"Samira" is one of the pieces that will be featured in the June 18 opening exhibit of Samra Habib's photography at the Toronto Public Library.

“Samira” is one of the pieces that will be featured in the June 18 opening exhibit of Samra Habib’s photography at the Toronto Public Library. RNS photo courtesy Samra Habib

(RNS) Many Muslims leave Islam when they are told their sexuality and faith are incompatible. But a new photo exhibit of gay and queer Muslims challenges that notion.

The exhibit, which opens June 18 at the Toronto Public Library, Parliament Branch, captures the humanity of subjects with close-up, intimate images. It’s the latest example of LGBT Muslims in North America reclaiming their faith and rejecting the expectation that they keep their sexuality secret.

 

SEE A GALLERY OF IMAGES FROM THE EXHIBIT

“Muslims around the world are saying, ‘You know what? My relationship with Islam doesn’t have to be guilt-ridden,’” said Toronto native Samra Habib, the photographer behind “Just Me and Allah.”

"Namaz" is one of the pieces that will be featured in the June 18 opening exhibit of Samra Habib's photography at the Toronto Public Library. The image depicts El-Farouk Khaki during daily prayers.

“Namaz” is one of the pieces that will be featured in the June 18 opening exhibit of Samra Habib’s photography at the Toronto Public Library. The image depicts El-Farouk Khaki during daily prayers. RNS photo courtesy Samra Habib

“In most Muslim communities, most LGBT people are not open, and that’s living without dignity,” said El-Farouk Khaki, a Toronto immigration lawyer and one of the subjects in the photos. “Breaking the invisibility is important.”

Habib, who identifies as queer rather than gay, said she got the idea to take photos of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims a few years ago after learning there were others like her who were seeking affirmation.

“I found comfort in learning that it’s a conversation that many queer Muslims around the world were having and thought this project might help mobilize the queer Muslim community,” said Habib, who is also a digital editor and producer, and originally posted the photos on the social media site Tumblr.

In one photo, a young man with a slight goatee stares out from underneath a sweatshirt hood, while in another, a short-haired woman in a suit smiles casually but confidently.

Habib’s Tumblr page also includes short video interviews with a few of her subjects.

“We have always been here, it’s just that the world wasn’t ready for us yet,” says one of the subjects, Dali, in one video interview.

Khaki said he took part in the project less because he hoped to raise tolerance among Muslims and more to show young people they can be gay and Muslim.

“This is for queer Muslim kids who need to know there are other Muslims just like them,” Khaki said.

"Shazad" is one of the pieces that will be featured in the June 18 opening exhibit of Samra Habib's photography at the Toronto Public Library.

“Shazad” is one of the pieces that will be featured in the June 18 opening exhibit of Samra Habib’s photography at the Toronto Public Library. RNS photo courtesy Samra Habib

Khaki and Habib credit social media with aiding gay Muslims. Facebook and Twitter have helped gay Muslims meet one another in ways that weren’t possible 10 or 20 years ago. “We were all isolated,” said Khaki. “We didn’t have validation. But we do now.”

Several prominent Muslim-American leaders have said that while they believe homosexual acts are sins, they also believe Muslim communities should not ostracize gays.

While the urge for same-sex sexual relations should be resisted, said Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, a well-known American imam who blogs at MuslimMatters.com, in a 2013 interview on YouTube, “being a homosexual does not disqualify you from being a Muslim.”

But in an America where many of the Muslims are immigrants from countries where homosexuality is stigmatized or even criminalized, that message isn’t always accepted.

Ani Zonneveld, president of Muslims for Progressive Values, a Los Angeles organization that advocates for gay rights, said the photo exhibit might improve relations between gay Muslims and other Muslims.

“Any image to personalize, humanize LGBTQ Muslims will help,” she said.

Imam Talal Eid, a former member of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, and chaplain at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., added: “God created them. God gave them freedom to choose this way. Who am I to tell someone what they should do?”

YS/AMB END SACIRBEY

6 Comments

  1. Good article about ordinary LGBT Muslim folk experiencing the desire of leaving conservative religious values behind because they do not benefit from them.

    Jesus seldom mentions the word ‘sin’ and almost never refers to it. Maybe about a dozen times or so. What a great role-model-example for all of us to consider.

    It’s so much better and easier to think of ‘all of us’ without that characterization.

    • @Billysees,

      Because you said it.

      “Jesus seldom mentions the word ‘sin’ and almost never refers to it. Maybe about a dozen times or so. What a great role-model-example for all of us to consider.”

      Well….
      “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” – (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).

      What will Jesus do to those who disobey the Nobleman’s message?

      “bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their king and execute them in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

      Just keeping he facts straight.

      • @ Atheist Max

        You nearly always come up with or remind us of good points to consider.

        I disagree with the gay-unfriendly writings that you quote. As someone who has more realistic and personal experiences than he indicates, I’m happy and satisfied with my own understanding about these issues. I’m less interested in ancient narratives because of his own writings as follows —

        1. …our knowledge is partial and incomplete…
        2. …we see things imperfectly…
        3. All that I know now is partial and incomplete…
        (1 Corinthians 13:9,12)

        What he should have said is —

        1. … “MY” knowledge is partial and incomplete…
        2. … “I” see things imperfectly…

        The veracity or truthfulness of his writings are at stake here.

        It’s not hard to imagine that such a man would write differently about homosexuality if he were living today.

        The Bible is a very respected book. I find it better to use its own contents to persuade others to trust in their better experiences rather to trust too much in old commentary.

  2. El-Farouk Khaki

    Dear Omar… Thank you for your coverage and call to open our hearts to each other. One small comment …’ Many Muslims leave Islam when they find their sexuality and faith incompatible’ could more appropriate to say ‘because they are taught that their sexuality and faith are incompatible’ or because they believe so…. Many of us do not find them incompatible or irreconcilable.. & that’s the point. !!!!

    Thank you for being a wonderful ally !

  3. Lynne Newington

    Why would you want to describe yourself as “queer”, if your’e looking be be taken seriously with grace and respect, I’m sure others such as yourself still seeking affirmation, wouldn’t appreciate it, if not your choice of words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.