Samra Habib – We Have Always Been Here (5 stars)

Samra Habib – We Have Always Been Here

Powerful and emotionally searing queer Muslim memoir about forgiveness and freedom

Journalist, activist and photographer Samra Habib's debut book, We Have Always Been Here, tackles the difficulties in claiming queer Muslim identity in the current climate. We see how Habib, after fleeing Pakistan as a persecuted Ahmadi Muslim, navigates new challenges as a Canadian refugee: displacement, her faith, sexuality, racism and conflicting pressures of her family and community.

Refreshingly, Habib doesn't feel the need to resort to cultural stereotypes, such as positioning the 'East' or Islam as 'oppressive'. She is well aware that writing about her arranged marriage could carry the risk of feeding into the already hysterical Islamophobic climate.

For Habib, her concept of 'home' transcends the physical – it's her chosen queer family and ultimately, her faith. We see how she finds solace in the latter over the course of the book: the aftermath of her suicide attempt at 16 sees her pray more regularly.

Perhaps most poignantly, a mosque that welcomes queer Muslims like herself doesn't require her to change herself or her sexuality to share space with them. As Habib says: 'I had finally found my people.'

Ultimately, this is a powerful and emotionally searing memoir, not just because queer Muslims' perspectives have routinely been rendered invisible from the public conversation, but because it is also a story of hope, triumph and a refusal of sensationalism. We Have Always Been Here deserves a place on your bookshelf well beyond Pride Month.

Out now via riverrun.

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