We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir, by Samra Habib
Narrated by Parmida Vand
Published by Penguin Canada, 4th June 2019
Genres: Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir
Source: Borrowed (library book)
Trigger warnings: arranged marriage, bullying, suicide ideation
How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don’t exist?
Growing up as an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, Samra Habib learned from a young age that revealing their identity could put them in grave danger. But fleeing the threat of Islamic extremists and emigrating to Canada did not solve any of these problems. Instead, Samra was faced with a whole new host of challenges: racism, bullying, poverty and an arranged marriage.
With their life policed by men, and with their only example of womanhood being a pious and obedient wife, Samra began a journey of self-discovery. A journey that would encompass faith, art, love and queer sexuality, and which would take them across the globe in search of a truth that was inside them all along.
Autobiographies are one of my favourite genres to read in audiobook format. I don’t really know why, I just love hearing about people’s lives and exploring their cultures. This is by no means an easy story to listen to, or to read, but it is such a powerful one. I believe that many people reading this will find something to relate to and see themselves represented in some way.
It was very interesting to learn about the Ahmadi Muslims through this book. I had very little knowledge of their plight and struggles before reading Samra’s story and it really opened my eyes. This book was also an insight into the experience of refugees arriving in Canada and seeking to adjust to this strange new world. Canada may be portrayed as the USA’s more tolerant neighbour, but there are still racist and bigoted people to be found wherever you are.
Samra’s story sheds light on queer Muslims and their struggle to find their place, not only within their countries but also within their own faith. I was very interested to learn about Samra’s photography project Just Me and Allah, which helped them tell their own story. Indeed, the book finishes with a letter written by Samra to their younger self, which I found very powerful and moving.
I read this book as part of my 2022 Diversity Reading Challenge, for prompt number 7; POC: Middle Eastern or South Asian. It also works for prompt number 9: sexuality and gender identity.
My rating: 4/5