Stranger in a Familiar Land

Aaminah Khan

Aaminah Khan (jaythenerdkid) is a writer, activist and refugee support worker living in North Queensland. She writes about intersectional feminism and her experiences as a queer Muslim on Twitter and at her blog. Her other interests include popular culture, football, fashion and video games. Her mother will probably never stop embarrassing her by bragging about her in front of all of her friends.

My mother is a devout Muslim, and I believe she embodies many of the noblest qualities of a mumin – she is kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving, gracious, and loves Allah with all her heart. She supports me and the rest of her children in all of our endeavours, and although she’s never been particularly thrilled about my bisexuality, she’s never loved me any less because of it. She covers her hair with a hijab and wears only long-sleeved shirts and refuses to make plans without adding insha’Allah at the end.

I, too, am a devout Muslim, but I look nothing like her.

I wear miniskirts and high heels and wear my hair out, sometimes dyed ludicrous colours, sometimes cut short and tousled. I laugh and flirt with boys and girls alike in bars and at concerts, where I refrain from drinking alcohol but party along with my friends until the wee hours of the morning just the same.

I like to think this doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim. I carry my faith with me everywhere. I turn to Allah for guidance when I am lost or sad or afraid. I try to live a life of love and compassion in Allah’s service, to emulate the example of charity, kindness and good deeds set by our Prophet, peace be upon him. In my heart of hearts, I am at peace. I believe my relationship with Allah is a strong one. I feel the influence of the Most Beneficent in every aspect of my life.

Not everyone sees it like this.

When I initially stopped covering my hair, my mother said to me, “People will talk.” She was right. Members of the small Muslim community in my city started to whisper behind my back about how I had changed. When I started wearing shorter skirts, my mother asked me, “Don’t you care what people will say about you?” I told her I didn’t, that I wasn’t interested in the judgements of others, but it did hurt a little to know that people who knew nothing about me except who my parents were had formed opinions of me based on a chance encounter in a shopping centre or a glimpse of me running errands wearing shorts on a hot day. I wanted to walk up to these people, to tell them that I hadn’t changed, that my clothes weren’t indicative of my faith, that Allah was still the central concern of my life, but I knew it would make no difference. They’d branded me an outsider and would never change their minds.

I am a stranger in a familiar land. My views on the need for legal protections for sex workers, my support of the LGBT+ community, my insistence on dressing however I want despite what it makes people say behind my back: all of these things have marked me an outsider. Sometimes I feel as though the only Muslims here who don’t see me as a lesser being are my mother and her husband; even my own brothers and sisters don’t always understand why I feel the need to take the stances I do. Online, I’m subjected to repeated admonitions, both anonymous and otherwise, from people who feel the need to tell me that I’m not a real Muslim, that I’m letting Allah down, even that I’m going to hell.

I’m only human. Those things still hurt sometimes.

But what all those people don’t understand is that it is my faith that drives me to be the person I am. It is my belief in Allah that drives me to want to fight for equality – even equality for women unlike myself. It is the security and comfort of my faith that makes me brave enough to put myself forward, to help the silenced speak out. And whether or not other Muslims choose to believe it, it is my agency as a Muslim woman that makes me feel confident enough to wear my short skirts and bright lipstick. I ask myself: will I let other people decide what I can and cannot do with my own body, or will I make my own decisions in the knowledge that those decisions are between myself, Allah and nobody else? To me, the answer is clear.

It is a lonely life, sometimes. I feel lonely when my mother tells me that people ask her if her eldest daughter is still Muslim. I feel lonely when I say salaam to a fellow Muslim woman on the street and she looks at me in surprise. But my faith is with me always, and that comforts me during those moments, reminds me that my path is my own to tread and that I do not need anyone else’s permission to walk it. I fight for equality and justice in Allah’s name. I like to think that making the world a better place is worth the personal cost. And I know that even when I feel lonely, I am not alone. There are other Muslim feminists online, including queer men and women like myself, who have helped me regain a sense of Muslim fellowship that my experiences with Muslims in my everyday life had all but destroyed. I am incredibly grateful to them and to Allah for bringing them into my life.

I am a Muslim woman and a proud feminist. This path is sometimes lonely, sometimes fraught, sometimes difficult, but I believe it is the right one for me.

*InshaAllah means “God Willing” or “If God wills” in Arabic