Most people who live on Earth practice some sort of religion. Many of these people see their religion as a way for them to improve their lives, with the teachings from the sacred texts serving as structured ways for living one?s life. Though, not all people fit perfectly into the teachings of religious texts and preachers. Many religions, more specifically, Islam, espouse ideologies that negatively target members of the queer community.
From the blog titled Just Me and Allah, queer muslims share their personal stories about their relationship with Islam and how they reconciled their queer identity with their muslim faith. In a religious world filled with bigoted and dogmatic thinking, these Muslims choose to disidentify with the homophobia rooted in Muslim teachings and shield their religious cynics by ignoring their adverse comments and instead seek peaceful sources of and instead use other Muslim ideologies.
In connection with the reconciliation of centralized religious ideas with one?s own queer or transgender identity is extremely reminiscent of the textual themes brought forth in Disidentifications by Jos Esteban Muoz. In this text, Muoz entertains the notion that perhaps queer people do not have to associate themselves with that which causes distress or apprehension with self-identification. Through the example of the artist Marga Gomez, a queer woman who grew up throughout the mid-20th century, Muoz suggests the idea of disidentification ? that is, the ability to choose what one associates with and does not associate with. Disidentification, as Gomez describes it, is to ?read oneself and one?s own life narrative in a moment, object, or subject that is not culturally coded to ?connect? with the disidentifying subject? (Gomez 12). Essentially, Gomez argues that to disidentify is to choose whether or not one wishes to abide by the social expectations of a larger group.
In the example, Gomez struggles to fit in with the standard narrative of a lesbian woman. For Gomez, she experiences a time with her mother and friends that exposes to her the external appearance of a lesbian, and as a result, Gomez is not too fond with the standard that lesbian women are expected to meet. Just like the queer Muslims presented in previous paragraphs, Gomez performs the disidentification strategy by seeking to represent herself in her own light ? and not the uniform identity to which most lesbians were expected to conform.
For many queer muslims, disidentifying with their religion means looking towards other positive influences to shield the discrimination they face in other realms of their religion. This disidentification is seem in the second subject portrayed: a man whose name is Assaad. According to Just Me and Allah, Assaad is a queer Muslim who decided to cut ties with his family because of the homophobic comments he received from. He turned his back to critics of his sexuality, which, according to him, occurred throughout his childhood and into adulthood. Assaad experienced a barrage of criticisms at home, where he was ?constantly in a battle? because of his sexual orientation and identity (Habib). Regardless, Assaad chose to disidentify by cutting ties with his family and focusing only on things that would empower his self-identification.
For Assaad, he faced the oppression not only within his own Islamic faith but in the American culture as well. From Just Me and Allah, Assaad states, Religion is free to interpret, so it?s more of a spiritual-identity to me (Habib). In this position, Assaad uses the idea of disidentification that Jos Esteban Muoz brought forth to feel more comfortable with his religious association. Through reading the Quran, Assad realized that his Muslim faith was swaying between loyal and infidelic. He avoided fasting during Ramadan and ignored the celebration of Eid. Moreover, he has come to view his religion as a matter of pick-and-choose ? he partakes in some customs and relinquishes others. Even though Assaad faced discrimination when in contact with other people who disagreed with his take on sexual orientation, Assaad sought his own interpretation of religion ? ultimately resulting in him experiencing his Muslim faith in a better light.
Aside from solely disidentifying by moving away from the sources of criticism, disidentification can take form in one?s own work, as is seen in the story of a queer Muslim woman named Saba. Being both a person of color and a Muslim, Saba experienced explicit derogatory slurs pertaining to her faith and skin color growing up. Along with this difficult, oppressive experience, Saba faced a difficult ideological confrontation with her religion. Saba recalls feeling extremely threatened during and after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. With this new wave of Islamophobia, Saba used her artistic skills to create empowering Muslim art pieces through the Durham Artists Movement, an arts collective that Saba sees as a way to ?uplift the creative voices of marginalized people by providing a safe space to create, exhibit, and be in artistic community? (Habib). Saba, a native of Durham, North Carolina, used the idea of disidentification to motivate her creation of empowering queer Muslim artwork.
