• Shima, Toronto by Samra Habib (Source: the Queer Muslim Project) (Tumblr)Source: Tumblr
Samra Habib is a Toronto-based photographer who set out to tell the stories of a community that she wasn’t seeing represented anywhere else.
By
Genevieve Dwyer

22 Jan 2016 - 3:28 PM  UPDATED 22 Jan 2016 - 3:28 PM

Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Project combines beautiful and powerful photography with the personal stories of those in front of the lens and how they’ve experienced life as a queer Muslim. It’s a style reminiscent of another famous photo blog, Humans of New York, but it’s not location-specific, and has seen the photographer travel to cities as diverse as Istanbul and Berlin, as well as her hometown in Canada.

For Samra, the inspiration behind the project was personal. “I am a queer Muslim myself and I wanted to document the wide range of experiences amongst queer Muslims that I wasn’t seeing in mainstream media,” Habib told SBS.

“I don’t think that’s exclusive to the queer Muslim community, I think that also applies to people of colour in general. You only have to look at the recent Oscars to really see how detached mainstream media is from reality.”

So with religions and their doctrine often sitting uneasily with queer and alternative sexualities, how do Habib’s subjects reconcile the differences?

“They’re asking questions, having conversations and interpreting Islam in a way that makes sense in their lives,” Habib says. “They’re also building communities where they feel safe practicing Islam.”

Samra has exhibited her work in physical spaces – such as at the Brooklyn Community Pride Centre the New York, but for the most part the project lives and thrives on Tumblr. This accessibility is advantageous in connecting a diaspora whose members may otherwise be somewhat isolated or marginalised in their homeland.

This is something Habib has seen first-hand as she’s travelled the globe for her project. “Istanbul was probably the most challenging because many of the subjects I photographed there were refugees who had to flee their home countries because of their gender and sexuality,” Habib says.

“So I had to find creative ways to photograph them while respecting their need for privacy because safety was a concern.”

Speaking about the feedback that her work has received from around the world, Habib says, “It’s been overwhelmingly positive”.

“I get emails from queer kids from Muslim countries, from conservative Muslims and from non-Muslims who appreciate being exposed to a side of Islam they’re not used to seeing.”

Habib says that the experience has left her feeling lucky for living in a country where the LGBTQI community is able to be so much more open and accepted.

“We in North America are very privileged in a lot of ways. There are systems in place that protect us, that’s not the case in other parts of the world where being queer is punishable by death.”

As to whether she’s planning on visiting Australia anytime as part of her photographic journey, Habib says: “I hope so! If I get funding, I’d love to.”

You can see the full Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Project here.