A WhatsApp Conversation with… a Queer Muslim
Here is the first post in my new series of blogposts called ‘A Whatsapp Conversation with…’ – a collection of Whatsapp text chats in which I will explore the lives and views of other people from all different walks of life. I feel that as a human race we are often fearful of what we don’t understand, leading to judgement and condemnation of that thing, whatever it may be. This is why I think we really need to make a conscious effort to at least try and understand and there is no better way to do that than to speak to someone who follows a path that you just don’t get.
A while ago, I wrote what to some would be a seemingly controversial feature, called ‘Can You Be Gay & Muslim?’. In fact, I originally wrote it for my weekly newspaper feature here in Mauritius, but was told at the last minute that on their part, it was definitely too controversial to be published. Here, I am sharing with you one of the behind-the-scenes chats that took place in helping me to write that article.
I present to you a Whatsapp Conversation with… a Queer Muslim. Here it goes…
I’m really glad you agreed to speak to me, thank you so much. I will keep this totally anonymous. I think it’s really great that you’re so open about your sexuality… Is it okay if I ask you some questions regarding your journey?
Yeah, sure thing, go ahead! (I guess I’m open to pretty much most people aside from close family. My mum knows but we chose not to talk about it.)
Well, if there’s anything you don’t want to talk about, tell me. So to begin with, when did you first realise you were gay?
So, I identify as ‘queer’, not ‘gay’. Queer because I don’t like the binary labels that gay and straight give. Queer is a term, for me, more than about sexuality. As for the question, I first came out at 16 – I fancied girls and guys – and didn’t realise what was going on. I remember kissing a girl (my best friend at the time) when I was like 10 or something. I came out to friends when I was 16 but properly came out when I went to uni – so like 18/19. I guess looking back, I’ve always known. I just didn’t know what it was that I knew. I thought it was normal.
Okay… sorry if I seem to come across as ignorant, I really don’t mean to be and I don’t mean any offence through anything I ask or say. Can you tell me what the difference is between ‘queer’ and ‘gay’?
Woops! Sorry if I came across as abrupt. And you’re not being ignorant, I’m really glad to be having this discussion. So, ‘gay’ is liking someone from the same gender as you, whereas ‘queer’ is more ambiguous. It’s almost a movement of not being normal; the way I see it (and it’s different from person to person), is I fall in love/am attracted to people regardless of their gender. Queer is about not standing with the straight man or heteronormativity. So like, rising up against and challenging notions that it’s Mr. & Mrs. Or that women should dress in a certain way or that men shouldn’t wear skirts. So that women should be seen to do X, Y and Z, but not A, B or C.
Ah, I see! Well I guess part of me is queer too as I totally agree with a lot of that!
Being queer for most is that they don’t fit into the straight narrative. And people of colour prefer the term because it helps them to fit in somewhere, as most gay spaces are very white male dominated and very much about drinking culture, which some queers don’t take part in. There was also a lot of negativity associated with the term ‘queer’ as it was a slur – and using the term now is about reclaiming it.
Great! So when I was around 20-22, 3 of my best mates were gay and I knew a LOT of gay people. We were in gay bars/clubs a lot in those days. Just telling you so that you’re aware this isn’t all totally alien to me…
Ahh. It is surprisingly common among desis (desi is a term used to refer to people of South Asian origin) and Muslims.
I agree – it is SO common. Once my mate came out to me, through him I met sooo many gay/queer Muslims. It’s crazy how many there are and how hidden it all is. So, being queer, do you still identify as being Muslim or following any particular religion?
Yes, I still identify as being Muslim. It was such a difficult time for me when I was growing up because I thought being queer and being Muslim wasn’t a thing. I veered off the path because I figured I was going to hell anyway (for something I can’t control), then why bother. Of course, now I’ve come to understand that even within Islam there is scope to be who I am. Religion for me is about being a good person and understanding God and each other. Less about following rules. Though I feel like guidelines are important.
I don’t follow Islam completely but I still feel Muslim. I still pray (occasionally) and believe in one God and all that. I’ve started wearing hijab (Islamic head covering) again too – part time.
