Samra Habib Talks About The Queer Muslim Experience

Photo by Jessica Laforet

A space for all

Growing up, Samra Habib felt like an outsider within her own religion of Islam. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a small, dynamic sect of Islam founded in 1889, her family fled Pakistan because religious extremists made their life unsafe. Now, she says she's "always looking for stories on what it's like for other Muslims who are not accepted by mainstream Islam." Add on Habib's queer identity, and you've got a life lived at the complex intersection of a religion that doesn't necessarily welcome LGBTQI+ individuals and queerness. Talk about feeling like an outsider.

Habib is a writer, activist, and photographer. Her photo series, "Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Project" started in 2014, finds Habib photographing and elevating the stories of other queer Muslims across North America and Europe. "What has come out of not being embraced by mainstream spaces is that a lot of people, a lot of queer individuals, are creating their own spaces," she says. One of those spaces is Unity Mosque, a queer mosque in Toronto that Habib attends and supports "Just Me and Allah." She's been going there for nearly five years after a decade of not going to any mosque because her relationship with Islam was "tainted" and she "felt like there wasn't really any space for [her] there." During her first visit, Habib recalls a transgender woman giving the adhan, the Islamic call to worship in an untraditionally desegregated space. It's through Unity Mosque that Habib says she "started learning what it was like to be accepted in [her] entirety."

We, humans, are complex and made of many identities that inform one another. We seek spaces for all of them to flourish simultaneously. Habib's experience in seeking Muslim spaces that accepted queer identities was just one hurdle to get over. Another was finding supportive spaces for queer Muslim identities to grow and thrive. "A lot of queer spaces in Toronto growing up," she says, "were mostly white, and I was usually the only person of color there. I didn't really necessarily identify with the white queer community in Toronto." The need to see herself in a community fuels her photo series and the subjects she highlights.

Photo of Leila by Samra Habib

"What I try to do is give people platforms to actually tell their own unique stories and share exactly what their relationship with Islam is and how they arrived at this destination," Habib says. "Each individual is given the space to showcase their individuality, which I think is often times lacking because queer Muslims are typically grouped in a really homogenized way." One portrait session that stands out to Habib is the one with Leila, a woman who challenges Habib's relationship to Islamic signifiers, like the hijab. "She creates her own interpretation of what being a modest Muslim can look like." Other individuals Habib has spoken with range from a black queer Muslim who considers his relationship with Islam to be "elusive" to a trans-Muslim woman finding her own peace within the Quran scripture. They all paint a picture of resilience and are a testament to the power of community.

"Not only has my perception [of being queer and Muslim] changed, time has changed things dramatically in terms of how queer Muslims experience Islam," she says. "There are lots of other people who are embracing Islam even though they're rejected by mainstream spaces, so I don't have to deny this huge part of my upbringing; I can make it my own."

Unity Mosque and "Just Me and Allah" are just a few ways queer Muslims are finding solace in community. It's up to those who identify differently to help make spaces more inclusive and supportive for all. Fighting for equal queer rights means fighting for equal Muslim rights. Empathy and perspective are key; "What queer Muslims experience as a queer people might be different from someone who is queer with a lot of privilege and a lot of acceptance," Habib says. Fostering spaces that accept and elevate queer Muslim voices are imperative to the queer rights movement. Visibility is vital. "I'm just learning that my community is no longer shaped by geography," Habib says. "As long as we have this thing that ties us together, I know we'll be okay."

Photo by Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images.

It marks her third duet with Nas

Here are some words that I never expected to read or hear again: There is a new song with Amy Winehouse. But here we are in 2019, and Salaam Remi has granted me a wish. On Valentine's Day, the Grammy-nominated producer and frequent Winehouse collaborator (also responsible for hits like Miguel's "Come Through & Chill") released "Find My Love" which features rapper Nas and that powerful and haunting voice that I have come to love and cherish so dearly.

Representatives for Remi said that the Winehouse vocals were from an old jam session the two had. Remi was a producer on both of Winehouse's albums, Frank and Back to Black. "Find My Love" marks the third time Winehouse and Nas have done duets under the direction of Remi. They were previously heard together on "Like Smoke," a single from her 2011 posthumous album Amy Winehouse Lioness: Hidden Treasures, and "Cherry Wine" from Nas' 2012 album Life Is Good. Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, before they could complete production on her third album. My heart is still broken about it as she is by far my favorite artist.

"Find My Love" is set to appear on Remi's Do It for the Culture 2, a collection of songs curated by him. Check it out, below.



Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

"In the midst of chaos there's opportunity"

Following the travesty that was Fyre Festival, Ja Rule wants to take another stab at creating a music festival. Good luck getting that off the ground.

On Thursday, the rapper spoke to TMZ, where he revealed that he was planning to relaunch Icon, an app used to book entertainers, which is similar to Billy McFarland's Fyre app. He told the outlet that he wanted to create a festival similar to Fyre to support it.

"[Fyre Festival] is heartbreaking to me. It was something that I really, really wanted to be special and amazing, and it just didn't turn out that way, but in the midst of chaos there's opportunity, so I'm working on a lot of new things," he says. He then gets into the fact that he wants to form a music festival. "[Fyre] is the most iconic festival that never was... I have plans to create the iconic music festival, but you didn't hear it from me."

Ja Rule actually doesn't seem to think he is at all responsible for what came from Fyre Fest, claiming in a Twitter post that he was "hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood winked, led astray." Even if that's his feeling, he should realize that anyone involved with Fyre shouldn't ever try their hand at music festivals again.