An activist, who was the first Muslim woman to lead a Pride parade in Britain, says her mission in life is “to promote the inclusivity of sexuality and gender”.
The PA news agency is interviewing a series of people celebrating Pride Month in June, including Saima Razzaq, 38, from Birmingham.
Ms Razzaq is the director of change and communications at Birmingham Pride, and she uses her platform as part of the LGBT+, South Asian, and Muslim communities to carve out a space within the intersection.
Ms Razzaq, who is a lesbian but also uses the queer umbrella to describe her sexuality, became the first Muslim woman to lead a Pride parade in Britain at Birmingham Pride in 2021.
“Leading Pride was a monumental moment and obviously now I work at Pride as a result of that,” Ms Razzaq told PA.
After taking part in the Birmingham Pride Parade on May 27 this year, Ms Razzaq said she will be talking to and working with the community in the city for the remainder of Pride Month.
“Now, the thing is about getting into conversations within my own community,” she said.
“It’s about organising and working with the everyday communities of Birmingham, and taking them on this journey and working towards, ‘what can we do next?’”
– When did you ‘come out’ and how did your family respond?
Ms Razzaq said her mother approached her about her sexuality when she was 29 while they were driving to pick up a takeaway.
“She made me drive and she waited until we were on a dual carriageway and said, ‘do you like women?’
“I was like, ‘oh my god, why now?’,” Ms Razzaq recalled.
“Since that moment, I’ve seen a massive change in my mum. Now, she’s changing her language.”
Ms Razzaq added she looks up to members of her family, and she regards them as her “superheroes”.
“People look up to influences and all these famous people, I don’t, I look up to my aunties and uncle – they’re my superheroes,” she said.
“Even though my aunties and my uncle might not understand my queerness, they’re there.”
She added: “Faith is really important for me, and just because I’m queer, doesn’t mean I’m not Muslim, and they’ve not othered me for that either.
“Again, I think it’s really important for me to have this supportive family to allow me the space to do this.”
– What is your relationship with your faith?
Ms Razzaq said her faith helps her to “do better” and to “fulfil her mission in life”.
“I am a Muslim, I have a relationship with God, I feel very connected with God, like right now, I feel the most connected I’ve ever been.”
She added: “The Koran tells me to focus on where I am and the people I’m surrounded with and to do better and to fulfil my mission in life.
“I feel my mission in life is to promote the inclusivity of sexuality and gender.
“There is a really positive thing happening in Birmingham, and in time, Insha’Allah, the wider world will see it.”
– Have you experienced any hate or abuse since coming out?
Ms Razzaq said that while everyone is “happy” for her in regards to her sexuality, she receives “far more Islamophobia and racism” for being a woman of colour in a leadership position.
“Everyone is really happy for me to be queer, but when I suddenly say, ‘yes I’m also Pakistani’, ‘I’m also Muslim’, and ‘I’m proud of those intersections’, it’s a narrative that people aren’t that familiar with,” she said.
“People aren’t used to that side of the story. I get far more Islamophobia and racism for being a woman of colour in leadership.”
Ms Razzaq said she has been the victim of several hate crimes, including someone urinating on her bed on the narrow boat where she lives.
“I’ve had my car stolen, for example, in a really horrific way, I’ve had people urinate in my bed on my boat, I’ve had horrible calls.”
She added that she “doesn’t need anybody to judge my Muslimness”, and she finds that it’s those who are not of the faith that tend to judge her more.
“And actually, it’s non-Muslims who will judge my Muslimness more than Muslims,” she said.
“Our communities will work through things, but we need everyone else to allow us the space to work through things as well.”
– What are the challenges within the intersections of faith and queerness?
Ms Razzaq said “it isn’t easy” for those in faith communities to bring up the subject of queerness, but she said she has noticed more people in South Asian communities coming out.
“Everyone will have difficulty bringing in the subject of queerness because it has been so polarised.
“It isn’t easy for most people in faith settings, and I think it’s really important that we reclaim this narrative.
“What I’ve noticed since I’ve come out is, and that’s just within the circle I’m part of, I’ve seen other South Asians come out, and their parents support them in that journey.”
On what advice she would give to someone in a faith setting who wished to come out, she said: “The most important thing to remember is that you’re valid, you’re absolutely valid.
“Your queerness or your gender identity is absolutely valid, be your authentic self.
“There are people like you, and for me, finding other queer South Asians, other queer Muslims, has been the best part of my journey.”
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Categories: Birmingham, LGBTQ, Muslim, Muslimness, Pride, Saima Razzaq