Belonging to two marginalized communities, queer Muslims often face Islamophobia and Homophobia and have to deal with prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination associated with the same. A group called The Queer Muslim Project(TQMP) was created in March 2017 initially as an online advocacy page to provide equal representation and inclusiveness for queer Muslims given the current climate of shrinking democratic spaces for minorities.

The Citizen spoke to Rafiul Alom Rahman, the founder of The Queer Muslim Project and an activist working with the LGBTQ and Muslim communities.

Rahman said, “In a country like India and actually entire South Asia, it is often thought that you cannot be gay and Muslim, at the same time and is seen as a contradiction. There is also a lot of misinformation among people. Most of the people in India, have a very linear sort of an idea about Islam and Homosexuality. I was myself very curious. When I was in my college in Delhi, I was very much actively involved with the Queer Movement but side by side I was also interested in the question of Muslim and queer identity and just thinking about the intersection of how faith and sexuality play a deeper role in the life of a queer Muslim.”

What really pushed you and was the need and brainchild behind to create the Queer Muslim Project?

“I remember back in 2014 when I presented a paper in St.Stephen’s College and when I was doing the research, looking at how queer Muslim navigate their sexual and religious identities, there was hardly any material or contemporary documents available on LGBTQ Muslims.

So that time I realized a whole research needs to be done in this area. After my masters when I got accepted into a Ph.D. program at Texas University, my research was going to be on LGBTQ Muslims but because I had been very actively involved and worked with the communities and young students and founded the group called Delhi University Queer Collective so when I was doing my Ph.D, I felt a disconnect and decided this was not the route I wanted to take to reach my purpose.

I decided to come back to India around early 2017 and take up my activism more seriously and felt the most important thing that needed to happen was to basically create information because there was lack of it and people in India are still holding on to a view that already has been challenged over time in different parts of the world and esp in the west.” “

I felt this version of Islam which is pluralistic and diverse needed to come out and made visible because it was still restricted to a certain circle. So I decided to use Facebook as a medium to really push forward the conversation and started posting articles, videos and whatever resources I could get. That’s how it started but over the time a lot of people started responding and even though we faced negative comments but there was also so much acceptance.”

He also mentioned that the reach was not only limited to Facebook and the power of such an initiative was so much more and provided support to so many people even outside their reach.

What are the offline ventures the project has done till now ?How successful and influential they have been ?

“Towards the end of last year some young people from Bangalore reached out to us and and we along with Aneka Trust, a NGO working on Sexuality and Human Rights in Bangalore held the first ever Queer Muslim consultation on May 13,2018 which really opened the doors and gave us the direction on how to proceed and to think about people's’ shared experiences and strategies to reduce the dilemma and confusion and need for support to break the silence and invisibility.

During Ramzan this year on 9th June we decided to put together an interfaith iftar in Delhi. It was really Inspiring to see the community come together in a short time and held something like this which also created the possibility to have an interfaith dialogue where we had people from different communities and not only queer people but also allies and there were many people talking about their experiences and stereotypes they had about queer people and Muslims. This unconventional interfaith iftar made us realize how to collectively work together and push for our rights.”

What message and awareness have you been able to convey to the society till now through this project ?

“Over the last one year because of positive media visibility we have been able to convey our messages to a larger community and tell people that to be gay and Muslim or lesbian and Muslim is perfectly okay. There is nothing wrong with it and we all can lead a fulfilling life despite having these identities which is just a part of our lives. We have also been able to reach out indirectly to the Muslim community leaders especially and tell them that they can’t silence us any more or illegitimate us because we are here and we exist.

The Muslim community is not a monolith and is diverse as any other community and that queer issues are very important part of the minority rights in our country and we need to understand minority LGBTQ issues are part of that.So through this project, we are really able to articulate and raise our oppressed voices of being queer as well as Muslims and proud. We are trying to simultaneously work with the queer community as well as the Muslim community and create more diversity and diverse representation of people from the Muslim community and other marginalized identities like Dalits.

There is still a limitation and lack of diversity in the queer movement in India but within the movement there are conversations about intersectionality and there is an attempt to be more inclusive but I feel because it is led by people from an urban, English speaking, middle-class background so by default it tends to be representatives and experiences of a certain set of people.”

For a queer muslim, what are the challenges, backlashes and stereotypes associated with his identity and religion one have to deal with?

The challenges and backlashes have been many to deal with. “For a queer Muslim, it is often like a double fight because one if you’re a queer there is already a lot of homophobia and transphobia in our country and people look down upon you. It is already difficult to be a queer and if you happen to be a queer Muslim you often come with the baggage of what people think about Muslims in this country.

In the current scenario, we do have a very right wing govt and under the climate of so much hate and intolerance, there are so many stereotypes and Islamophobic ideas associated with being Muslims so there is a lot of baggage and backlashes one have to deal with.

Sadly some people in the queer community also believe in such Islamophobic ideas so if you talk about queer minorities you are seen as wearing religion on your sleeve. Even in Progressive Muslim circles such conversation about gender and sexuality are often pushed to the backseat and LGBTQ issues are not even considered important at all. There is a very conscious attempt to silence and invisible the queer Muslim within the community.”

What are your future aims and goals to carry forward the purpose and fight for inclusion and upheld the identity and rights of the queer Muslims?

“Through this Queer Muslim project, we are trying to create this diversity within the queer movement and do plan to create more volunteer networks in different cities and expand it further. We really believe there is so much of potential in such informal support systems that can also provide peer counseling and peer support to people who feel different and tell them that we have their backs.

We are also thinking about ways of making this entire project sustainable and take this forward and really be able to mobilize resources and build partnerships and create more outreach and take the cause forward . Not only in India but also in South Asia we as a community are very close-knit and faith is not only personal but also a socially performed culture so that really creates a problem of how individual lives independently capable of making their own decisions, about their sexual preferences, relationships, and food habits. Fundamentally every individual must be treated equally and have a say in how he/she wants to live their lives. These are important questions and as a Queer Muslim project we want to help people accept and embrace the intersectionality of all these identities.”

The Citizen also spoke to one of the volunteers of The Queer Muslim Project about her experiences as a queer Muslim woman and how coming out to her family was like. Lameeya, a Ph.D. student from Delhi University said, “As a Queer Muslim it was a new experience to be part of such a group and share such bold identities and in a way it reaffirms yourself and who you are. I never had a problem revealing these identities because I am very much confident that I can be both a Muslim and Queer woman at the same time.”

“I came out to my parents around seven or eight months ago. So it was very recent. The whole issue was regarding religion. They were mostly like that it is not allowed in our religion and kept saying it’s haram and they were like if you do namaz everyday, God will take these bad thoughts away. But I am a grown up and I know they are not bad and they are also not thoughts. This is just who I am.

I was very scared about coming out initially because you are at the risk of losing so many things and family support but I realized I couldn't keep living like this and lying about myself all the time. But before coming out one also needs to be in a place where you are very much confident with your identity and not be in conflict with own self.”