What Toronto’s LGBTQ Muslim Community Can Teach Us About Sacred Spaces
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What Toronto’s LGBTQ Muslim Community Can Teach Us About Sacred Spaces

Queer and trans Muslims came together last week to celebrate Ramadan.

A note from the writer: This article was written the evening before 50 were killed at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. As we mourn this horrific hate crime against queer and trans people, it is important that we share the stories of the LGBTQ Muslim community in Toronto with the world.

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On June 10, the fourth day of Ramadan, Muslim Torontonians counted down the minutes until sunset. At exactly 8:59 p.m., their fast ended, and thousands indulged in their first meal after a day without eating or drinking. The meal, known as the Iftaar, is typically shared in a community gathering, ensuring everyone has enough to eat. It’s considered a sacred practice.

With hundreds of Muslim communities living in the GTA—from the Somali community with roots here since the 1980s, to the Albanian Muslim community that created Toronto’s first mosque in 1954, to Syrian refugees who arrived earlier this year—Muslims in Toronto defy a narrow definition. And so too does city’s Muslim LGBTQ community, some of whom celebrated Iftaar at The 519 community centre in the Church-Wellesley Village.

Hosted by the queer- and trans-friendly Toronto Unity Mosque, along with Salaam, a support group for queer and trans practising and non-practising Muslims, it was just like any other community Iftaar: at 8:59 p.m., the call to prayer was recited in melodious Arabic as plates of fruits circulated among families seated around tables. Children reached for the plates first, dates pits were spit into napkins, and glasses of water were quickly emptied.

Yet as these familiar sights, sounds, and tastes wove together, it was clear that this Iftaar was unique and intentional.

Human rights lawyer El-Farouk Khaki and his partner Troy Jackson, who founded Toronto Unity Mosque along with Laurie Silvers, affirmed that the space was inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and religious affiliations.

This was the thirteenth consecutive year the Toronto Unity Mosque hosted the Iftaar. To put the significance of that accomplishment into context: two years before same-sex marriage was legalized across Canada, LGBTQ Muslims in Toronto were creating an affirming space, breaking fast together. This is a far cry from the narrow image of Muslims we are fed on a regular basis.

Indeed, the toxic idea that Muslims are inherently “Other” has given rise to frightening levels of Islamophobia, as seen in the spike of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Toronto.

To stop this hate from spreading, we must understand that Islam and Muslims are not a monolith. In addition to the immense variety of sects, denominations, and approaches to Islam that groups of Muslims practice, they are also members of the LGBTQ community.

For LGBTQ Muslims, the journey towards wholeness can be challenging. In addition to Islamophobia, there is the question of acceptance and inclusion in faith and cultural communities that are held dear. Like any community, queer and trans Muslims have a full range of stories—from family rejection to overwhelming family support.

One of the attendees at the Peace Iftaar last Friday was Samra Habib, whose celebrated photography project, Just Me and Allah, captures portraits of queer Muslims. She recently described the Unity Mosque as part of her journey to reconnect with Islam: “In a way, I’ve never felt more Muslim than I do now,” she says.

Other movements in North American Muslim communities are making sacred spaces more inclusive by paying attention to critical issues of race, gender, and ability. The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative’s #BeingBlackandMuslim campaign has sparked a vital conversation around the world. Toronto’s Outburst! Movement amplifies the voices of young Muslim women leading change. Attention is being given to neural atypical Muslims with eating disorders, mental health struggles, and addictions that are barriers to being able to fast, or being included in the broader community.

Toronto’s LGBTQ Muslim community knows that embracing everyone who sits at the table, just as they are, isn’t just about buzzwords of “inclusion” and “diversity.” It’s about rejecting discrimination and creating a sacred space.