Aneeq Ahmed is a Master’s student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. Their research focus is exploring ways to use Islamic cultural forms and practices to engage in queer and trans storytelling. Through their research, Ahmed’s work focuses on, “what an Islamic feminism that embraces, supports and centers queer and trans people would look like,” they explain, for which they are analyzing Sufi poetry and traditions. Those spaces have always existed in Islam and it is possible to have a trans-focused Islamic feminism, Ahmed says.
They are currently working on a multi-genre thesis, with illustrations memorializing the people in their life who inspire and ground them and who they trace as part of their queer and trans genealogy.”These people are divine and sacred to me and to god,” they say. Ahmed is using the Sufi framework of “Wahdat al-wujud “ or “oneness of being” to imagine possibilities for the kind of feminist work that queer and trans Muslim folk are already doing, and Muslims who don’t identify as queer and trans can engage in. “I think it is a useful way of explaining to our own communities our own divinity and sacredness and our rightful place within our communities,” Ahmed says. They are also using the Sufi concept of “mushahida” or “witnessing” to understand how queer and trans Muslims build community. The community’s resilience and strength keeps them going, Ahmed adds. “I see a reflection of myself in my queer trans Muslim kin.”
Ahmed completed their Bachelor’s degree in 2018, majoring in Physics and minoring in Queer Studies. They most recently presented their work at the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference, at a roundtable titled, “Queer Trans Muslim Storytelling- Resistant Pasts, Presents and Futures."
What was your journey like that led you to the Master's program here in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies?
My junior or sophomore year, I decided to take Trans/Gender Politics with Dr Rakes (Assistant Professor, WGSS/QS Program, Oregon State University). That was the first time I felt like I had the space to share some of the things that I was going through. It was the first time that someone asked for my pronouns. It was the first time someone asked how I identify and what gender means to me. Having that space to do that was incredible and amazing and really transformative for me. I took on a QS minor and found that I was happier and felt like I was doing more meaningful work and important work and learning about things that were personal to me. I was really passionate about it and so I decided to apply to the master's program here in WGSS.
Who are some of your biggest feminist influences and why?
On a more personal level, one of my biggest influences are my mom and my sisters. I also find a lot of affirmation or support through other queer and trans Muslim artists, poets and performers who are doing really amazing work. This time that we are in is really cool because there are a lot of people sharing their work more broadly. Some of the people that influence me are Fatima Asghar who is a Pakistani-Kashmiri-American queer writer. I really like the poetry of Amir Rabiyah, a Syrian indigenous Two-Spirit poet. They bring a lot of Sufi ideas and concepts into their poetry which I really appreciate.
What inspires you to teach? What are some of your learnings?
One of the most important things for me as an instructor is being out there. A lot of people haven’t seen, especially in Oregon, a queer and trans Muslim Pakistani person in their life ever. I think sometimes just being there and saying, “This is who I am, these are the things I care about,” messes up their worlds in a way. I really appreciate that and also enjoy teaching. That’s the kind of work I want to do in the future.
What excites you to be a part of the WGSS community and field? How has it influenced you as a person?
What I appreciate about this program is that there are so many people doing really cool and amazing work. My cohort mates are doing creative and powerful work with nonbinary stuff and queer-trans storytelling. I really appreciate having that kind of community and space. Our faculty is amazing. I really appreciate that it has Indigenous feminist and transnational feminist focus. In particular Dr. Driskill’s class (Graduate Studies Director - Associate Professor, WGSS/QS), Indigenous Queer and Two Spirit Studies, Queer and Trans People of Color- Arts & Activism and Queer of Color Critiques have been really important to me in thinking about how colonial systems of power continue in the subcontinent. I think there is a tendency to think about colonialism as a thing that is over, the narrative is that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh got independence from the British in 1947. But a lot of the things they put in place, law, systems, they still continue.
Would you describe yourself as an activist? Do you have that side to your personality? Yes/no and why?
I have been involved in the Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights organization which was started when I was in undergrad a few years ago which has a focus on responding to the really strong Zionist, pro-Israel presence on this campus. Palestine was not a topic on people’s radars on this campus especially in terms of Palestinian self-determination and resistance to Israeli occupation and genocide and settler-colonization.
My work as a queer trans Muslim doing work, bringing those voices and scholarship, giving that a space in this field is a form of activism. That is also happening within the confines of academia and one of my biggest concerns is how this information and knowledge is going to exist outside of academia.
I want to do more care work for queer and trans people of color, and this program has given me some really important tools and frameworks to do that. Being involved in care work for queer and trans people of color, specifically mental health support and suicidality, because that’s a big thing for queer and trans South Asian Muslims since a lot of us face rejection from our families and communities. A lot of us are suicidal, we need to figure out ways to support each other and make sure we survive.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
The best advice I have received now as I am writing my thesis is to just turn in whatever writing you have and not be too protective of your writing. A lot of the times we might feel like our writing is not good enough or that it needs more work or we aren’t doing the things we want to do with our writing. That is not true. What you are writing is important, what you are writing should be shared and seen by other people who you feel comfortable sharing it with and who are in your community.
What were some misconceptions that you have come across about feminism?
One of the biggest ones is that you cannot be a feminist if you are Muslim, or there is this whitewashed idea of feminism as being a Western thing. But people have been doing feminist work in Muslim and South Asian communities forever.
What are some of your learnings as a teacher?
Queer studies was where I figured out what was going on with myself and my gender identity and sexuality in a way. I got the space to talk about that and work through some of that. What excites me about being a teacher in Queer Studies or WGSS is helping cultivate that space for other people to work through some of those things and find a sense of community.
Story by Sharadha Kalyanam, PhD student and Graduate Instructor, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University.