Queerness and Islam have long been intertwined, even if the average outsider now sees them as incongruous or irreconcilable. Even in the 13th and 14th century, Islamic mystical poet-theologians like Rumi and Hafiz wrote odes about queer love. And though the struggle to see acceptance of queer Muslims is ongoing, a growing movement of contemporary art from queer Muslim and Islamic perspectives is helping to bridge the two worlds today. With The Third Muslim, a new exhibit at San Francisco’s SOMArts, those perspectives are brought closer than ever before.
Running through February 22, the show features 15 artists working in a variety of mediums, from fashion to painting to poetry. Contributors include photographer Samra Habib, who created the Queer Muslim Project, which documents the portraits and stories of queer Muslims; Ayqa Khan, known for illustrations that normalize body hair; disability justice activist Kiyaan Abadani, and more.
The “third Muslim” is a reference to the many identities both assumed and transposed on queer and trans Muslims, who inhabit a third space outside notions of a monolithic Islam and cisgendered, white, able-bodied queerness. Curator Yas Ahmed relates the idea of creating meaning through third spaces to the Islamic concept of itijihad, which loosely interpreted means an ongoing practice of critical thinking and spiritual examination. “In many ways, this exhibit is overdue,” said Ahmed.
VICE spoke with Ahmed, a writer and co-founder of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and co-curator Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an artist, drag queen and performer, about their experience putting together a show that’s as challenging to its audience’s perception of both queer and Muslim identities as it is a showcase of beautiful work. Read more via VICE