4 Queer Muslims Tell Their Story Through Style

In the aftermath of the Orlando shootings, people have been quick to try to pit the Muslim and queer communities against one other. We've invited some queer Muslims and fashion lovers to share their stories and join us in making a stand against Islamophobia in the queer community. 

Taylor, Gina, an Anonymous respondent, and Rivolta all have different backgrounds and relationships to Islam and Muslim culture, but they are able to use style as form of activism while also celebrating their culture as Muslims. As Gina Ali says: "When I wear my ties, my dark lipstick, and my jewelry that says Allah in Arabic, I am actively saying Fuck You to patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, and all the forms of oppression that made me feel like my identities cannot intersect." 

1. Taylor Amari Little 

Taylor Amari Little is a 17 years old Spoken Word poet and social activist, as well as an incoming student at Eastern Michigan University. Tamari is the Founder of The Temple Project, a project that serves homeless individuals and those in need around the Detroit area who lack access to personal care and hygienic items, such as menstrual products, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, etc. Taylor is the Founder of Queer Ummah: A Visibility Project, a visibility project for LGBTQ+ Muslims. Taylor did a Tedx Talk called “Abuse, Infuse, Reclaim: Revolutionary Self-Produced Justice.”

Describe your relationship with Islam
I am a convert and I have two faiths: Islam and Nichiren Buddhism (which I practice international Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International). The two faiths are actually very compatible with one another and for me personally, Nichiren Buddhism actually helps me with my practice of Islam. Both give me strength and teach me concepts that help me stay focused on what’s most important in my life. I do enjoy going to masajid, many Muslim events (especially social justice-related ones), and praying with my fellow Muslim brothers, sisters and everyone in between. But when I think of how to verbally describe my relationship with Islam, I like to think of Ice Cube. When asked about his faith, he said, "What I call myself is a natural Muslim, because it's just me and God". I often feel the same way. At the end of the day, what matters is your relationship with God/Allah/the Universe/Adonai/Olodunmare/Mother Earth/ancestors, etc. It's all about connections and bonds and how to improve them and improve yourself. I love that and that is why I love Islam.  

What have been some of the biggest challenges involved with being queer and Muslim?
One of the biggest challenges would probably have to be first coming to terms with being queer and Muslim yourself, especially when surrounded by queerphobic communities. I often tell this story to people who message Queer Ummah who are struggling with external conflict due to being queer and Muslim. I actually almost left the deen a little bit after I had officially begun to identify as a Muslim. I was struggling because I was at a conference for Muslim youth where we had shaykhs/Islamic scholars come talk to us and they gave several lectures. Homosexuality kept coming up as a topic during Q&A sessions. There were so many questions being asked about that the Imam had decided to just get everyone together at once like a mini assembly to address the topic for about thirty minutes. People were asking all types of things like how to interact with LGBTQ+ people, if they were allowed to watch things like Ellen and media with out LGBTQ+ celebrity figures, and also if they could support LGBTQ+ movements. That imam said no to supporting any LGBTQ+ movements because "that would be going against the Qur'an and denying the Qur'an is denying Islam, therefore would be an action of a disbeliever." So I became mad and sad at the same time, experiencing so much internal conflict. I began wondering things like, "How can I be a Muslim if I have beliefs of a disbeliever (denying parts of the Qur'an, i.e approving and supporting the LGBTQ+ community--the community that I'M a part of-- without shame)? I just want to pray and live with more prophetic characteristics and be a better being like the Prophet, peace be upon him. But should I even be allowed to call myself Muslim if I KNOW I don't believe in/agree with some of the Qur'an?”

My friend recommended that I talk to the founder of the conference. When I began talking to him, I felt like a boulder had been lifted from my shoulders. He was saying that he could tell how passionate I am about justice and defending people against oppression and that that right there is Islamic at heart. He said something that will always remain with me, "Any struggle dealing with the oppression of someone is an Islamic struggle, regardless of whether or not it actually involves Muslims. Whether it's the Black Lives Matter movement, the refugee crises, or LGBTQ+ movement, doesn't matter." That truly touched me. He also encouraged me to stay focused and prioritized regarding what I fight for/which battles I choose. He also said, "That was just the opinion of that imam". I remember telling him, "Okay, well that seems to be the opinion of majority of Muslims." He replied very quickly and with a smile, "You haven't met majority of Muslims...Everyone has different opinions and different interpretations. Stay true to yourself and stay true to Islam." That experience is what really helped solidify my confidence with my identity as an LGBTQ+ Muslim. If anyone ever questions the authenticity of my faith, especially due to me being queer, I remind myself of this moment. 

