Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity

Yusef Bornacelli

Consider the Ummah

by Yusef Bornacelli

When I first met other members of the queer Muslim community, it was as if a whole new world was opened to me and only me.

I remember the morning I became a Muslim. The air was still outside, evidence of the Florida humidity starting to give way to some cold winds in November, and my eyes were red and itchy after another typical night of poor sleep and bad dreams. That morning however, I wasn’t burdened with the images of my nightmares but rather a marked stillness in my heart. It was a readiness I could not name.

I converted to Islam when I was 18, the first and so far, only Muslim from my Venezuelan-Colombian Latinx family to do so. I’ve checked off a lot of firsts in my family including the first and only openly out trans person, non-binary person and happily overweight person, but on top of those I’m the first person in our family that I know of that has sought chosen family almost exclusively as a means of support outside of my blood relatives. I’m sure that has a lot to do with my plethora of other “firsts” but I like to think it has more to do with my spiritual journey than anything else.

The first thing I learned about Islam as a new Muslim convert was Ramadan. I was bombarded by many, many well intentioned messages about the importance of humility, piety, selflessness and spiritual dedication and discipline to this the most important time of our year. All those things were important, I guessed, but the one that really got me and that was too often glossed over was the importance of “Ummah” and holding this time in community as often as possible.

As a child, I had lived a very independent and isolated existence. I was the byproduct of abandonment and selfish young indulgence on the part of both of my biological parents, left as an afterthought, only to be taken in by my wonderful grandparents who took up the mantle and responsibility of raising me after having already raised 5 other children on their own. “Family” was and has generally been a very confusing and frustrating idea for someone like me. It was a word full of mystery and misconception and even deep-seated resentment. So the idea of having to spend time being hungry on purpose with people who I often felt no spiritual or emotional connection with because of the trauma of my childhood rearing did not bode well for me in my mind’s eye. That was until I found other Muslims like me.

When I first met other members of the queer Muslim community it was as if a whole new world was opened to me and only me. I met people who looked and felt like I did every time they walked into a mosque. There was not one wallah bro or haraam policeman in sight. Instead there were trans, cis, queer, bi, straight, disabled fat, skinny, brown, black and every variance of size, shape, background, identity and even body modification as far as I could see—all connected by this feeling of otherness to the world, our own microcosmic universes, but yet, somehow, we truly did belong to and with each other. Since that time, I have looked forward to every year’s Eid with these darling humans in anticipation and jubilation. My Ramadans have turned from a starving of the body to a deep nourishing of the soul, knowing each and every one of them struggles and confides and seeks strength in an Ummah many of us thought was impossible to find.

Recently I was able to join many of them at a community iftar in Boston and it felt like I was coming home after being away on a long journey to some of my darkest places. These connections ebb and flow over the years but there is something wholesome and rejuvenating about being welcomed back into the arms of a family that is able to recognize me when my own so-called blood cannot and will not. And while I love my parents, my older brothers and their children, there is something unique about having chosen family near your heart. My Ummah sees me whole and here in ways my family has never been able to. My family has seen me cry but the Ummah has held my tears in their hearts. My family has helped me get up if I happened to fall, but the Ummah is what gave me the means to avoid that fall in the first place, from tangible things like money and food when I was more than broke and more than empty-handed to other works of kindness like reminding me why they need me here and how Allah made the choice to plop me right in the middle of this community for a reason—though I’ve yet to uncover what those plans might be. (Cross your fingers and make duah that I recognize it when I see it.)

Chosen family in my Muslim community is what helped me reach a love for myself I never thought possible. It’s hard to bottle or write down the way that these people have captivated my soul and have taken residence in my heart.

Eid is not just the end of this month; it marks a celebration of the love that I’ve been blessed enough to find. After all, isn’t that one of the most important lessons of our history? Community is what helped us thrive then, allow it to be the reason we thrive now with and for each other. I say let it start with Eid, because what is Eid if not an excuse to have a rad party with your friends and family, chosen or otherwise?


Yusef Hamza Bornacelli is a taqwacore muslim queer trans* activist and artist of color.