My Hijab is a Rainbow

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared here: My hijab is a rainbow, by Sonia, on Black Feminists Manchester.  It appears here with permission. Go read the site! It’s great! 

‘’Paki, terrorist, black bitch, let’s paki bash, you aren’t gay, you’re Muslim.’’ Now those statements sound like they come from the EDL or BNP, but they don’t. They come from gay clubs, gay villages, and gay people themselves. I spent most of my life condemning my sexuality; I struggled with being a Muslim and a lesbian. The two identities seemed miles away. By convincing myself I was straight, I got through life. It was only when I was part of the student movement condemning who I was that things became difficult.

Coming from a close-knit Muslim community, I had no gay friends nor did I know LGBT people, well, not the ones who were visible. Slowly, I started to meet people like me who were religious and also LGBT. The more I talked with my newfound family, the more I started to think that being Muslim, Asian and lesbian isn’t impossible; actually, those identities are beautiful together.

I remember meeting a very open gay Muslim, thinking, “Gosh he is brave being so out.” The reality for me as a young woman was finishing my degree and eventually getting married. I came from a household where Western feminism was considered a failed notion, nor did I think feminism fought for the struggles of Muslim women like me. But as a passionate Muslim feminist, I refused to conform, I refused to be told how to live my life, as my Islam encouraged me to go out in the world and do amazing things.

It was at a national conference where a gay person said to me, “I thought you might have an issue with me as a gay person, you know many Muslims usually do.” Without losing my temper, I looked at myself. Did my brown skin and colorful hijab scream homophobe!!?

The assumption this individual made was that I must dislike gays because I’m Muslim and of course I wear a hijab, which obviously makes me a more radical Muslim. It would never occur to people that my hijab wasn’t forced upon me nor was it a religious compulsion, it was my feminism. Further, they assumed I was straight, that clearly I can’t be a lesbian — that could never be, how can a Muslim woman who wears the hijab be a lesbian? Surely lesbians wear check shirts and have shaved heads or real lesbians look like Justin Bieber.

I started to understand that I am seen as a threat in the LGBT community, that I’m seen as the homophobe. When I walked through a gay village, a place supposed to be a safe haven for LGBT people, I was ambushed with racist comments and I was told I was not welcome. It occurred to me I’m not welcome in that community, a community I thought I belonged to, where once in my life I would feel comfortable.

Embracing my sexuality with the help of my religion, and attending my first UK black pride, was the most empowering experience of my life. I saw men and women who looked like me who dressed like me, I saw women with hijabs and men dressed in traditional Asian attire, even as a closeted lesbian I attended, I felt I can be a Muslim and lesbian.

I still felt that the only people making me feel like I should be back in the closet aren’t Muslims; it’s actually racist LGBT people. My experience isn’t a unique one; many black & Asian LGBT people face open and direct racism. I had friends who were racially abused in gay bars and clubs because of their skin color. At a national Pride, white gay men spat and verbally abused a group of Asian lesbian and bisexual women with racist taunts and remarks further one of the men even threw things at a Muslim woman who was wearing the hijab. Over a thousand people walked by and did nothing at all to help the women, but also no one dared challenge the racism.

Many lesbian & bisexual women who don’t fit a stereotype of what gay women look like are not welcomed in gay women’s social spaces. I didn’t allow myself to become immune to racism, even when it got worse. I refused to be silent; that would have been an insult to my values, beliefs and to all those people who fought for equality.

More and more black & Asian LGBT people face racism daily; this leaves people more closeted and isolated.

While we strive to eradicate homophobic bullying and fight for equal marriage, we need to be honest about racism in the LGBT community.

We need to collectively make a stand and give no room to racism in the LGBT community.

It’s sad that my experience of embracing my sexuality was bombarded with such racism, but it did get better because I refused to allow such racism to isolate me or remove me from LGBT social spaces. So many other people don’t have the same attitude as me; many black and Asian LGBT people can’t bare the burden of homophobia and racism, so they become silent.

Without UK Black Pride, NUS BSC, Imaan, Safra and the amazingly diverse LGBT social spaces like Liberte, Urban Desi and Habibi, I don’t think I would have ever had the courage to become comfortable within my sexuality nor would I have had the strength to challenge the racism and Islamophobia.

So to all my sisters & brothers, we have struggled, we have been attacked in every direction. Giving up has never, nor will be an option for us. The fight must go on as more people are being racially abused in places, which are allegedly safe.

I will end this by the pure Sufi words of Rabia Al Basri: ‘‘In my soul there is a Temple, shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel. Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.’’

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