Asifa Lahore is a prominent British-Pakistani Drag Artist and the UK’s first out Muslim Drag Queen, who has become a staple of the LGBT circuit in London.
Lahore is the alter-ego of Asif Quraishi who came out as gay men to his parents when he was 23, after struggling for years with the traditional expectations imposed upon him by his family. It wasn’t until he was 27 however that he discovered the art of drag and crafted the Asifa Lahore persona. In an interview with The Telegraph, Asif has stated that drag allows him tangibly express the variant facets of his identity and personality and simultaneously represent for others in Britain with multiple identities, and perhaps no outlet for expression themselves, such those other gay South Asian men who still feel too afraid to be open about their sexuality.
Since 2011, Asifa Lahore has built up a presence within the LGBT community, not only performing frequently in clubs and cabarets, but also producing her own music videos. And in 2015 Lahore was featured in Channel4’s documentary Muslim Drag Queens, which examines the ways in which several different gay Muslims in the UK reconcile their sexuality with their cultural identities. “Asifa Lahore has become the most visible symbol of a growing confidence among gay British Asians who are increasingly finding a place and a voice within their families and communities. They claim that there are two issues in particular that place extra pressure on them when coming to terms with their sexuality: religion and culture.”
In March 2014, as part of a debate being recorded for the BBC Three show ‘Free Speech’ live at Birmingham Central Mosque, Asif attempted to raise the question, “When will it be accepted to be gay and Muslim?” However, the moderator quickly diverted the audience away from the question due to the mosque’s concerns over discussing issues of sexuality, effectively censoring the discussion. The censorship highlighted Lahore’s insistence that there is a problem within Muslim communities in terms of understanding and accepting LGBT members of the community, leading many to hide their true sexual identities, stemming from an overall inability to publicly discuss sexuality.
For Lahore, being gay and being Muslim are not mutually exclusive identities, and in his private life Quraishi has continued practicing all five pillars of Islam, feeling a great deal of fulfillment from the religion. The homophobia that often prevails in Muslim communities, he believes, stems more from cultural traditions than religious doctrine, but has led to conservative interpretations, which now need to be re-evaluated. Lahore has come to represent for an entire community of gay Asians and Muslims who feel at odds with traditional norms, and has taken up the mantle of increasing visibility LGBT people of color, to act as role models for younger generations, and to generate meaningful discussions of sexuality within Muslim and South Asian communities.