We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir is a 2020 Canada reads contender battling in Canada’s battle of the books for the title of the one book the country should read. Celebrities defend their chosen book debate style. The winner is chosen and my lips are sealed and I am focusing on my thoughts.
I have to admit I live in a Canadian bubble and my own tiny seduced bubble. I had the impression that things are okay here in Canada, but after the events that took place recently, I have come to realize it’s time for me to step out of that bubble and challenge my thoughts and assumptions. So I decided to start with what I do by reading and diversify my reading, which lead me to this one, and Canada reads.
Samra Habib starts by sharing her earlier years growing up as an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan. She was taught to keep her identity a secret to protect herself from danger. Hiding became a familiar way of survival for her, and she continued hiding after reaching Canada as refugees and following the rules of her parents. She began to realize she needed to find her authentic self, who she identified as and with who.
Samra’s journey brings light to hiding and the importance of why finding who you identify as is. Her story speaks to anyone who has ever felt out of place. I picked up something valuable here from her and her journey, and she challenged my thoughts on a few things towards racism, identity and to privileges of feeling safe. As a white Canadian, I have some universal feelings of anxiety and safety but I don’t feel unsafe taking the bus because of the colour of my skin or who I identify as. We all should have that privilege.
Samra’s voice is quiet yet powerful, compassionate, kind and understanding towards the reader, and it’s clear she is opening up a safe place for everyone wanting to find who they identify as and for people who want to confront their assumptions and seek understanding for each other. She took me out of my shoes and into the shoes of people identifying as queer or queer Muslim. She challenged me to think about my advantages and see how different they are from hers when she first came to Canada and living here.
I do want to mention Samra addresses her faith as well and at times it felt heavy with everything else that caught my attention from her story. I feel I missed some things there and can’t speak to that part of her story. I highly recommend this memoir.