Queer and hijabi: It’s complicated

In the wake of the Channel 4 show, What Muslims Really Think, we look behind Islamophobic headlines and scaremongering, with a first person account of growing up gay and Muslim in the UK by Hannah Noor, a gay British Muslim woman.


Being a gay hijabi British Muslim woman to me means a complex identity; it means unlearning so much and changing the way I look at things.  I was not brought up to be homophobic and I never was, but accepting that I’m gay is still something I work on daily. It means reading books titled Queer Jihad – (Jihad means a personal struggle, not terrorism) and learning more about my own faith from people who have done research into how Islam says being gay and Muslim is okay. It means falling in love with a girl but being too scared to take that chance because you’re not ready to be out of the closet to everyone yet. It means living a double life, like any gay person who is still closeted for whatever reason.

Being a gay hijabi British Muslim woman brings about a unique set of problems. For example, a lot of people assume I’m homophobic purely because I wear a headscarf. The first time this happened to me, I couldn’t even reply to the individual because I was so shocked at his assumption.

It means falling in love with a girl but being too scared to take that chance because you’re not ready to be out of the closet to everyone yet. It means living a double life, like any gay person who is still closeted for whatever reason.

During a debate on free speech on my university’s Debate Society Facebook page, someone said, “Well, you probably agree with homophobes anyway, don’t you?” My friends who were following the thread immediately messaged me asking if this boy was calling me homophobic. To which I had to reply, “Yes, he did just call me – a raging homosexual – homophobic.”

This wasn’t the last time this happened, but I’ve perfected my response to people asking if I’m homophobic; you’ve got the wrong type of ‘homo’, dear – I’m a homosexual, not a homophobe.

Also I don’t ‘look’ gay, which can be a problem when I want to flirt with a girl. Even though I’m wearing jeans with glitter patches, a plaid shirt, and glitter shoes – honestly, I’m such a walking stereotype – all they see is my headscarf and automatically assume I’m heterosexual and just being friendly.

There are also benefits; I can talk about girls all the time and people don’t for a moment suspect that I am gay; they just think I appreciate girls. I can check out girls without anyone ever suspecting a thing – I mean, except my friends who responded with, “Yes, we know. We’ve seen the way you look at girls” when I came out to them.

This wasn’t the last time this happened, but I’ve perfected my response to people asking if I’m homophobic; you’ve got the wrong type of ‘homo’, dear – I’m a homosexual, not a homophobe.

On a more serious note, there are some real challenges faced by LGBTQ+ Muslims. Having to deal with increasing hostility – and Islamophobia – from the media is one part of it. Channel 4 recently shared the results from a survey of 1,000 Muslims and used the sensational and attention grabbing headline “Half of all British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal, poll finds.” This has already caused a lot of controversy between not just Muslims but also among non-Muslims. My immediate reaction when I saw the headline on my Twitter feed was to roll my eyes and remember how The Sun had to apologise for using an extremely skewed and misrepresentative headline stating that ‘Muslims’ support people who go to fight with Daesh in Syria.

While I’m sure that there are Muslims who disagree with homosexuality and think it is a sin, I do not understand why they are repeatedly singled out when most mainstream religions and followers of religions do not agree with homosexuality. Same-sex marriage wasn’t even legalised in the UK until 2013, and we only have to look as far as Northern Ireland to see a place where it still isn’t legal.

I think people forget that a large number of Muslims living in the UK now come from families who’ve immigrated, whether 50+ years ago or 1 year ago. Whilst white British society has progressed over the past 20-30 years, we must accept that people of immigrant families have not only had to move to a foreign land and get used to it but also try and hold onto their culture whilst integrating into British society.

Sex, relationships, love, feelings are all still very taboo subjects in a lot of Muslim families and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I’m lucky that my father has always been very open with me and got me to talk about feelings and supported the idea of me falling in love with someone and being able to marry them. And whilst it’s not like that yet for all Muslims, things are moving in the right direction.

While I’m sure that there are Muslims who disagree with homosexuality and think it is a sin, I do not understand why they are repeatedly singled out when most mainstream religions and followers of religions do not agree with homosexuality. Same-sex marriage wasn’t even legalised in the UK until 2013, and we only have to look as far as Northern Ireland to see a place where it still isn’t legal.

It has been a very long journey to see homosexuality widely accepted and seen as normal, and even today not every non-Muslim agrees it is normal or acceptable. There has been  progress from a time where it was illegal in the UK and it will be a long process to get religious people from any faith to accept and agree with LGBTQ+ rights and relationships. Do I think we’ll reach a point where all religious people accept it? No, I don’t, and I don’t think it’s fair to expect everyone to change their views in such a short space of time or to change them at all – so long as they’re not harming people.

*The author of this piece has chosen to write under a pseudonym.

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