Pride Parades, Hijabs and Muslim Lesbians

Last Saturday, the city where I live in Western Canada held its annual Pride Parade.

Pride Parade Edmonton – Via CTV NEWS.

This year and against all odds, the first member of my mosque participated in the parade. Sister Sarah (a pseudonym) decided to participate in the parade after years of struggling with reconciling her faith with her sexuality. She decided “to try to blend in” with the rest of the men and women dressed in colourful outfits by wearing a bright yellow hijab tied at the back instead of the front because, despite her courageous choice to join the Pride Day celebrations, she was not ready to face other Muslims in our community.

My province is often identified as the most conservative in Canada. In the past few months there have been reports of racist and homophobic attitudes towards different groups, and the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services research shows that homophobia is still a pervasive attitude among Albertan youth, who often show this through speech. For all of these reasons, I was really proud to see Sister Sarah making the active decision to embrace her sexuality and her religion, although of course this did not come easily.

Muslim LGBTQ – Via Freedom from the Forbidden.

Our Muslim community is not particularly LGTBQ-friendly, and in the past few months a member of our community was recorded telling students in an Islamic school that being gay was an illness just as having cancer or diabetes. Although the school quickly made efforts to disassociate itself from the imam who at the time led my mosque, the truth is that this is the attitude that is pervasive in daily interactions in many mosques in my area.

In addition, discussions about homosexuality often seem to focus on men as the lesbian experience is often dismissed, marginalized or forgotten in some contexts, as I explored before in the case of Indonesia. The result is that Muslim lesbian women in my community find themselves with little access to other community members and support from mosques, schools and other Muslim institutions.

Yet, some events have inspired a few members of my Muslim community to question our mosques’ positions on the “gay issue.” Although it caused uproar in the last women’s lecture I attended, and despite the fact that the same-sex bill was protested in the UK by Muslim leaders, the first Muslim lesbian couple to be reported in the UK media were married last month in a civil ceremony.  So though negative or ambivalent attitudes exist, the question of whether there is a place in Islam for LGTBQs is being raised.

Social media has also played an important role in bringing the issue to our attention. Along with the efforts of well-known Muslim activists such as Canadian Irshad Manji, Laury Silvers, El-Farouk Khaki and Troy Jackson, the circulation of pro-Muslim-LGTBQ images, messages and news are making their way into Facebook profiles, twitter messages and blogs.

Image shared in Facebook profiles with a quote by Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed – Via ilGrandeColibri.

The setting up of a Muslim LGTBQ retreat in the U.S, or an image of a womn in hijab being kissed by non-hijabi women bring the LGTBQ question to both intimate and public spaces. They invite us to question where we stand and where our communities stand on this issue. Even when some Muslims react negatively to these images and any supporting opinions, at the very basic level they invite us to question Muslim marriages’ heteronormativity.

Sister Sarah told me yesterday after the parade that images like this “show [her] the love.” They show that even in our little conservative community in Alberta, there are Muslims that are ready to discuss homosexuality as other than a disease or a sin. And even if one does not agree with women in hijabs holding signs that support LGBTQ rights, it sends a strong signal for community building among LGTBQ Muslims and their allies.

  • Jennifer Jonsson

    I am a Buddhist, but I have long been fascinated by Islam. A work friend offered to take me to mosque once, but I backed out at the last minute. She asked why and I said I felt kind of bad about going to mosque when, in real life, Muslims would never take me. She asked why we would never take me and I told her I was a lesbian, and who my partner was. She looked at me sideways for a minute and then started laughing. “Oh, that is not problem!” she said. “In my country, the two of you, you just marry same husband. Not problem!” Getting serious, she said, “Now, if you were boys, big problem. But two girls? No problem.”

    She went on to tell me that in her country (the Emirates) most men only had one wife, but some had two, and in almost every case the two wives were sisters, or cousins, or very good friends, or “ladies like you two,” because harmony in the household was so important. I still haven’t been to mosque and I’m still fascinated by Islam.This incident sticks out in my mind as one where I learned something I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

  • Tec15

    Perhaps more Muslims would be supportive if Muslim LGBTQ orgs expanded more effort in denouncing the virulent Islamophobia, Homonationalism and pinkwashing present in white, Western gay groups.

    • Rochelle Terman

      Perhaps more queers would be supportive in the struggle against Islamophobia if Muslim orgs expanded more effort in denouncing virulent homophobia in the Muslim community.

      Or we could stop paralyzing activist organization in a constant barrage of “either you focus on this our struggle alone or you’re against us” ultimatums.

    • Rochelle Terman

      Also: TONS of Muslim queer groups do exactly as you prescribe. TONS TONS TONS. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

      • Tec15

        Some do and others don’t. Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed’s (Whose “inspirational” quote is cited in this article) org HM2F participated in a pinkwashing tour to Israel with some other French gay groups, legitimizing the occupation in the process. The dubious, activities of the self promoting native informer, Irshad Manji (Also cited positively in the article for some reason) are too many to be enumerated.

        Also, even when such groups do denounce Islamophobia, there is a sense that it is just lip service and going through the motions.

        • Rochelle Terman

          I don’t know about HM2F and I don’t like Manji but your argument is a bit unfair dontyouthink? You’re asking Muslim queer groups to pay more attention to Islamophobia (ie lipservice) and then you admonish them for doing what you asked because you had to ask them. Reminds me of the cliched marriage quip about the wife telling her husband “you shouldn’t have to ask what I want.”

          When these groups do what you asked, you call it “going through the motions,” which makes me think that nothing would really satisfy you because you’ve already judged them in this tautology.

          BTW: Who do you think came up with the neologism “pinkwashing”? Who do you think brought our attention to ‘homonationalism’? It was queer Muslims, yo!

          • Tec15

            I am just saying that allying with Anti-Muslim forces as HM2F and Manji (And many others) do makes them very poor examples to Muslims. Your message is simply not going far when you lionize such people. BTW I have never heard any of the other people cited in the article (The MPV crowd) ever criticize the Islamophobia present in the mainstream Western gay community although I am aware of some other orgs that have done so. That’s what the main thrust of my initial statement was about.

            Regards, pinkwashing and homonationalism, I never claimed otherwise. You are also wrong; a strong, consistent anti-Islamophobia, anti-imperialist stance would indeed satisfy me. I have not seen such a stance from any such orgs however.

        • http://muslimahwalkingaround.wordpress.com/ Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

          Thanks for the comment TEC15. I think it is important to make a distinction here between purely LGTBQ rights within the Muslim setting and Islamophobia. This article is concerned with the promotion of inclusion within our communities. You do not have to like Manji (I have my problems with her too) or Zahed. However, I think it is unfair not to acknowledge what they bring to the table with it comes to LGBTQs. I believe things are not black and white. For instance, my Muslim community is great about going out and fighting Islamophobia in Alberta; but then our imam goes out shutting down those Muslims who do not fit the “heteronormative ideal.” Is it that one must choose one or the other? Is it that Muslims should shut down dissenting voices when it is not convenient to heard them?

          • Tec15

            We disagree then, on the merits of Manji and others of her ilk. You cannot say “Oh, we oppose Islamophobia” in one breath and then turn around promote Manji, considering half her time is spent giving succor to Islamophobes, and catering to the “Good Muslim/Bad Muslim” dichotomy. There is no obligation at all to promote someone like her and IMO no excuse either.

            You can cite people and allies who are not as tainted as her you know.


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