Queer. Muslim. To some, this is a juxtaposition. A contradiction. Something that cannot and does not exist. The Muslims ask: how can we be Muslims when Islam does not condone our queer lifestyle? The homosexuals ask: how can we feel liberated if our religion is so oppressive? A common experience for a queer Muslim in the United States is the direct experience of homophobia from the Muslim community and Islamophobia from the gay community. Hence, it is possible to be hated by members of two of your major identities.
No group of queer people has been harassed, hated, rejected, or deliberately erased as much queer Muslims by the very groups they identify with – in this case the ‘gay’ community and the ‘Muslim’ community. Ironically, both of these communities hold a lot of the same principles of equality, justice, and social activism and bear many of the same crosses. The similarities between these two communities are astounding – and here’s how.
1) Both communities acknowledge diversity but practice hegemony
Islam is inherently diverse, as a result of its geographical distribution. However the ideal Muslim seems to be a salacious Arab from the gulf and what most Muslims are guilty of aspiring to be. People let their cultural traditions disappear with linguistic changes – Urdu-speakers in Pakistan for the past 10 years have begun to use the term ‘Allah hafiz’ instead of ‘kudah hafiz’ with the justification that anyone could be a lord – Prophet Muhammad, Hazart Ali, or Imams and Sufi Masters; instead of strictly Allah. The use of this term deliberately erases the Shia traditions in the region. This ploy to exclude interpretations of the Quran brings favors to interpretations or re-interpretations of a “purer” or “more Muslim” interpretation of a “pristine” 14th century Arabic understanding of the Quran – you know, because its preferable to live your life according to customs that had to adapt to the issues of warring tribes, crippling epidemics, and bizarre social norms instead of dealing with current issues of warring ideologies, chronic illness, and social discrimination in it’s various forms.
The gay community is surprisingly not much different from the Muslim community when it comes to social contradictions. The American gay community still evokes the image of gay white men. The repeal of DOMA last summer was a huge step for the rights of homosexual couples, but just the day before, SCOTUS took out a critical provision from the voting rights act enacted to ensure the protections of minorities at the polls and effectively ignored the pleas of civil rights activists struggling with the new faces of racism. The gay community also has a history of erasing the bisexual community and ignoring trans issues. The repeal of DOMA, though it affects all homosexuals was skewed in the favor of white people, because where white queer people gained rights that week, queer people of color gained and lost rights in different places – a zero sum game.
2) Both communities are stereotyped, to the point where people experience anxiety towards them
Islamophobia and homophobia are real issues. The stares women in hijab get from people in public places, or the extra time with TSA men in Muslim garb experience at the airport are forms of social and institutional Islamophobia. These incidences were bad after 9/11 but circumstances haven’t changed much. I remember a heavy police presence at my place of worship and the hate crimes generalized towards immigrants or anyone wearing a turban (particularly the Sikh community), which often resulted in injury or death. The rise of organizations that emerged from fear to fight the Islamicization of America, to stop the building of the “Ground Zero Mosque”, or to burn Qurans still remind me that my existence scare people.
At the same time, queer history in the US is violent and oppressive and much of it is still unknown. I knew about the stonewall riots and the pride marches, but I only recently, this past summer, learned of an that occurred in New Orleans, of an arson to a bar where gay men and women would congregate for church because they were excluded from their own. I learned of the whole controversy around their burial and the tragic story of a couple that were separated during the fire – one partner escaped but upon realizing his partner was trapped he ran back into the building and did not return. After clearing the debris, two charred corpses, including the one of the man that ran back in, were holding each other, and presumably this was the couple that died together, in each other’s arms that night.
3) Both communities are often implicitly and explicitly told they do not belong
The United States government has institutionally marginalized both of these groups in the past, and have often treated it’s members like second class citizens – whether this is for marriage inequality, unequal protections in employment, or for disparities in health services, for gays; or if its NSA targeted surveillance, wire tapping the mosque and declaring it a terrorist organization, or having males 18+ from any country with large Muslim populations registering themselves with the government regardless of status – which happened immediately after 9/11. Different targets, same inequalities.
There are many other similarities between these groups, which are not listed but exist. However, looking at the list you can see being part of either the queer or Muslim are means the challenges your identity creates are actually quite similar. The juxtaposition is only in the absorption of Islamophobia among gay communities and homophobia among Muslims as an effective result of these scare tactics. What’s troubling is as a queer Muslim it’s possible to experience discrimination at both ends and even internalize both forms of hate at any given time.
The queer Muslim community in the United States as a result are some of the most accepting diverse group of people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I have met a gay Black Muslim American Imam who was mentored by great civil rights leaders, Queer Feminist activists of Arab descent both male and female, a white male converts who find it harder to come out as Muslim then gay, a Shia Pakistani immigrant journalist, a bisexual woman who works as a nurse at a catholic hospital, an asexual woman who writes amazing poetry, a Latina Muslim activist who fiercely works against the victimization of women who have experienced survived honor killings and even a Trans*man and activist who struggles with the same issues everyone does, including raising a family. It’s hard to call this group of people a community because they are much more then that. This group of people is my family, and whenever I find them, wherever they are, I am at home and I am content.
We are keeping the author’s name anonymous, not only because she asked us to, but because there are just sometimes too many hateful people out there. We realize this post might invoke hate for some, but here’s the thing: we do not care, and we will not let such comments come up on this feed or take away from this piece. There’s already enough places on the internet to read them.