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Biography & Autobiography Lgbt

We Have Always Been Here

A Queer Muslim Memoir

by (author) Samra Habib

Publisher
Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Jun 2019
Category
LGBT, Personal Memoirs, Women
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9780735235007
    Publish Date
    Jun 2019
    List Price
    $24.95

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Description

CANADA READS 2020 WINNER
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
2020 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNER
ONE OF BOOK RIOT'S 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL QUEER BOOKS OF ALL TIME

How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of their life searching for the safety to be themself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, they faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From their parents, they internalized the lesson that revealing their identity could put them in grave danger.

When their family came to Canada as refugees, Samra encountered a whole new host of challenges: bullies, racism, the threat of poverty, and an arranged marriage. Backed into a corner, their need for a safe space--in which to grow and nurture their creative, feminist spirit--became dire. The men in Samra's life wanted to police them, the women in their life had only shown them the example of pious obedience, and their body was a problem to be solved.

So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes them to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within them all along. A triumphant memoir of forgiveness and family, both chosen and not, We Have Always Been Here is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever felt out of place and a testament to the power of fearlessly inhabiting one's truest self.

About the author

Awards

  • Long-listed, Toronto Book Award
  • Winner, Canada Reads
  • Winner, Lambda Literary Award
  • Long-listed, RBC Taylor Prize

Contributor Notes

SAMRA HABIB (they/them) is a writer, photographer, and activist. As a journalist they've covered topics ranging from fashion trends and Muslim dating apps to the rise of Islamophobia in the US. Their writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Advocate, and their photo project, "Just Me and Allah," has been featured in Nylon, i-D, Vanity Fair Italia, Vice, and The Washington Post. Samra works with LGBTQ organizations internationally, raising awareness of issues that impact queer Muslims around the world. We Have Always Been Here is their first book.

Excerpt: We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir (by (author) Samra Habib)

Sonia and I were the same age and instantly liked each other. She had a mischievous way about her that pulled me in. She always smelled of oranges, her fingers sticky from sucking on slices of the fruit as the juices dripped down her chin and hands. She left a trail of orange peels everywhere she went. I was in awe of her pin-straight hair that could do anything she wanted it to but mostly rested on her shoulders, two vertical lines framing her gamine face. Mine was curly and unruly, and my mother insisted on having it fashioned into an unflattering bowl cut. Since I was no longer allowed to go outside or visit friends without my parents chaperoning, much of our playing happened at our house. Sonia never asked why—I just let her believe it was because my parents were extremely religious. When we weren’t building blanket forts, we spent afternoons on the veranda flashing everyone who walked by, spreading our legs wide open and exposing our vaginas, breaking out into peals of laughter with each look of horror we received.
 
Some days, Sonia wanted to play doctor. She’d pull down her pants and ask me to give her an injection, and I’d pretend to inject her warm skin with a piece of chalk, its tip pointy and startlingly cold. The chalky imprint of my hand would remain on her bum as she pulled up her pants, laughing. We’d often play in the musty, abandoned room on the second floor above our unit that was full of discarded furniture and yards of fabric my mother had purchased to bring to Sonia’s mother. One day, when I suggested we tell each other stories instead of playing doctor, she began to tell me a dirty tale of two lovers, Idris and Sahar, who undressed in front of each other—but she abruptly ended the story just when my heart started racing with anticipation. I needed to know what happened next.
 
“I have to go,” she blurted. “Next time!” She patted my mop of curls and grabbed her backpack, flashing me an impish smile on her way out the door.
 
For days, I waited for her to come back and finish the story. A week went by. Unable to bear the suspense any longer, I told my parents I was going to visit Sonia, knowing full well I wasn’t allowed to venture out unaccompanied. When they prodded, I recounted the whole sordid story. As expected, my parents told Sonia’s parents that she wasn’t allowed to visit our house ever again.
 
It was nearing four o’clock and my mother still had to pick up a cake before the guests arrived and my dad came home from work. She asked Pinky to keep an eye on my sisters and me so that she could run some errands and swing by the bakery. She knew how much I loved the dense, spongy cake soaked in rosewater and layered with thick cream and ripe fruit. As she opened the door, the smell of burning tires infiltrated the hallway. Without giving it much thought, she headed out the door, the smell lingering in the air. After all, the birthday would be incomplete without the cake.
 
The bakery was only ten minutes away, so we were worried when an hour went by and neither my mother nor my father had come home. When my mother finally showed up, she had with her Osman and his mother, along with five other Shia families from the street. Sunni and Shia conflicts had erupted throughout Lahore, and my mother had gathered this band of strangers together and offered temporary refuge from the rioting in the streets. As Ahmadis, we were the only family in the neighbourhood to be spared the wrath of Sunni extremists. For once, the target wasn’t us.
 
The cause of the conflict goes back some fourteen hundred years. Immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad, the two sects clashed over who his successor should be. Shias believe that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful successor, whereas Sunnis argue that it was Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s trusted advisor. Centuries of bloodshed have followed. Shias claim that Sunnis have received preferential treatment from the Pakistani government since 1948, soon after Pakistan was founded, and that their freedom of speech is consistently threatened. Around the time of my birthday, things had gotten particularly violent after the assassination of Arif Hussain Hussaini, founding leader of Tehrik-e-Jafaria, a religious organization that represented the Shias.
 
