Arts·Point of View

How this author learned his gay and Muslim identities could coexist — and found hope in the process

Hasan Namir found himself through writing his latest novel, exploring the hyphenated relationship between sexuality and Islam.

Hasan Namir found himself through writing his latest novel about sexuality and Islam

Protesters held hands in front of the Trump tower in Vancouver in opposition to Donald Trump's assertions that the LGBT community supports his plans regarding Muslims entering the U.S. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

I shall not name my friend who tried to live as a gay man in Iraq. His anonymity is not only to protect his identity, but to capture the one sole image of the silent other. On an evening in war-torn Iraq, my friend was apprehended by a religious group. His crime was that he fell in love with another man. His punishment was execution. He was to be beheaded in the early hours of dawn. As he was blindfolded, he could smell the metal of the knife mixed with the scent of someone else's blood.

Fortunately for my friend, his executioner chose to let him go. His reason? My friend is disabled and in a wheelchair. Now, he is safe in Vancouver. His story is just one out of hundreds of stories, often silenced.

I was born in Iraq, where I lived ten full years of my life. It was on my birthday — September 9, 1998 — when my family and I left the motherland.  My life would be forever changed. But I often wonder — what if I had stayed in Iraq? What would my life have been? I imagine myself like the many gay Arab men and women who sacrifice their love and their identity and succumb to societal norms. I would have been married to a woman and I probably would have had children. One can imagine how difficult it must be to live this double, hyphenated life.

I chose to write the novel bearing one big question in mind: what would my life have been if I stayed in Iraq?- Hasan Namir, author

Growing up, I used to wear my sisters' dresses and play "beauty pageant" with them. When boys my age would play with hero action figures, I played with Barbie dolls. I always knew I was different. Yet I struggled to accept myself because I could not reconcile between my sexuality, my religion, my culture and my family. I found myself lost within the hyphenation, denying the existence of a singular identity. In my desperation to find myself, I chose the path of religion, hoping that I would change. I wanted to be "normal." Attending the mosque regularly, I was determined to overcome my sexuality. It was through that experience that I came to the realization: I can be gay and Muslim, and no one can stop me from that.

The cover of God in Pink. (Hasan Namir)

This is when I started writing God in Pink. I wanted to illustrate the conflicting sexual and religious identities set in a country such as Iraq. I set the novel in war-torn Iraq after the deposition of Saddam Hussein, who surprisingly did not discriminate against homosexuals and transgender people. After 2003, there was a rise of violence against the LGBTQ community. I chose to write the novel bearing one big question in mind: what would my life have been if I stayed in Iraq? Now, as we are faced with this renowned bigotry with Donald Trump's America banning citizens of Iraq and other Muslim countries from entering the United States, it seems that this issue is becoming a reality even closer to home.

Hasan Namir (Hasan Namir)

In my search for answers, I found the voice of Ramy, one of the novel's protagonists and its main narrator. He is a closeted university student who lives with his brother and sister-in-law, who both pressure him to marry a woman. Ramy seeks the counsel of Sheikh Ammar, the second narrator of the novel, who is a homophobic Islamic cleric. The novel is also structured with this duality in mind, alternating between the voices of Ramy and Sheikh Ammar — the voices of sexuality and religion. The title itself illustrates the dialectic between God (religion) and pink, a colour that is often stereotypically associated with effeminate and gay people, especially in Iraq.

The hyphen between sexuality and faith should be a sanctuary and a symbol of hope for the silenced LGBTQ voices.- Hasan Namir

The novel is an exploration that attempts to answer those questions I had around homosexuality and religion. Can the two coexist? In my heart, they most certainly do. But in our world today, as ISIS kills more innocent gay men in Iraq and Syria, as Iran publicly hangs many others, I realize that no one should have to choose between their hyphenated identities. The hyphen between sexuality and faith should be a sanctuary and a symbol of hope for the silenced LGBTQ voices.

Hasan Namir is the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of God in Pink, published by Arsenal Pulp Press. He is currently working on his second novel, Son of Sodom. He lives with his husband Tarnpal Khare in Vancouver. 

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