The Next Chapter

Why Canada Reads winner Samra Habib shared her story about being a queer Muslim woman

The journalist and photographer spoke with Shelagh Rogers about her memoir We Have Always Been Here.
Samra Habib is the author of We Have Always Been Here. (CBC)

This interview originally aired on Sept. 28, 2019.

We Have Always Been Here, journalist and photographer Samra Habib's debut book, won Canada Reads 2020. It was defended by actor Amanda Brugel.

In her memoir, Habib chronicles a witty, often heavy, but ultimately triumphant coming-of-age. As a child, she hid her faith from Islamic extremists in Pakistan and endured racist bullying in Canada, but later came into her own as a proud queer Muslim woman.

Habib spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing We Have Always Been Here when the book came out in 2019.

Love and war

"I am originally from Pakistan. My family was part of a minority sect in the country. We were treated in an awful way by Muslim extremists in Pakistan, so we moved to Canada as refugees. I was about 10 years old.

"Even though I knew that we were not safe, I still enjoyed Pakistan. I had family there. It was hard for me to leave a place that I really, really loved."

Adjusting to a new country

"We were upper middle-class back in Pakistan. We struggled almost overnight when we moved to Canada. My parents didn't speak English very well, so their employment opportunities were limited. 

It's powerful to take up space in places where people like you don't always exist.- Samra Habib

"My father felt that he wasn't providing for his family the way he could. That obviously impacted him as a person and his relationship to us, although we were safer. We were met with different kinds of challenges. Now we were in survival mode because of our overnight change in our financial situation and status."

I exist

"Being queer and Muslim has been talked about in academia for a long time but only in academic terms. It's not accessible to everyone.

It was important for me to be visible as a queer person because not many people have that option.- Samra Habib

"It was important for me to be visible as a queer person because not many people have that option. It's powerful to take up space in places where people like you don't always exist. Being Muslim shapes my life." 

Samra Habib's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

The Canada Reads 2020 contenders

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