We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir was written by Samra Habib, a queer-identified Muslimah who came to Canada with her family from Pakistan. Habib is a journalism graduate who can indeed tell a good story. It was hard to put this book down and the pages rapidly turned themselves. From a failed Muslim marriage to her older first cousin to a Canadian marriage to a different man, Habib broke out of her hetero stranglehold to embrace her inner queerness. She dropped the hijab yet did not abandon Islam, finding a queer Muslim community in Toronto. This is a memoir of a young woman, and I hope she continues to write about her life journey. She has told an inspirational story in her struggle to come out amidst a religious community that often shuns queer existence.
Habib told her story with unflinching honesty and candour, yet I found her coming-out revelation to be an unexpected bellyflop. Sure, we all knew she was going to come out of the closet sometime. When talking about wearing makeup, especially lipstick, Habib revealed:
“The truth was, I wasn’t wearing it for the boys.”
Habib did talk about her gay friends, lesbian mentors, her first lesbian sexual experiences and where she hung out:
“It was surreal to be in a gay bar in Tokyo speaking in my native tongue with a gay Pakistani man from Beijing–like finding a missing puzzle piece under the coffee table while spring cleaning. I wondered where I’d find the rest of the pieces.”
Yet all of a sudden, at the beginning of a new chapter, Habib became free. I expected more of an anguishing experience in revealing the truth to herself first as she shed her beardish male companions. Not all coming-out stories are the same of course, yet Habib’s was akin to flipping the page and finding out that she was now an out woman.
Habib’s faith in Islam gave her the courage to come out to her mother:
“In that moment, I wondered what made me any different from those who projected their own judgments onto Muslim women who wore the hijab or the burka. I had no evidence that she would disapprove. Never in my life had I caught her saying anything remotely homophobic or transphobic. And she wouldn’t have, because to her, being hateful in any way goes against her religious beliefs. This was a woman who would recite the motto of the Ahmadiyya community–Love for all, hatred for none–whenever someone directed an Islamophobic remark at us on the street or in shopping malls or grocery stores.”
Thus when Habib did come out, her mother told her “Okay. I still love you.”