Creating safe spaces to be Muslim and queer

M. Iman, who goes by the name Queer Muslimah on Instagram, wants to create a safe space for queer Muslim youth, the kind of space she craved while growing up in a small city in the United States. As a religious Muslim, it took a while for her to accept that she is a genderqueer lesbian. But once she did, she had no doubt in her mind that she was meant to thrive at the intersection of queer and Muslim. She has been using her platform to spread that knowledge and awareness with the rest of the world. 

Read on to learn more about her life, activism, and taking pride in her identity.

I knew from a very young age that I was queer, though I didn’t have the language for it until I was older. More specifically I identify as a genderqueer lesbian, but I wasn’t able to start accepting or processing what that meant to me until well into my 20s. As a teenager I felt a lot of stigma and shame surrounding my sexuality and gender identity. I ended the relationship with my first love over my struggle with feeling sinful and wrong in the eyes of God.

It was only later that I understood that shame was coming from what I heard in religious classes and society at large. I experienced a lot of internal conflict and depression, to the point that I tried to take my own life.

Still I continued to deny and repress myself because I thought it was what I needed to do in order to be a good Muslim, and by extension a good person.

This left me drained and empty, I lived for many years on “autopilot”; numb to my life as a defense mechanism, not able to acknowledge what I was really feeling. In my late teens and early 20s I began reaching out to other LGBTQIA+ Muslims online and finding a community of people who were similar to me. When I started communicating with others like myself and hearing their stories, it helped me to see the validity of my own experience and begin unearthing some of the pain and shame I had been living with for so long.

I live in a small city in the United States and I have never felt fully comfortable being “out and proud.” To this day I am only out to a handful of close friends who I trust with my truth. It hurts to not be able to live authentically without the fear that I will be ostracized from the community that is so important to me. Even though I’ve come a long way in accepting myself, I still often feel split between my religion and my sexuality. 

This is why I keep my Instagram page anonymous; I have a lot of fear that people will discover my identity and harm or harass me and my family. Despite this, I chose to continue building my platform because I understand just how important it is for LGBTQIA+ Muslims to have representation and to find a community that is compassionate and welcoming. 

When I get messages from LGBTQIA+ Muslims who say my page makes them feel seen and gives them a sense of belonging, that’s worth everything to me. That sense of belonging is often difficult for us to find and crucial in our journey to self acceptance and self love.

There were a few resources that were formative in my own experience, Imaan – an LGBTQIA+ Muslim support group – has an online forum that was influential in my self acceptance, along with several documentaries about LGBTQIA+ Muslims and groups like Muslims for Progressive Values. These have all helped me re-form my understanding of my faith and embrace the reality of who I am.

The main evidence that Muslims cite to say that Allah is not accepting of homosexuality is the story of the Prophet Lut. The traditional interpretation has been used to condemn LGBTQIA+ Muslims. What’s important to understand is the context, what was happening with the people of Sodom was rape, abuse, and mistreatment of guests and minors, all things that any moral person would deplore. This has no parallel with loving, consensual LGBTQIA+ relationships. Allahu alim, God knows best. Much of our holy text has been interpreted through the lens of patriarchy and skewed by cultural and societal stigmas. It’s important to separate that out from the heart of Islam. 

The Quran mentions Allah as being Merciful more than any other attribute.

It is my belief that a God who is so incredibly full of Mercy could never punish someone solely for the act of love, particularly when Allah swt is our Creator, and I firmly believe that I was born queer.

When I was younger, I would have forsaken these feelings if I could have, I would have given up my sexuality if I had that choice. Now I recognize it as an essential part of who I am. Allah created me and Allah’s creation is meaningful and valid in every sense. The more that we, LGBTQIA+ Muslims, are able to live our lives as our authentic selves, the more understanding there will be within our families and communities.

I’ve been met with a lot of criticism and condemnation, but my intention is only to show other LGBTQIA+ Muslims that they are not alone. That they are loved and important and their existence is beautiful and necessary. It is sometimes difficult to navigate; there is so much homophobia in the world at large, and within the LGBTQIA+ community there is still a lot of exclusion. 

There are times I’ve felt that I’m straddling two sides of a divide I can never fully bridge. Many LGBTQIA+ Muslims feel forced to leave their faith in order to fully express their sexualty or gender identity. On the other hand, many are hiding their true selves because of the shame and fear they carry with them as religious people who are also queer. 

I truly believe we can exist as both religious and queer.

If we don’t feel like that space is available to us then it’s time to create our own. That’s what I try to do, in my own small way, with my page. I’ve been surprised and grateful for the community that I’ve discovered, which is made of not only LGBTQIA+ Muslims but LGBTQIA+ folx from all walks of life and wonderful allies from diverse communities and backgrounds. 

It’s still a long road ahead to finding more acceptance in the broader Muslim community but I am so grateful to those who have been paving the way, and I am hoping that I can be a part helping pave the way for the next generation. We are all at different points on our journey, but just being there for one another is invaluable.

This is where understanding the importance of intersectionality comes in. LGBTQIA+ issues are important to me, issues affecting Muslims are important to me, but the issues of other marginalized and struggling communities also need to be highlighted.

We all need to show up for one another. The fight for human rights is universal, and none of us are free until we are all free.

So many of us live at the intersections of marginalized communities and our voices are often overlooked. Black Muslims make up the majority of Muslims in the United States, yet we seldom hear their stories included in a meaningful way. Trans people of color are being disproportionately targeted and attacked at alarming rates. We cannot stand for one thing and remain silent to other injustices. If I speak for LGBTQIA+ Muslims, I must also do my best to listen to others who are suffering from racism and oppression. 

Going forward, my greatest hope is that people will be free to live their lives openly without fear of persecution or shame. I want to live in a just society that values all of its members and does not prioritize people’s value as human beings based on arbitrary constructs. Progress is always met with resistance, but we must continue to push for crucial changes in the way the world views and treats marginalized people. Whether that be with regards to gender, race, ethnicity, neurodiversity, disability, class, sexuality; every intersection is valid and deserves representation and respect. 

To my fellow LGBTQIA+ Muslims I want to say, you are not alone. There is a place for you in both the Muslim and LGBTQIA+ community.

You do not have to choose one or the other. You do not have to sacrifice or deny any aspect of who you are. You are allowed to exist fully as yourself, in all your gorgeous queerness, with all your sacred faith. May we all find the strength within ourselves to accept every intricate and irreplaceable part of identities and embrace those elements of who we are with a deep and unrelenting love. 

Iman, and many others like her, are doubly oppressed by queerphobes across the world. Allies need to counter this hate at every level and help amplify the voices of the queer community.  To access the resources Iman has so kindly shared (and other websites, essays, and more!), you can check out our LGBTQIA+ resource deck here

Published by mangaladilipk

Mangala is a writer and a former journalist who wants to use her words to influence changes, to amplify suppressed voices, to educate the uninformed, and to welcome a communist, feminist utopia in her lifetime. She is heavily entrenched in pop culture and tries to be as informed about the news as she can. She also happens to be a fan of puns and cannot help but entertain some nostalgia for cliches.

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