Overheard by a delegate who wishes to remain anonymous:
‘I’m offended Maryam referred to herself as queer and Muslim.’
I must add that conference was not a safe space, so much so that the delegate who overheard this did not feel secure enough to challenge what she heard. It really is a sorry state of affairs when at an NUS event, a Liberation conference and ultimately, a Black Students’ Conference, students feel unsafe to challenge ideas and perceptions but to them.
All too often I come across people who identify as LGBTQ that used to identify as religious too. They felt at such odds with their religion because of how their fellow worshippers behaved towards them because of their sexuality and they felt that the only way to deal with this was to leave their religion even though they still believed in it and ultimately, still believed in God.
The last time I had a conversation like this was on a night out at a local gay bar at university. I cannot remember how we even got on to this subject but talking about religion, sexuality and our personal journeys in the early hours of the morning just shows how much LGBTQ people who are religious are crying out for a sense of belonging and acceptance within their respective religions. You know what I told her? I told her to forget about the fellow worshippers and work on her personal relationship with God because regardless of anything God still loves her. At that point I could see how much my words had comforted her. Simply telling someone that God still loves them when they have faced such humiliation and rejection by their religious community is a lifeline.
Being visible gives people hope when they feel like there is none. Being visible allows people to feel comforted in knowing they are not alone in their struggles. Quite frankly, being visible as a Black queer feminist Muslim; saves lives. This is why I am visible and why I focus so heavily on religion, culture, sexual orientation and gender identity in my activism.
If this makes you uncomfortable, to be perfectly honest, I do not care. This is bigger than me, this is bigger than all those who critique me. This is about reaching out to people and saving lives. You may well be reading this and be thinking that this is an exaggeration but I assure you, through the responses I have had over the years, I have saved lives and have been told so by the lives I have touched. I speak for so many people who can’t. My visibility means that those who oppress us cannot ignore us.
Do you know what offends me? That the delegate who said this, cares more about their own levels of comfort than actually acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ Muslims and reaching out to help them which by the way is an Islamic duty. Please take this as food for thought: all of the prophets within religion walked with the most marginalised communities, whose side are you walking on?