As the Muslim world gets stuck into observing and celebrating the holiest month on the Islamic calendar, LGBTI Muslims are preparing themselves in an entirely different way.
Ramadan is the most important holidays for Muslims.
‘Ramadan is as important for Muslims as Christmas for other people,’ said Faizan, head of LGBTI Muslim group, Imaan.
‘But it brings up those difficult feelings for queer Muslims about the difficulties we have whether we’re estranged from families or booted out of our community.’
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and is believed God sho the fwedirst verses of the Quran – Islam’s holy book – to the Prophet Mohammed. This year Ramadan runs from 5 May to roughly around 5 June and during this time Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset.
By abstaining from food and water, Muslims believes it helps them improve willpower. It also helps to focus their energy into their faith. Fasting which is one of the five pillars of Islam, allows Muslims to also reflect on one of the other pillars, giving to charity. During their fast Muslims are able to better improve their empathy and compassion.
LGBTI Muslims and Ramadan
For Muslims who identify as LGBTI, Ramadan and any Islamic holiday can be a very lonely and isolating time.
‘Being a LGBT person, the family they don’t accept you anymore. And that really hurts you,’ Jamila, a Pakistani lesbian living in London told Gay Star News.
‘During the different festivals you see families coming together. But you don’t have your family right now and you need your family.
‘So that is a very disappointing in part of being an LGBT person.’
Cultural or religious beliefs can drive LGBTI Muslims away from their families. But because Islamic holidays are so community and family focused they can really amplify the sense of isolation for LGBTI Muslims.
For Jamila, it has been an ongoing struggle since she was forced to flee her family in 2017. Her fiance whom her parents had set her up in an arranged marriage, outed her to her family. It was then her brother threatened her with violence and she had to escape.
Since then she has lived in a refuge and being estranged from her family has taken a toll. Jamila has tried to take her own life multiple times, but now wants to survive because she recognizes ‘life is beautiful’.
‘The last two years I’ve had some really amazing things but sometimes it’s very sad as well,’ she said.
‘Because it’s mostly during the festivals… that I really miss my family. They were a really great pillar for me, but when that one pillar breaks from the building, the building is just destroyed. And that is the condition I live in.’
Thankfully, Jamila is in love and her girlfriend has been a great support for her and fills her with hope.
Coping with isolation
Khakan Qureshi is based in the UK’s second biggest city, Birmingham and he campaigns visibly for LGBTI Muslims and South Asians.
He too has been estranged from his family for about nine years and has engaged with various coping mechanisms to help him with his sense of isolation.
‘I try to be as independent as possible,’ he said.
‘I look for cognitive mechanisms and for distractions to occupy my mind as well as negative thoughts.’
Qureshi turns to creativity to help to distract him, whether it’s listening to music or writing.
But like Jamila he also has embedded himself with different LGBTI Muslim groups in the UK. Some of the more well known ones are Imaan and Hidayah, which Jamila said have come to be a new family for her.
‘I created my own family here, which is the LGBT family,’ she said.
‘Imaan give me a platform on how to live, how to improve my life and how to deal with (understand) Islam. They really gave me a new life.’
While life can still feel like a struggle for Jamila, she is grateful for the support of her chosen family. But she also has a message for those who feel hopeless and lost.
‘Your parents will one day come back to you,’ she said.
‘Life is beautiful.’