Ramadan 2021: Celebrating Queer Islam and LGBTQ+ Literature
By Jess Emery, Billi Jones, Katie Horsfall and Sofia Brizio
As the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close, we have decided to shine a spotlight on literature exploring and celebrating Queer Islam and LGBTQ+ Muslims. Sadly, Gay Star News has reported that for Muslims who identify as LGBTQ+, Ramadan and other Islamic holidays can be a very lonely and isolating time. To support inclusivity irrespective of religion, we have rounded up our top books featuring LGBTQ+ Muslim characters, themes and topics.
We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib
“Representation is a critical way for people to recognize that their experiences – even if invisible in the mainstream – are valid.”
Habib’s beautifully written memoir nods to the many facets of her personal life, including art, poetry, love and most notably her queer sexuality. The book takes you on a journey through forgiveness and family, thoughtfully exploring what it means to be gay and Muslim. It carefully intertwines her lived experiences with her path to self-determination against all odds.
As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, Habib faced many threats and warnings about the consequences for those who divert from the religion’s values, rules and ideals. When her family arrived in Canada as refugees, Samara was presented with a whole new range of difficulties: bullies, racism, the threat of poverty and an arranged marriage. As the book draws to a close with Samara finally coming to terms with and embracing her queerness, the memoir shows how Muslims can embrace queer sexuality and families can accept change.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
“I will eventually have days when I don't have to remind myself to breathe. I know Nasrin will exist, maybe even be happy, and I will be okay. I’ll bury my love, but it will never really go away.”
This award-winning novel explores the difficulties of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Iran. The story is narrated by Sahar, a teenager from a poor family who is in a love affair with her best friend, Nasrin. Nasrin is from a wealthy family, and she is afraid her relationship with Sahar will damage her and her family due to the prosecution of LGBTQ+ people in their country. Although Nasrin is meant to marry a man through an arranged marriage, Sahar wants to risk it all. After meeting a transgender woman, she understands that the only way to be happy with Nasrin is to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
A touching story of love and family, the novel deals with social issues that are pressing in the Western world, but even more so in the Eastern and Muslim countries where homosexuality and gender non-conformity are still punished by law.
In 2014, If You Could Be Mine received the Ferro-Grumley and Edmund White Award by the Publishing Triangle, marking the first time a novel won first prize in two different categories in the same year. The book also won the Lambda Literary Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature.
It’s Not About the Burqa Edited by Mariam Khan
“When was the last time you heard a Muslim woman speak for herself without a filter?”
Edited by Mariam Khan It’s Not About the Burqa is a collection of essays exploring the unique experiences and oppression of those who exist at the intersection of Muslim and woman. Every writer tells a powerful and personal story of their life as a Muslim woman; and the impact of the society that seeks to simultaneously victimise and villainise them. While not wholly focused on LGBTQ+ identities, It’s Not About the Burqa presents a collection of well-rounded essays on issues such mental health, modesty, race and sexism, as well as LGBTQ+ identities and sex.
In her essay ‘Hijabi (R)evolution’, Afsha D’souza-Lodhi writes about the complicated ‘on-again-off-again relationship’ with her hijab and how wearing one has brought both comfort and hypervisibility. Exploring the relationship with her religion and her bisexuality, D’souza-Lodhi addresses how her hijab concealed her sexuality in queer spaces resulting her in being ‘overtly queer to be noticed’. In addition, she felt her identity as a queer was incompatible with her identity as a Muslim. The essay ends in a reconciliation, D’souza-Lodhi ‘no longer see[s] Islam and queerness as oppositions’ concluding that her faith continues to be a journey and that it is an experience that she’s taking ownership of.