How has your queer and Muslim identity affected your style?
Being queer and Muslim automatically guarantees you a lifetime of struggles and backlash from society. The issue whether or not you respond to and how you respond to it. With me? I just try to be me. Just knowing that I live in a world that hates me anyway since I am Black, queer, and not Christian is more than enough to remind me that I’m living my life for Allah and for myself, not for anyone else. I do not live to please others, I live to do good in the world, improve the lives of others and myself. Once you come to terms with your purpose and identities and begin to care less about what other people think, you can become more comfortable with who you are. Being queer and Muslim has helped me figure out my own style. I don’t try to be different, but that does not change the fact that I am different. I just won’t be ashamed of it anymore and now I embrace it. But also, it has caused me to be more mindful of what exactly I wear. I do not cover my hair all the time, but I do try to dress modestly. I also like to prove that just because I’m queer, does not mean that I follow none of the rules and recommendations of Islam. That’s not how it works.

How have your surroundings influenced your style?
Growing up, we moved around a lot to many different types of cities and towns, but we ended up staying in the city of Farmington Hills, Michigan for all four years of my high school career.  It’s an extremely diverse city, with many Desi, African American, Arab, White American and East Asian populations. I would say that attending school in this type of area, combined with my journey during this time of coming to love my Blackness inspired me to be more bold with my style and wear more things that made sure people knew that I love who I am. Seeing so many people wear their traditional clothing inspired me more to boldly represent my roots, too, since I finally knew that Black culture had value just like everyone else’s. I love expressing myself and wearing anything with African print, anything that reminds me of African print, items with political statements on them, etc. I love letting people know with my style that I’m a carefree Black girl.

Follow Taylor: Tumblr \ Queer Ummah Instagram \ Personal Instagram \ Twitter

2. Gina Ali

Gina Ali is Queer Egyptian Muslim womxn, Intersectional feminist and sexual educator. She is currently living in LA and is a California State University graduate with a degree in Religious studies with a focus on the intersections of Religion, Queer, and sexuality. Gina has been community organizing for a couple of years and now and strives to create an environment that is working towards dismantling homophobia, islamaphobia, hetero-cis-white-patriachy, and anti-blackness.  For Gina, fashion has always been a way to break free from social constructs and be herself. You can find Gina on facebook by searching Gina Ali or habibekanaa on instagram.

Describe your relationship with Islam
Growing up in a conservative Muslim household I felt this extreme disconnect between mainstream Islam and my own life. It's always been a challenge to live up to these unrealistic expectations that my family had for me based on culture and religion. The more I moved forward in life and got older I created a difference sense of religion for myself. I consider myself to be much more spiritual than religious. I feel connected to aspects of Islam and strongly hold Islam close to my heart. Islam has and always will play an active role in my life. It's on my watch now, I no longer will allow my family to define what Islam means to me. Islam is about spreading love and affection everywhere you go, regardless of these oppressive systems that tell us otherwise. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges involved with being queer and Muslim?
By far my biggest challenge as a queer Muslim would have to be the fact that I am constantly living a double life, feeling invisible, unseen, and fighting homophobia as well as Islamaphobia in both communities. It is such a challenge to have to put on multiple personas to please the Muslim community. I am constantly fighting against these patriarchal heterosexist views that impair me from being my authentic self 100% of the time. I constantly live in fear and it has made me so bitter because time and time again I am trying to prove to Muslims that queer people exist and I am trying to prove to the queer community that Muslims exist in the LGBT community. My existence feels like a double edged sword. However, with the support of my Queer Muslim community/family I feel alive again. 

How has your queer and Muslim identity affected your style?
I have always loved fashion. Among my friends I am known as a fashion enthusiast and love the idea of uniquely putting together outfits that speak about my identity. As a queer Muslim woman growing up wearing hijab and never being able to express my true self because of clothing restraints, coming out as queer has allowed me to explore parts of my identity that I never thought I would. Being able to explore my masculine and feminine side and incorporating it into my daily style has allowed me to feel free. When I wear my ties, my dark lipstick, and my jewelry that says Allah in arabic, I am actively saying Fuck You to patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, and all the forms of oppression that made me feel like my identities cannot intersect.

How have your surroundings influenced your style?
Growing up I was not encouraged to explore the style that allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin. It was always " Gina make sure your hijab is covering your hair and that your shirt is long enough and loose enough." Living in such a restricting environment pushed me to want to expand my style, especially a style that screams QUEER! I loved the way Arab clothing screamed colors and patterns. I loved that we were known for being flashy with our jewlery and expressive in our demeanor. This all translated for me and allowed me to incorporate it into my style. Sometimes I find myself dressing so "LA," which is where I grew up. Sometimes I find myself dressing so dapper I look like I am about to get married. Sometimes I dress in colors so dark I blend in with the shadows at night. My style became so versatile because of my experiences, because of all the love I grew for myself through my trauma. My style became about me, it became a way for me to love myself and find ways to look forward to the day because it helped me cope with life. Being Queer and Muslim is the reason why my style is unique; it is the reason why I look at myself in the mirror and love what I am looking at.

