“I didn’t know you could be LGBTQ+ and Muslim” is a statement I heard not too long ago. For the speaker, a religious identity (a practiced faith) felt juxtaposed with a queer identity. Whether it was a comment born out of naivety or ignorance, his fleeting sentiment had bothered me, for I thought, “Can queerness and faith co-exist?”. Well, that’s a broad question with many leads. Much like the variety of the LGBTQ+ community, there is no archetype for how religion and homosexuality should be accommodated, nor is there need to be.
Instead, regardless of faith or culture chosen, mutual respect should be granted as a member of the community who seeks to find solidarity among others. Naturally, navigating a whole new community with the attachment of your personal cultures and religions is no small feat. The oft-repeated stories of trauma and abandonment can paint a pretty bleak picture. However, it is always possible to highlight the joyous moments of queerness, culture and visibility. GAY TIMES spoke to a handful of LGBTQ+ Muslims to find out how they seek queer joy and acceptance within both communities.
Like many religious celebrations, there is always a lot of preparation. Luckily for us, Eid comes twice a year, so we practice a bit. Eid, for those who don’t know, is a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world. Within Islam, there are two sacred Eid festivals titled Eid al-Adha, which means “Feast of Sacrifice” and Eid al-Fitr aka “Feast of Breaking the Fast”, which will fall always at the end of a month of fasting (Ramadan).
For 18-year-old Aliyah Ali, she has always found comfort in community celebrations, especially with family. “After being deprived of being who I am for 15 years, I was finally able to celebrate Eid as I should,” she says, reflecting on her decision to transition. “I can finally wear the clothes I’ve dreamed of all my life.”
Although coming out as transgender was not easy at first, the teenager is grateful to be now about to spend Eid “like [her] real me” and able to engage in his religion. “I have the privilege of having a biological family,” she explains. “I will always choose to spend Eid with my family, letting go of all my problems in life and spending time with those I love.”
Acknowledging her unique position, Ali hopes the conversation around queer Muslim identities isn’t limited to stories of denial: “Our experience shouldn’t be reduced to pain and isolation, because we are so much more than that. Looking ahead, the teenager hopes the LGBTQ+ community will take on greater responsibility in policing queer minorities. “I want them to understand that being queer doesn’t stop them from marginalizing others,” she told GAY TIMES.
Our experience should not be reduced to pain and isolation, for we are much more than that.
“I want them to give the same acceptance that they give different sexual orientations and gender identities to people who have different beliefs than their own.” The Californian adds that it’s also imperative for the LGBTQ+ community to take a stand against racism, such as the horrible idea “that all Muslims are queerphobic extremist terrorists”. By speaking out against dangerous stereotypes, Ali believes the community will make way for a space of understanding and acceptance. “It’s important to show future generations that it’s okay to be yourself and that there’s joy and contentment in that,” she adds.
Sakib Khan is a member of the South Asian LGBTQ+ collective Gaysians. Khan, who just turned 40, recalled coming out at age 16 in 1998: “I had a very conservative, working-class and religious upbringing.” Only now, after years of growing alongside the queer community, has Khan become aware of resources for LGBTQ+ Muslims. Yet for him, Eid is a particularly difficult time due to his family relationship and “personal trauma”.
Despite this, Khan agrees there is a need to dismantle the harmful dialogue surrounding South Asian homosexuality. “It’s important to break the negative narrative around gay South Asians,” he told GAY TIMES. “[We need to] show the world and ourselves that we can be happy and not just misery and loneliness if we choose to be visible. However, the work to be done, for Khan, is not just about the LGBTQ+ community, but about both sides of culture – LGBTQ+ and South Asian. “The dismantling of generic stereotypes and the shame that comes with how we are viewed on both sides of our intersections needs to change,” he says.