Ask any Cape Town Muslim “what is Islam?”, and the first words that will come out of their mouths will be, “Islam is a way of life”. Among Muslim sexual minorities, the answer is resoundingly the same. Stating that Islam is a way of life indicates there are prescribed rules and codes of conduct that one must follow in order to be a Muslim. As such, the experience of these prescriptions and expectations are culture specific and context-dependent. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the ways in which Muslim sexual minorities living in Cape Town, South Africa experience Islam as a way of life. The dissertation begins with an Introduction (Chapter 1) to the queer Muslim dilemma and how various fields in the anthropology of Islam, queer anthropology, and psychological anthropology inform the framework of subjectivity, which is evoked throughout the dissertation to understand trauma, adaptation, and resilience within this community. After reviewing the Research Methods (Chapter 2) the following chapter titled Die Mensa (Chapter 3) give a historical background on the arrival of Islam in theCape and how it has shaped to sociocultural and political landscape in South Africa overtime, including the racial and political creation of the Coloured classification. The chapter frames the state of queer politics and provides a brief overview of the queer Coloured community in Cape Town. Each section indicates an intersection – Coloured, Muslim, queer – and using demographic data situates the participants of this study squarely into the fabric of Cape Town. The following chapter, Koe’sista Mentality (Chapter 4) dives deeper into some of the nuances and challenges created by a postcolonial identity, specifically, the Coloured identity. This chapter elaborates on an emic concept, called koe’sista mentality which is a device resulting from intergenerational repression. Koe’sista mentality is a vehicle of oppression within the minority Coloured community itself. This chapter elaborates on how this mentality is perpetuated among moffie (effeminate men) and in the practice of being “straight acting”. This chapter further explores how tabloid journalism, which increased in popularity among the Coloured community post-Apartheid, perpetuated koe’sista mentality across the Cape. The impact of koe’sista mentality is further discussed in the next chapter, titled If Only They Knew (Chapter 5). This chapter outlines traumas faced by Muslim sexual minorities in Cape Town including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The chapter also focuses on different forms of adaptation where individuals are essentially hiding in plain sight. With the development of Moffietaal, a queer anti-language, effeminate men continue to indicate their sexual identity through gender performance but are also able to maintain lives that are otherwise ambiguous and undisclosed. This privilege does not exist for women. Furthermore, the high acceptance of duplicity among both men and women, and the collective concealing of one another’s’ sexual identities further shape the ethos of this community. This chapter ends with the concept of coming out and how it is viewed both among Muslim sexual minorities and their communities. This section elaborates on what participants indicate are the potential drawbacks of coming out, the consequences of it, and what motivates identity concealment. Then the chapter concludes with the challenges Muslim sexual minorities face with being in queer spaces, which are interracial and interreligious as well. The following chapter titled Bringing Yourself Towards Yourself (Chapter 6) focuses on the ways in which participants have learned to adapt to being Muslim and sexual minorities. Beginning with the burden of dealing with trauma daily and emotionally, which has compounding effect. The need to adapt gives way to coping behavior, such as alcohol and substance use, or may present as a mental illness. However, this chapter also elaborates on efforts participants have taken in reestablishing relationships through forgiveness, creating safe spaces in areas they live in, and educating others about sexual diversity. The conclusion leads with a review of each chapter and how the data presented answer the research questions established in the introduction.

Degree Date

Spring 5-16-2020

Document Type


Degree Name





Caroline Brettell

Second Advisor

Nia Parson

Third Advisor

Eric Bing

Fourth Advisor

Scott Kugle

Subject Area

Anthropology, Psychology, General/Other, Religion, Social Sciences, General/Other, Sociology

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Available for download on Wednesday, May 07, 2025