The Next Chapter

Why Canada Reads author 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)
Listen12:13

This interview originally aired on Sept. 28, 2019.

In Samra Habib's memoir, We Have Always Been Herethe journalist and photographer chronicles a witty, often heavy, but ultimately triumphant coming-of-age. As a child, Habib 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.

We Have Always Been Here is one of the contending books on Canada Reads 2020. 

Amanda Brugel is defending We Have Always Been Here on Canada Reads 2020.

The debates were scheduled to take place March 16-19, 2020. Given the ongoing developments with COVID-19 and the related travel concerns, Canada Reads has made the difficult decision to postpone next week's event until we can convene our stellar panel of advocates in front of a live audience. 

Canada Reads content will still be featured this week (March 16-20), in a series of one hour programs dedicated to this year's books and authors.

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.

"Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project" is the brainchild of Toronto photographer Samra Habib. She joins Shad to talk about how the Tumbler series explores the beauty, and the complications, of being being both LGBT and Muslim. 11:06

The Canada Reads 2020 contenders

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