Born and raised in the Netherlands by South Asian parents, who were themselves born and raised in Suriname, Amar Somaroo had a fairly cosmopolitan upbringing. “My upbringing was Hindu, with aspects of Islam coming through other family members,” he says, adding, “I did always have family who celebrated Eid but I was never involved with Ramadan myself when I was younger.” In his late teens, however, he found himself drawn to Islam. “I felt a deep-rooted connection with it. When I learned more about my paternal Afghani ancestors, my interest grew further and I started with Ramadan. First, a couple of days a year and more and more as the years progressed,” says Somaroo.
His story perhaps is similar to the story of other people from around the world, who have discovered a spiritual anchor in religion only later in life. What is significant is that Somaroo identifies as queer and has chosen to share his story of finding faith as part of The Queer Muslim Project’s Spirit of Ramadan campaign. “Being on my knees in a masjid, bending my head and feeling a presence in the recitations of His name gives me a sense of humbleness (sic), a feeling of liberation and a deep-rooted bond to the forefathers that did so before me,” he writes in a post that is currently up on The Queer Muslim Project’s Instagram feed. Like others who have participated in the campaign by sharing their stories of love and faith, Somaroo believes that there’s no inherent contradiction in identifying as a practising Muslim and being queer. “A good thing to keep in mind is that Islam teaches us that only God can judge your actions and your belief in him and humans cannot. That mindset has kept me strong,” he says.
The Spirit of Ramadan campaign, which will be running all through the holy month, was launched precisely to highlight such stories of self-acceptance, love and faith. “Ramzan is known as the month of good. Today there is so much mistrust everywhere. So the thought behind this campaign was: how do you use this platform, Instagram, to build a positive dialogue and share stories that go beyond the usual bigoted narratives?” says Rafiul Alom Rahman, founder of The Queer Muslim Project. The need for these stories is urgent, believes Rahman, given the current global political context. “All religions are complex but often the conversations around them are too extremist. I feel that discounts the stories of people who want to practise their faith in an affirmative manner,” he says. And queerness, he says, is central to the conversation being attempted by the campaign, since queer people, especially those who are transgender or gender non-conforming, have had a troubled relationship with religions, which usually work with a heteronormative world view. “But these are also people who find meaning in faith and relevance in spirituality,” says Rahman.
It was important to highlight that these questions of identity and faith are not limited to one country or even one faith, which is why, diversity is a key driver of the Spirit of Ramadan campaign. One of the stories has been shared by Luca Gerber-Flower (name changed on request), a 24-year-old queer Jewish convert from Bristol, England, who writes about celebrating the holy month with one of their closest friends, J, who is a black, queer, Muslim woman. “I felt that it was important to share my story because I wanted to centre J’s experiences with Ramadan as a queer Muslim; secondly, I also wanted to highlight the parallel between the interconnectedness of multiple faiths and the intertwined nature of my friends’ lives with my own,” says Gerber-Flower, adding, “The fact that we and our respective queered faiths are able to not just co-exist, but also to thrive in each other’s kindness and friendship, basically gives me hope for humanity.”