Being Queer. Feeling Muslim.

Lia Darjes

2013 - 2015

United States

Are homosexuality and Islam two opposing ends?

After the horrible happenings in Orlando, this question has become more fundamental than ever.

This work portrays men and women who identify as Muslim and at the same time as homosexual/queer/transgender. I met them in different Parts of the western World -Canada, France, Germany, UK, USA- where they are starting to form a little movement with the help of social media. Their biographies are often marked by the assumed irreconcilability of their sexual orientation and a desire for religious affiliation.

When referring to homosexuality, both the Quran and the bible usually cite the story of Lot from Sodom and Gomorrha: God had sent two angels in human shape unto Lot who granted them hospitality. Subsequently, the people of Sodom gathered in front of Lot’s house and demanded the delivery of his guests, “so they may know them”, e.g. have intercourse with them. The situation escalated when Lot refused their demands. As a consequence, the angels destroyed both cities and struck their inhabitants with blindness after assuring Lot and his family were safe. In traditional exegeses the severity of the punishment has directly been related to the demand for homosexual acts. More modern attempts of Quran exegesis, however, assume that the severe punishment is connected to the story’s aspect of rape and violation. According to Tomas Bauer, scholar of Islamic Studies, there was “no trace of homophobia” in the Islamic-Arabic history up until 1800.

People believed that a grown man could fall in love both with a young woman as well as with a young man.

This, too, was reflected in Arabic literature of that period: from 800 onwards popular love poems appeared by male authors that were directed both at men as well as women. There was simply no conception of a specific subgroup of “homosexuals”. Sexual orientation was regarded “less as part of one’s identity than as a question of personal taste”. According to Bauer, the campaign against “disorderly sex” only began with the colonization in the 19th century, when Europe’s influence started to expand in the Arabic countries. It wasn’t until 1976 when the first Islamic country prosecuted a homosexual man, convicting him in a criminal court.

By now, in seven Islam-oriented countries capital punishment can be imposed for homosexual intercourse.

My approach in this project is to break stereotypes by showing this movement with it's contemporary unconventional understanding of the Quran. It shows a very colorful side of the muslim religion. You will meet a very big diversity:

Queer born Muslims that are seeking for a save space to pray; converts, that found

a spiritual harbour within Islam; Muslims that are no believers anymore but still looking for exchange with other muslims; Imams that identify as feminists, and transgender Individuals, that are shaking the traditional understanding of genderrolls.

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  • Troy, Toronto

    '“It was not a big issue for me to be gay and convert to Islam. The people in my community and the Islam that I converted to was already so colorful: there were trans-people who I knew were Muslim, there were gay men and powerful women who were Muslim, there were people who were very openminded and affirming who were also Muslim."

  • 'Lot and His Daughters' Orazio Gentileschi in the Getty-Museum in Los Angeles.

  • Sara, New York

    “Islam has never been a part of my life that I felt limited by, it has always been a source of strength. I feel that I come out as Muslim rather than coming out as queer. Many people have a very strong preconception of what a Muslim woman looks like and how she behaves. And though, when I actually share this with people as something that is really important to me, they are often very confused.”

  • Samira, Toronto

    “I am from a country where it is punishable by death to be gay. 1979, when the Islamic Revolution began, my family immigrated to Canada, where I grew up pretty secular; maybe that was why I never had that moment of a coming out with my parents, I think they always knew that I am a lesbian.
    When 9/11 happened, all of a sudden I became Muslim, not because I was behaving differently but because people saw me differently. Just one look at my name and people act differently. Why don’t they understand that there are so many different ways of Islam in different countries, different traditions, different shapes? Why can they accept it for Christianity and Judaism but not for Islam?”

  • S. in Los Angeles

    „For me the bottomline for Islam is to share the peace, unfortunately a lot of people do’t understand that part.
    There is just one aspect of the whole Quran about people who are gay, but there is multiple account in the Quran saying: don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t backfight, don’t hurt other people. And a lot of people don’t focus on those things, they only see this one point. I think this is really hypocritical.“

  • Traditional gender-rolls struggle a lot of biographies of queer muslims.

  • Elf Farouk with his husband, Toronto

    „People don’t often speak of spiritual violence. I think, it is a very real thing for a lot of people. For women, religion is used to tell them that maybe they are not equal to men or that they are somehow limited. Religion often tells people that there is something profoundly sinful about them. So when you are a queer kid and particularly if you come from a Christian, a Muslim or a Jewish background that holds this particular interpretation, then that is a lot of spiritual violence where you are being told that there is something profoundly and deeply wrong with you. As a result, a lot of queer people end up leaving religion or stepping out of religion or having a very unhealthy relationship with religion. Where I am at today is not necessarily where I started. And I could tell you where I am now and it would sound rather a happy place. But the journey to that place has not been an easy one. I started with the notion that it was sinful [to be gay] and that those who practiced it were problematic at best. But that didn’t quite sort of seem right in the larger construct of the Quran and the Prophet that I believed to be true and actually had been taught. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin because sexuality in Islam is not a sin. Sexuality is something that God has given. And in verse 49.13. Allah says, ‘I created you to different nations and tribes and you may know and learn from each other.’ I just see queer folk as one of those nations or tribes. The contribution of queer folk to human history as thinkers, innovators, shamans, healers, artists, dancers, musicians and politicians is profound. We occupied shamanistic spaces and healing spaces in many cultures. Well, human history would be rather sucky, bleak and uninteresting without us. I describe my Islam as organic: Something that speaks to the heart and that continues to grow, with different manifestations through history and time. I know that is not everybody’s definition of Islam, but Allah in the Quran speaks of growth and change in all created things – nothing is permanent except God. The essential message of Islam is Tawhid, and that for me speaks to the Oneness of God and the unity and interconnectedness of all created things.”

