Hamida: As a Muslim, feminist, working-class woman, freedom is very important to me
Hamida was raised in Liverpool within the Pathan community, one of the largest ethnic groups from Afghanistan. She is a feminist lesbian and activist, and currently instructs self defense to women and girls in California.
Hamida was raised in Liverpool within the Pathan community, one of the largest ethnic groups from Afghanistan. She is a feminist lesbian and activist, and currently instructs self defense to women and girls in California. Here she relates how she was brought up in a household that taught her to value and protect her rights and freedom of expression.
During the 80s, my mother divorced my father and this was the catalyst for my family’s freedom. My grandmother and uncle tried to reconcile the marriage; evidently they failed. The process was very taxing though, since it was back in the days when you needed to have a good reason to file for a divorce. I was eight years old when the divorce was finally settled and since then, my father has been estranged from our family. It has been about 30 years since I had anything to do with him.
The divorce between my parents was also really a divorce from my extended family, but we are in touch with family members who are part of our global diaspora, in London, US and Swat. To a certain extent, I am very much aware that they lead oppressive lives. There is definitely oppression in our communities; it makes me feel very sad to see women oppressed, denied their freedom and downtrodden. Circumstances see women having to employ self-policing and this is really heartbreaking. I witness the women in my own family who are oppressed and trying to live a life with these entitled/abusive men. There is just so much rape; having sex with a man you were forced to marry – is non-consensual sex.
As a Pathan, Muslim, working-class woman, freedom is very important to me as I am aware there is pervasive deep rooted patriarchy affecting our communities. Issues surrounding entitlement, limited choice, honour-based violence, sexual oppression and abuse are definitely so close to my heart.
Being a minority, combined with growing up poor, means that religion is forcefully pushed onto my community and the man of the house (my father at the time), and unfortunately this is the worst interpretation of Islam you could imagine. The oppression is barbaric and extremely hurtful; it’s misogynistic but even repressing for men and children; my father, my uncles, my cousins. It stems from a reactionary tribal nature of upholding ‘honour’ through revenge and how covered up the women are in your family and community.
In terms of living as a Muslim woman in a western society, I interpret the narrative as being dictated by patriarchal-hetero-white supremacy. Misogyny and hyper-masculinity are prevalent in society today which we have to fight against. Women’s oppression is very real, within my community, my friends, my family and workplace. I don’t see it as women not being strong, because oppression and weakness are not synonymous. It takes a really strong woman to endure countless years of physical, emotional, financial and psychological abuse. To have your wings clipped, your freedom taken away, unable to live the life you want makes some women depressed and ill. The misogyny is so rife especially in my community, coming from a working-class background; not to say the middle-classes are free, but we know that with money and education comes some privileges.
My parents’ divorce gave us freedom and a new reality
I am one of six siblings, and my eldest sister’s punk heart and attitude as a teenager was a positive influence on the whole family. The divorce set us free and this reflects on how most of my family are feminists and vegetarians. My mother is a very open-minded woman and still jokes, “Marry a nice Asian boy, a nice Muslim boy”. But she doesn’t really care, she just wants us to be happy and is proud of us and as a result of this, I am a very strong-willed and independent person. My sexuality was very fluid since my childhood and it was camouflaged by cultures and subcultures. We were poor, and being sandwiched between two boys growing up meant that I grew up wearing their clothes, which helped my gender nonconformity blossom.
I was raised in Toxteth, Liverpool and hail Salt–N–Pepa as my heroes, who influenced my style choices including my desire to cut off all my hair and get tram lines and wear nothing but trainers. I was discovering myself, it was easy to do so, because I have such a big family, so most of the attention was not on me. I had interesting boyfriends during this time, who either wore make up or were androgynous which solidified my self-acceptance and coming to terms with identifying as a lesbian.
When I was 21, I had a relationship with my best friend. At the time I didn’t want to be labelled, so I didn’t ‘come out’ not identify as a lesbian. The relationship was very spiritual and my best friend and I physically moved away from our families and everyone we knew to live in Norwich for me to pursue my degree. It is easy to be a couple in an environment where nobody knows you because you have the freedom to do what you want, as opposed to being in your cities where your families are. I came out to my family when I met my current partner who I am happily married to. They actually said, “We’ve been waiting for you to tell us that you’re gay but you hadn’t said anything, so we just left it to you.”
Although my immediate family is really supportive of me, one of my brothers doesn’t really speak to me and it’s not because he is homophobic; he is just ignorant and probably quite fearful of anything outside of his understanding. I am the only lesbian woman in the family, but my siblings took diverse partners. My sister was married to a Rasta, my brother has children with a white woman and my younger brother identifies as pansexual. Everybody has the freedom to be themselves and express their identities if they so wish.
In terms of living this kind of freedom, it has been easy to share my life with my family and they were more accepting of my sexual orientation, than I was of myself initially. Sexual orientation and sexual freedom is still a very taboo notion in our communities.
My story of coming out as a lesbian woman has a happy ending and even though it was a fairly easy disclosure, I know I am an anomaly on the grand scale of things. I hope to be able to empower other Asian women who want to come out, to do so, and lead the life they want.
Support for Muslim lesbians in the UK
For more information on organisations that support Muslim women who identify as lesbian or bisexual, visit LGBTQ Muslim charity Imaan, sexual health charity NAZ, or call The Muslim Women’s Helpline, run by the Muslim Women’s Network. Al-Jannah is an LGBT organisation for Muslims based in Scotland.