What’s holding me back? Nothing! Farina on queerness, Islam, and life in Bristol

We spoke to Bootcamp graduate Farina about her life growing up as a queer Muslim woman in Bristol. Read on below!

I am Farina and I identify as a Queer Muslim. For a long time in my life, I wasn’t able to live my true identity. My journey has very much been around the different intersections of identity. What am I allowed to be today? Am I allowed to be queer?

In October 2018 I came out to my dad. He was the only immediate family member who I hadn’t told yet about my sexuality. I wanted him to know, because I had just asked my then-partner to marry me. It didn’t go down very well. He disowned me and the rest of my family members followed suit. I literally went from having contact with my blood family to having no blood family at all. 

Today I don’t have any contact with my family, and I’m no longer with the person who I asked to marry, either. And I would probably say that in terms of my identity and where I’m at in the journey of my life, I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in. 

“The person who I feared the most knows now”

To think that just over a year ago, I thought I was living my true life but clearly I wasn’t. I was living with my girlfriend, down the road from my parent’s house. She used to try and hold my hand or kiss me in the local supermarket. I used to flinch, withdraw my hand, or look around to see if there was an identifiable brown face that might know me or my family. How could I be out, but still reacting in that way?

My biggest fear was: what if my dad finds out? Then in 2018, when he did find out, that fear was no longer hanging over my head.

The person who I feared the most knows now. I don’t need to fear anyone else because I know I have God’s approval. God made me who I am, I am in his image. My dad now knows, so what is holding me back? Nothing.

Growing up Muslim and queer

I was born into religion. My understanding of Islam was effectively what was taught to me. I learned from a young age that I would grow up, marry a man, have his babies, and live a Muslim life. It was very much the heterosexual life. 

I knew from the age of 4 that I was attracted to the same gender. It never felt wrong, but I was never taught that it was right. 

When I was 12, my parents had just come back from performing pilgrimage, and I was at a friend’s house. I said to one of the girls there: I love my best friend, I want to marry her. She was like, oh my god, what are you saying? Your parents have just come back from the house of God. What will go through them if they find out what you are saying?! It is so impure, so wrong. 

She was older than me, influential. Someone I looked up to. It was all of those feelings. I thought, right okay, I can’t say those things then.

Farina holding a placard that says 'Out and Proud'. Farina has short black hair, sunglasses, and a t-shirt that shows a Mosque in rainbow colours. Underneath the mosque, it says 'HIDAYAH'.
‘Out and Proud’. Photo thanks to Farina.

Setting up Bristol Queer Muslims

Off the back of coming out to my dad, I decided to create a safe space for Bristol’s queer Muslims. I organised and promoted monthly meet-ups. I did this on my own for 4-5 months. One month I would have 1 person turn up, the next month nobody would turn up. I kept on asking myself: why am I doing this? 

Then I thought, I could be sitting here in a cafe, drinking my third cup of tea. Somebody might have already walked past the cafe 17 times, just trying to pluck up the courage to come inside to talk to me. I can’t stop coming just because nobody is here. I don’t know when that person might get the courage to walk through the door.

Bristol has such a small BAME community, so there is an overwhelming fear of attending an LGBTQ+ group in case word gets back to family or friends. 

On discovering Hidayah

In December 2018 I found out Hidayah (a nation-wide organisation for LGBTQI+ Muslims in the UK) existed. I was apprehensive at first because they asked me to be part of the committee straight away. That was a huge responsibility. I was still mourning from losing my family, you know? 

In February 2019. I attended a conference that Hidayah ran about intersectionality within Islam. That was my first ‘Halleluiah’ moment. There were around 200+ LGBTQ+ Muslims and allies there. I was like, oh my god, I can’t believe there are so many of us. That changed my mind. I joined Hidayah in March 2019 and I’ve been part of them since. 

Places like Hidayah need to exist because, unfortunately as a society, we are just not there. We do not yet feel welcome in a straight, normative, cis-gendered community.

It’s a great thing that LGBTQ+ education is being taught at a young age, as well as equality and diversity. When today’s 4 and 5 year olds today go into schools and colleges, that is when we will start to see the change. 

“You don’t have to be ‘out’ or a practicing Muslim to be a part of Hidayah”

People always assume you have to be out and visibly LGBTQ+ to join us. That is 100% not true. I would say that most of our members are in the closet in one way or another. That’s totally okay. If you come to our meetings across the UK, that is confidential. We don’t share your information, or publicise your attendance. 

This photo shows Farina and a friend holding a colourful banner that says “HIDAYA LGBTQI+ Muslims”. Behind them are many balloons of different colours, and a crowd of people.
Farina and friends at Bristol Pride. Photo thanks to Farina.

Hidayah is also not just for practicing Muslims. I was born into the religion, but I wouldn’t call myself ‘practicing’. I don’t read the Quran, or pray 5 times a day, but I still identify as a Muslim. You don’t have to be practicing in a certain way to define as Muslim. You can still come to Hidayah.

Coming to Campaign Bootcamp

Campaign Bootcamp was a life changing experience for me. Not only did it really help me put my campaign life into perspective and understand where best to use my energy, but it also introduced me to a whole new supportive Bootcamp family who are always on hand with anything I need help with: from promoting, to signposting or just being there to give words of wisdom and encouragement when needed!

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