Book Review

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib

How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don’t exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her family came to Canada as refugees, Samra encountered a whole new host of challenges: bullies, racism, the threat of poverty, and an arranged marriage. Backed into a corner, her need for a safe space–in which to grow and nurture her creative, feminist spirit–became dire. The men in her life wanted to police her, the women in her life had only shown her the example of pious obedience, and her body was a problem to be solved.

So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes her to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within her all along. A triumphant memoir of forgiveness and family, both chosen and not, We Have Always Been Here is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever felt out of place and a testament to the power of fearlessly inhabiting one’s truest self.

Goodreads

An excellent memoir about the intersectionality of being Muslim and queer, written with honesty and directness. Habib’s story is one of restriction to freedom, including the freedom to return to the religion that imposed the original restrictions. After growing up in Pakistan, Habib and her family fled to Canada to escape religious persecution. She was married twice by the time she was 20, first in an arranged marriage to her cousin, and second to a friend who agreed to marry her primarily to provide her social security. As an adult, she began to accept her queerness, dating women, trans women, and gender non-binary folx. Having come to terms with her queer identity, she returned to Islam. She came out to her parents, who were also changed by their time in Canada, and discovered a mosque for LGBTQ+ Muslims. She developed a passion for sharing photographs of queer Muslims, giving a face to a population few realize exist.

I think Habib is a remarkable woman, and I enjoyed this short memoir very much. However, it does suffer slightly from a common memoir issue: The stories of her childhood are fluid and concise. The nearer she gets to her current age, the more details are included, sometimes unnecessarily.

The section that resonated with me most deeply was Habib’s description of traveling when she was newly out. She talks about the freedom of self-expression while traveling, of trying out a new identity in a place where no one knows the older versions of you. I have experienced that many times myself, and she expressed the joy and relief very well.

I have to admit that before reading this book, I was one of those people who didn’t know much about queer Muslims. I knew that it was statistically likely that just as many people were queer in Muslim countries as in others, but I couldn’t point to any stories or people that I knew. I would love for Habib to write a book highlighting all of the queer Muslim folx that she interviewed – it would be hugely beneficial to me, and I assume to many others as well.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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