shiraz iran


Photography and interview by Samra Habib

Who: Shima, Toronto

I was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran. My family and I moved to Canada about three years ago after living in Malaysia for a while. We left Iran before my brother was forced into military training and to escape the increasing pressure my father faced from the Islamic Republic government. Aside from being a defence lawyer, my father held workshops teaching human rights. Because of him, I developed an awareness and sensitivity towards social injustice around me.

Growing up in Iran was a contrast of happiness and anxiety. I had sunny days in gardens eating pomegranates and reading poetry with my large and colourful family, all of whom loved me dearly. But I also had mullahs lecturing me on how I should be covered when I was a child.We travelled often and spent a lot of time with extended family and family friends. I was a defiant kid but I was studious and mostly happy.  

I was brought up mostly secular and encouraged to think for myself.  I slowly came to terms with respecting and being fond of some aspects of Islam while being critical of others. I knew my Islam wasn’t that of my teachers. Like most other Iranians who have a hard time with Islamic governance, my family’s relationship with Islam is a complicated one. I remember my mum giving my dad the stink eye when he’d say blasphemous things. To him God is in everything but my mum had a more traditional view of the religion. She has since become a lot more secular and open minded. They sometimes make fun of me for calling myself a Muslim, maybe because they think Islam doesn’t have a place for people like me.

Today, Islam is a source of solace for me. An identity I get to define on my terms. At 11, I picked up the daf and studied under a great master. Exploring Tasawuf has been the spiritual introspection I yearn for.

As a kid I day dreamt of being suited up and kissing my wife goodbye like the white couples on TV did. As a preteen, I cut my long hair short to look masculine because I thought of masculinity as being synonymous with having power and liking girls.  

Roller derby is my favourite past time. In roller derby, I have found a community that accepts me for exactly who I am and encourages me to better myself. I did speed in line rollerblading in Iran and have been doing all kinds of skating (sans ice) my whole life. I started derby because I wanted to skate and become fearless. Derby offers the kind of queer space that isn’t focused around drinking or sex which I am very grateful for.

I picked up skateboarding two years ago and found out that it is much more convenient and fun than walking. I enjoy going to metal and punk shows and dream of being a good enough daf player to start a taqwa core band.

In my opinion, stigma and misplacement are some of the biggest challenges facing Queer Muslims today. Islam is incredibly misunderstood and the queer conversation is only just beginning. We can be rejected by both queers and Muslims. The supposed juxtaposition of Islam and queerness is only made more complicated by the North American hostility towards Muslims in a climate where Muslims strive for acceptance and visibility.

I hope to be able to return to Iran and help make things better for little girls who feel what I felt. I hope to help move Iran towards acceptance and support of its queer people. I dream of the smell of orange blossoms and sunny mountains of Shiraz.