Empowerment

LGBTQ+ Muslim Community Prepares for First-Ever Muslim Pride Festival

For many LGBTQ+ Muslims, the event will offer an accepting space that other Pride festivals have denied.

Getty Images/Members of the Imaan Muslim LGBTQI support group take part in the Pride in London parade in July 2019.

London is set to host what’s being hailed the world’s first-ever Muslim Pride festival, called ImaanFest, in December.

The indoor event will feature workshops, panels, film screenings, an oral history exhibit, and live entertainment, according to Imaan, the UK-based LGBTQ+ Muslim organization behind its programming. The two-decade-old charity group crowdfunded to put the event together and reached its £10,000 goal at the end of last year.

Though Pride festivals are held around the world, most have not been inclusive to Muslims who identify as queer.

“Often LGBTQI Muslims are caught in the middle of islamophobia and homophobia, so we want to provide a safe and inclusive space where people feel like they do not have to choose between identities,” Imaan told The Independent.

Some of the appearances slated for ImaanFest include Black American bisexual historian Blair Imani, queer British-Iraqi writer Amrou Al-Kadhi, and trans activist Asifa Lahore, who is known as Britain’s first out Muslim drag queen from her starring role in a Channel 4 documentary.

“For centuries and decades, we as a community have always been erased, we’ve always been brushed underneath the carpet,” Lahore told NowThis by phone. “In many ways, I feel like we’re Islam’s best kept secret.”

Lahore said that the erasure has made the path for people with “competing” identities that much more difficult, which is something Imani attests to as well.

“Especially as human beings of oppressed and marginalized experiences, we struggle with just feeling like we need to belong,” she explained. “What I love about spaces that are affirming is that it gives people the fuel to go back home into those realities and shine brightly.”

In an op-ed for The Guardian, Al-Kadhi described the grievances of Muslim members of the LGBTQ+ community, who often face islamophobic sentiments and exclusion at Pride.

“The inescapable secularism of Pride makes me anxious,” they wrote. “[It] mutes the fact that many queer Muslims also hope to march at Pride, and that a majority of Muslims condemn homophobia.”

According to Lahore, Pride festivals haven’t always allowed queer Muslims to fully express their identity, which is often at odds with “the western notion of being out and proud.”

“ImaanFest will be that space for a lot of queer Muslims where they can just be themselves and not be apologetic for being themselves,” she said.

ImaanFest will also allow the LGBTQI Muslim community more visibility and voice.

“Inshallah, the more people see us, the more they’ll recognize that we belong and that we are deserving of God’s love,” Imani said.

Lahore said that Muslim allies of the LGBTQ+ community are often under represented, too.

“There are millions of Muslims — liberal, open-minded, tolerant Muslims — that are accepting of queer Muslims,” she said. “I really hope that this [event] is the start of a new conversation, however challenging it might be.”

ImaanFest was originally slated for April but has been pushed back due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It’s now set to take place in East London on Saturday, December 12.