RISE Together Fund

Uplifting Gender Justice Activism – Queer Crescent

We believe LGBTQIA+ Muslims are sacred beings.

RISE Together Fund is committed to advancing the leadership, wellness, and resilience of women, queer, and nonbinary movement organizers in our field. Women constitute 80% of our grantee executive directors, and are often the unsung heroes of our social movements. Since 2017, RISE Together Fund has funded resilience and leadership development resources for cohorts of women in our field.

And throughout 2021, RISE Together Fund will be featuring our field leaders’ gender justice activism, sharing their stories and successes, and lifting up their bold ideas for how we can achieve a thriving, inclusive democracy. We are pleased to continue this series for Pride Month by featuring an emerging group in our space, Queer Crescent.

Founded in 2018, Queer Crescent is a healing justice organization centered on community, culture, safety, and healing arts for LGBTQIA+ Muslims. Their programs focus on resilience, transformative leadership, connecting to spiritual practices and reclaiming dignity, place, and power within the LGBTQIA+ Muslim community. Our interview with Queer Crescent co-directors Shenaaz Janmohamed and Sharmin Hossain details their critical work.

Queer Crescent Co-Directors: Shenaaz Janmohamed & Sharmin Hossain

Why is gender justice a core component of your organizing model? How does it intersect across other issue areas?

We believe LGBTQIA+ Muslims are sacred beings. Despite Islam being a progressive religion founded in a feminist framework, LGBTQIA+ Muslims are left out of the struggle for justice, often being rendered illegitimate therefore deserving of violence and isolation.

As the tides of religious fundamentalism rise, with authoritarianism powers expanding across the Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian and African diaspora and white supremacy emboldened in the U.S., queer Muslims are looking for a national healing justice organization that builds power through a visionary framework grounded in the resilience of our community. Queer Crescent is growing to become a longstanding national organization fighting for the liberation of our people, as many of the major Islamic institutions do not have a rigorous queer and/or feminist analysis. For many queer Muslims, our biological families and communities are not able to provide us with resources, tools and support for survival. We must build those networks of survival ourselves.

Creating new ways of being – from building out training programs to equipping people with the skills to de-escalate and direct people to proper care, to creating mutual aid networks and healing spaces – is critical, life saving work for queer Muslims. This goes beyond visibility politics, to designing new leadership models of radical communities that chip away at the harms of systemic inequality, religious fundamentalisms, structural and gendered Islamophobia, as well as the longstanding issues of homophobia and transphobia. We are a community of people dedicated to supporting and leading impactful campaigns to change US policy, shift discourse, and even the playing field in order to create the conditions for queer Muslims to survive and thrive.

What is the most important thing funders should know about why we need to center women, queer, *trans* and nonbinary leaders in our movements? 

Our conversations with partners within philanthropy are focused on sending the message that not all work with Muslims is faith-based work. As communities who have been racialized through policies such as the War on Terror, Spacial Registries and the Muslim Ban, much of our organizing, healing, education and development is shaped, and strengthened, by making links and connections with other racial and economic justice struggles.

For many LGBTQIA+ Muslims, our identities surrounding our Muslimness is often informed by a lived experience of being othered and criminalized. This is compounded by the relentless experience of being simultaneously rendered invisible and hyper-visible. However, the hyper-focus on our religion as the main form of oppression we face, actively perpetuates Islamophobia, limiting Muslim organizers participation in struggles for socio-economic equality.

LGBTQIA+ Muslims in the US experience active erasure of their lived experiences and needs in both local queer advocacy as well as Muslim advocacy organizations. Following 9/11 and continuing through the ongoing surge of Islamophobia, a new type of nationalism and cultural surveillance emerged, equally enforced by the state and by queer rights and Muslim advocacy organizations.

Queer rights organizations that use a Western imperialist framework to their work, separate queer identity from the often racialized Muslim one. And, Muslim organizations that are led by cisgender heterosexual Sunni Muslims focus their efforts on establishing themselves as assimilated. This results in queer Muslims having little infrastructure and organizational support.

Inadequate advocacy for LGBTQIA+ Muslims amidst the Muslim Ban, increased barriers on immigration, and ongoing anti-Black racism exemplify the tangible impacts of such separation. Such a loss of agency leads to the active erasure of an already neglected group, and our contributions to a multi-racial democracy are met with little acknowledgment and collaboration. Our needs as people with complex dual lived experiences are not met.

Is there one story or a recent accomplishment that helps convey the impact of your gender justice work?

We define safety in expansive ways – emotional, spiritual and material. Our organization works closely with abolitionist organizations that are committed to creating stronger communities without expanding the police state. To meet the myriad needs of diverse Muslim communities in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, Queer Crescent created the Radical Muslim Mutual Aid Fund. Through crowdsourcing and philanthropic support, we raised over $65,000 and dispersed these funds to over 350 individuals, many of whom are currently incarcerated. We centered our programming on Muslims pushed to the margins – those with disabilities; experiencing job-loss or under-employment and financial precarity; survivors; the incarcerated and their families; and Black Muslims. We closed out our mutual aid program by honoring Black August and providing cash stipends to Black queer Muslim artists, organizers and healers.

Tell us about your developing survey of LGBTQIA+ Muslims in the United States.

Presencing Ourselves will be the first systematic survey of LGBTQIA+ Muslims in the United States. More than a basic demographic count, this survey will highlight the social, civic, material, and mental state of the community, outlining the common and collective traumas by inquiring about LGBTQIA+ Muslims’ experiences.

The results of this survey will have an incredible impact on our community: it will point towards the needs and desires that this diverse, disparate and multi-faceted group of people have in this country, as well as the growing need for resource provision and community led efforts to center this population. In doing this, the survey will provide not only quantitative and qualitative data, but actionable paths forward for organizers, activists, stakeholders, and researchers to improve the lives of the peoples surveyed. Our goal for the survey is cross-disciplinary: in addition to determining our growing program areas with a detailed analysis of the breakdown of socio-economic conditions, the survey will provide a breakdown of the gaps in services and resources, paving the way for life saving initiatives and solutions centering queer Muslims.

As people belonging to two groups often assumed to be profoundly different or even incompatible or opposed, LGBTQIA+ Muslims have been made invisible as minorities within a minority.

The broad goal of this survey is to intervene in this social erasure and enable this population to be visible, included in city planning and organizational strategies, and thus knowable and reachable.

Through your gender justice programming and all of your programming, what is the future you hope to build?

In Presencing Ourselves we are telling our stories, documenting our experiences, and writing into history the existence of people who are often rendered invisible. This is part of Queer Crescent’s broader work towards healing justice, in which transforming the conditions transforms the culture and repairs and mends relationships. This project will be a vital step towards bringing wholeness to the LGBTQIA+ Muslim experience and bridging the divide dually enforced on LGBTQIA+ Muslim bodies.

We are building power towards the intertwined struggles for racial and gender justice.