REBEL by Saba Taj (2013)
Pictured is a work of art by Saba titled ?Rebel.? In this painting, a Muslim woman with the word ?rebel? written across her stomach shows a visible defiance against her opposition, a clear explanation to why her left arm is in a bent position. Moreover, the red color is very vibrant and eye-catching. Red has historically been classified as a color of power (Burkley), so by choosing to paint the picture with a majority red color, Saba is intending to make the art piece pop out at the viewer. But what is more interesting is the contrast between the red background and the woman?s royal blue shirt, a color clear contrast that is consistent to the motive of the woman: just as the blue contrasts differs from the red, the woman rebels from the majority of the group. With art pieces like these, Saba shows a disposition that is unhappy with the unfavorable view of queer and female Muslims, and her artwork carries with it a powerful, rebellious statement that originated as a result of her decision to seek her own religious interpretation.
While being a queer Muslim is difficult, the reconciliation of one?s own transgenderism and their Muslim faith is an even more disheartening experience ? but nonetheless can be overcome. In Just Me and Allah, a transgender named Raissa, a Malian expatriate and now-Belgian resident, describes their experience of being physically threatened in a club for their transgender identity. While their solution was to flee Mali and find refuge in Belgium, their relationship with Allah and the Quran remained stagnant and even grew tighter and stronger.
Ironically, Raissa feels safest and most wholesome when they read the Quran and pray to Allah ? the very same religious entity that calls for oppression of their own transgender identity. Raissa?s experience of turning to the very own entity which calls for her group?s damnation in hell is interesting and begs the question: how would someone continue to turn to religion even though that religion is a main cause of their personal identification problems? Quite simple, this process is exemplified by Raissa?s ability to pursue her own self-interpretation of religious doctrines and teachings. Rather than curling up at the mere sight of religious ideological oppression, they are reinventing their own definition. They ignore the dogmas of Islam and instead places their own faith and self-interpretation on a higher pedestal; the result: a happier outlook on their life.
Assaad from Linkoping, Sweden
Outside of the queer Muslim interviews are the profile pictures of each interviewee. All eight of the subjects portray serious facial expressions, which certainly point to their acquired self-esteem that resulted from their experience with facing negative comments about their self-identity. However, aside from the palpable assertiveness that they show, is a veil of confidence that is manifested by their certainty with facing the criticism of their faith and sexuality, which they all discuss in their respective interviews in the blog.
Saba from Durham, North Carolina
Upon glancing at each person, there is a visible strength across each person?s body that echoes into the viewer and asserts each person?s poise. Each of the subjects had to deal with the process of finding their own identity in a world of bigotry and hatred, and after doing so, their faces reflect the self-assurance that each of them carry with themselves. If there were any more negative comments towards them, the faces of every interviewed person in the blog clearly show a stance that would be able to stand up to the negativity and assert a position of power. Even though a lot of these queer Muslims took a step forward that ignored their criticisms, they clearly show the necessary visible strength that could stand up to the personal attacks that each person faced in the past.
Disidentification as an ideology in the psychology community is growing. The scientific view of the term is connected with stereotype threat. Stereotype threat describes how people in a group feel threatened by the larger stereotypes and expectations that make up a group (The Glossary of Education Reform). For many people, not just people of the LGBT community, they face the expectation of abiding by unwritten stereotypes that allow them to explicitly declare their belonging to that respective group. The threat of a degrading self-esteem can come from the stereotypical threat that comes with being in any group. As a response to the negative psychological consequences that can arise from pledging allegiance to a group, many people embrace an individualistic approach to the group as a whole so that their self-esteem can be replenished.
One goal that humans have is to achieve a state of happiness, and from the perspective of the queer Muslim subjects in the blog, they faced discrimination that arguably affected their self-esteem. Facing criticism for them was clearly not desired, and it definitely took a toll on their personal health. A lot of the people in the blog, such as Assaad, talk about how they feel like they did not fit into mainstream society and were depressed for long periods of time. When faced with this adversity, they sought disidentification as a tool to help them achieve an increase in self-esteem and happiness. For them, attempting to fit in was tried numerous times, and the best thing to do was to ignore the hatred and turn to positivity. While many people would argue that ignorance is not solving the larger problem (as the hatred still exists), the disidentification these queer Muslims used along with ignoring their criticism allowed them to be at peace and interpret their religion how they wished.
The queer Muslims featured in Just Me and Allah touch at the philosophical question of group norms. For many of these people featured in the blog Just Me and Allah, they chose to face the difficult situation of veering away from the expected behaviors of those associated with the Muslim faith ? begging the question: how do we even define a group? If everyone is unique, then why do we continue to draw lines between what is expected of a group and what is not?
