I grew up in Pakistan, a country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Unlike most Pakistani women, I had access to a great education, and loving and supportive parents who treated me and my brothers equally. However, as I grew up I was troubled by the way women were treated in Pakistan.
Much of my worry was fueled by growing up during one of the harshest military regimes in Pakistan, that of general Zia-Ul-Haq. In his push to “Islamisize” the country, he eliminated many of women’s rights in the name of Islam. His infamous Hudood Ordinances amplified violence against women, and the general degradation and humiliation of women in society. I was constantly afraid, and the oppression started to seep into my soul. Fortunately, when I was 16 my parents immigrated to the U.S. with the help of my uncle’s sponsorship.
I came to the U.S. broken and disillusioned. I thought that I would start a new and happier life away from Pakistan and away from Islam.
But of course it was not that easy. I was just so different from my fellow suburban white teens. Yet trying to forget who I was and where I was from didn’t bring me happiness either. By the time I got to the University of Illinois, away from home and family for the first time, I had become very isolated. Even when I came out and entered the LGBT community, I realized that as a queer-Muslim-person of color, the issues I faced were vastly different from my white LGBT peers.
In 1999, I met Faisal Alam, the founder of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, an organization dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to their allies and families. He changed my life forever. To sit in a room full of queer youth and to know that there is another Pakistani Muslim queer person out there, started to fill a hole I did not even know existedand I stopped believing that I would never be able to reconcile my sexuality with my religion and culture.
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