Fasting While Black
Ramadan for a Queer Black Muslim
by Laila Nur
Even now, I often question what—of queerness, blackness, Islam—is mine to embrace.
I remember being woken up at 5 a.m. to the smell of halal bacon and scrambled eggs. I’d crawl in half asleep, pouting over another day of hunger, and wishing I had sense enough to play dead so I wouldn't be bothered. Even so, I was always grateful for Suhoor: the table full of breakfast foods, fruit & water; the quiet morning of slow and sleepy eating: the daily routine before stuffing my mouth, making wudu, then praying fajr behind my brothers or Abi.
For me, Ramadan is the ritual of re-centering oneself. Every year, we made intention to practice empathy, intention, connection and clarity. We’d recommit to catch every prayer (on time!), read Juz Amma everyday, listen to only Nasheeds, be diligent about speaking with care… and then count down every-single-second until dates & cream cheese for iftar.
Ramadan was a ceremony of re-aligning our values and purpose, specifically in mutuality. Though Black Muslims have been in the U.S. since enslavement, my parents converted as teenage love-birds and raised us Sunni: my entire understanding of Islam and what it meant to be Muslim was gravitationally bound to them. As a first-generation Black Muslims, Islamic ritual was deeply rooted in what we, as family, created together. If only it were still that simple, Mashallah.
To be honest, when I left home, I stopped praying, observing Ramadan or celebrating Eid entirely. Ultimately, after much back and forth, I stopped identifying as Muslim, once I believed it was no longer mine. So much of how I moved through the world was wrapped up in who was policing me at the time, and their assessment of what my identity permits.
“Muslims can’t be gay.”
“Gay people can’t be religious.”
“Black people ain’t gay, that’s for white people.”
While U.S. culture pressured my family to conform to false ideas of how liberated women should dress, I found myself fighting them for flexibility and freedom of expression in how I needed to move through the world. Policing around clothing, culture, music, beliefs, tradition and what practices are okay for me to engage in, became a struggle for my very existence. Even now, I often question what—of queerness, blackness, Islam—is mine to embrace. I’ve questioned if I’m somehow less queer for identifying as Muslim. I’ve questioned if my observing ramadan or participating in Eid—or simply making salat—would be disrespectful or hypocritical, which is absurd! Unfortunately, it’s a conflict that so many folx battle everyday, particularly those with marginalized & intersecting identities.
My conflict was deeply connected to family. After leaving Islam, I denounced and actively avoided all Islamic tradition. Though I missed celebrating Eid and observing Ramadan, it lost all purpose without family or community—the roots and connection—to make it meaningful. The isolation of navigating a religious identity, with no foundation at the intersections of queerness, felt impossible. The void, then, became a desire for community support and accountability, without the policing and judgement.
I was deeply in need of finding home with other queer muslims to take root in reshaping rituals, enjoying cross-cultural practices, reclaiming my muslimness (that’s a word), and truly processing familial trauma before moving into the vulnerability of reclaiming my identity and stepping with the deen. Though leaving home to embrace my full self required shattering and reshaping, I’ve been deeply resentful in having to deny my Muslim upbringing and influence. With the current political strong hold and Islamophobia, it’s been both healing and politically satisfying to reclaim myself as Yes, Muslim; Yes, Black; Yes, Queer—in affirmation of intricate humans and our right to exist fully: a reclamation in resistance to identity policing.
This is the first Ramadan in ten years that I’ve put intention into creating ritual around. My partner, who is also Muslim, has been instrumental in me moving to reconcile internal contradictions where I can now see the problem is societal, not me. Though we’re still moving through how to shape a new queer Ramadan tradition, in community with the other amazing queer muslims we know, I couldn't be happier to be at this place and in this community, creating new possibilities and histories for being Muslim.
Identifying as a Queer Black Muslim was a decision to reclaim myself, and the ritual of Ramadan encapsulates so much of where my struggle exists, and has become the pinnacle of exploring identity and planting new roots. It’s been a blessing to build and be in queer muslim community; giving salaams, making dua, listening to classic Nasheeds with my family, teaching Asher—our five-year-old—to say Bismillah before eating or rocking out to Muslim punk jams. We are creating ritual, centering deep in purpose, and leaning into the possibilities of how to exist with peace and agency.
That is my Ramadan.
Laila Nur, lead singer, song-writer and guitarist of LNLR, is a self-taught musician from New York, currently living in North Carolina. As an out-spoken Black Queer Muslim, activist and community organizer, Nur brings charged lyrical content and an experimental style of rock, hip-hop & indie-folk to the national stage. Today, she is one of North Carolina's most innovative & groundbreaking artists, featured on AFROPUNK, MIC, Huffington Post, GLAAD, The Guardian, NPR, INDYWeek and more. To listen to Laila’s music or learn more about her work, visit www.LailaNur.com.