Too queer to be Muslim, too Muslim to be queer

by Hafsa Qureshi | Blogger
Monday, 25 February 2019 10:01 GMT

A woman carrying a sign that reads, "Queer, Muslim and Proud" marches during the Gay Pride parade in Toronto July 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

I was told there were no queer Muslims growing up and then stereotyped as a Muslim in queer circles.

Hafsa Qureshi is a bisexual Muslim and LGBT+ activist, who is currently the Stonewall Bi Role Model of the Year 2019

A Muslim woman is quiet. She is pure. She is a good wife to her husband, and mother to her children. That's the message I heard from my peers, and saw modelled by the adults around me. It's what I strived towards as I grew up.

There was just one problem. I wasn't straight.

Trouble began when all my friends started getting crushes on guys. That boy had cute eyelashes; that one had a cute smile. I would nod and agree, thinking of how my crush wore her hair differently that day. I was an aberration. Maybe I would learn to be straight as I got older. How else would I get married and have kids, like every woman in my community was expected to do?

There are no LGBT+ Muslims. At least, that was what I heard growing up. Queer brown people didn't exist. If they did, the earth must have swallowed them whole as soon as they came out, because I had never met any. Sure, there was that guy in school who acted camp, or that one girl who stared when other girls changed in physical education. Maybe they were straight, maybe they weren't. But on paper, there could be no anomalies.

I have always loved my religion. I loved learning about Islam, praying, wearing hijab. I didn't want to give up an essential part of who I am because I liked girls. So I did my research, and there are powerful women in Islamic history. There are businesswomen, women who lead armies... So why was I being told to stay quiet? It seemed to me this was more of a cultural expectation than a religious one.

And just like that, I felt less shackled to being one specific archetype of Muslim woman. I decided I wanted to explore my sexuality.

The first time I went on a date with another woman, I complimented her lipstick. She complimented me back by saying she was glad I “wasn't like the rest of them”. I should have asked what “them” meant.

I ordered a starter instead.

This was the start of a disturbing pattern I noticed at the start of my queer journey. A pattern of being commended for being “different”, for being “brave” and “breaking stereotypes”. Suddenly, my queerness had become political. It was less an expression of my sexuality, and more a breaking free from what people expected from Muslims. At 18 this wasn't something I was ready for. Why couldn't I just date like everyone else?

In LGBT+ circles, people would ask me probing questions about my religion. They would ask me about my thoughts on Islam and homosexuality; they would ask whether I was really religious or not. They would chastise me when I didn't want to drink or go clubbing, saying that no one was judging and I could “be myself”. But I was being myself, it just didn't fit into their perception of what queer culture should be.

I had expanded my view of who I could be as a Muslim woman, but it seemed that the rest of the world wasn't quite there yet.

My queerness as a Muslim woman will always be an anomaly, whether in LGBT+ circles as a quirky outlier, or in my south Asian community. I've decided to take that power and use it, weaponise it to raise the visibility of other people like me, though we've been around a long time.

Organisations such as Hidayah, Imaan LGBTQI and Naz and Matt Foundation have been working for years to tackle the perception of queer Muslims. And I've also made it my mission to dismantle those assumptions.

As black lesbian activist Audre Lorde said: “Survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish.”