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We Have Always Been Here
Cover of We Have Always Been Here
We Have Always Been Here
A Queer Muslim Memoir
Borrow Borrow
A CANADA READS 2020 SELECTION
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
2020 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNER
How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.
When her 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, her need for a safe space—in which to grow and nurture her creative, feminist spirit—became dire. The men in her life wanted to police her, the women in her life had only shown her the example of pious obedience, and her body was a problem to be solved.
So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes her to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within her 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.
A CANADA READS 2020 SELECTION
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
2020 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNER
How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.
When her 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, her need for a safe space—in which to grow and nurture her creative, feminist spirit—became dire. The men in her life wanted to police her, the women in her life had only shown her the example of pious obedience, and her body was a problem to be solved.
So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes her to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within her 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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 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...
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2019
    A queer Muslim woman recounts her emotional, sexual, and spiritual unfurling. In her debut, writer, photographer, and activist Habib begins with her childhood in Pakistan, where she learned the protective value of hiding, which insulated her from public stigma (and her mother's private devastation) after Habib survived child sexual abuse at age 4. Hiding also provided tenuous safety for her Ahmadi Muslim family amid growing state and extremist violence against the religious minority. Masking her feelings also proved useful when her family sought asylum in Canada and "traded one set of anxieties for another." There, the author endured racist bullying, growing alienation from her family, and the despair of her arranged marriage at 16: "Getting to know men was not something the women in my family were encouraged to do. They were to be avoided at all times, like attack dogs without muzzles." After desperation drove Habib to attempt suicide, her survival pushed her to emerge from under the patriarchal, homophobic expectations of both her culture of origin and the broader Western culture within which she matured. She started by bravely defying her forced union, which propelled her on a challenging, revelatory journey to return to her queerness, faith, and family (biological and chosen). Religious and secular readers alike will be touched by the way Habib's faith has been strengthened, rather than undermined, by Islamophobia as well as by the compassion and candor with which she examines her complex filial relationships. Triumphantly, the narrative culminates in scenes of a life full of purpose, power, and belonging. Habib found a LGBTQ-centered mosque, created a queer Muslim portrait project, and accepted invitations to speak all over the world. Though the author's prose is occasionally overworked, the book is a moving example of resilience and healing in the face of racial, sexual, and familial trauma. A poignantly told memoir about a life fiercely lived.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 3, 2019
    Seeking a foundation rooted in home, family, and faith, journalist and photographer Habib explores her identity in a sincere debut that’s articulate in its depiction of the immigrant experience but thin as a memoir of sexual awakening. As a five-year-old Ahmadi Muslim in Lahore, Pakistan, surrounded by “women who didn’t have the blueprint for claiming their lives,” Habib witnessed her pious mother buckle under the belief that “Allah hates the loud laughter of women!” When political upheavals escalated persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, the family fled to Toronto in 1991. There, 10-year-old Habib felt “transported to a different planet” with “boys and girls mingling freely.” At 16, she endured an arranged marriage to an older cousin, later annulled after she attempted suicide; a second marriage at 19 offered escape from her family. By her mid-20s, a mentor opened a “window into a queer world.” She divorced her husband and began traveling the world and taking sexual partners who shaped her “experience of how race and desire intersect.” She writes candidly about her experiences: she joined a queer-friendly mosque, started a project photographing queer Muslims, and eventually came out to her parents. Habib’s narrative is brave and unique, yet her most affecting descriptions speak less to sexual freedom and more to immigrant Pakistani culture. This sometimes falls short of its promise.

  • Library Journal

    August 16, 2019

    In this poignant memoir, Habib (Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project) relates her life as a young immigrant in Canada. At age ten, the author left Pakistan with her family to flee religious persecution. Raised as a devout Muslim, Habib learned painfully early how to navigate the social cruelties meted out by her peers. The bullying she experienced from her elementary school classmates resulted in feelings of loneliness and frustration. In high school, things started to turn around when Habib attended a more diverse school and met students with backgrounds similar to her own. However, as a young teenager, she discovered she had to accept an arranged marriage to her first cousin. It was only after this marriage that Habib realized that her sexual identity did not mesh with her parents' plans. Ultimately, she broke free of the relationship and found her authentic self. VERDICT Habib's story will resonate with those who have faced similar challenges of finding their place in a culture different from their own. For all readers, it will illuminate the immigrant experience.--Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    May 15, 2019
    In this unforgettable memoir, journalist and activist Habib creates space and representation for the next generation of queer Muslim voices. Beginning with her childhood in Pakistan and her grade-school immigration to Toronto, Habib paints a searing portrait of her early struggle to find chosen family and community. Habib married her first husband (an arrangement) while she was still in high school and moved in with her second husband as an escape not long after the first marriage dissolved. Her young adulthood led Habib to believe that marriage was little more than a legal trap, and it took her many years to find love that was free, supportive, and empowering. Her coming out as queer was not one big moment, but rather a winding process of self-discovery buoyed by an unwavering network of allies. The memoir reads like a love letter to Habib's younger self: she begs readers to embrace radical, unavoidable, beautiful change in themselves and those around them, and to know that it will always lead them closer to their truest selves.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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We Have Always Been Here
A Queer Muslim Memoir
Samra Habib
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