Lia Darjes, a Berlin-based photographer, admits she went into her latest photo project with one wrong impression.
Can you truly be at peace identifying as both Muslim and LGBTQ? She wasn't so sure.
"At the point when I started working on this project, I myself did not think that there are queer Muslims who manage to reconcile those two parts of their identities," she says.
Darjes learned, however, she was wrong.
Her series, "Being Queer. Feeling Muslim," which she shot between 2013 and 2015, captures faces and stories of LGBTQ Muslims living in Europe and North America.
As evidenced by the seven photos below, queer Muslims — an often underrepresented and misunderstood group — deserve for their diverse and eye-opening stories to be heard by a world that often fails to listen.
1. Ludovic, from Paris, said being gay and Muslim opened his eyes to the injustice faced by many oppressed groups.
"In 2012, after I did not find one single imam in France who was willing to bury a transsexual Muslim, I founded a mosque that is inclusive and open to all in Paris. The reactions were quite vehement. Being Muslim, Arabic and gay and thus a member of several minority groups opened my eyes: Minorities are being discriminated against particularly in times of economic crisis. We have to know more about Islam, and we have to understand who we actually are in order to fight homophobia." — Ludovic
2. Samira, from Toronto, doesn't understand why others can't see that Muslims are just as diverse as Christians.
“I am from a country where it is punishable by death to be gay. 1979, when the Islamic Revolution began, my family immigrated to Canada, where I grew up pretty secular; maybe that was why I never had that moment of a coming out with my parents, I think they always knew that I am a lesbian. When 9/11 happened, all of a sudden I became Muslim — not because I was behaving differently but because people saw me differently. Just one look at my name and people act differently. Why don’t they understand that there are so many different ways of Islam in different countries, different traditions, different shapes? Why can they accept it for Christianity and Judaism but not for Islam?” — Samira
3. Joey, from Los Angeles, used to be an atheist, but one powerful novel opened his eyes to Islam.
“I was a pretty strong atheist and then I came across a copy of Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel, ‘The Taqwacores,’ about a fictional Muslim punk movement that kind of became true after being published. I purchased it, read it in just a couple of days and it opened my eyes a lot more to the religion. … In a way, I was very orthodox in my thoughts when putting the LGBT community and Islam together. Because on first sight, it looks dark when you look in the Quran and the Hadiths, it clearly can’t be OK. But then you can read other sources, other verses of the Quran, other Hadiths, and it gets clear that it is all a question of how you decide to interpret it.” — Joey
4. Amin, from Los Angeles, sometimes feels as though he's fighting two battles in the LGBTQ and Muslim communities.
“I find myself in the middle of two fronts – sometimes fighting within the Muslim community for more tolerance of LGBT people, and at other times fighting queer people and non-Muslims against the rampant Islamophobia in this country. I feel like I’m obligated to educate people on both sides. At the same time, I don’t feel the need to be validated by anyone. I don’t feel any great inner turmoil because of the various components of my identity. Like, I don’t necessarily feel excited by the prospect of a mosque for gay people. If there was a big mosque and people went and prayed together, I would still feel uncomfortable – gay or not. But I feel like people should have the right to do that. Is that weird? It sounds like I am in denial, doesn’t it?” — Amin
5. El-Farouk, and his husband, Troy, from Toronto, believe the Quran advocates for the acceptance of LGBTQ people.
"Where I am at today is not necessarily where I started. And I could tell you where I am now and it would sound rather a happy place. But the journey to that place has not been an easy one. I started with the notion that it was sinful [to be gay] and that those who practiced it were problematic at best. But that didn’t quite sort of seem right in the larger construct of the Quran and the Prophet that I believed to be true and actually had been taught. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin because sexuality in Islam is not a sin. Sexuality is something that God has given. And in verse 49.13. Allah says, ‘I created you to different nations and tribes and you may know and learn from each other.’ I just see queer folk as one of those nations or tribes." — El-Farouk
6. Sara, from New York, has always felt empowered by — not limited by — her Muslim faith.
“Islam has never been a part of my life that I felt limited by, it has always been a source of strength. I feel that I come out as Muslim rather than coming out as queer. Many people have a very strong preconception of what a Muslim woman looks like and how she behaves. And though, when I actually share this with people as something that is really important to me, they are often very confused.” — Sara
7. Jason, from Los Angeles, says converting to Islam was initially about connecting to God.
“When I converted to Islam a couple of years ago, [being gay] wasn’t an issue for me. I had just realized that I wanted to be a Muslim, and being a Muslim at that moment, as a very early young Muslim, it was all about my connection with God, and getting close to God. A month later, I realized that I needed to look to what the Quran and everybody says about being gay. … And everything was extremely negative, very, very negative. And it was very disturbing to me.” — Jason
Everywhere she went, Darjes found "people who wanted to be visible, who wanted to share their stories and ideas," she says.
Homophobia and transphobia are often used as tools to discriminate against queer Muslims. But by giving others a platform through her photo series, Darjes — who is straight, cisgender (non-transgender), and does not practice Islam — says she hopes her subjects help shift broader attitudes when it comes to accepting LGBTQ people of minority faiths.
"Breaking stereotypes," she notes, "has always been something that interests me."
To see more photos in "Being Queer. Feeling Muslim," visit Darjes' website.
Update: Some of the quotes in this article were updated on April14, 2017.