“We have always been here, it’s just that the world wasn’t ready for us yet,” explains Dali, a young Muslim featured in Toronto photographer and artist Samra Habib’s project Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project.
The brainchild of the achingly beautiful 2014 project is finding new life on social media in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
And it is a timely rebirth.
Pundits, politicos, media and ordinary folks have papered media and social media with denunciations of Islam, some celebrating Donald Trump’s revival of a proposed ban on Muslims, many downplaying the role they have played in cultivated homophobia and transphobia with antiquated bathroom laws, and all leveraging the deaths of men and women at Pulse nightclub to entrench Islamophobia in American society.
But as Samra Habib recently wrote for The Guardian, “Queer Muslisms exist — and we are in mourning too.”
Erasure, in the name of an American election year and bathroom and mariage laws. But if the world wasn’t ready for Queer Muslims, the latest attacks at Pulse demands that we listen to the voices of these young people intent on remaking the world in their image.
“Today, Islam is a source of solace for me. An identity I get to define on my terms,” explains Shima. “In my opinion, stigma and misplacement are some of the biggest challenges facing Queer Muslims today. Islam is incredibly misunderstood and the queer conversation is only just beginning. We can be rejected by both queers and Muslims. The supposed juxtaposition of Islam and queerness is only made more complicated by the North American hostility towards Muslims in a climate where Muslims strive for acceptance and visibility.”
“I think that a lot of challenges queer Muslims face are also the same challenges Muslims face in general and a lot of that comes from other people’s perceptions,” says Samira. “Becoming a face or spokesperson for something is a challenge. There is not just one type of Islam yet the community is often painted with the same brush. I think the queer Muslim community needs to avoid falling into the trap of having to provide answers to questions that supply a unifying message. Diversity is our strength and we should nurture that.”
“It’s important for people to realize that Islam is not a monolith,” explains Troy, who with his partner El-Farouk Khaki and Laurie Silvers, founded Toronto’s Unity Mosque. “Islam practiced in Egypt is different from the Islam practiced in India. I think that Muslim LGBTQ folks and women are challenging patriarchy within Islam, in fact I think they’re leading the way. I understand it as a way of reclaiming Islam, as opposed to it being progressive. For people to say that anything should be practiced as it was 1400 years ago is ridiculous, while you’re taking selfies at Hajj.”
But it is to Samra Habib that we leave the last word: “I’d also like to help queer Muslims who live in countries with no support system feel that they’re not alone.”
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