Written on the Body: Celebrating Samar Habib’s Contributions to Queer Muslim Women Visibility in the Middle East

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When I became a co-moderator for the queer Muslims tumblr in October of 2011, I began scouring the internet for everything and anything related to presenting LGBT in a multi faceted light. I wanted sources where LGBT Muslims testified to personal journeys of reconciling sexuality with faith and existing societal norms while still expressing glimmers of hope for the future. What I found was academic publications, fiction books, grassroots organizations solely for LGBT Muslims, documentaries, cinematic films, personal testimonies on youtube, mosques dedicated to being LGBT inclusive and upholding notions of gender egalitarianism with respect to women’s roles in the mosques.

At the same time I became excited by all my discoveries, something troubled me in the deep recesses of my mind. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of the sources I had stumbled upon were overwhelmingly male centric. Even that which sought to strike a narrative balance between queer men and queer women gave priority to queer men. I attempted to make peace with the state of things knowing the focus on the struggles of queer Muslim men is reflexive of a larger problem, specifically the overwhelming androcentrism presented in multiple LGBT narratives around the world. I decided the only thing I could do was keep the blog afloat and hope one day more visibility would be given to queer Muslim women.

Dr. Samar Habib is making welcomed contributions to the visibility of queer women in the Arab, Muslim, and western world.

That day came sooner than I thought when I stumbled across the work of Dr. Samar Habib. A faculty member at the University of Western Sydney, much of Dr. Habib’s work as an academic scholar centers around bringing visibility to queer Muslim women past and present through a variety of different lenses.

Her published work on female homosexuality begins in 2006 with her article “The Historical Context and Reception of the First Arabic-Lesbian Novel, I Am You, by Elham Mansour”. The following year she published an article entitled “Reading the Familiarity of the Past: an Introduction to Medieval Arabic Literature on Female Homosexuality,” and the book Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations.

Since then she has gone on to publish extensively on female homosexuality in medieval Arabic literature while occasionally lending her voice to the issue of LGBT people of Middle Eastern descent as it relates to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Outside of academia, she published her own novel A Tree Like Rain in 2005 and created an English translation of Elham Mansour’s lesbian novel I am You in 2008. Recently she has released a historical fiction novel Rughum & Najda (2012) about a relationship between queer women living in ninth century Baghdad.

Dr. Samar Habib is making welcomed contributions to the visibility of queer women in the Arab, Muslim, and western world. Her academic scholarship and literary productions are not only important to the visibility of queer Arab and Muslim women, but are necessary to understanding the struggles of present-day queer Muslim and Arab women.

Without such scholarship exploring female homosexuality in earlier Arabic and Islamic texts, queer Arab and Muslim women wouldn’t have such a strong historical context to ground themselves in. Much of what would be understood about those identities would be based off androcentric currents in academic scholarship applied to the identities queer Arab and Muslim women by analogous extension. To do that would only provide a temporary solution to understanding the identities of queer Arab and Muslim women, and not the permanent solutions Dr. Samar Habib has provided in her scholarship and literary works.

Dr. Samar Habib’s body of work serves as an example of how narratives regarding LGBT Muslims and Arabs can be balanced out to include women’s voices, by simply focusing on queer Muslim and Arab women of the past so that those in the present and future can have something to draw from.

  • http://www.therotund.com xoMarianneKirby

    I am super glad to read this article.

    However, and this is probably an editorial choice rather than one made by the writer, I think it’s odd that an article about a Muslim woman in Australia who does not appear to wear the veil is headed by a photo of veiled woman with an American flag painted on her face. It seems to be presented Muslim women as a monolith – or maybe it’s just flattening the complexity of choices that Muslim women face. I don’t think it’s a fair header for this awesome article.

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Hi there! Thank you so much for our comment, and bringing the inappropriateness of the picture to my attention. The post was not meant to go up today (wasn’t ready) but the writer accidentally scheduled it, so we had to edit live, and I admit that I was in a hurry, and was having trouble finding any appropriate images. The only photos I could find of the writer herself were too small to be used as a feature picture on our site. I was uneasy with the veil/American flag as well, and again, admittedly, put it up carelessly with the aim to revisit later. I had no idea so many people would read the article as we haven’t even posted it on our social media channels yet. This is great! But I’m deeply sorry for the inappropriateness of the pic. Thank you for holding us — and me! — accountable. Much love.

  • Sothensatansays

    Why is an article about an Australian woman presented with a photo of a woman with the American flag painted across her face?
    Also, since the woman in the article is decidedly unveiled, why does the picture depict a veiled woman? Surely this is disrespectful to her personal choice as well as playing into the stereotype? 

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Hi there, I just explained in above comment. Complete editorial #fail. It’s been updated. Thank you for speaking out on it. And I hope you enjoyed the article. Do respond to the content as the writer put in a lot of time writing it and I don’t want conversation/her kudos derailed due to a careless editorial choice. Thank you, again!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003391100653 Miyna Messenger

    I’m a bit confused, though, why the woman in the cover photo is veiled and painted with the American flag, and is utterly non-representative of the woman spoken of in the article, who does not veil herself, and is from Australia? I’m not sure it was necessary to use this image to make your point.

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      It definitely wasn’t necessary to make our point. It was a complete mess up on our part earlier today and was put up in a hurry. Our deepest apologies. Thank you for reading and staying engaged.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003391100653 Miyna Messenger

        Thank you for your response, and I’m happy to see that you were able to edit the photo. I enjoyed the article, and I’ll likely be back (came on a recommendation), but that was one thing that stuck in my mind. I’m glad to know folks there are on top of things.

  • Guest

    The picture chosen for this article is inappropriate. It has nothing todo with the content at all. This article is highlighting work done by QWOC in the middle east not in the USA. There should be a picture the correlates with the content of the article because it gives mixed messages and feelings.

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Thank you for your comment. We appreciate your feedback and fully acknowledge the complete #fail of the original photo. It’s been updated (and we’re still searching for better pics). Thank you for participating in this space and holding us accountable to each other. Much love.

  • Jean B

    I think this article is wonderful and really important. I really learned a lot reading it but I have one problem – the picture. I think the picture disrespects a lot of what is written, and is highly highly offensive and in conflict with the sentiments and meanings in the words. Could that be replaced? It’s just not sitting well with me at all, also since the person written about is not even from the US…

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      YES! It is being replaced. The inappropriateness of the photo came due my rushing to edit while it was live and I had to run. It was careless to choose the original photo — couldn’t find one big of enough of Dr. Habib, or that weren’t of real people (vs. protest/art). Still, with the stereotypes that exist of Muslim women (queer or not), it was careless to choose that particular photo. Thank you for your comment, for engaging, and pushing our site to do better. Much love.

  • http://www.dylandigits.com dylan digits

    I’m glad you’re covering Dr. Habib, whose work I find important. The article is a solid overview and profile, but I’m confused by the header photo of a hijabi with American flag facepaint. Surely that isn’t Dr. Habib, who is neither a hijabi nor an American.

  • Prada123

    my friends, samar habib has nothing to do with the University of Western Rubbish (see here)… her first article was in 2003…. and the sister is not Muslim. great article though.

    • Ingrid

      I’m not sure if Dr Habib is with UWS or not (though Google suggests otherwise) but calling UWS ‘Rubbish’ is absurd. What is wrong with UWS besides that it is a new university and located in a working-class area of Sydney?

      (Not a UWS student, before you suggest that I could be.)

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  • Sara Jama

    This is an absolutely interesting article.However, As a veiled woman I clearly do not understand the fuss about a veiled woman is about. A Muslim woman wearing a veil can be as Queer as any non-veiled Muslim woman.