Queerly Spiritual, Queerly Cultural

I am a Queer Muslim, and I am valid

Posted By

On Jun 15, 2023

By Zak M

I have always had a complex relationship with my religious identity, and exploring my queerness ultimately had a lasting impact on my conceptualisation of Islam and my place within my family structure, and the world at large. I was raised in the way that I think many Muslim kids seem to be, with the fear of God and punishment thoroughly drilled into our heads from a young age. I distinctly remember my 9-year-old self, spending weeks at a time with barely any sleep, because I feared dying while I rested and felt I had clearly not done enough to be sent to the Islamic idea of a heaven. And so for as long as I can remember, I equated God with fear, and I felt supported in that belief by my staunchly Muslim father. Upon his insistence, I also pursued my Islamic studies by attending ‘Madressah’, and it was here where the intricacies of religion began to settle in my mind.

My little kid brain formed the idea that to excel in my Islamic schooling would garner more praise and respect within a family structure which I consistently felt misplaced in. There was almost a competition between the part of me that recognised I was developing confusing feelings regarding my sexuality, and the part which understood that to belong in our family was to be a good Muslim girl. The model of this good Muslim ideal highlighted submissiveness, and I was taught to dress and speak and carry myself in a way that always made me feel small. So I applied the same principles as I did with ordinary academics, and I came first in my class every year because being number one made me feel as though my ‘Muslim-ness’ was valid, despite the queerness. As a kid, there was no alternative option. Depending on my father for survival meant complying with his rules, and it was truly suffocating to exist in a way that kept this large part of myself chained up and hidden – feeling like these opposing facets of my identity would never be able to exist in symbiosis. I was certain that any independent thought and exploration regarding queerness would be punished, and in countless ways it was. 

My teenage years were marred by the consistent experience of ostracization. And while my mother turned out to be my biggest supporter, so many others were insistent that I couldn’t have these two identities co-existing within me, and the characteristic of ‘good Muslim girl’ which I spent years curating, began to dissolve. I have a distinct memory from my high school years where my best friend at the time told me that queerness is condemned by all major religions, including Islam, and that to believe otherwise made me a sinner too. She pointed out that this big gay beast inside of me could never be unleashed, and that meant hiding that part of myself forever or facing the consequences of my sins.  And while she was the first to vocalise this hasty judgement, condemning me to an eternity in hell, the list of damages I’ve endured under the guise of religion is extensive. I began to intertwine the blatant queerphobia I was experiencing with organised religion, and it became increasingly difficult to isolate my experiences. The seemingly logical conclusion then, was to resent the parts of me that still believed in God, because I couldn’t separate the religion I was raised in from my construction of a higher power, and to believe in a God that supposedly hated my very existence had a catastrophic effect on my self-image. So I chose to rebel, in every way possible, and in this rebellion fell down the slippery slope of alcoholism and drug addiction. As a result, a completely new part of my identity was born, recovering addict.

It took me numerous years to consolidate these clearly opposing facets of myself. My journey through addiction led me to a space where belief in some kind of higher power became crucial to my recovery. I had to learn a way to let go of my resentment because my life became contingent on my ability to understand that much of existence is beyond my control. I realised that God is not fear, as I had previously been taught. Rather, God is a being with a grasp on a bigger picture which I could not begin to conceptualise. And while my belief system has drastically changed during the course of my life, I could never ignore the foundation of spirituality which organised religion gave me. It used to infuriate me how easily my connection to Islam was invalidated by my queerness, as though I didn’t spend a decade learning the religion. But an important conclusion which I have reached, is that Islam is not inherently flawed, yet countless people who follow its path have chosen to blatantly misconstrue its ideal of peace and fairness in order to suit their own means. And by creating these man-forged limitations on who is deserving of this fairness and peace which Islam is rooted in, it becomes easier to then perpetuate exclusionary ideals under the guise of religiousness. But the judgements that are passed under this false perception of Islam should not, and will not, reduce the legitimacy of my being; I am queer, and I am Muslim, and I am valid.


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