Davis community members discuss struggles they have faced as queer Muslims
By UMAIMA EJAZ –– [email protected]
Content Warning: This article contains discussions about homophobia and transphobia that some readers may find disturbing.
Disclaimer: Some sources have chosen to remain anonymous for their security. Saeed Zaheer and Sumaira Khan are pseudonyms for the identities of these sources.
“Allah, please can’t I cry once a month if I’m not disguised as a woman?” Said Zaheera fifth-year neurobiology, physiology, and behavior (NPB) major, said.
Zaheer, whose name has been changed, has been a brown cis man for 23 years. There were days when he wore khakis and a brown hoodie while playing his favorite instrument, a bass guitar. He said it wasn’t until September 2021 that he realized there was more to his identity than he previously thought.
These days he’s still wearing khakis and a hoodie, but on others he’s sporting his black cotton midi dress, black eyeliner and favorite sneakers. Zaheer now identifies as a bisexual, bigender Muslim — bisexual means attracted to more than one gender and bigender means identifying as male and female at the same time.
It’s only been a week Zaheer made the decision to share his identity publicly, but said that being a Muslim queer person means his issues “do not add up — they multiply.”
Although Zaheer grew up in a Muslim household, he said it wasn’t until college that he truly embraced the religion. He said his family has been one of his greatest systems of support, particularly his father, who has always taught him the art of humility and acceptance, which he believes Islam teaches.
Zaheer said he’s struggling to find a place in the community — especially in the mosque – and often he doesn’t want to go at all because he has the feeling that he doesn’t belong.
“The Koran says that man is not like woman, but I will not force anyone to be in these boxes,” Zaheer said. “I’m tossed between these two boxes as a bigender person.”
Zaheer sees the ideal way of life as emulating the central figure of his religion, the Prophet Muhammad. He believes that Prophet Muhammad would always address anyone as he wishes to be addressed since it is a prophetic trait of being respectful of people, speaking kindly to people, and calling people what they would like to be called, especially when doing so would cause psychological distress.
“Even the Koran commands us to observe nature,” Zaheer said. “There are researchers at the [American Pyschological Association (APA)] who believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences and later experiences in adolescence or adulthood may contribute to the development of transgender identities. The psychological evidence that this is not going away is compelling.”
For Zaheer, the conflict that accompanies these two identities has proven to be a threat to his faith, community, and happiness. While Zaheer is trying to balance his life with the help of his family, he said not everyone can.
Sumaira Khan, another student whose name has been changed, identifies as a second-generation bisexual Pakistani-American. She said that she spent most of her Sundays with her friends, studying the Quran and eating the Quran Food her mother made at her home in Roseville. This home was far from her roots, but she said those moments made her feel whole. She had found everything — their identity and community — in her hometown.
As she hit puberty, Khan recalls finding that she was attracted to girls and how that changed that Sunday tradition for her.
“I still remember how and when my favorite Sundays started to feel stifled,” Khan said. “I felt like a cheater with my friends. They made homophobic jokes and I stopped and thought: ‘Oh my god nobody in this room knows that I’m attracted to girls‘ and I have a feeling that if they did, they would all be very uncomfortable with me being here.
Khan wondered if, despite her friends’ narrow-mindedness, her parents might accept her true self if she revealed it to them. But that’s not the case, she said.
“I told my mum and dad and they freaked out,” Khan said. “Like many other Muslim parents, it was a blame game. It’s your mother’s or your father’s fault. ‘What did we do when we raised you?’ After that moment, I think they decided I just never said that. You choose to pretend I didn’t say it. Every once in a while they’ll say, ‘Thank god you’re not attracted to girls anymore.’”
Both Khan and Zaheer shared experiences of feeling that the Muslim community was hostile to the queer community in general.
Imam Azeez, a senior imam (leader of prayer) and co-founder of the Tarbiya Institutean Islamic organization, has spoken openly about its concerns towards the LGBTQIA+ community.
According to Azeez, Islam does not define people by any particular identity, but teaches that God advises that there is a healthy way of life and so on Being queer is “not a healthy lifestyle”.
“LGBTQ is a way of life that is not conducive to happiness,” Azeez said. “Islam doesn’t require me to force anything on them or force anything on them. Islam requires me to maintain a cordial relationship, to maintain mutual respect.”
He nevertheless acknowledged that judging other people can actually be harmful and emphasized the idea that everyone should be welcome in places of worship.
The Aggie held out her hand Muslim Student Association (MSA) for comment but haven’t heard from them.
Many young queer Muslims still often feel insecure in their communities, but some are working to improve their situation. Zaheer wants to study clinical psychology because he believes there needs to be more people of color in the mental health field.
“Some people‘s Gender perspective is not something that applies to queer Muslims,” Zaheer said. “To tell a Muslim child who is struggling with his gender that ‘gender is all made up; it‘s fair society,’ won’t help. There must be more Muslim therapists.”
Written by: Umaima Ejaz — [email protected]