These queer Muslims are finding ways to stay connected, focused and safe this Ramadan – even under lockdown

Asifa Lahore, Sabah Choudrey and Hafsa Qureshi

Halfway through Ramadan, Sabah Choudrey, a “reluctant activist on most things trans, brown and hairy” and the co-founder of Trans Pride Brighton, says they’re still figuring things out.

“I’ve been thinking about a new routine every three days, and sometimes it stays the same and sometimes it changes but it’s OK,” Sabah tells PinkNews.

“Especially with the pandemic, I’m learning to be more flexible and patient with figuring it out. I think I’m being nice to myself as well, I always say just be kind to yourself.”

With lockdown leaving many LGBT+ Muslims isolated from their communities during this important time, Sabah notes it’s easy to be hard on yourself.

“Think of every day as a new day. Sometimes we can give ourselves a challenge like, ‘over this one month I’m going to do this particular thing’, but maybe that makes it harder to achieve those things and harder when we don’t achieve those things.

Like pretty much everyone in the world, Sabah is making heavy use of WhatsApp and group chats to stay connected with his community.

“Even just posting an emoji, knowing that I’ll have friends who will probably be up at like 1am or 4am and might be in the same place… Just being able to say, ‘This is really hard, I feel lonely and I’m not really sure why, or I’m just kind of struggling’, and having a space to talk about what’s going on really helps.”

Asifa Lahore, a trans Muslim drag queen, echoes these words.

Asifa Lahore. (Asifa Lahore)

“Like most of the world, Muslims have turned to using technology and digital means to pray and feel a sense of connection,” she tells PinkNews.

“Be it to connect with their loved ones spread around the globe or to experience a sense of ritual and routine by following prayers that are now being aired online.

“I have found great comfort in being able to speak to relatives both in the UK and in the home country of Pakistan and share this moment with them. In these dark moments that has been of great help.

Asifa worries that many LGBT+ Muslims have been impacted by Iftars being reduced to single household events.

“This has meant that the usual coming together, sharing of food, of experiencing this commonality of faith can no longer take place,” she explains.

“Myself among many LGBT+ Muslims have been affected by this because of the limits and sanctions it imposes.

“I fear for many of our brothers and sisters who aren’t out to their loved ones or have been ostracised by their community and have to experience this time of reflection alone. Isolating is hard enough but with the added layer of fasting it can be difficult.”

Despite the challenges posed by lockdown, she is remaining positive.

“On a personal note it has given me a lot of direction and a deeper spirituality.”

Hafsa Qureshi is an openly bi Muslim and queer activist currently working for Stonewall UK.

Hafsa Qureshi

Hafsa Qureshi. (Getty)

She suggests that queer Muslims, or any queer person interested in Islam, attend a virtual Iftar space such as the ones organised by Imaan LGBTQI.

“Many mainstream mosques or religious spaces impose a feeling that we’re not ‘Muslim enough’ and it can discourage us from practicing,” Hafsa tells PinkNews.

“We need safe spaces like this and it’s a great way to build our community and show each other that we’re not alone.”

If you’re struggling, there are people who can help.

For people who are finding things difficult, especially those stuck in lockdown with people who don’t respect their  identity, Sabah suggests getting touch with organisations such as Galop, which has a national LGBT+ domestic abuse helpline on 0800 999 5428.

“Remember that you’re strong,” Sabah says. “Whatever you’ve been through so far, you’re still here.

“And for people who have faith or who are Muslim and are struggling with not being respected or recognised as the person who they truly are, remember Allah knows you, Allah knows who you are, and that matters.”

Hidayah’s 10 top ways of staying connected with chosen family this Ramadan.

The LGBT+ Muslim charity Hidayah says observing Ramadan under lockdown presents an opportunity to do things differently this year – to stay connected with other queer Muslims virtually and physically – albeit from a distance.

Here are Hidayah’s top 10 tips for doing just that.

1. Interpretation hour.

One of the things that help us get stronger deen (faith) is learning the meaning that the verses of the Qur’an carry, reason behind its revelation, and other many benefits from reading a tafseer (detailed interpretation) in an online Zoom study group or through Facebook messenger with a close friend.

2. Online cooking hour.

Using Instagram or Zoom, schedule an hour to showcase recipes. For example, every member takes turns to prepare the sahoor (breakfast early morning meal) and iftar (fatoor) (opening of fast meal). Islam is a majority faith in over 50 countries around the world. Don’t forget to diversify the dishes which give a sense of variation.

3. Style and fashion.

To mark the end of Ramadan Muslims celebrate Eid, which in essence is a big party! So why not start looking at outfits and check out the latest fashion. Youtube vloggers such as Ascia AKF, Habiba DaSilva, Subhi Taha, Khaled Siddiq, Nadir Nahdi just to mention a few who we think have unique fashion sense. Why not start your own fashion segment on Youtube or Instagram.

4. Online knowledge lessons hour .

You can set up an hour Zoom or Instagram to explain your understanding of one of the rules of fasting in a group. For example, can you drink water during your fast? It could take the form of correcting a misconception made on social media or TV and elaborating on it. It should be backed by accurate references.

5. Remember Ramadan is the month of goodness and mercy.

One of the things that leaves a long lasting impression is to remember your neighbour with an exquisite dish, especially if you know that they might like a specific dish. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), said: “Gift each other as it spreads love amongst you” [Sahih Al-Jame’]

6. Craft and design time.

Get hands on, think of joyful ideas motivate your queer family to be creative, fun ideas like creating lanterns to put outside your door or Ramadan greetings cards and gift boxes.

7. Donate to charity.

Zakat (charity) is a pillar of Islam and is a compulsory charitable payment that goes on to benefit the poor and needy. Donate to any charity of your choice or help out at your local homeless shelter. There are food banks in most supermarkets.

8. Recitate the Holy Quran and improve your Arabic.

Using Zoom or Skype, organise a meeting to improve your Arabic and learn the Qur’an. Grasp the opportunity memorise some verses from the Holy Qur’an every day after Fajr (morning prayer) or before Maghrib (evening prayer). Supplications are recommended during the month of Ramadan.

9. Break your fast with friends.

Normally Muslims break their fast with their families, however share your Ramadan experience by opening your fast with some friends who may be isolating alone or estranged from their families.

10. Get cultured.

Learn how Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan in their countries. Watch documentaries on YouTube or Netflix.

From Africa to America, Muslims celebrate Ramadan together. Muslims often refer to each other as part of an ummah (one big family)