Welcome to the month of Ramadan! Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (sawm) fasting, prayer, reflection and community.
In commemoration of this intense yet invigorating spiritual celebration within the Muslim community, SOULE wishes to honor the members of the LGBTQ+ community who also identify with the Muslim faith with our miniseries, Under the Crescent Moon.
Our first interview is with Omar M. Naimi:
-Name: Omar M. Naimi
-Place of birth: Peshawar, Pakistan. (My birthplace is trivial and means nothing to me really. I’m ethnically Afghan and grew up in Queens, NY since I was 6 months old.)
-Sexual orientation: Bisexual
-Gender ID (if you choose to identify): my pronouns are he/him/his
- How would you describe your upbringing? In what ways was it influenced by your faith?
I grew up raised by two Afghan parents who immigrated to New York City in their 20s. From a young age, my parents let me know it was my responsibility to teach the people around me about Islam. They knew that my teachers in school would get things about Ramadan and Eid wrong, so I had to be the one to correct them and explain that Eid is not at all like Christmas or Hanukkah. My parents raised me to be very tough and to challenge everything. I was very vocally and visibly Muslim.
9/11 obviously affected every Muslim growing up in America. I grew up in a diverse enough neighborhood where I didn’t feel like an outsider but that’s not to say people didn’t call me a terrorist or a sand n****. I didn’t realize how problematic that was until much later in life so I can’t say it bothered me. I just thought everyone immigrated to New York from a war-torn country.
I went to a lot of different Islamic schools, either after school or on weekends. I think I was able to see a variety of cultures’ approach to Islamic schools and see what things were different or not. Iranian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Lebanese, Bosnian, Afghan, Uzbek. Seeing a lot of different versions of Islam made me more inclined to create my own version. My parents became more religious and more conservative as I grew up which laid grounds for a lot of conflicts and debates on what it meant to be Muslim. Now that I’m older, I’m very comfortable with the idea of practicing my own version of Islam. That relationship is between me and Allah and that’s what matters.
- When did you first realize you were queer and/or had a unique concept of your gender ideation? How did that impact you as you grew up?
I think I was 17. It was less of a realization and more of a decision. I know that makes me sound really dumb or backwards to say I decided to be bisexual because so many queer people fight for the idea that it’s not a choice. But that’s how it felt. I always knew women were attractive and I always knew men were attractive. And in high school, I thought finding men attractive was just being comfortable with my heterosexuality. That finding men attractive didn’t necessarily make me gay. Because I also definitely found women attractive. When Frank Ocean released Channel Orange and his letter on Tumblr, bisexuality was presented as an option. And I decided to be bisexual because it fit.
Choosing to be bisexual meant I didn’t have a lot of struggles coming to terms with my sexuality while growing up. I didn’t feel like I was resisting. It just felt normal. And it was nobody’s business, so I didn’t really come out to friends or partners until I was 22. I still don’t feel the need to come out to anyone. I’m bisexual and people can choose to see that or not. All the people who need to know already know.
That’s not to mean I was never challenged by my sexuality. I still had a lot to learn about sexuality and gender as constructs. I had to unlearn a lot of internalized homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia. And then, on top of that, learn how to properly advocate for those kinds of issues and for the rights of queer, transgender and gender nonconforming folks. I’m still yearning for community and belongingness in the queer community, even in QTPOC circles.
My birthplace is trivial and means nothing to me really. I’m ethnically Afghan and grew up in Queens, NY since I was 6 months old
When the race discussion in America is primarily the Black/white binary, that carries over to the visibility of queer folks. I can admire Frank Ocean and Janelle Monae all I want, but it won’t change the fact that I’m a non-Black person of color and can’t claim that marginalized experience. But they also can’t claim the immigrant marginalized experience. I don’t perfectly relate to queer American culture because queer culture in America doesn’t make room for immigrants like myself. It’s hard for me to articulate how I feel about it because I don’t want to speak over queer Black people in this country but I also want to illuminate the invisibility of queer immigrant Americans. I’m still figuring that out.
- How do you reconcile your identity with your faith?
It’s a continual process and I question if it even needs to be reconciled in a satisfactory way. I don’t think it has to make sense. Besides, it’s a very Western idea that sexuality and religion don’t mix. It’s a colonialist Christian concept that sex is strictly for having children and the only goal of enjoyment is the male orgasm. In Islam, men are mandated to sexually please their wives. Topics on sexuality like foreplay are totally fine in Islam and were only made taboo by European colonization. Similarly, there are huge trans and queer communities throughout South Asia and it was totally cool until the British came through and outlawed homosexuality. And now that India has just overturned its ban on homosexuality, the West wants to call South Asia late to the game? I don’t think so.
To me, Islam is a feminist religion. Muslims have just internalized racism, sexism, heterosexism and transphobia from their previous colonizers and are still working through unlearning all of that. I don’t see my faith and my sexuality as things that must coexist in a rational way. Logic and rationality are highly dependent on values and beliefs and culture. I don’t have to understand it to accept it as the truth.
- What is your message to the world concerning the intersection of queer identity and the Muslim faith?
That it’s normal? I just don’t believe in conflicting or contradicting identities. I think people just need to diversify their streams of information. Read queer Muslim books, talk with and listen to queer Muslim people. Follow a queer Muslim on Instagram, you’d be surprised how much you learn passively by scrolling and watching stories.
For anyone adamant that homosexuality is prohibited in Islam, I’d just respond that we all live in active contradictions. We all do good and bad things and we all decide what are the bad things we feel comfortable doing. Some feel comfortable with stealing, some are cool with exploiting poor people, I just feel comfortable in bed with men. I think I’m doing less harm in total.
If you still don’t feel like you understand, relieve yourself of the idea that you have to understand. You don’t have to understand another human being fully to treat them with dignity and respect.