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July 14, 2021

Movement Maker Profiles: Shenaaz Janmohamed

Shenaaz Janmohamed is the founder and co-director of Queer Crescent. A healing practitioner of Shia Muslim Khoja ascent, she brings over 15 years of organizing, individual and collective healing practice and facilitation work. Shenaaz sees the power of transmuting and shaping cultures in which LGBTQIA+ Muslims thrive.

Who are your people?

My people are queer parents. People who can't wait to get outside and feel the sun on their face. Survivors. Recently, I've been thinking about how often when we answer this question rather than trying to flag the different parts of myself, how can I use this question to think about who I feel at home with, at rest with?

It's my beloved’s. It's my chosen family. It's the people that I can be messy with, the people that I trust deeply politically, where we don't have to talk about it and flex on it, but we could if we wanted to. The people I can be in my contradictions. The people who call me lovingly on my shit. And our four-legged friends. I have a cat and a dog, and they're definitely my people too.

What brings you to this work?

I can't imagine not doing this work in some ways. it's how I found my way through life growing up. I grew up outside of Sacramento in a small town, which remains mostly homogenous white.My parents still live there. I grew up middle class, very privileged and well supported materially. My parents are still the only folks of color on our street. People don’t expect that in California, but there are still right wing pockets throughout the state, where white supremacist violence has been normalized for decades.

There was always this experience of placelessness, and it was real clear that we were not like what we saw around us. My parents are deeply imperfect as all of us are, but they were never of the ilk of assimilationists. It was ‘we're not that.’ That's not us. As a result, I learned the craft of gathering community by watching my parents. It was an act of survival.

We had to really pull people together. That is on a very basic level what I do in my work with Queer Crescent. Whether that's queer and trans Muslims, other survivors, or queer parents for example - people who have to create the spaces themselves to be affirmed and safer. And when we gather we practice our imagination together, dream together, and ultimately to heal together.

I love that I gained these practices from my parents, and I try to pass them on to my kiddo. I think that's why I do the work I do, to make this life feel a little bit less alone.

What aspect of your movement work brings you the most joy?

My recent co-director, Sharmin, will attest to this, that visioning brings me big joy. Possibilities come through me and to me and I feel so excited. As long as I can remember, I've used my imagination to embody the realities that I'm desiring. To imagine is to feel what we are collectively moving forward. I feel like that's the juiciest, the most rewarding part of movement work--the creativity that comes from imagination, the abundance that you feel when you imagine beyond the harm.

It's also a practice towards sustainability because there's so much that we know is really wrong and broken and or designed to keep folks down. The practice of imagining possibilities of freedom and connection, sovereignty, liberation, within all these complexities is both exciting but also healing and sustaining.

I think the harder part is, okay, with those visions, what are you going to do? How do you put wheels on them? This is what's really exciting about working with Sharmin, who's a seasoned organizer. She and I compliment each other well in terms of strategizing and designing ways we can chip away at the systems. Asking ourselves how do we put wheels on these visions? How do we experiment and practice with our communities?

What moves are you making to end violence?

In the most consistent and tangible way, raising a free child. This is where I heal myself  through noticing my automatic or conditioned tendencies. This is where I am pushed to constantly unlearn, reparent, reflect and examine. This letting go is such a move of disarming your power.

My couples therapist tells us to think of parenting as leadership. Leadership requires self-reflection and a commitment to growth. Leadership and parenting for me is not about control or shaping, or  designing and pushing a particular reality for a person, a child, or a community, but rather listening, engaging in mutual curiosity and possibilities.

It really pushes me to look at my own self more and to think of how am I living my life? That's ultimately what the kiddo learns most from. It is the life of the people that are close to them. The aunties and uncles in their life and the non-binary elders. I think that's like the most tangible and daily practice.

I've really learned in the last year and a half of the pandemic that my relationship with time was really very colonized. That sense of urgency and be the first or quick or got to do something before somebody else does. My garden has showed me a different marker of time, one that feels more grounded in a larger we and a grander sense of time. I feel really grateful that I can finally say "No, things will unfold as they unfold."

There is urgency, for sure. There are things that need to end yesterday. The ways to get there, and howentry points are not always fast for everybody. My trust in time, and seeding communities that trust and act collectively to interrupt and end the violence,That gives me a lot more joy.

How would you describe your leadership strengths?

This is hard. It's hard for me to see because I hold how deeply imperfect I've been at leadership or how it's hard for me to trust myself. At the same time, I also do trust myself. There's a lot of contradictions. I think learning to hold these contradictions will continue to be my strength as a leader.

The more that I can hold them with compassion to myself and a curiosity for others. My experience of being on the margins- of the margins as a Shia Muslim in particular, that was the earliest lesson, in marginalization.

That experience of marginalization, but with relative safety because of our class privilege, allowed me to feel and see and notice power pretty constantly.

What keeps you in this work?

There's so much suffering - take what's happening in Palestine. My kid's Palestinian. All over the world there is great suffering by the hands of facists regimes and imperialist political interests. For Queer Crescent, we have a resolve to healing fromthe impacts of generations of war, histories of colonization, coupled with surveilance and the mistrust islamophobia has seeded in our communities.

I think that that practice of visioning beyond harm comes from living under the legacy of wars.

Understanding the impact that surveillance has on building community. How trust feels really hard, conflict feels really hard. Again, this is like generational stuff that shows up now with our queer community. How there's also kind of like the zero sum that I think is very capitalist where it's like there can only be one shining star as opposed to let's lift us all up and have this constellation of shine.

At the core Queer Crescent is really about healing for the sake of transformation. Thinking of all these systems of inequality that we understand and considering how do they touch our spirit, our soul, our bodies, and how do we tend to those wounds. What's the balm that we all need, and how can we share those balms and those recipes and medicines?

How do we support each other in making those medicines, remembering the medicines that our ancestors shared with each other, and heal so that we can show up more bravely organized, more fiercely, and take up more space?

Art by lizar_tistry