Monday, 28 July 2014

The Balancing Act of Being a Queer Muslim - Maryam Din

This is part of the Interfaith Ramadan series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

When people learn of two particular aspects of my identity usually they’re left a little perplexed and you really can’t miss the look of confusion on their faces as they try and figure out how it makes sense. I identify as a queer Muslim and it is these two parts of my identity that not only causes a lot of confusion, and result in a million and one questions (sometimes even really inappropriate ones), but it is also these aspects in which I face the most intolerance and abuse.

Being a queer Muslim, I tread an interesting line, a balancing act if you will. I face queer-phobia from some sections of the Muslim community and Islamophobia coupled with racism from some sections of the LGBTQ community. This means that I literally have to downplay the importance of my religion in some LGBTQ spaces and also having to downplay my sexuality in some religious spaces. The reason why myself and many people like me who identify both within the LGBTQ community and religious communities feel compelled to do this boils down to safety, physical and mental safety.

But you know what though? It isn’t all doom and gloom. It is also because I identify as queer and Muslim that I feel like I have a completely different outlook on life. You know the saying you can only know what someone’s going through if you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, I find that having such marginalized identities (I tick all of the boxes on the equal opportunities monitoring form - ethnicity, religion, sexuality and disability) allows me to be able to empathise with people’s struggles. This brings me perfectly onto the next bit. It’s because of my sexuality that I am able to be a better Muslim. That sounds so bizarre right? Let me explain. Islam deals with a lot of human rights and social justice issues and it is these aspects along with the socialism that I resonate with the most.

The most recent example I have of this is when a now friend, reached out to me. Let me set the scene a little first. I find that because I am so visible as a queer Muslim a lot of people are quick to criticize me and my ‘life choices’ and particularly question why I am so open. It the idea of not airing your dirty laundry in public. The day I came out to myself, I made a promise that I would never hide myself again. Clearly I took this to an unintended whole new level and now I’m visible from workshops to conferences to national radio.

Coming back to my new friend… She came out to me a few months ago and our later messages articulate perfectly why I am so open and unashamed about who I am. Here’s part of our interaction:

Me: I see my visibility as a duty for others who are not able to be visible to whatever reasons.
Her: I don't know how many strangers have messaged you before like i did, probably lots, but now you have proof of it. You being "visible" gave me hope and courage and factored in me feeling less alone. So i will always appreciate that.

Reading that interaction still moves me even now. Visibility in a world which oppresses and marginalizes people is a political act. It is an act which unequivocally says that we are proud to be who we are and more than that, we love ourselves and will be unapologetic in who we are and what we stand for. Visibility says that we will not conform and we will challenge you and the status quo. Visibility, perhaps most importantly, saves lives.

Maryam Din is a social activist and graduate in International Relations and Politics who identifies as a Black queer feminist Muslim. She has a passion for visibility and activism within the intersections of gender, sexuality, culture and religion. She blogs at [ 5pillarsand6colours ] 

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