamed, Sudan, Queer
Rowa Mohamed, an anti-oppression educator based in Canada who wears the hijab, says she has been called a kaffir (infidel) many times for advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.
“The challenge of being a queer Muslim girl is finding places to feel safe and to belong,” says the health sciences graduate.
She explains that the community ostracizes LGBTQ+ people and treats them as villains, saying, “The perception is that we are undeserving of empathy, participation and sometimes life.”
She goes on to say that the intolerance leads to serious violence against queer people, who “fear for their lives on a daily basis”.
Mohamed says that Muslims who judge queer people do not know enough about the true teachings of Islam. “I think Islam is a religion that is meant to be kind. And the way LGBTQ people are treated is anything but kind.”
“I think Muslim people on a systemic level are more interested in harming queer people than understanding what Islam teaches.
I believe that when you take your judgement and play God that is a major sin. It is shirk (the act of ascribing a partner to Allah) because they’ve now equated themselves with God to think they are in a position to judge.
They seem to forget that shirk is a far greater sin than being gay. Shirk is the biggest sin of all actually.”
“That same religion that I thought had no place for me became my beacon of hope and strength”
Shaheer, Canadian-Pakistani, Gay
The 26-year-old travel consultant says he was raised to believe queers are not really Muslims, and that he subsequently had no place in Islam.
He explains that he was raised to look down on those who do not conform to gender norms and regard them as “abnormal” human beings.
“I was told to believe that God made us all ‘normal’ and these [LGBTQ+] people were not ‘normal’ – they had ‘chosen’ to become the way they were,” he says.
Starting to discover his own sexual orientation, Shaheer struggled with the feeling that God would hate him for accepting his true identity.
But, rather than choosing between his faith and his sexuality, he embraced both aspects of his identity.
“My mother raised me to believe Allah was all merciful and kind, I instead feared the people of this world. I prayed for my safety and refuge from the people because I knew Allah knew my true and pure intentions.
I came full circle and that same religion that I thought had no place for me became my beacon of hope and strength.”
Shaheer has been praying and fasting every since he was 12 years old. He says that he finds “solace and comfort in being a Muslim, as a protection from the discomfort of my daily life and struggles”.
Shaheer notes that many Muslims often advertise Islam as “beautiful and a religion of peace,” but fail to translate that ideology to action and implement it in real life.
“It’s highly cultural and not just exclusive to the religion”
Anonymous, 23, Parts of the Middle East and South Asia, Queer
The 23-year-old illustrator, who remained vague about her country of origin fearing recognition, identifies as a queer secular Muslim who does not practice religion traditionally for reasons that “have nothing to do” with her sexuality.
She remains spiritual, praying and reading du’aa occasionally.
She continues to identify as Muslim nonetheless, describing Islam as a “core part” of her identity.
The illustrator has discussed the existence of queer Muslims with her parents, who are “slowly understanding” despite still finding the topic shocking in many ways.
When it comes to queers in Muslim communities, she says that the lack of dialogue about LGBTQ+ results from the lack of dialogue about sex in general.
“I think a lot stems from the fact that we just aren’t having a conversation about sex at all in the Muslim community.
Whether it’s queer sexuality or heterosexuality, these topics are still very hushed and seen as shameful to talk about, which I think is also a highly cultural thing and not just exclusive to the religion.”
She believes that Islam at its core “without modern day twisted interpretation can absolutely accept and be loving of LGBT folks.”