Amid all the mayhem, I marvelled at how my mother had managed to find a cake when all the shops were either closed or vandalized. I was even more shocked that she had made it home safe, unaffected by the tear gas or the rioters who were setting fire to everything in sight, the thick fumes permeating our house through the roofless courtyard where everyone had gathered. To a seven-year-old, it seemed the world was coming to an end. If my mother was panicked that my father was still not home, she certainly didn’t let it show.
 
I looked at Osman, who had taken refuge under his mother’s arm and was pressing his nose against it. There were other children, too—some my age or younger, some old enough to require a burka to hide the curves of their bodies. I couldn’t help feeling relieved that this time it wasn’t us. But the fear I witnessed was intensely familiar. Who belonged if none of us did? I had never felt as close to Shias as I did that day.
 
My mother, perhaps opting for a distraction, removed the wrapping from the cake and placed it on the dining table. Pinky heated a pot of goat’s milk for chai and poured it into eight terracotta cups. The smell of cardamom temporarily replaced the pungent odour of burning cars.
 
When the phone rang, my mother almost dropped the tray of pakoras and ran toward it. “Kee haal hai?”—How are you?—she asked ironically, knowing my father was probably plotting how to get home safely while police had blocked off access to our street. She spoke in Punjabi, the language my parents used when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about, not realizing we’d picked it up over the years.
 
We were startled by a flurry of loud knocks on the front door and the voices on the other side demanding that we open it. We all knew that the men outside were after the Shias hiding in our house. My mother hung up the phone and, with the help of the other women, pushed a heavy cupboard full of china and ceramics in front of the door. As the thumping persisted, she silently lit the candles on the cake, one for each of my seven years. Taking our cue from her calm demeanour, we all gathered around the table as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. After a loud chorus of “Happy Birthday” drowned out the noise in the background, I blew out the candles. My mother carefully plated each dish with an equal slice of cake, pakoras, and chaat and handed them to everyone in our house.
 
Soon it was time for Maghrib prayer. Pinky and the other women lined the concrete floor with bedsheets, and we Ahmadis prayed with our Shia neighbours for the first time, our bodies so close there was barely space between us. My eyes wandered to the different placement of hands on the chests of our Shia guests, placed higher than I was accustomed to. It struck me that despite our differences, we were all terrified of the same people.
 
The knocks eventually stopped and we wondered if the riots had too. Then we heard a heavy thud on the roof. We all lifted our heads in panic, and mothers tightly clutched their children. Then my dad emerged from the top floor, climbing down the stairs to the courtyard. Eager to unite with us, he had scaled the wall of a house at the end of our street and jumped between the rooftops until he reached ours. I had never in my life been happier to see him.

Editorial Reviews

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
WINNER of Canada Reads 2020
WINNER of the 2020 Lambda Literary Award
Longlisted for the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize
Longlisted for the 2020 Toronto Book Award
Praise for We Have Always Been Here:

We Have Always Been Here challenges so many received wisdoms on gender, faith and sexuality that its very existence in the world is cause for celebration.”
The Globe and Mail
“Habib writes through a lens of compassion, hope, and ever-widening circles of understanding.”
Quill and Quire

“I fell in love with this book. In prose as economical, crisp, clear, and truthful as poetry, Samra Habib offers a map of how we might learn to see and treasure one another and ourselves. In this way it calls to mind the works of James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Jane Rule. I predict that this book will never go out of print—it will become required and desired reading for people of all ages, persuasions, and backgrounds. How I wish I had had it to keep close to my heart when I was younger.”
—Shani Mootoo, author of Cereus Blooms at Night
“A brave coming-of-age account . . . A heartfelt act of resistance for queer Muslims and progressive Islam everywhere.”
Literary Review of Canada

“Gutting and redemptive, We Have Always Been Here is the story of one [person’s] path to self-determination against every odd. Habib’s voice is sensual and mesmerizing, [their] talent fierce and necessary. A transformative reading experience . . . Habib’s every word lifts off the page, vital and bright as a match being struck.”
—Claudia Dey, author of Heartbreaker
“Powerful . . . We Have Always Been Here is a portrait of a [person] who eventually does find the key to . . . [their] identity.”
Toronto Star

“I could not put down this drama of crossing borders, both external and interior, that teaches us to look into ourselves more deeply and to see others with more empathy. This book is a gift in a historical moment of many struggles, and we are lucky to share Habib’s generous and courageous story. I will be giving everyone I know this book!”
—Kim Echlin, author of The Disappeared

“A memoir of coming of age and coming out told in rich detail. Samra Habib’s account of growing up queer and Muslim in Pakistan and Canada is at once searching and tender.”
—Rachel Giese, author of Boys: What It Means to Become a Man

“Samra Habib’s memoir unfolds like a pre-digital photograph developing before our eyes. The identities [they] carries lovingly and with pride insist we revere a complication for so long denied. To say I count, I exist, is revolutionary when you are denied complication. Habib has written the book [they] wished [they] had when [they were] young. It is a book we should all have had long ago.”
—Mona Eltahawy, author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution
“A beautiful telling of a life, of love, of the reclamation of power, of feeling truly seen, and of finding your way home. An exquisite, powerful, and urgent book.”
—Stacey May Fowles
“A poignantly told memoir about a life fiercely lived.”
Kirkus Reviews

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