We're Here, We're Queer, And We Eat Kheer: To Be Utterly Gay And Muslim
CONTENT WARNING: MENTIONS OF HOMOPHOBIA, ISLAMOPHOBIA
In October of 2016, I attended my very first Pride parade. Attending and enjoying my time at Atlanta Pride was the highlight of my third year in college. The event spurred an amazing moment of self-love: on that day, at the intersection of 10th and Juniper, I truly understood the feeling of being in a crowd with a hundred of your best friends. Politicians, companies, activist groups, and organizations came out to march - I nearly fell off the barriers from cheering so hard when I saw the Atlanta South Asian Gay Mens’ Forum striding proudly down the street. I even saw Christian and Jewish groups come out to show their support for the LGBT+ community.
However, there was one major Abrahamic religion missing. I didn’t see a single Muslim-based organization show up at the parade. There were a couple of Muslim women, clad in rainbow hijabs, but I saw no official displays of support from the greater Atlanta Muslim community. I even researched this, making sure I hadn’t missed anything - no Muslim organizations sponsored or marched in the parade. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that not everyone can sponsor or march in a Pride parade. However, if about ten other religious organizations had the guts to acknowledge the LGBT+ community, then why couldn’t we?
It was also when I was reminded of how often queer Muslims get pushed to the sidelines in discussions about Islam or the LGBT+ community. To this day, there are self-proclaimed “open-minded, progressive, feminist” people within the LGBT+ community who cannot fathom a queer Muslim. On the flip side, there are homophobic and transphobic people within the Muslim community. Queer Muslims are sometimes disavowed and shunned by other Muslims, whilst being simultaneously denied by the very LGBT+ communities they turn to for safety. To these individuals, religion and queerness cannot intersect.
I grew up in the southern United States. So much of my youth was spent in Arabic and Islamic history classes in Sunday school. I and other queer Muslims pray, read Quran, and live through our Islamic teachings, but we’re invisible in every community we occupy. When we’re with the LGBT+ community, we can’t be overtly Muslim or religious. When we’re with our Islamic community, we can’t even hint at our queerness without fear of ostracization.
When news of the Pulse nightclub shooting broke out, I was extremely upset and conflicted. At the time, people were saying such horrible things on the Internet, in the news, and even in real life: there were LGBT+ people who would use the tragedy to show how Muslims were inherently violent and evil, and there were Muslims who were happy that the shooter attacked the LGBT+ community, since these victims were considered “sinners.” The conversations surrounding the shooting were so toxic, and it was another reminder that queer Muslims are invisible.
The life of an LGBT+ Muslims is one of hiding. I’ve spent half of my existence trying to suppress who I am, and I now ardently shield my queer identity. Apart from a couple of close friends and family, I’ve completely hidden a large part of my personhood. Though I don’t project my queerness all day, every day, it still hurts to act like I am someone else. I don’t expect to shout through the streets that I’m pansexual, but I definitely don’t want to fear for my life and livelihood if I do choose to speak about my sexuality.
Furthermore, the life of a queer Muslim person is full of fear. As the Trump administration stumbles into its second year with the grace of a drunk person, more and more minorities are feeling the brunt of its policies. From the Muslim Ban to the various state bathroom bills, it’s getting harder identify as Muslim and LGBT+. I sometimes feel that that I can’t win, either as a Muslim or a queer person. Fortunately, I’ve gotten glimmers of hope: this summer I learned about Britain’s first gay, interracial Muslim wedding. The couple’s dedication to each other and their love was heartwarming. One of the betrothed was a young Bengali man, and seeing his ceremony gave me hope as another Bengali Muslim person.
Also, every year in Istanbul, people march in the city’s Pride parade. It’s one of the few open Pride events in a predominantly Muslim nation. Even though the Turkish authorities shut it down every single year (usually attacking the peaceful revelers with water cannons), people still come together to celebrate LGBT+ Pride. Even though Turkey is one of the few Muslim nations that is moderately okay with queer people, the government has recently started cracking down on its LGBT+ community.
Overall, I think a queer Muslim’s existence is one spent in the shadows. My only hope is that people can lose the hate in their heart. At the very core of Islam is love, acceptance, and kindness. The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) spent his time helping people on the fringes of society. The Quran mentions positive words like “prayer,” “kindness,” and “charity” much more often than it does negative words like “sin” and “heresy.” At the end of the day, LGBT+ Muslims are just like any other people. We want to get married, have children, and pray like everyone else. Hopefully, we can leave the shadows and live in the world without fear or persecution.
Sarah Yusuf is a student, writer, artist, and dreamer. She enjoys scrolling through her Tumblr and reading in her free time.