Dear World,

As I battled severe depression and isolation, I became more spiritual and less religious.


Who am I?

I’ve been deeply struggling with the Venn diagram of my life. Understanding my purpose, identity, morals, and the intersection thereof has gotten exceedingly more difficult for me as I navigate a COVID-19 world as a 28-year-old artist.

You see, the life of a person with a dual heritage may sound exotic and attractive to you, but it has made my life a neverending loop of identity crises. You are looking at the face of a half Ecuadorian, half Egyptian, half Catholic, half Muslim, half this, half that, human. Add a sprinkle of homosexuality to that and what do you get? I thought so. All the parts of me are constantly at battle with one another.

My life was assigned to me from birth. I received an Arabic name and inherited my father’s piercing dark eyes, thick black hair, and very ethnic first name in my birth certificate. I also inherited his religion, which meant I was to grow up as a modest Muslim girl.

But I didn’t.

My mother’s religion raised me. Once again, without a choice, I grew up Catholic - though I was still Muslim. I secretly spent Sunday mornings in church with my religious mother, where she would quietly drill empty words disguised as prayers into my ear. For years, I let myself believe them. Then I realized I liked girls.

There began a long and difficult battle of religious acceptance as a queer person. Most of my queer friends who are people of color and have grown up in a religious faith have become atheists. I refused to become that stereotype. After I came out to my parents and got disowned, I completely disconnected myself from Catholicism. One of the hardest parts of losing my father was that I was going to lose ties to my Egyptian identity, too.

As I battled severe depression and isolation, I became more spiritual and less religious. After coming to terms with my sexual orientation, I knew that finding a community that could keep me grounded in my intersectional identities was crucial. It seemed that God listened to me because I attended a Yalla! Party and met a tribe of queer Arab and Middle Eastern folks. Like me. They showed me that it was acceptable to exist as an "Arab," as queer, and as a Muslim person. I vowed to remain close to my father through this community, Arabic music, and the language.

As I continued taking strides to learn about my Egyptian identity, I thought to myself, “Why haven’t I ever given Islam a chance?” If Islam is something that was ingrained in me, why haven’t I taken the time to explore it?

So I am trying again. On my terms. I am creating my own religious journey, at 28. I am curating my own religious experience in a progressive, liberal, non-judgemental way.


An Ode To My Culture

Support this photographer: Amany Noureldin ︎  Instagram: @ahmaneee ︎ Venmo: @amanymn


Going into my second year of Ramadan, I told myself that I would commit to fasting and praying. I was going inward during this challenging time. With the help of communal support to hold me accountable and plenty of self-discipline, I was going to do everything I could to feel God in my life again.

For the last 20 days, I’ve been questioning the meaning of all that I was doing. The rituals felt performative, the prayers, foreign. I made my best efforts to learn to enunciate the words in the suras that would bring me closer to God. I dressed the part, spoke the part and looked the part. But every time I prayed, I couldn’t feel connected. I consistently thought to myself, “will I fail at yet another goal if I commit to doing this and at the end of it all I’m left with nothing?”

Well to my surprise, shit got real last night.

On the night that marked the beginning of the 10 holiest nights of Ramadan - known as

Laylatul Qadr - something shifted.

I proceeded to follow my routine before bed and pray in my sacred corner. My “conversation” with God (which usually feels more like a disregarded monologue) started off as a simple act of gratitude for having health and family during this scary time. As I expanded the realm of who and what I was praying for, I felt my emotions bubbling to the surface. I was no longer praying selfishly for my own wellbeing, but I was truly feeling the pain and suffering of the world.

As I prostrated onto my sacred rug, I wept to God. Even though I was facing the ground, for a sliver of a moment, my heart actually felt as if it was being lifted by God’s hands. God was comforting me through my own tears. I felt seen.

It took me 20 days of fasting, praying, and reflecting to find meaning to all that I was doing.

About the photographer: Amany is a visual artist currently based in New York City whose photographic work uses a documentary approach to study the intersection of her complex identities. Her work integrates typography and photography to communicate emotionally driven visual messages.


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