So, you mentioned earlier that your mum knows about you being queer… what about your dad? And your sister? From the outside it looks like you come from a very supportive and loving family…
Lool. My mum knows and that’s a story and a half how she found out. My sister knows and she’s really judgemental about it. My bro knows and doesn’t really care. My dad doesn’t know at all – though I have a book coming out soon so I reckon he’ll find out about that. My mum knows but hates when I do any events or gigs on it/about it. She’s’ like ‘don’t tell the world’. My issue is that if I don’t, then younger queer Muslims won’t know that it’s possible to exist. I struggled so much with it. My mental health deteriorated and I often couldn’t fathom existing. So now I try and be visible. I guess everyone’s family looks more supportive than your own from the outside.
Sorry for all that you’ve been through, but this is all an important part of your journey…
I’m good now and it’s only because I’ve been through crap and come out of the other side.
Keeping in line with what we’re talking about, have you ever outwardly told any Muslim family/friends and if so, what have their reactions been like?
I’ve told Muslim friends now and found a network of Muslims that don’t give a crap about sexuality. Sometimes I get a judgey comment or something passive aggressive, but mainly people don’t really care. Most of them have been super supportive, and others have since come out to me because they feel that they can. I’ve started going to LGBT Muslim events too and finding a network of people there.
I guess online I’m pretty out (Twitter anyway) and if someone were to ask me outright, I would tell them. I don’t try really hard to hide it from anyone except my dad – I guess that’s because I reckon his reaction would be less about me and more about my mum.
So there are LGBT Muslim events? That’s interesting…
Loads of events! Imaan is an LGBT charity and in Manchester there are a few queer Muslim support networks. I only recently started going to those events like Iftaar (the opening of the fast in the holy Islamic month of Ramadan). And I’m part of a few online networks and they’re super supportive.
Do you think being gay or queer is something you can change?
I tried changing it but it’s not something I can change. The way I see it is if you ask someone straight to imagine that one day someone told you that being straight was wrong – and loving your partner or being attracted to someone of a different gender was weird or not normal – would you be able to change it? I think we can choose how we act, but then to ask someone to not ever be with the person that they’re in love with… that’s horrible. You’re asking them to be alone, to not act on love and desires and the question is, if things were the opposite way round, would we still be asking people not to be themselves?
I understand your point. So in terms of that, what is your stance on what the Qur’an and other religious scriptures say about homosexuality?
I haven’t read extensively about it but remember reading the main scriptures that people refer to. Those ones often talk about homosexuality in terms of rape and in terms of bad behaviour. I don’t think it’s mentioned on its own in any scripture. At the end of the day, I’ve been made the way I am and to be punished for that seems wrong. Religious scriptures have been translated and I haven’t learnt the languages to be able to translate for myself. Scholars will find whatever they set their hearts on finding. I guess in that sense I’m less religious and more spiritual. Religion is what you make it and I don’t make it to be rules – I feel it’s much more than that.
Yes, totally. How do you feel about the couple that recently got married that made the headlines – in which one was a Bangladeshi Muslim – and how does the hate that they have received make you feel?
The hate they’ve received is horrible. I’m surprised it’s the first though – I thought loads more had happened. I know so many married Muslim gay couples.
How do you think attitudes towards homosexuals in religious communities needs to change?
I think we need to step away from Muslims are all like X, Y, Z and come to terms with the fact that Muslims come in different shapes and sizes. Only then will our attitudes change. It’s because of this mono-view that ‘he can’t be Muslim because he’s gay etc.’ that leads to Islamophobia. Attitudes will only change once we make a difference between Islam and Muslims. Visibility of Muslims that don’t fit into the narrow perception/view of what Muslims are, needs to be more.
Yep, I think the same needs to be done in regards to Muslims from all walks of life. Finally, can I ask, do you wish to marry yourself and have children in the future?
Yes. Part of me wants to only fall in love with a man as it’ll be easier and better for the parents etc. but I know I could fall in love with anyone. Kids are a definite. Through adoption or whatever, I know I defo want kids.
Thank you so much for being so open and honest. I’m so glad we could have this chat – it’s been so insightful and interesting. I really appreciate your work and everything you’re doing and I pray that you’re able to get through all of your struggles. Thank you again!
If you have gotten this far, thank you and I really hope you have gained something from this. To read my views on being gay and Muslim click here and feel free to share your thoughts below. Here’s to many more open and honest discussions to come – be sure to look out for the next ‘A WhatsApp Conversation with…’ coming soon!