This Ramadan, I refuse to choose between being Muslim and being a lesbian

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. It’s a time of peace, reflection, and spirituality for most Muslims. Ramadan is also a communal experience, with families, cultures and communities coming together to commemorate the holy month and its customs.

It’s also a time where Lesbian Visibility Week happens, and we celebrate lesbians coming out and being their true selves.

However, Ramadan can be a difficult month for LGBT+ Muslims. Yes, it’s a month of beauty, but for some of us it’s also a month of mourning: mourning for the traditions you’ve abandoned, for the memories of family iftars that will never compare to sitting alone. Disownment from your community, family, and friends due to their refusal to accept you for who you are.

I’m writing this as a British Pakistani lesbian Muslim woman. I believe it is pertinent for me to state all my “identities” because LGBT+ Muslims are heavily underrepresented. Most of the general public thinks that gay and transgender Muslims don’t exist, but we have always been here. We stay in the shadows to avoid judgment and backlash.

We are subjected to double discrimination. In both of our communities, we are outsiders. I was raised in a Muslim household and attended mosque and learned the Quran like any other Muslim child. I was surrounded by positive influences – my parents and grandparents were always available to answer religious questions. I was genuinely curious and interested. I never felt compelled to practice religion because of my family. They encouraged me to develop my own personal religious relationship.

My relationship with religion began to deteriorate around the time I was 16 or 17 and becoming aware of my sexuality. On both sides, there was a lot of internal conflict. Because of both sides’ ignorance and lack of education, I felt compelled to choose between my sexuality and my culture/religion.

All my identities didn’t seem to be able to coexist peacefully. On one hand, I had a religious community telling me that if I was gay, I was not a true Muslim. That being gay is an abomination and a sin. That I will be punished in hell. That my fasting and prayers won’t be accepted.

The whitewashed LGBT+ community, on the other hand, made me believe that religion has no place in the LGBT+ community because it is oppressive and out of date. I received unsolicited advice from other LGBT+ people that they could never date a Muslim because they are too extreme and have backward families. Strangers inquired about my family’s feelings about my sexual orientation as if it were their concern. People called my religion barbaric and implied that all Muslims are terrorists. It’s the looks my friends and I got whenever we went into a predominantly white queer space.

In a desperate attempt to fit in, I disconnected myself from religion – I stopped praying, reading the Quran, fasting, and I stopped exploring the religion I loved. I repressed the most important aspects of myself. It was probably one of the worst things I’d ever done to myself. I missed out on a lot. I became distanced from the family, traditions, and culture that I had grown up with. I forgot where I came from. And it took me a while to find my way back and learn to accept all parts of me.

However, over the last two years, I’ve begun to reconnect with Islam and form my own personal relationship with it. This Ramadan, for the first time in ages, I am observing all 30 fasts and praying. Ramadan, to me, is about developing healthy habits, connecting with Allah, and giving to charity. I’m now at a point in my life where I realize religion is a personal relationship between me and God, and I don’t need to hear anyone else’s thoughts on it. There is no reason for Allah to reject someone who has good morals, a clean heart, and good intentions.

I’ve learned that I don’t need anyone’s approval and I don’t need to fit into either community. My religion shapes who I am in the same way that my sexuality shapes who I am.

My grandparents’ deaths marked a turning point in my life. I was very close to them. They were religious, but they never imposed their beliefs on me. It was extremely difficult for me to accept their deaths, and it was during this time that I sought solace in religion. Islam has a positive outlook on death and the afterlife, which is exactly what I needed. Religion brought me closer to my grandparents and gave me the opportunity to carry on their traditions and values.

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Finally, meeting other LGBT+ Muslims and finding my chosen family has made me feel more confident in all aspects of my identity. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone on this journey, and that my experiences are valid. I’ve met people who have helped me in rediscovering my faith by answering my questions and doubts and providing me with unbiased information. I’ve learned about different sects of Islam, such as Shia Islam.

My chosen family’s faith in Islam and their sexuality are both admirable. They have perfectly demonstrated that the two can coexist. They have also encouraged me to learn about my religion rather than inherit it. I am proud to be lesbian, Muslim, and Pakistani. This Ramadan, and this Lesbian Visibility Week, I refuse to deny any part of who I am.

The author is an ambassador for the LGBT+ young people’s charity Just Like Us

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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