  • Amin, Los Angeles

    “I find myself in the middle of two fronts – sometimes fighting within the Muslim community for more tolerance of LGBT people, and at other times fighting queer people and non-Muslims against the rampant Islamophobia in this country. I feel like I’m obligated to educate people on both sides. At the same time, I don’t feel the need to be validated by anyone. I don’t feel any great inner turmoil because of the various components of my identity. Like, I don’t necessarily feel excited by the prospect of a mosque for gay people. If there was a big mosque and people went and prayed together, I would still feel uncomfortable – gay or not. But I feel like people should have the right to do that. Is that weird? It sounds like I am in denial, doesn’t it?”

  • T. in London

  • The (gay) village in Toronto. 2014

  • Ludovic, Paris

    “In 2012, after I did not find one single imam in France who was willing to bury a transsexual Muslim, I founded a mosque that is open to all in Paris. The reactions were quite vehement.
    Being Muslim, Arabic and gay and thus a member of several minority groups opened my eyes: Minorities are being discriminated against particularly in times of economic crisis. We have to know more about Islam, and we have to understand who we actually are in order to fight homophobia.”

  • A tree of photos: Ludovic's family and companions.

  • Calling for an inclusive eid-prayer in a public park in London.

  • Joey, Los Angeles

    “I was a pretty strong atheist. And then I came across a copy of Michael Muhammad Knight‘s novel The Taqwacores about a fictional Muslim punk movement that kind of became true after being published. I purchased it, read it in just a couple of days and it opened my eyes a lot more to the religion. I had a friend in one of my social circles who was a convert and so I asked him all sorts of questions and about how he came to where he was with the religion. I started doing tons of research on the LGBT community in Islam. I read many articles, many testimonies. And in a way I was very orthodox in my thoughts when putting the LGBT community and Islam together. Because on first sight it looks dark when you look in the Quran and the Hadiths, it clearly can’t be OK. But then you can read other sources, other verses of the Quran, other Hadiths, and it gets clear that it is all a question of how you decide to interpret it.
    And then I started coming across LGBT Muslims through the internet and started communicating with some of them, learning about their thoughts on these ideas, and basically something clicked that led me to convert. It was almost like a light switch. Like, light switch is down: no faith; and then the light switch went on, and it is like: Oh, all this makes sense now! How could I ever doubt any of this?
    But I still struggle about this issue in a way.
    When you are gay, you know it. There is no changing it, no matter how much you want to, no matter how much easier it would be to not be gay. You are stuck with it. And then you learn to accept it. And kind of own it, be proud of it. It is a big deal. And so, as a Muslim, you feel that it is just how it is and clearly you are created that way. There is no changing it. And it is wrong for brothers and sisters to say that you are an abomination or that you can’t do that. Because this is what is natural, this is how I was created by Allah.
    And neither you nor I can interpret or comprehend his greatness.
    However, there is still a little part of me that is like: ‘I’m haram, I’m haram!’ There is no way around it.”

  • Victoria, Toronto

    Victoria converted to a very conserative understanding of Islam, married, got a child and then discovered that she is lesbian, wich was. She is from Texas and had never seen queer people before she moved to Canada.
    Now she is out and lives with her daughter in Toronto where she practises a very liberal and inclusive understandign of Islam.

  • A. in London

    “God is merciful, God is loving, she is beautiful and is everywhere and is magnificent. Who are we to say anything else or who are we to minimize that by our actions of not accepting another. If God is so merciful, and loving and magnificence and the creator of everything. Then, who are we to question that and judge at all? That is my Islam. I do not think that God discriminates against anyone even those who may not necessarily say they are muslim, or who belong to another religion, I don’t think that God even discriminates against them, because God is the all-knower, the all-seer and the best of planners, who knows what is in your heart before its even there, who is the creator of all realms….”
    “The details of how we practice is not what God is concerned about, for instance what you wear, how you hold your hands and which gender you stand beside. It is about how pure our heart is in how we treat others and how we live our life in this world. Simple things: living a life of integrity and authenticity doing good by others and serving others. That is my Islam.”
    “I don’t think there is any part of me that feels I am not a good Muslim. Only God can judge me, and I know that I am consciously trying to live a life that God expects us to live and want us to live. Being available for others but also being available for you as well. Giving, but also attending to your own needs. Being good by heart. Your heart has to be clean and has to be pure and has to be willing to go to different limits.”

  • Joking around on an LGTBQ- Muslim support group meeting in Los Angeles.

  • Sahil, London

    “I don’t identify with a certain or fixed sexual identity, although I understand that it can be a meaningful category for many people. This may be a privileged point of view, but it springs from my life experience – I simply refuse to see myself ‘only’ as part of an ethnic, religious or sexual minority. Sexuality is only one facet of my identity, and its importance always depends on context. For example: If I pray (alone or in a community), I am first and foremost a person engaging in the practice of prayer with the aim of spiritual nourishment and unity with God.
    For me, a perspective that ignores the many different contextual complexities and the everyday difficulties, compromises and victories of our respective individual lives is actually dehumanizing. Nobody lives their life in black and white, including Muslims“

  • S. fishes. They would kill each other if they were in one single vessle.

  • Saadiya, Toronto

    "Being queer and Muslim means to me that I can be who God intended me to be. And for me, that is an educated woman, compassionate, caring and loving other people.
    I used to think that it was a negative thing, but the more I learned about myself and the more I learned about queer community, I learned that we are just like everybody else. We have the same needs that other people have. We have the same right as everybody else.”