Review: Channel 4’s ‘Muslim Drag Queens’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Channel 4 has aired a landmark documentary investigating the lives of Muslim drag queens, who face unrelenting prejudice as members of the UK’s Gay Asian, or ‘Gaysian’ community.

Last night, millions of Channel 4 viewers met 33 year-old Asifa Lahore, who is unquestionably a devout Muslim, “I fast, I pray, I believe in one god, I give to charity, I’ve been on pilgrimage”. For many Muslims, however, Asifa’s religion is irreconcilable with an equally important part of his identity: he is also the first ‘out and proud’ gay Muslim drag queen.

Asifa seeks to emulate the drag queens of 1960’s Britain, by using his controversial performances to address the conflict between Islam and sexual expression within the UK’s ‘Gaysian’ community.

A persistent theme throughout this documentary is that the majority of gay Muslims do not come out as being LGBT because of the fear of being denounced by their family and the wider comunity. The huge number of married Muslim men that pursued fellow drag queen Zareena Khan through online dating services exemplifies the difficulty for many LGBT Muslims in expressing their true identity.

The importance of Asifa’s work to promote acceptance of the Gaysian community cannot be understated, as the case of Naz Mahmood painfully illustrates. After coming out to his family, the social pressures of being an openly gay Muslim resulted in Naz committing suicide in July last year.

The reception of the documentary has proved hugely varied.

On one hand, there has been some exceptional support and recognition for the achievements of Asifa and the 150 other Muslim drag Queens in the UK.

Furthermore, Ian McKellen’s description of Asifa as a ‘pioneer’ proves vindicated. After coming out to his father, who is entirely supportive of his son’s sexuality, Ibrahim puts on a show-stopping performance at one of London’s most popular Muslim drag queen nights. The story of Ibrahim therefore illustrates how some progress is being made for LGBT Muslims.

There has, however, also been a vicious backlash. Police were warned in advance that the documentary was being aired in order to protect the safety of the drag queens it features, whilst a shocking torrent of homophobic abuse against the programme was posted on Twitter.

Additionally, Kieran Yates, the creator of the original short documentary depicting Muslim drag queens, has slammed Channel 4 for taking his idea and not using minority film-makers to tell the story of minority groups.

Muslim Drag Queens is available to view on All4.