"Bismillāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm. Al ḥamdu lillāhi rabbi l-‘ālamīn. Ar raḥmāni r-raḥīm."
"I pray all the time throughout the day," Saara Majid, a 25-year-old Muslim, told me. "I always have my prayer beads on me. They're my sense of security."
"Māliki yawmi d-dīn. Iyyāka na’budu wa iyyāka nasta’īn."
Saara identifies as trans or gender non-conforming, and is queer in their orientation. (Saara uses the pronoun "they.")
To some, this combination — queer and Muslim — can't exist. They might ask, doesn't Islam hate gays? Doesn't the queer community hate religion? Saara once thought the same thing, but they've become a leader in a Seattle queer, Muslim community.
Saara was raised in a homophobic environment. Being queer wasn’t presented as an option in the white, Christian school they attended during the day, or in the Pakistani Muslim household they returned to in the afternoon.
"I kept being fed that my culture and my religion said these things," they said.
Saara started becoming infatuated with their female friends in high school, but stayed quiet for five years. Then one day after coming home from college, their mom confronted them about their sexuality. After a back-and-forth, Saara finally admitted they were queer.
"She was like, 'no you're not. You just think you are,'" Saara recalled.
Saara's mom didn’t ask them to leave, but “I wouldn’t be able to be myself at home," Saara explained.
Three weeks after coming out, they left home for good.
They visited their dad who was separated from their mom. Saara hadn’t cried in front of their mom but when their dad asked them about their sexuality, they did.
“He was like, ‘I’m your dad. If you can respect our culture, then I’m okay with that. I accept you. You’re my daughter. I’m not going to disown you.'”
Saara was out to their family, out of their mother’s house — and knew they wanted to help queer people. They got an internship at the University of Washington's Q Center where they found a friend — a best friend, actually. They started chatting with this guy, Ali. (Ali is a pseudonym, because he’s not out to his family.)
Ali said they soon realized: "We're both queer, and both brown, and both Muslim! I was like, wow! I haven’t met someone like me or my identity. It was a life changing experience meeting them."
Ali said it was a relief to find someone he could be himself with.
“Whenever I am with my queer friends or my Muslim friends, there’s always this part of me that I had to hide," he added. "But with them, I could be who I am.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by that he hasn’t checked up on me and made sure that we’re both safe, loved, and happy,” Saara said.
But even with a friend, they still questioned what it meant to be Muslim and queer – especially the Muslim part.
“I think about that like 30 times a day," they said.
Saara went to a workshop to brush up on their prayers, to reconnect with their faith and feel the love of Allah again. Islam started to have a less restrictive meaning to them.
“Islam means peace," Saara said. "It’s like, how much peace can I bring to those around me?”
Even though Saara’s faith was strong, it was still hard for them to fit into the Muslim community.
“Most of the time I do have to hide my identity because I don’t want to be targeted for being queer and trans,” Saara said. “But at the same time, I’m so thirsty for it. I want to go to the mosque and I want to participate.”
Mosques are sectioned off by gender; there's a brothers-only section and a sisters-only section. This made Saara wonder: “If you don’t fit into one of those genders, where do I go?”
They were still looking for a community where they could fully be themselves and be surrounded by people like them.
In 2013, Saara and Ali created Noor, a Seattle support group for queer Muslims.
"That's my heart," Saara said. "The heart of Saara is Noor. It’s my favorite achievement in my life.”
Noor started with just Ali and Saara, and now roughly 50 people in Seattle are involved. When they can’t go to their blood family, they can turn to Noor — their chosen family.
“Chosen family is my favorite kind of family," Saara said. "It is the people who basically have fostered my growth, not necessarily even in a queer way or an Islamic way but just as a human being.”
Creating a space for queer Muslims meant opening themselves up to the rejection of the Muslim community — a community I’m a part of.
I asked Saara why they weren’t scared.
“I was scared for a long time,” they said with a laugh. “I was afraid coming here today that someone else who's Muslim wants to interview me.
"But also [I] have faith that we can be here for each other as a community, despite our differences."
They shared with me the biggest lesson from their journey.
“Whether you’re a child or an adult, you’re exactly who you need to be at that moment," they said.
"Accepting that about yourself is going to unlock so many things."
“Al ḥamdu lillāhi rabbi l-‘ālamīn.”
Saara keeps queer Muslims in their heart and prays for them daily.
“I thank you, God, for blessing me with the family of Noor, my fellow brothers and sisters, and those that do not have any gender, my siblings," they prayed. "You have provided me the guidance and the strength to stay alive everyday.”
This story was created with production support from Mary Heisey and edited by Jenny Asarnow. The RadioActive theme song is by Patrick Liu and Abay Estifanos.