by Noha Elmohands
When you are raised in a tradition Muslim immigrant family and you are the first born child, there are certain expectations that you are given. As long as I can remember, my mother’s desperation to maintain her culture and faith in her children has always been in her voice. What that meant was that her children went to Sunday school for Arabic and Quranic lessons weekly. This was non-negotiable no matter how many times I protested.
From a young age, I was in partial opposition of Islam. In fact, I was often sent home from my teachers at Sunday school stating I had been a disruptive student. Often, what they were commenting on was my questions of “why?” and “what if…”. In reflection, this is something I am proud of because even in my childhood years I recognized that some of the pieces didn’t fit. I was receiving mixed messages in what exactly Islam meant. I was told that God was merciful and understanding and yet I was to fear him. I was told that women were valued more than men because “Heaven lies at the feet of your mother” and yet I saw sexism everywhere. It was almost like feminism was part of our language but not a part of our actions or interpretations. I have always been a curious and observant person and when I asked my mother about these gaps in faith, she answered as best as she could. However, her answers still did not make sense of what I was witnessing.
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I recognized that Islam was my attachment to my family and as I grew older I tried so hard to keep that attachment. However, as I plugged into the soul that this body houses, I realized that by holding on to my family’s version of Islam I was actually slowly killing my soul. I had always had romantic interest in many individuals with many different body types. However, I had never had to engage with this side of me because like many Muslim girls I was not allowed to date. As I grew into my independence, I unplugged completely and denounced my family’s faith because it had never been my faith.
I could never understand how society rigidly defined love and who could love whom. My spirit had always been attracted to many souls and not all of them where cis men, some were women and some were trans. Traditional Islam frowns on queerness. Often, disapproval of queerness is justified with the story of Lot in the Quran. However, no matter how many times I studied this chapter I could not understand this justification. On top of that, the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) had never explicitly banned queerness. Many traditional Muslims will disagree and have disagreed with me.
In my process of trying to understand how I could be wrong, I went back to my foundation in Islam. As I started to listen to my soul, heart, and the universe, my revolution came to fruition. This soul was given to me by God, he is all knowing and I needed to trust the process. There was a reason that I was brought back to Islam. Everywhere I turned, it seemed that God was giving me signs as to where to go. Every time I stumbled in faith, it was my queerness that brought me back to Islam. This realization brought on a lucid and brighter perspective to view the world. Accepting myself in all of its divinity, allowed me to see Islam as if I had never before been taught it.
I started to stumble upon organizations that shared my views on social justice and the acceptance and support of all identities. These organizations were occupied by Imams (spiritual leader) and Islamic scholars who were using history and the Quran to challenge traditional interpretations of Islam. These progressive Muslims were queer, black, white, Trans, married to people of other faiths, and converts. Women were leading prayers in mixed gender prayers. Men pray alongside women who pray alongside Trans folks. What I found was the collective voices who were silenced in my upbringing. I found myself.
My queerness revolutionized Islam because it taught me the universe’s definition of love. Love is not about the body we wear. Love is divinely beyond our human understanding. Now I could reconcile my soul with my faith.
My mother still holds desperation in her voice and I challenge her by my existence in this progressive practice. She worries about the opinions of her family and I suspect that she sees her worth in attachment to my success in traditional Muslim values. After all, that is how her mother sees her own value. My value is independent of who I love and how I believe in the workings of the universe.
I recognize that we will never see eye to eye. I grew up in a different country and time in history. I do not need agreement from anyone. I do not aim to change the views of my family because I believe that love means acceptance and support regardless of agreement. I do not agree with my family but I love them. However, I cannot always engage with my family because it is draining to me.
Often I hear that loving ourselves is a revolution. I do believe that is should not be a revolution but a daily practice. However, I recognize that socialization is a powerful thing that often derails us on our path to self-love. Love was my revolution. I always loved myself but now I speak with power in voice.
Noha Elmohands is a poet and a social justice educator. In her professional and personal life, Noha is actively engaging in the intersectional work of social justice activism. Her current interests are the exploration of less popular intersections such as Queerness and Islam or Fatness and Sexuality.
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