Follow Gina: Instagram

3. Anonymous

Email info@qwearfashion.com if you would like to connect with this individual.

Describe your relationship with Islam
I grew up in a religious household. For me, Islam has always been synonymous with peace, charity, and love. It comforted me, provided me with a framework to make sense of the world, and a method to relate to it. It took the form of colorful festivals, of profound poetry, of passionate sufi music, and of adventurous fables. It inspired me to help, to give, to love, and to discover. As I come to terms with my queerness, my relationship with Islam has been in a state of limbo. In the midst of so many conflicted views about homosexuality and Islam, I am still understanding how, if at all, Islam and my queerness can coexist.

What have been some of the biggest challenges involved with being queer and Muslim?
On a personal level, there is an entire world of my existence I actively hide from my parents. I can’t tell my mom openly about how my weekend was like. I don’t know if she will find acceptance and love- which she actively taught me - in her heart for my queerness.

There is a constant muddling of identity. There is a part of the world that is quick to identify me as a Muslim as they look at my facial hair, my skin color, and my name. There is another, which is equally quick to identify me as a non-muslim as they look at me holding another guy’s hand. It is a challenge to figure out how I relate to either of these worlds.

How has your queer and Muslim identity affected your style?/ How have your surroundings influenced your style?
My Punjabi Pakistani heritage is a beautiful mixture of Sikh, Hindu, and Islamic traditions which got further influenced by the British colonials. Here is a very subjective breakdown of what I see are the roots of the Pakistani style: the Sikh and Hindu tradition contributed color, pattern, and extravagance; Islam brought humility and simplicity; whereas the colonials sprinkled in a sense of finesse.

My personal style is influenced by all of these. I love to decorate my apartment with colorful tapestries and Hindu art works. I prefer simple dressing with single colored pieces, however, recently I am also experimenting with more colors, patterns, and designs.

3. Rivolta Sata

Rivolta Sata is a multidisciplinary Afro-Amerindian artist and performer. They have performed across the country at various venues, festivals and events. In the US they have performed most recently as a competitor in Philadelphia Burlesque Battle Royale, Bodega 47's Midnight Brunch and Burlesque with The Lovely Rae, Topsy Turvy Queer Circus and This was Queerlesque in San Fransico for the Queer Arts Festival, Hey Y'all Cabaret in NYC at the Circus Warehouse, Karmafest in MD, and various other events.

They have experience with hoop dance, samba, Afro-Brasilian dance, acrobatics, aerials, fan dancing, poi spinning and fire breathing. Their favorite form is fire arts, but loves the power and expression of each art and strives to gain as much experience in this life with as much of the circus arts as they can.

Describe your relationship with Islam
I grew up in a Muslim household, going to mosque on Fridays, Islamic and Arabic school after school. I self identify more as Sufi and connect very much with sufi music, sufi art and poetry.

What have been some of the biggest challenges involved with being queer and Muslim?
I think being queer and Muslim can be a very lonely life to lead if you are from a community that is disapproving and close minded about how you live your life. Simple things that can bring you joy, new people you meet, amazing events that you attend that are within one community I can't really share with another one or talk about. It's like you not necessarily live a secret life, but you learn to stop engaging with certain people in your circles about your personal life to avoid verbal and sometimes physical conflicts.

How has your queer and Muslim identity affected your style?
When I'm not performing I usually am wearing a scarf and try to dress as modest as possible, modesty has always been a practice I grew up with. When I perform, I happen to have a lot of "out-there" costumes, especially when it comes to samba, but I always try my best to cover up as much as possible. I believe that the amount of clothing you wear should never dictate how people should treat you and should never dictate the amount of respect you have your self. As long as you are confident, comfortable and respect the space you are in as well as the people that surround you, what you wear shouldn't matter if it makes you happy!

How have your surroundings influenced your style?
I grew up in a Muslim country but also by the beach so my style has so many different faces. Some days I'm dressed in all black with my hair covered and other days I'm encased in rainbows with beads and shells. It really depends on my mood and energy level but I feel equally empowered and comfortable in both.

Credit: A.M. visuals

Credit: A.M. visuals

Follow Rivolta: Facebook.com / Instagram 

As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.