Book Review: We Have Always Been Here – Samra Habib’s Queer Muslim Memoir

We Have Always Been Here is the fantastic queer Muslim memoir of editor and photographer Samra Habib. In the book she details her life so far starting with her birth and early childhood in Pakistan.

There are some beautifully written snapshots of her early life in the first part of the book. Her memories of spending time zipping round Lahore with her dad on his motor bike and the treat of sticky jam sandwiches from her mother really communicate the love that her parents have for her. She writes about the community life she grew up in detailing both the joys and the hardships she experienced. Early on it is obvious that her wants and interests are going to be challenging for her to explore due to the clash it has against expectations of her gender in the culture and religion she is living in. This continues as her family flees to Canada to escape persecution for being a part of a minority Muslim sect in their home country. The years she spent in Pakistan with her family leads Samra to believe that hiding her identity is essential to her safety. Throughout her teenage years and early twenties Samra struggles with her identity as a child of Pakistan and a Canadian. Although her own belief in Islam never wavers the relationship she has with it evolves over the years. Samra finds her own way of being close to Islam. We follow Samra’s journey in to queerness through her romances and broken hearts. It takes many years of exploration for her to feel comfortable being open about her identity.

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I enjoyed so much of this book. There were moments that made me beam as she talks about the way she found comfort throughout her life reading the books she loves. Her early steps as she explored the world of her sexuality made me smile. These were things to which I could relate. I felt panic at certain moments as I worried for Samra. As the religious unrest in Pakistan increased I felt myself wanting to urge Samra’s parents to wrap up their children and run for safety. There was more panic as Samra’s arranged marriage approached. Every part of me was waiting for a moment that would stop it from happening. As her marriage progressed I was desperate for her to get out of it. There was also a moment that made me feel real shame. As I sat reading about her experience as a Pakistan girl in a Canadian school I felt a creeping embarrassment travel up my neck and make my skin hot. I am a white British woman who would have attended school about the same time. I had never engaged in being racist towards someone but I know that in my school years I had seen it happen and never stopped it. That is not something I would allow to happen now. The fact that I felt uncomfortable was good. It meant that I recognised my own complicity in not acting. I had taken away from what I had read that my ignorance was not an excuse. Reading Samra’s life story hits home why we must stand up to discrimination in all its forms. This is something that Samra is passionate about and you can see this in her work as a photographer and founder of Just Me and Allah: a queer Muslim photo project.

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I’ll be honest I have really fallen for this book and have already decide to buy myself a physical copy for Christmas as I read this as an eBook. I would recommend this book to all. There is something about the ups and downs of Samra’s life story that I found really comforting as I’m sure it would be for anyone who has ever struggled to find their identity and own it. We Have Always Been Here is a memoir that shows the importance of finding the value of your own identity.

‘We Have Always Been Here’ by Samra Habib is published by Quercus and is will be available to purchase at Amazon.com and other book retailers from 5th September 2019.

This review was made possible by Netgalley with an advanced reader copy.

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