Muslim & Queer

I started wearing hijab when I was around three years old. It was both cultural and religious, so I never questioned it and wore it on and off until I was in my 20s.

Azeenarh Mohammed, a resident of Abuja Nigeria, grew up wearing the hijab. She describes herself as a strong believer in Islam as well as queer. Photo by Chika Oduah. November 23, 2016. ABUJA, NIGERIA

Azeenarh Mohammed, a resident of Abuja Nigeria, grew up wearing the hijab. She describes herself as a strong believer in Islam as well as queer. Photo by Chika Oduah. November 23, 2016. ABUJA, NIGERIA

 

I attended Hajj with my siblings around that time – about 10 years ago. During Hajj, I became fascinated with the niqab – that is the full veil that covers everything except your eyes. I started wearing the niqab in Saudi Arabia and continued after I returned to Nigeria.

I really liked the sense of freedom I felt from wearing the niqab – freedom from people’s gaze, comments and judgment. And wearing it also came with respect. In northern Nigeria, when people see a woman in niqab, they assume you’re a very pious person.

But after a while, people’s reactions made wearing the niqab more of a political statement than I intended for it to be, and my parents wondered if I was becoming ‘radicalised’ or a fundamentalist.

I just became exhausted, and after about seven months, I stopped wearing the niqab and went back to just the hijab. But then I phased out the hijab entirely and went to just wearing scarves. Then, I stopped wearing scarves.

Now, I’m well into my 30s and I pretty much have my head uncovered.

 

Azeenarh Mohammed, a resident of Abuja Nigeria, grew up wearing the hijab. These days, she usually shows off her hair, which she believes is an expression of her identity. Photo by Chika Oduah. November 23, 2016. ABUJA, NIGERIA

Azeenarh Mohammed, a resident of Abuja Nigeria, grew up wearing the hijab. These days, she usually shows off her hair, which she believes is an expression of her identity. Photo by Chika Oduah. November 23, 2016. ABUJA, NIGERIA

 

My evolution from niqab to uncovered happened in around 2008 when I was dealing with my sexuality and was exploring my feelings about Islam. I felt I couldn’t be both Muslim and queer at the same time, so I prioritised being queer and rebelled against everything else.

First, I chopped off my hair and went for a stereotypical lesbian haircut. I stopped going to religious spaces and even stopped participating in cultural activities that had religious leanings, stuff like weddings. I didn’t go to any place that required me to wear a scarf, a veil or any covering.

I had a hard time with my family during this period. They didn’t take it well. Neither did my friends or my community. It was a great shock to everyone.

It took a while before I realised I can be both Muslim and queer.

These days, I miss wearing the hijab for various reasons – familiarity, fitting in and a veil from aggressive eyes and attention. In Nigeria, there’s a certain harassment that comes to people who do not wear stereotypical female clothes. Because I sometimes wear masculine clothes, people will say really mean things.

They ask me if I have a man’s private parts. They ask why am I trying to be a man. So to avoid this, every now and then I throw on a hijab and just get on with my day. And as weird as it sounds, in the right moment, the hijab can be a source of protection for me.

 

Azeenarh Mohammed, a resident of Abuja Nigeria, grew up wearing the hijab. These days, she sometimes shows off her hair, which she believes is an expression of her identity. Photo by Chika Oduah. November 23, 2016. ABUJA, NIGERIA

Azeenarh Mohammed. Photo by Chika Oduah. November 23, 2016. ABUJA, NIGERIA

 

Azeenarh Mohammed told her story to to Chika Oduah | Published by Al Jazeera on November 29, 2016

 

 

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