For a long time, that experience made it difficult for Nur to connect with religion. “When I left my house around 18, I denounced Islam,” Nur told me. “I would say I was formerly Muslim, that I was raised Muslim, that I still had certain practices, but I am not Muslim.”
After she met Taj, that started to change. “Even though I knew that queer Muslims exist, it was still this unicorn thing,” Nur said. “I didn’t feel like it was actually real. You couldn’t exist with both identities.” Over the last year or so, Nur has started to rethink her faith. “Meeting Saba … started to stir up a lot of my conflicts with identity in being queer and also Muslim,” she said, things “I had very intentionally repressed and left unmoved for a very long time.”
Taj and Nur decided to get married in January, right before President Trump was inaugurated. Despite the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell that legalized same-sex marriage in America, they were worried about losing their rights under the Trump administration. As the political atmosphere has become overtly hostile to Muslims, both Taj and Nur have felt that it’s important to claim their identities—all of them. “It felt really empowering, really beautiful, and like this strong political stance to claim like, ‘Yes, actually, I am queer, and hands down I am Muslim,’” Nur said.
Despite their familial conflicts, Taj said her mother “has just been so graceful in ways that I never could have imagined.” Nur recently started talking with her little sister after many years of silence, and hopes that she and Taj might one day have a wedding ceremony with all of their family present. Even as they were being interviewed for this article, Taj and Nur were anxious to make sure their story isn’t told in a simplistic way. As much as it’s been hard for them to come out as queer and Muslim, they’re fiercely defensive of their families and American Muslims as a group, wary of stereotypes that “[paint] Islam in this monolithic way as: ‘All Muslims are homophobic,’” as Nur put it. Like the other young Muslim couples I interviewed, theirs is not a linear story of assimilation or rejection of American culture. The adjectives they collectively used to describe themselves included “artist,” “black,” “queer,” “Southerner,” “musician,” “gender-non-conforming,” “human”—and, of course, “Muslim.”
This, more than anything, seems to be the through-line of Muslim love, and life, in America. It’s almost always an experience of multipleness, identity mixing, and navigating a lot of different expectations and desires from family members or the culture writ large. That itself is a deeply American experience, a form of assimilation to a country built on ambiguous, mixed identities. “It is this kind of attempt to find a middle ground, almost, of reconciling their own cultural and traditional values, religious values, and American values,” said Killawi. It’s natural that this would be part of the marriage process, she added. “For many Muslims who grew up here, this became almost second nature. Over time, you had to engage in this process to survive.”
“American” is not a default standard against which Muslims, or any group, can objectively be measured. The country is too complex, and Muslims are far too diverse. Just like any marriage process, a lot of negotiation is necessarily involved. As Grewal put it: “Two families coming together is a lot more complicated than, ‘Hey, old people from another country and another world. Get with the program here.’”
* This article originally misspelled the name of Ikhlas Saleem. We regret the error.