Queer Canadian Muslims Are in the Spotlight with the ‘Just Me And Allah’ Photo Series
We talked to photographer Samer Habib about "Just Me and Allah," her groundbreaking portrait series that showcases queer Canadian Muslims.
Part-street style, part-point-and-shoot, “Just Me and Allah” is a stylish portrait series capturing queer Canadian Muslims. The brainchild of Toronto fashion photographer Samra Habib, the project started on Tumblr but grew into a multi-gallery art show that spans across Toronto for World Pride this month.
Inspired by the thriving queer Jewish community, Habib wondered why Muslims couldn't do the same.
It also got her thinking about how queer Muslims are repped in pop culture—notably in film. “A lot of the documentaries dealt with the often painful and guilt-ridden experiences of growing up queer and Muslim,” said Habib, who combined her love of imagery with storytelling and color to create "a meaningful dialogue around Islam, sexuality and gender issues,” which is more lighthearted than loaded.
The series is surprisingly casual and off-the-cuff. So iconic is the shot of Dali Sadaf, who hails from Tunisia, a student living in Montreal who is working on a book about a personal—and political—revolution.
There is a super intense shot of Samira Mohyeddin, an Iranian restaurant owner who was trained as a Shakespearean actor but also works as a journalist, sprawled across a table in a black suit (there’s something so Frank Sinatra about it).
And there’s a thoughtful shot, too, of Tanzanian human rights activist and lawyer El Farouk Khaki praying. As the co-founder the Unity Mosque for LGBTQ Muslims, Habib says he's one of the most influential figures “in the Muslim Queer community in Canada.”
Just because they’re photographed, doesn’t mean they’re religious. “While some pray five times a day, others are more secular and just celebrate the big holidays and approach it spiritually,” said Habib.
But how do queer Muslims deal with a religion that accepts homosexuality as a sin? Experiences vary. Queer Muslims in Toronto have created a utopia, basically, carving out places to celebrate Islam. Take Habib who prays at the Unity Mosque.
“Women, trans men and women often lead the prayers, which is almost unheard of,” she said. “A lot of my queer Muslim friends organize support groups for young queer Muslims who've just come out.” Granted, that isn’t the case for a lot of other countries where the consequences of coming out could mean jeopardizing your life.
The show is in three locations—while the Parliament Street Library is home to a Muslim population, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives is a key hotspot for WorldPride. Videofag is a staple in the art scene pegged in the neighbourhood of Kensington Market, drawing droves from the city’s art scene.
After launching this show, Habib hopes that queer Muslims will feel comfortable posing in front of the lens. “I hope that it helps change perceptions of Muslims worldwide, especially in a climate where there's so much Islamophobia,” she said. “I want queer Muslims around the world who live in countries where laws prohibit them from being who they are to see the project, read and watch the interviews and feel legitimized.”
“Just Me and Allah” opens at Videofag Gallery from July 10 and has been open at the Parliament Street Library since June 1. A panel with El-Farouk Khaki and others is held at the CLGA on July 2.