Being queer and Muslim can be complicated – but generally not for the reasons people think.
The first person I ever came out to was my conservative Muslim mother, so I guess my story doesn’t even start the way you’d expect.
People ask me a lot, “Do the other Muslims accept you?” What they generally mean is: you don’t look like the Muslims I’ve seen on TV, you don’t dress like the Muslims I picture in my head, you don’t act like I’ve been told Muslims act. Don’t all those Muslims I’m imagining have a problem with you?
And you know what? I’d be lying if I said I’d never met a single Muslim who had an issue with me being queer, or with me not covering my hair, or with me marrying a non-Muslim. But there are far fewer of them than you’d think.
The thing about the queer rights movement, such as it is, is that it’s still very westernised and white-centric. We see photos and videos of pride marches in the United States, the UK, Australia or Canada and assume that that’s all there is to it. But the revolution is worldwide, and it’s happening in communities everywhere. The paradigm shift we’re slowly seeing in majority-Christian nations like the United States is not an isolated one. While we watch the progress of human rights for LGBT+ people in the West, we ignore the huge cultural shifts that are starting elsewhere.
Did you know that there’s a mosque in France that was founded by a gay Algerian man? They perform niqah services for same sex couples there. Similar mosques exist elsewhere, too – in Toronto and South Africa, for starters. In the US, Muslims for Progressive Values runs queer-friendly mosques in a few different locations. You may have already read Shahar’s excellent column about an openly gay imam in Washington DC. We are a minority, but we are slowly finding a niche.
Even outside of explicitly queer-friendly spaces, however, I’ve not found all that much pushback from my fellow Muslims. Muslims who know I am queer have invited me into their communities, their lives and their homes. While some of them might consider me a sinner, they are not the violent, hateful people the western media likes to portray on television. In fact, being queer in a moderate Muslim community is mostly like being queer in a moderate Christian community – sometimes uncomfortable, fraught with microaggressions, definitely not ideal…but not entirely unliveable.
In fact, the hardest thing about being a queer Muslim isn’t the backlash from within the community. What’s hard is becoming a lightning-rod for Islamophobes who want a reason to be bigots.
I have lost count of the number of anonymous messages I’ve received from people threatening osctracism, violence and worse if I ever “go home”. “You think your people would accept you if you went and lived amongst them? Go back to Pakistan and they’ll kill you.” (For the record, my Pakistani cousins may not be thrilled about my sexuality, but they’ve never mistreated me because of it. They call me “little sister” and are generally the first people to come to my aid if they think I’m hurting.) “Why don’t you go and join al-Qaeda? Since you’re a f*ggot, they’ll be happy to use you as cannon fodder. They won’t think twice about killing you.” (Probably, but al-Qaeda are a terrorist organisation, so I think they’d hate me for plenty of reasons.) Claiming that Islam is anti-gay is an easy way for bigots to claim they care about human rights whilst taking pot-shots at people of colour. It’s the cheapest, most desperate kind of concern-trolling.
I have no doubt that there are Muslims who would happily kill me for being queer. There are also Christians who would happily do the same; hell, there are atheists who would happily do the same. Homophobia isn’t intrinsically a part of any belief system. Being a queer Muslim is hard for the same reasons that being queer in general is hard – because society as a whole, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, still views us as inferior. It’s hard because people see me as a playing piece in their war against whatever ideologies they disagree with, my humanity merely an afterthought as they quote my identity as a statistic, and that comes from all sides, but particularly from those who think queer people of faith are somehow betraying the LGBT+ rights movement by existing.
When I came out to my mother, she was initially confused and a little upset. She had a lot of questions. She wanted to know if maybe she’d done anything wrong. (Don’t they always?) But over the years, she’s become perhaps my staunchest ally. She treats my queer friends just as well as she treats my straight friends. She signs petitions and helps create safe spaces for queer and trans people who are in danger. She tells me she’s still not sure how she feels about homosexuality, but it doesn’t seem to stop her from acting humanely, just like it hasn’t stopped many other members of my family. The Muslims I care about the most in the world accept me – and people like me – just fine.
Islamic communities around the world still have a long way to go when it comes to queer and trans rights. I would say that’s true of all communities around the world, but I can acknowledge that my fellow Muslims need to work particularly hard on this. But I would very much like people to stop asking me if “the other Muslims” accept me – as though Muslims, uniquely of every single faith group in the world, are a monolith. The LGBT+ rights movement does not comprise only white people. I promise you that there are queer people of absolutely every stripe fighting and making inroads into their own communities every single day.
Ask me instead: “Do non-Muslims accept that you’re Muslim and queer?” The answer is that they honestly cannot seem to wrap their heads around it. I think exploring that particular series of preconceptions might be far more helpful.
jaythenerdkid is the nom de net of Aaminah Khan, a queer Muslim writer, activist, tutor, former medical student and terroriser-of-bigots for hire. When she’s not tweeting, tumblr-ing, blogging, arguing with conservatives on Facebook or being blocked by Richard Dawkins, Aaminah reads fantasy novels, plays video games, argues with her husband about Game of Thrones and gets angry that there aren’t more characters like Abed Nadir on television.