El-Farouk -- at left with his husband, Troy, in Toronto -- said many gay people struggle with religion because they're often being told there is something wrong with them. "I started with the notion that it was sinful (to be gay) and that those who practiced it were problematic at best," he told photographer Lia Darjes. "But that didn't quite sort of seem right in the larger construct of the Quran and the Prophet that I believed to be true. ... In verse 49.13, Allah says, 'I created you to different nations and tribes and you may know and learn from each other.' I just see queer folk as one of those nations or tribes."
"I am from a country where it is punishable by death to be gay," Samira said. "In 1979, when the Islamic Revolution began, my family immigrated to Canada, where I grew up pretty secular. Maybe that was why I never had that moment of a coming out with my parents, I think they always knew that I am a lesbian."
Photos of family and friends decorate a wall in Paris. "In 2012, after I did not find one single imam in France who was willing to bury a transsexual Muslim, I founded a mosque that is open to all in Paris," said Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed. "The reactions were quite vehement. Being Muslim, Arabic and gay and thus a member of several minority groups opened my eyes: Minorities are being discriminated against particularly in times of economic crisis. We have to know more about Islam, and we have to understand who we actually are in order to fight homophobia."
"As an inclusive imam who is also gay, I understand the turmoil of homosexual Muslims," said Daayiee Abdullah, shown here in Washington. "When I converted to Islam 34 years ago, I wasn't speaking Arabic yet. I was studying at Beijing University, and the first Quran I read was in Mandarin. That was a blessing for me. To get to know Islam in the Near East and the West, living there to continue forming my understanding that Islam is not monolithic, was necessary. It is not only a religion or belief. It is also a formulation that depends upon the culture it enters. Allah demonstrates there is a great diversity already in creation. The question is: Do we respect that?"
"There is just one aspect of the whole Quran about people who are gay, but there are multiple accounts in the Quran saying don't lie, don't cheat, don't backfight, don't hurt other people," said S. in Los Angeles. "And a lot of people don't focus on those things that are repeated multiple times. They only see this one point. I think this is really hypocritical. ... For me, the bottom line for Islam is to share the peace. Unfortunately a lot of people don't understand that part."
Chairs are stacked in a simple room in Toronto that becomes a "unity mosque" every Friday.
"I was a pretty strong atheist," said Joey in Los Angeles. "And then I came across a copy of Michael Muhammad Knight's novel 'The Taqwacores' about a fictional Muslim punk movement that kind of became true after being published. I purchased it, read it in just a couple of days and it opened my eyes a lot more to the religion. ... In a way, I was very orthodox in my thoughts when putting the LGBT community and Islam together. Because on first sight, it looks dark -- when you look in the Quran and the Hadiths, it clearly can't be OK. But then you can read other sources, other verses of the Quran, other Hadiths, and it gets clear that it is all a question of how you decide to interpret it."
"Islam has never been a part of my life that I felt limited by. It has always been a source of strength," said Sara in New York. "I feel that I come out as Muslim rather than coming out as queer. Many people have a very strong preconception of what a Muslim woman looks like and how she behaves. And though, when I actually share this with people as something that is really important to me, they are often very confused."
A donation jar holds money for an LGBTQIA Muslim support group in Los Angeles.
A couple of women embrace in London. They did not want their names published. One of them told Darjes that "the details of how we practice (Islam) is not what God is concerned about -- for instance, what you wear, how you hold your hands and which gender you stand beside. It is about how pure our heart is in how we treat others, and how we live our life in this world. Simple things: living a life of integrity and authenticity, doing good by others and serving others. That is my Islam."
"Being queer and Muslim means to me that I can be who God intended me to be," Saadiya said. "And for me, that is an educated woman, compassionate, caring and loving other people. I used to think that it was a negative thing, but the more I learned about myself and the more I learned about queer community, I learned that we are just like everybody else. We have the same needs that other people have. We have the same right as everybody else."
"When I converted to Islam a couple of years ago, (being gay) wasn't an issue for me. I had just realized that I wanted to be a Muslim," said Jason in Los Angeles. "And being a Muslim at that moment, as a very early young Muslim, it was all about my connection with God, and getting close to God. A month later, I realized that I needed to look to what the Quran and everybody says about being gay. ... And everything was extremely negative, very, very negative. And it was very disturbing to me."