Ifti Nasim, at 64; gay Pakistani Muslim poet

By Sophia Tareen
Associated Press / July 29, 2011

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CHICAGO - Men and women in conservative dress sat quietly before the start of what promised to be a typical Pakistani Muslim community gathering, until Ifti Nasim - the gay Pakistani Muslim poet, activist, and Chicago radio show host - strode in wearing leather pants, a leather overcoat, and pimp hat with feather.

The display elicited smiles and some eye rolls from audience members. But most at the gathering for dignitaries and business leaders were captivated when he read poems dealing with being Muslim in a post 9/11 world, with some yelling the Urdu word for repeat during the performance.

It was not an uncommon reaction for Nasim, who for most of his life managed to occupy an unusual and often difficult space. He lived as an openly gay Muslim man in Chicago’s South Asian enclave, while garnering respect from more conservative Muslims with his volumes of poetry, provocative humor, flamboyant fashion, and advocacy for several Chicago organizations.

Mr. Nasim died in a Chicago hospital last Friday following a heart attack, said his sister, Ajaz Nasreen. He was 64.

Mr. Nasim wrote numerous books of poetry, including one titled “Narman,’’ a word for hermaphrodite, which was believed to be the first book of gay-themed poetry to be published in Urdu.

In 1996, Mr. Nasim was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for “his courage as an international ambassador of tolerance’’ and his leadership in the city.