A few years after I moved to New England, I decided that I was ready to start searching for queer Muslim community. This wasn’t something that I’d ever done before, but I was at a place in my life where I was feeling a desperate need for a spiritual and religious community where I could (potentially) be my whole self. I wanted to bring all parts of myself into a faith community. I tentatively began searching for such a community, and was directed towards the group Queer Muslims of Boston. I quickly followed them on Facebook and had a couple of very basic exchanges with a member of the group. I don’t live in Boston, and I have yet to actually made it to any of their monthly dinners/meetings, which is unfortunate.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a retreat for Queer Muslims, and while I was there, I met Kaamila Mohamed, a queer Black Muslim who happened to be one of the co-founders of Queer Muslims of Boston. At this particular retreat, the Black identified Muslims participated in a day-long break out session specifically for Black Muslims. Kaamila co-facilitated this break out session. Kaamila and her co-facilitator led us through a variety of powerful exercises designed to strengthen our bonds with each other and to root us in our own particular lineages as Black Muslims. One of the most powerful exercises they led us through was the communal creation of a historical timeline of Black Islam and Black Muslims. I was so moved by Kaamila’s powerful leadership in the session, her knowledge, and her commitment to her community. I was thrilled to find out that she was one of the co-founders of Queer Muslims of Boston.
After the retreat, I reached out to Kaamila to see if she’d be willing to answer a few questions about being Black, Queer, and Muslim. She happily obliged me. I’m very grateful that Kaamlia took the time out of her busy schedule to answer complete this interview.
You’re someone who sits on the intersection of several different identities. How do you claim your Blackness as a Black Muslim? How do you claim your queerness as a queer Muslim?
There was a time when it felt like I was in the practice of compartmentalizing my various identities, but that just wasn’t sustainable or nourishing for me. I am all of who I am, all the time. I was born Black and Muslim, and that wouldn’t be that deep if it weren’t for antiblackness being intent on erasing us and the rich legacy of Black Muslims. By the time I really came into my queerness I had already embraced the fact that there are so many different interpretations of Islam and ways of being Muslim, so I never struggled with reconciling the two identities. If anything, living authentically allowed things to click into place for me spiritually.
I heard about Queer Muslims Boston shortly after I moved to New England. Can you tell me about the organization’s inception?
I attended MASGD’s (Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity) first annual retreat for LGBTQ Muslims and their partners in 2011. At some point in the following year, I met up for coffee with an individual I’d met at the retreat. We were sharing about struggles that we were experiencing at the time and how isolated we felt. Leaving that get together, we decided that even if it was just the two of us, we should get together at least once a month to spend time intentionally with other queer Muslims. At our first meeting, there were four of us and we decided to call ourselves Queer Muslims of Boston – or QMOB. I became one of two co-coordinators during the next several years while I was living in Boston. At our next meeting, we’d more than doubled in size, and we kept meeting every month after!
I was all hyped up when I found out that a Black Muslim was one of the founders of Queer Muslims Boston. Did this have any significance for you?
Yes, I think it was so important. When the first group of us gathered, everyone else was a South Asian man. I experience these dynamics in the larger queer Muslim community, I experienced a similar dynamic as an MSA e-board member in undergrad. We needed to be intentional about challenging the ways in which Black folks and women are marginalized within our community and all communities. I think it was important for Black queer Muslims who were going to be entering our space to see Black Muslim leadership, and it’s important for non-Black folks in our communities to be seeing and honoring Black leadership.
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I know you’ve since left the Boston area. What are you doing now? Are you still organizing?
It has been such a whirlwind since I left Boston. I’ve experienced all of these transitions in my personal life and in physical space as well, living in Miami for a year and now living in the Philadelphia area. I’ve taken a lot of that time to take care of my physical and mental health, because I had reached a place of intense burn out. And that’s a conversation I hope we can engage in, as well, in more open and vulnerable ways. It’s so easy to talk about self-care, but it can be a lot harder to talk about the feelings of shame that come up when we step away from community work to take care of ourselves.
At the moment, I’m in a graduate program for social work and social research. While a lot feels complicated about that, I’m super excited to learn more skills to better serve my community and about engaging in healing justice work.
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Do you think it’s important for Queer Muslims and Queer Black Muslims to make their presence known in the world? Why/why not?
Queer Muslims and queer Black Muslims exist in the world. We have always existed. We have been community and spiritual leaders, created art, and formed families. I think it’s important for the us to remember that and reclaim that and to celebrate ourselves. And I think it’s important for the world to recognize our presence and to be a safer and more affirming place for us. I see you as standing powerfully in your identity as a Queer Black Muslimah. What kind of impact do you hope to have on the world as a queer Muslim? What impact do you hope other queer Muslims will have on the world? I’ve made the choice to be visible as a queer Black Muslimah and have had the privilege to do so. For me, visibility is a powerful part of my work. There was a time I felt deeply alone in my identity, and I think it’s so beautiful that there’s been this increase in queer Muslim visibility. I want people to know that not only do other queer Muslims exist, that we exist in so many different ways. I enjoy educating and facilitating conversations that help folks of other identities to be in solidarity with us. I also love holding space for us, so that we can connect and build and heal together. I’m also a writer and performer, so that’s another way I hope to make an impact. It may sound cheesy, but I just want queer Muslims to be their authentic selves and to live their best lives! You all mean the world to me, and I just want to see you loving up on yourselves.
You can find Kaamila on instagram @halalglitter.
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