During the past decade
North America has seen an emergence of politically motivated Chicken Littles
running around frantically warning of an imminent takeover by Muslims and their
Sharia law. Insurgent Republican
presidential candidate Herman Cain, for example, famously said he wouldn't
allow any Muslim to serve in his Cabinet for fear of the foreign-sounding code
of laws. Religious and political scholars as well as the Muslim mainstream
have effectively repudiated such nonsense. The real story, however, lies with
progressive Muslims who are using the protection of secular Western laws to
actively reform centuries-old interpretations of their faith.
In May 2009 in Toronto,
El-Farouk Khaki, his partner, Troy Jackson, and their mutual friend Laury Silvers
founded el-Tawhid Juma Circle, the first mosque created for all gender
identities and sexual orientations. And this year two sister circles formed --
in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Khaki is a longtime
activist in the Muslim world, but he knew a place for LGBT people was needed after
September 11, 2001. Khaki found
himself called to defend Muslims living in the West against discrimination and
prejudice because of terrorism done in the name of Islam. Yet, despite his dedication in
representing Muslims, he soon ran into opposition.
"I found that there isn't
a lot of understanding for someone who is both openly Muslim and openly gay,"
Khaki says. "Many queer or
socially progressive Muslims give up their religion because they feel there is
no space for them, and often they lose their spirituality in the process. I got tired of people saying 'we need
more inclusive spaces'; 'we need
more female imams.' Who is stopping you from having these things? If there is no space for you, make the
Before founding el-Tawhid
Juma Circle, Khaki in 2005 had helped organize the first female-led,
mixed-gender Muslim congregational prayer to ever be held in a mosque.
Khaki's religious activism
began in 1991, when he founded a social support group for LGBT Muslims, called
Salaam. He also cofounded Min-Alaq, a politically progressive Muslim group. And he's run a private law practice specializing in
immigration since 1993. Most of
his cases involve representing men and women who are fighting violence, discrimination, or persecution because of gender or sexual orientation.
Born in Tanzania, Khaki is
a refugee whose family fled first to Great Britain and then immigrated
El-Tawhid Juma Circle grew out of his sincere desire to give Muslims an opportunity to engage with
one another as individuals. "Around
the time el-Tawhid Juma Circle was being founded I was in a meeting with
someone who told me, 'I'd like to see a gay mosque' and I said, 'I
wouldn't. I'd like to see a mosque
that was inclusive for everybody," Khaki says.
Unlike informal Muslim LGBT-friendly
groups, el-Tawhid Juma Circle strives to adhere to authentic methods of Islamic
worship, including the ritual prayers and the prescribed rules for performing
the khutbah (sermon). What makes
the community most unusual, however, is its rule against gender segregation. All
members are encouraged to participate. So rare is this egalitarian mosque
environment that each week individuals from around the world join the group via
Skype to share in the khutbah and pray along with el-Tawhid Juma
has been a boon to the movement that Khaki and his community are helping to
spark. Until now LGBT Muslims have lived in isolation or in small,
disenfranchised communities. Now they -- along with other progressive-minded Muslims --
have the opportunity to connect online, forming an even larger global
Just knowing that they
have brothers and sisters around the globe who have had to struggle with the
same kind of identity issues and the same kind of discrimination within their
faith communities is a huge step forward, Khaki says.
He hopes to see more
groups in different parts of the world joining el-Tawhid Juma Circle. "Let's not pretend we don't have an
agenda," he laughed. "After all, if Facebook can help organize revolutions in
freedom squares around the world, surely it can organize revolutions of the
Amanda Quraishi is a
writer, blogger, interfaith activist, and technology professional living in
Austin. She blogs about politics, religion, and tacos at https://www.muslimahMERICAN.com.