What does it mean to be gay and Muslim?

Photographer Lia Darjes tripped across the world to create a project that portrays sexuality in Islam in an unexpected light

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Being Queer. Feeling Muslim.
El-Farouk with his husband Troy, TorontoPhotography Lia Darjes

“It’s important to show that there is a point of view in which it is reconcilable to be queer and Muslim at the same time,” photographer Lia Darjes says of her project ‘Being Queer. Feeling Muslim.’ in which she documents the struggle of sexuality in the religion.

Not dissimilar to some other religions, there is the belief that being Muslim and being homosexual are two completely opposing ideas. For many, coming out as gay can mean isolation, rejection and disapproval – think Ayub Khan-Din's 1999 film East is East and its satirical yet sincere take on the issue when the eldest son in the film is disowned by his father after fleeing an arranged marriage for a homosexual relationship.

“In every group I found some individuals who want to be visible, who want to share their story and be a role model for other queer Muslims” – Lia Darjes 

After completing a university diploma on the subject, Darjes delved into a subculture of Muslim people who she felt needed a voice. She met Ludovic Mohamed-Zahed, a gay Muslim man and the founder of an all-inclusive mosque in Paris. An unforgettable moment at Friday prayer sparked her idea for her current project. “There was one woman who came with her non-Muslim girlfriend and she had not been able to pray in a community for some years. She was so relieved to find the open to everyone mosque that she cried”, recalls Darjes, “This really touched me. So I decided to start this project.”

The individuals shot for this project were few and far between, “I had to travel a lot” explains Darjes. Reassured – despite the scarcity of subjects willing to share their story – she says “in every group I found some individuals who want to be visible, who want to share their story and be a role model for other queer Muslims”.

SARA, NEW YORK

“For me, it has never been about reconciling. I feel both identities – being queer and Muslim – complete each other. And that I am able to be my best self when I embrace a 100 per cent of what I represent. I celebrate my queerness and I celebrate my Islam. For me, there has never been a problem with me being queer in my Muslim community. Many people think that the Muslim community is one big thing, but it is not. We each create our own community. I don’t know all of the almost two billion other Muslims. I know only those that I see every day as a part of my local community, who love me and who are there for me knowing my full self. For me, what has often been a problem is when I go to certain queer spaces where I experience a lot of Islamophobia. There, they usually think it is not possible to be Muslim and queer. I have to prove, then: It is possible, because I am here and I know many more people like me. Islam has never been a part of my life that I felt limited by, it has always been a source of strength. I feel that I come out as Muslim rather than coming out as queer. Many people have a very strong preconception of what a Muslim woman looks like and how she behaves. And though, when I actually share this with people as something that is really important to me, they are often very confused.”

LUDOVIC, PARIS

“In 2012, after I did not find one single imam in France who was willing to bury a transsexual Muslim, I founded a mosque that is open to all in Paris. The reactions were quite vehement. Being Muslim, Arabic and gay and thus a member of several minority groups opened my eyes: Minorities are being discriminated against particularly in times of economic crisis. We have to know more about Islam, and we have to understand who we actually are in order to fight homophobia.”

JOEY, LOS ANGELES

“I was a pretty strong atheist and then I came across a copy of Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel ‘The Taqwacores’ about a fictional Muslim punk movement that kind of became true after being published. I purchased it, read it in just a couple of days and it opened my eyes a lot more to the religion.[…] In a way, I was very orthodox in my thoughts when putting the LGBT community and Islam together. Because on first sight, it looks dark when you look in the Quran and the Hadiths, it clearly can’t be OK. But then you can read other sources, other verses of the Quran, other Hadiths, and it gets clear that it is all a question of how you decide to interpret it.”

Lia Darjes’s work is currently on display at FORMAT festival in Derby until 23 April 2017

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