Where would any of us be without our allies? Feminism changed the lives of women globally because there were good men in position who agreed with the women who were fighting for gender equality, and who joined them, and who took the journey with them to change the world. Similarly, the gay movement has always relied on its allies, both straight and gay, men and women.
Muslim women are always portrayed as victims, but those of us queer and Muslim recognize we always had our female warriors. Some are famous, and their names you might know, others not so much, but we know them and their histories are not lost on us.
Here are five Muslim women from around the world who are allies:
1. SOMALIA: HALIMO JIM’ALE
In 1998, on a rainy morning in Mogadishu, Halimo Jim’ale was visited by her older sister Hadiyo Jim’ale. When her sister came out to her, it changed her world. Jim’ale threw herself into learning more about human sexuality and how her religion dealt with it, especially the issue of female homosexuality. Naturally, she was met with a lot of negative information. Well, today she leads a local chapter of Queer Somalis, a support group, teaching young queer people who come to her the information she so desperately needed when her own sister had come out to her. Despite living in a country where homosexuality is legal, and where she could be persecuted as a propagandist for something highly controversial, Jim’ale says her “life is all about taking risks,” adding, “I know with my work someone else will have a better journey than my sister did, perhaps finding themselves sooner.”
2. BAHRAIN: ESRA’A AL SHAFEI
Esra’a Al Shafei has been named one of the most creative people in the world. She is well known in Bahrain as a civil rights activist, and told Forbes magazine that she feels “strongly about topics that don’t get coverage merely because they are too controversial. That’s what made us create a social community around lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in the Arab world, with Ahwaa.org, which leverages game mechanics to facilitate high-quality interactions amongst queer youth in the region.” She is also the brain behind web platforms like Mideast Youth and CrowdVoice, which is why The Daily Beast named her one of the 17 bravest bloggers in the world.
3. IRAN: SHIRIN EBADI
Nobel Peace Laureates are known to stir controversies in their societies, and Shirin Ebadi is no different. In 2005, she condemned the execution of two young gay men in Iran. Gay bloggers thanked her, and the visibility her condemnation brought to the story, but many conservatives disapproved her tactic. In 2012, she joined three other Nobel laureates to condemn a proposed Ugandan law, known as the ‘kill gays’ bill, through a statement by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice& Human Rights that said, “we wish to express our grave concern as to how our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) brothers and sisters are being treated across the globe.”
4. INDIA: SHABANA AZMI
In 1996, Shabana Azmi shocked the Muslim community when she played the lead role in Deepa Mehta’s Fire, which you could say was the first “real” lesbian film in India, where she portrayed a woman who falls in love with her brother-in-law’s wife. Azmi took the role to support visibility for gay people because she believes “when one speaks about human rights, and one talks about minorities’ rights, that must also extend to the gay community,” as she told Himal magazine. In 2013, when India went back to criminalizing gays, she released a statement in which she said she was “shocked by the judgment. I had actually started believing that gay rights are given in our so-called modern democratic society,” adding that upholding “article 377 is undemocratic, and a violation of human rights.
5. MALAYSIA: MARINA MAHATHIR
In a country like Malaysia, a developing country with a high conservative rhetoric in its leadership, a woman like Marina Mahathir does not have it easy. And it gets even more complicated when you’re the daughter of the former prime minister, who served the country for 40 years and was the longest-serving prime minister. She headed the Malaysian Aids Council, and is well known in the country as a supporter of the LGBT community. “I have been defending the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community’s rights for over 20 years now,” she told a crowd of reporters at a press conference in 2011. She is the author of “Telling It Straight,” which is a selection of entries from her column for The Star.
Afdhere Jama is the author of Queer Jihad: LGBT Muslims on Coming Out, Activism, and the Faith. He lives in the United States.