For Muslims, Ramadan not only means a month of abstaining ourselves from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, but a time of self-reflection as well as a chance to change our bad habits in order to improve our relationship with God. I’ve been doing well so far. I gave to charity, and finally decided to set my alarm for morning prayer, and asked for forgiveness for past deeds. But there’s one thing I won’t shame myself for, and that’s being a queer Muslim.
Growing up, being queer and being Muslim were separate entities. Teenagers in my community were condemned for shaving their heads or having their ears pierced because they “looked gay.” Mainstream media would cite homophobia in Muslim communities as a reason why Islam is an “extremist” and “barbaric” religion despite homophobia being widely accepted in other contexts. The thought of being queer and Muslim was never spoken of in both communities, so I always thought I could only be one and not the other.
In high school, I wasn’t religious whatsoever. Because of this, I felt comfortable coming out to a few of my friends as queer. However, I also did a lot of things I’m not proud of, so when I returned to Islam, I not only denounced those regretful actions, but I also denied my identity as a queer person, pretending it was a phase for the rest of high school. Because queerness was not accepted in my community, and because I had no support for the intersection of my identities, I denied the existence of that part of me.
Before I came to terms with my sexuality, a student from my high school messaged me even though we barely talked to each other. They were scared. They were queer and visibly so until they stepped foot into their own home. Like me, they grew up thinking homosexuality was an egregious sin, and didn’t know if they deserved to believe in a god that could never believe in them. Being taught that it is no one’s place to judge others and how they practice Islam, I reassured her that her family’s views on queerness did not invalidate her beliefs, and that her relationship with Allah is their business and their business only.
When I realized I was queer, I was terrified. I thought I could no longer be Muslim if I embraced my sexuality, but I didn’t want to hide that part of me anymore. I realized I was echoing the same fears as my friend, and the fact that no one can judge me applies to me too.
I always used the fact that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as a defense against people who tried to make us a monolith, but I never internalized it and realized that there was room for me, my friend, and anyone else who felt the multiple facets of their identities contradicted one another.
I met more Muslims outside of my community, and soon encountered Muslims who found themselves at the intersections of their identities as queer and Muslim. From the back corner of a basement party, a conference room used as a makeshift prayer room, Facebook messenger, and mosques, I found Muslims who reconciled with both identities, learned to unlearn cultural condemnation presented as religious values, and unapologetically combated Islamophobia in mainstream communities. By finding that community, and seeing myself in others, I realized what Islam meant to ME. Not the aunties side-eyeing me in the mosque, not my parents, not the fake activists who disguise their Islamophobia as outrage. Me. My relationship with Allah is my own, and not anyone else’s to judge. And I’ve never felt closer to Islam and my queerness than I do now.
I won’t sit here and act as if I wasn’t raised in a Muslim community that condemned queerness. But I grew up in one Muslim community out of many. There are 1.6 billion of us, with different cultural backgrounds, social expectations, and even sexual orientations and gender identities. Therefore, the way we all practice Islam is different outside of different sects.
A part of Ramadan is self-reflection on not only what I need to work on, but what I am grateful. I will not “work on” my queerness if it means attempting to deny that part of my identity. I will be grateful for being a queer Muslim, finding a community that had reconciled with both, and appreciating the diversity in Islam.
I am here. I exist. I refuse to have my relationship with Allah invalidated because cultural expectations are conflated with religion. I refuse to have my identity as a queer person be used to pit me against my religion. I refuse to have the intersections of my identity be used as a tool for Islamophobia.
So I kept fasting and praying whether you like it or not. It would be nice if you would one day pray and eat with me, but if you don’t, I’m fine with the space between us.
I’ve fought for space here all my life.