Ramadan: We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Muslim!

Ramadan. The month to empty your stomach and feed your soul. The month of patience, sympathy, humanity, love, forgiveness and kindness. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, marking a sacred time where Muslims around the world abstain from food and yes, even water, from sunrise to sunset.

Muslims believe it helps them improve their willpower along with bringing them closer to their faith. While fasting, Muslims are better able to showcase their empathy and compassion. Ramadan is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians (or just those seeking out a present from Santa Claus).

As Muslims observe and begin the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Queer Muslims are preparing themselves in a different way. Ramadan (and pretty much any Islamic Holiday) can be a lonely and isolating time for those in the community who are of the Islamic faith. Cultural and discriminatory “religious beliefs” can drive Queer Muslims away from their homes and families…

Since Islamic holidays are so community and family-focused; they can really amplify a sense of isolation.  This sort of segregation, along with possible threats of violence, has brought many Muslims into depression, and oftentimes, that’s met with suicidal thoughts, or even worse, committing suicide. This is an ongoing struggle for so many Muslims all over the world, including Canada. In some cases, Queer Muslims are being forced to flee their families to save their own lives, and while so many LGBTQ+ people can relate to that, we still have a very prevalent but unacknowledged problem of Islamophobia within the community.

Openly gay Muslim activist Wajahat Abbas Kazmi shares a kiss at the 2018 Milan Pride Parade
Milan, Italy

The month of Ramadan is a time of festivities, yet it can still bring so much sadness to the Queer Muslims who are not able to celebrate with their families. Many can only cope by looking for a distraction, being as independent as possible. Muslims will look for cognitive mechanisms to occupy their minds which can be filled with negative thoughts brought on by society’s prejudice. Some Muslims will turn to creativity – whether it’s as simple as listening to music or writing a journal – and luckily, some have been embedded in different online Queer Muslims groups for additional support and a sense of family.

While many Queer Muslims feel a never-ending sense of isolation by their own families (who’ve been taught by their governments and heteronormative customs that being Queer is a sin), they are also feeling it from within their own Queer community. Having endured prejudice and bigotry for so long, queer people, especially gay men and women, should at least try supporting those who endure the same.

There is no question about it – Muslims today are under siege. Leaders of countries have whipped up and amplified all kinds of hate against Muslims, even promising to ban them from entering certain countries. These same governments once demonized and made scapegoats of Jews, it’s now the turn of Muslims? The Far-Right are on the rise all over the world and there’s a striking similarity between the experiences of Queer people and Muslims. For a moment, try imagining being both, and how that would limit your mental and physical body from societal acceptance on either side of the aisle.

Are Queer people not the long-standing targets of media outrage? Are we not stereotyped with crass generalizations and portrayed as deviants or threats to public health? Too many people in society think of Queers as sexual predators and menaces when we are not.

Muslim LGBTQ+ Imaan Fest at London Pride, 2019
London, UK

Muslims are routinely picked on by the press – generalized and stereotyped as extremists and/or potential terrorists. Anti-Muslim hatred stalks our streets, but with us, most incidents aren’t reported to authorities or even spoken about. Many times, the authorities are a part of the problem, as witnessed in the 2020 murder of Ejaz Ahmed Choudry, a 62-year-old Muslim father of four, who was fatally shot twice in the chest by Peel Region Police after responding to a non-emergency call for help. Mr. Choudry’s nephew, Muhammed Choudry, says his uncle “was a harmless man” who “committed no crime” and “did not deserve any of this.”

It’s important to acknowledge that the Peel Region Police were called to help Mr. Chaudry. Instead, they killed him. And in a recent decision released on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, Special Investigations Unit (SIU) director Joseph Martino concluded the Peel Regional Police officer who killed Ejaz Choudry acted reasonably when he opened fire on June 20, 2020.

A statement from the Chaudry family was released after this ruling, which points out that Peel Region Police claimed they needed to intervene for Mr. Choudry’s safety, yet they killed him within seconds of accessing the apartment… Thankfully, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is now calling for reform of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) following the controversial decision to not lay charges against any of the Peel Regional Police officers involved in the death of Mr. Choudry, but the police officer responsible? He remains protected and “innocent.”

The fact of the matter is, Islamophobia is constantly being brushed aside. A gay celebrity can stand up for Queer rights, but if they’re being Islamophobic within their plight for equality, the LGBTQ+ community seems to just dismiss that form of hatred towards Muslims without even blinking an eye… You can’t liberate a community if you’re not standing up for the rights of everyone in that community.

Is it not our own bitter experience as Queer people to have abuse yelled at us in the streets, to be spat at, threatened, made to feel ashamed of who we are? And have we not long endured being the punching bags of mainstream politicians trying to climb into high office by tapping into the rich seam of bigotry against us?

Our experiences as Muslims and Queers are so similar: baited, feared, hated and victimized. Muslims are not born Muslim, they are born into Faith, and it is a person’s prerogative to follow and believe any faith they choose, as they do with who they choose to live their life with.

The same people who want to beat up gays, want to beat up Muslims, too. For Queer Muslims, it seems there is no winning. Their very own families and the Queer community have a hard time accepting them for who they are…

Have we, as ostracised Queer people, not suffered enough prejudice and bigotry? Why do we in turn project that very same hatred to members of our own community, in a supposed safe space, just because they follow a faith? Queer people, specifically those in privileged positions, have a responsibility to stand by those who also endure bigotry because that is what truly frightens the bigots – solidarity amongst their victims. But we will not be victims! By speaking out, we can help change attitudes. Maybe even save a Muslim life…

Ramadan Kareem!

More information, support & resources for Muslims in Toronto and Canada:

Queer Muslim Network
Grassroots organization sharing the lived experiences and art of queer Muslims within the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).

The Marginalized Majority
The Queer “University”: Free LGBTQ+ intersectional Content: Non-Profit Collective of Immigrants, BIPOCs, Arabs, racialized & cultural bodies

The Unity Mosque
Based on the understanding that all persons are equal agents of Allah in all aspects of ritual practice, everyone is welcome, even encouraged to take a turn in each aspect of Juma services, including but not limited to making the call to prayer, giving the sermon, and leading the ritual Friday prayer.

National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that protects Canadian human rights and civil liberties, challenges discrimination and Islamophobia, builds mutual understanding, and advocates for the public concerns of Canadian Muslims.

Justice for Ejaz Choudry
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), The Muslim Council of Peel (MCP), and The Urban Alliance of Race Relations (UARR) are demanding from Chief Nishan Duraiappah that the officer responsible for firing the bullets that killed Ejaz Choudry be taken off the force. #JusticeForEjazChoudry #EjazChoudry