by Princess Harmony
Black Girl Dangerous’ Crush of the Month is a feature where we choose the most swoon-worthy and inspirational QTPoC whose work and flair has left us inspired and blushing. Then we interview them so our amazing readers can join us in crushing, fanning, and absolutely swooning over these amazing QTs.
This month’s crush is Zaynab Shahar!
Zaynab is a Black, poly, queer, vegan Sufi who is an activist and writer. Most notably, Zaynab is one of the co-founders of Third Coast Queer Muslims of Chicago and the Upper Midwest. Their work mostly focuses on queer Muslim visibility in LGBTQ culture. A graduate of the Chicago Theological Seminary, they were declared one of 2016’s Leaders of the Next, a program dedicated to helping the next generation of religious leadership in the United States. How cool is that? In a world that believes that being Muslim and being queer are opposites, their work breaks that binary and helps other queer Muslims dismantle oppressions like Islamophobia, homophobia, and antiblackness. More than just fighting injustice, they also come together for community events and prayer.
Has it gotten hot in here, or is it just us? Without further ado, here’s Zaynab!
Princess: Being that it’s Pride season and that queer folks have always been musical, I’d like to ask: what song fills you with pride? Or, what song has you feeling yourself most right now?
Zaynab: I’m a diehard Melissa Etheridge and Indigo Girls fan. So if I want to dance in a little pride while revisiting my gaybaby high school days, I flip on their classic albums.
Princess: I don’t know many theologians! Can you tell me how you became a trained religious expert? What drew you towards that work?
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Zaynab: I loved reading books about religion as a kid. I grew up in a household where I had the freedom to choose my religious beliefs, but it also came with the expectation that I had to thoroughly understand whatever ideology I wanted to take on. I couldn’t just be a lemming to the sea or a sheep. So I read a lot of books about religion: from my mom’s personal collection, from the public library, and from used bookstores across the Chicagoland area. Most of the books I read were about Judaism, Buddhism, and Witchcraft. I was really into the fusion of Judaism and Buddhism in the poetry and life of beatniks like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, but also witchcraft and goddess spirituality. Witchcraft and goddess spirituality taught me how to understand ritual, how to construct them and subsequently how to intellectually deconstruct ritual as part of my current research. I wanted to be a witchy beatnik writing cerebral poems about oppression or enlightenment while dressed in all black. I’m probably closer to that today than I was as teenager.
It wasn’t until I got to college that it clicked “hey, you can actually do this for a living!” Nobody told me growing up “you can be a theologian one day.” I kinda stumbled across it by taking classes on religion as part of my major, fell in love, and never looked back.
Princess: Let’s shift a bit. What’s your love life like? Are you in a relationship?
Zaynab: I am currently trying on solo polyamory. The solo aspect of it is new for me, the being openly polyamorous, not so much. I am currently not in a relationship in the conventional sense of the term. I don’t have a primary partner. I’m trying to shift away from creating hierarchical polycules and just form relationships with the intention of connecting to people without prioritizing them as to their “importance” in my life. I have playmates and casual mates but as my friend Kourtnie fondly extolls “I’ve yet to find my black activist baes.”
Princess: Does being Sufi factor in at all to your relationships or how you engage them?
Zaynab: Yes and no. On the one hand, I don’t have the inherent expectation that my partners be Sufi, Muslim, or anything of the sort. But a huge part of being a Sufi for me is introspection, critical reflection, meditative silence, natural curiosity, etc. So if you’re not the kind of person who enjoys thinking critically – whether it be spiritually, politically, or otherwise – then that’s going to be a deal breaker in the long run. You have to be a person who wants to look beyond binaries by moving from either/or thinking and into the world of both/and. You want to have to dance in the mud of greyspace. So I have a hard time engaging with folks who don’t want to think at all, who just want the easy answers, or the answers handed to them by someone seemingly more “qualified” than them, whatever that means. I don’t need you to be Descartes or Rumi, but I don’t want to date Dilbert either.
Princess: Your twitter bio says that you’re a Black vegan. Do you ever cook on dates? What do you see as the relationship between food and love?
Zaynab: I love cooking on dates, mainly because I don’t enjoy going out. I have always been against the way dating culture is constructed around going out to eat, paying an inordinate amount of money for food that is expensive or supposed to be “fine cuisine” as a means of showing a person you care or that you’re trying to impress them. Going out has its place, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t inherently foster intimacy. It also says nothing about me as a person. My ability to choose a quality restaurant doesn’t say anything about me as an individual.
To me there’s nothing more sensual and intimate than being in my kitchen. My kitchen is part laboratory, part healing space, part playground. In my kitchen I’m able to wrap my hands around a person’s waist, kiss their neck, feed them tidbits of the ingredients we’re using. I can hold them close while I teach them how to make soul-stirring, spicy vegan food or move their hands to make the most delicate vegan desserts. I’m a heinously erotic person. Food nourishes my eroticism, and you can get a better sense of who I am as a sensual creature from my kitchen than you would any restaurant I could possibly take you to.
Princess: I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced some form of heartbreak. What has been the most important takeaway from your experiences of it?
Zaynab: My biggest takeaway from heartbreak, and something I strive to evolve with every time, is to not allow it to close me off to future possibility. In Sufi poetry it’s often extolled that pain should open your heart wider, not close it. So with heartbreak I try to avoid shutting down emotionally and instead try to be open to its lessons. It doesn’t always work, but I try.
Princess Harmony is an afrolatin trans girl who speaks in the language of fire. She’s also unapologetic weeb trash that likes anime, video games, and visual novels. Go figure! <3