The Quran that people like Saba referred to were barriers that essentially defined how the group should function as a whole. These social constructions, while important, allow a large associated population of people to follow similar routines, and when that guiding force may be a little less specific, the larger group of people will feel threatened that the minority people who are different are threatening the majority of people. Moreover, it is essential to understand that humans are extremely needy to maintain their sense of belonging to the group, so if many people are intending to disproportionate what is going on in the group, then those types of people will start to have the increased possibility that they will fall apart during their time together.
A psychological theory that is important to understand in the case of these queer Muslim people being interviewed is the Social Identity Theory introduced to the academic world by Henri Tajfel in 1979. The Social Identity Theory, as Tajfel claims, seeks to describe the characteristics of a group and how a group asserts who is ?in? the group and who is ?out? of the group.
In the case of the blog Just Me and Allah, the people interviewed claim a queer identity that is not ideal to the belief systems of many Muslims, as the Quran states that homosexuality should be punished in some form ? it is unclear how specifically (Associated Press). Though homosexuality in Islam is far from being on the extreme of immoral, the majority of Muslims do not view it as morally acceptable: in a survey of 40 Muslim countries, only three ? Uganda, Mozambique, and Bangladesh ? had over a one-in-ten approval rating of homosexuality (12%, 11%, and 10%, respectively) (Markoe). Though American Muslims have a much more favorable view of homosexuality (45% of American Muslims see it as morally acceptable) (Markoe), there is still, sadly, is a large negative view of homosexuality among Muslim communities.
The process of Social Identity Theory in the case of the queer Muslims is seen with the ?out? group as those who identify as homosexual. There are three stages: categorization, identification, and comparison. After these queer Muslims are negatively categorized into groups by the majority, they begin to identify themselves in the respective groups they are socially sorted into ? after which, people begin to compare themselves with each of the groups, which is when people?s self-esteem is compromised and an action must be taken to achieve higher self-esteem (McLeod).
More specifically, the step that these queer Muslims took was to disidentify from the larger Muslim group as a whole, which showed contempt for Muslim homosexuals as was described in many of the interviews. Ari from France turned to dance to distract herself from the religious criticism she faced; Biser from Bulgaria moved to Belgium, a much more accepting country for queer Muslims; and Leila from Brooklyn chose to wear a pendant around his neck that depicted Allah, allowing him to determine if another person is worth talking to based on the types of comments they make about it.
The disidentification allowed each queer Muslim to assess themselves and their standing within the larger Muslim community as a whole. While the Social Identity Theory describes how groups are categorized, it serves as a tool to describe why these Muslims chose to disidentify. The theory talks about the end goal of achieving a higher self-esteem, and in the case of the depicted queer Muslims, their tool of disidentification served as an effective way of achieving the needed self-esteem to assert their belonging to the Islam faith.
In a time that is showing an increase in religious and political prejudice, as Saba and other featured people in the blog mention, it is essential for people to confront these bigoted ideas. While some may argue that it is essential to reconcile the differences between religious critics and those being criticized, many of the queer Muslims interviewed in the blog Just Me and Allah argue that ignoring one?s critics and disidentifying to interpret a larger idea (religion in this case) is the most effective way to deal with negative comments about one?s identity.
Burkley, Melissa. ?Seeing Red: Does Wearing Red Make You Sexy?? Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 12 Aug. 2010,
Glossary of Education Reform. ?Stereotype Threat Definition.? The Glossary of Education Reform, 29 Aug. 2013, edglossary.org/stereotype-threat/.
Habib, Samra. ?Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project.? Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project, queermuslimproject.tumblr.com/.
McLeod, Saul. ?Saul McLeod.? Simply Psychology, 1 Jan. 1970
Markoe, Lauren. ?Muslim Attitudes about LBGT Are Complex.? Religion News Service, 7 July 2016
Muoz, Jos E. Disidentifications. 1994.
Press, The Associated. ?Islam and Homosexuality: What Does the Koran Say?? Haaretz.com, 15 June 2016, www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.724908.
?Social Psychology.? Social Psychology: Third Edition by Eliot R. Smith and Diane M. Mackie, www.psypress.co.uk/smithandmackie/resources/topic.asp?topic=ch06-tp-03.