Fariha Róisín's 'Survival Takes a Wild Imagination' — on being Queer and Muslim

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Monday December 4, 2023
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Poet Fariha Róisín
Poet Fariha Róisín

Poet, cultural critic and multidisciplinary artist Fariha Róisín (pronounced 'roh-zhin') has written a powerful collection of poems in "Survival Takes a Wild Imagination," her second book of poetry. In it, she wrestles with abuse, sexuality, generational trauma, and self-acceptance.

Her previous book "Who Is Wellness For? An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who It Leaves Behind" (HarperWave, 2022), her first non-fiction book, is also about healing and taking the courage to listen to our bodies, our instinct, because that is our compass.

Poet Fariha Róisín  

Róisín was born in Canada into an immigrant family from Bangladesh, and grew up in Australia. She now lives in Los Angeles.

You may recognize her from "Two Brown Girls," the popular podcast she hosted with her friend, fellow writer Zeba Blay from 2012 to 2017. She is also the deputy editor of Violet Book and writes for a number of publications including The Guardian and on Substack.

In 2016, her essay "How I Learned to Accept My Queerness as a Muslim Woman," published in "Teen Vogue," made quite an impact. In the article, she writes, "Poetry and art about love between two men were seen in the Muslim world as natural, or even normal. Even the poems by perhaps Islam's most famous poet, Rumi, talk about his love for his best friend Shams of Tabriz. The love between them is almost hagiographic."

Fariha Róisín says to her it feels quite normal today to be queer and to be Muslim, even though there is a great deal of socialization against being different. There is a very strong queer Muslim community. "I don't think I ever realized I was gay, or bisexual, or queer, or any of these things. I always just felt like me, a teen."

To be sure, Róisín feels her love for God and Islam and the Prophet have deepened as she has accepted herself, as she explained on the "For the Wild" Podcast. This compassion for ourselves mirrors the source of love that created the universe, and it is the most powerful thing she has discovered.

But "I just knew people wouldn't understand," she writes. Perhaps not everyone is equipped to understand a relationship with the divine. Nonetheless, "If people don't understand you, it's probably because they don't need to. They've never had to explore themselves the way you've had to (or maybe they have, but they're in denial) you shiny, beautiful thing."

It's not a new idea. Like her father, she harkens back to the ancient Islam that was the center of world culture, and translated and preserved the great books of Ancient Greece for civilization.

"In the literature, many Caliphates had queer lovers," said Róisín. The Islamic world was "characterized by a culture of questioning and challenging ideas," including, of course, the acceptance of same sex love. "Understand the rest of the world to understand ourselves."

Writing is about being honest with oneself means facing uncomfortable facts. Like many people these days including myself, Fariha Róisín finds herself asking many questions, such as why, after having faded, is misogyny now rampant and becoming more so all over the world? Who is family? And how to love a mother who never really loved? Motherhood was only an ego endeavor for her. How does one mend the infinite wrongs of the past to build a world of kindness and freedom?

Róisín's poetry on having a cold, cruel mother entrances the reader in "Paradise, Girl. She's Hard to Find."

All I longed for
was her love,
she never noticed.
Instead, I became
an immovable
pillar for her misery.

In "This Is for Everyone Who Had to Make a Family out of Themselves," her lines provide hope for the growing percentage of us who must create our own families.

There is a song
trapped in each
I'm not alone,
but I've felt the
loss of
empty holidays.

Fariha Róisín's poetry is filled with love, poignancy, strength and the determination to choose her own course. This is how we can begin collectively healing the difficult dynamics that are so prevalent. She advises us to never forget, survival takes a wild imagination.

An excerpt of the title poem:

"The sun, like a gorgeous undulating force
dances past the shadows lurking across
the planes. A spark of lightning
maroons the distance, the territories illustrious
moon gilded, guides. Edges shaped, my heart's
interior has spoken, ten of cups,
the cycle of life, the circuitous touchdown of
dear universe's mouth pours over
to hear you sing, to believe in love again."

"Survival Takes a Wild Imagination" by Fariha Róisín, Andrews McMeel Publishing. $16.99 www.fariharoisin.com

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