The loneliness of being queer and Muslim

The loneliness of being queer and Muslim
Comment: LGBT Muslims in the UK face both homophobia and Islamophobia, writes Aniqah Choudhri.
5 min read
26 Mar, 2020
'Change is happening, but for most LGBT Muslims, not fast enough' writes Choudhri [Getty]
In 2015, a Pew Research Centre study estimated that 24.1 percent of the global population were followers of Islam, amounting to 1.8 billion people. 

It is therefore an obvious assumption that millions of those people would fall under the banner of LGBT. Yet when I was growing up, the idea that someone could be both Muslim and LGBT was unimaginable.

Section 28, a piece of UK legislation that prohibited local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality, was repealed in 2003 when I was 14, but the damage it had already done to the education and understanding of what it meant to be LGBT for young people, would last for years.

It took me three years to admit even to myself that I was bisexual, and longer to tell other people. I felt, as incredible as it sounds, that I was the only Muslim ever to have this orientation. This was partly in response to the question I kept hearing from Muslim and non-Muslim people, "how can you be gay
and be a Muslim?" 

In the age of social media, it is easier than ever before to dispel the myth that LGBT Muslims are non-existent. Certainly, when I was growing up I never imagined I'd be able to read the words of Queer Muslim activists, artists and writers all over the world. In some ways though, this can be as much as a curse as it is a blessing, when it becomes apparent how much some parts of the ummah despise us.

One of the most devastating examples of this in recent years, came in 2016 when the notable LGBT Bangladeshi activist, 
Xulhaz Mannan, was hacked to death in his own flat. Mannan was the founder of the first and only LGBTQ+ magazine in Bangladesh, and for many LGBT Bangladeshis, "nothing has been the same since." 

When I was growing up, the idea that someone could be both Muslim and LGBT was unimaginable

The loneliness of being both LGBT and Muslim is that we face both homophobia and Islamophobia, and are often confronted with choosing between the two identities; a task that is impossible. Leo Kalyan, a British Asian singer/songwriter told the BBC back in 2017, "Muslims are a demonised people and for me I feel like as a gay person I'm on the outside of the outside because I'm demonised by Muslims as well." 

Although most Muslim-majority countries are openly hostile to LGBTQ people, with policy ranging from the death penalty for homosexuality, to it being legal but publicly frowned upon, it does feel like there has been a shift in representation in recent years.

In the UK, organisations like the 
Inclusive Mosque, founded in London in 2012, and now with chapters in Malaysia, Kashmir, Pakistan and Zurich, is a grassroots organisation working towards, "Establishing a place of worship for the promotion and practice of an inclusive Islam."

Although it is not specifically geared towards LGBT rights, it supports the safety of LGBT Muslims and their place in the Islamic world. Inclusive Mosque was the first organisation I personally came across in my quest to find other Queer Muslims and the overwhelming relief I felt at finding not just individuals, but an organisation that welcomed people like me is impossible to put into words. 

Read more: London Muslim gay pride festival postponed over coronavirus crisis

Another UK organisation is Imaan, an LGBTQ Muslim charity. The group crowdfunded to hold the world's first ever Muslim Pride event in London this year. Amrou Al-Kadhi, the British-Iraqi writer, filmmaker and performer commented on the importance for the event where they were to appear as speaker, 

"The media has tried to control the narrative about Queer Islamic identities for too long, often thrusting us into a horrific culture war, as if Islam is the mortal enemy of queer identity."

This is definitely a viewpoint I have come across many times in mainstream Queer spaces, and why the representation of LGBT Muslims as individuals and as a community is so necessary. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the whole of Pride has now been postponed indefinitely.

The world is changing slowly for Queer Muslims in terms of representation on a scale that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. In popular culture, LGBT Muslims characters have appeared in shows like Elite, Eastenders and The Red Line.

The writer responsible for The Red Line's Queer Muslims storyline, Fawzia Mirza, is an activist who has been fighting for representation for years, including through her lesbian romance short film, "Queen of My Dreams," back in 2012.

Neither the LGBT community or the Muslim one is an entirely safe place for us

She has said if she didn't start seeing people like herself on screen, she felt like she "was going to die." Although this newfound representation is becoming a reality in terms of secondary characters and one-off episode plot lines, we still feel a long way from Muslim LGBT characters being the lead in a show or film. 

Although change is happening, for most of LGBT Muslims its not happening fast enough, and with Islamaphobia on the rise around the world, it's hard to not feel apprehension over what this means for Muslims not safe in many Muslim communities either.

Neither the LGBT community or the Muslim one is an entirely safe place for us. Either people will be saying we're not queer enough or we're not even Muslims at all; a statement that is devastating for any Muslim.

It is lonely and disheartening to constantly have our existence invalidated but there are thousands of us across the world. We're not alone. 

Aniqah is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. Her work has appeared in The Independent, gal-dem and Exeunt Magazine. She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in several anthologies.

Follow her on Twitter: @aniqahc 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.