For many of us who identify as both Muslim and Queer, there are often very few spaces for our whole selves to explore and practice our spiritual journeys; there is often little room for our existence.
What happens when intersectional identities don’t have space and community to call safe, reliable and empowering?
They cultivate that space with the seeds of solidarity, radical inclusivity and shared authority.
This is the conception story of the Kitchener-Waterloo Unity Mosque, a welcoming safe space where Muslims and non-Muslims seeking an inclusive, gender equal and 2SLBTQIA+ affirming experience can come together in prayer and community.
I came to Waterloo Region in 2015 for school. Amidst considerations about school and housing, I paid little attention to finding a community. Like so many others with intersecting identities, I had never experienced the sensation of simply falling into place. I was too Brown for white spaces, too white for Brown spaces, too Muslim for queer spaces, too queer for Muslim spaces.
I remained hopeful for the fresh start. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that finding my people in Waterloo would be a challenge.
I moved through school as a closeted queer and a closeted Muslim, painfully participating in mainstream Muslim practices, knowing that I was not welcome to bring my whole self to prayer.
Pieces of one’s identity are not like hats that you choose to wear one at a time. You carry all the pieces of your identity, all the time. Some places and people are welcoming and understanding to one or a few of those pieces, while others may be inhospitable to all of them. The more pieces of you that are welcome and understood, the safer the space.
Near the end of my time in school and the beginning of the pandemic, I learned about a community called K-W Unity Mosque and connected with the Mosque’s founder and fearless facilitator, Fran Pappert-Shannon.
Fran took me under her wing instantly and invited me to one of the mosque’s upcoming virtual gatherings.
Even through a screen, I immediately felt the difference between this gathering and those I had attended my whole life in traditional mosque spaces. With no dress code, no gender segregation and women-identifying individuals regularly leading prayers and sermons, K-W Unity Mosque’s approach was a far cry from how mainstream mosques operate.
I fell in love.
The members of the community would go on to become members of my chosen family. Gatherings would go on to become the bridge to return to my faith with a renewed sense of love for myself, the Creator and Islam.
It’s not that I used to think God didn’t love me. It was the projections of mainstream Muslim communities forced onto me that induced anxiety, panic and self-loathing. I know I am supported by God and now, I know I am supported by an Islamic community.
Many people are surprised to discover that Islam does not inherently condemn 2SLGBTQ+ people. In the Quran, there is no word that explicitly names homosexual or transgender persons; the Arabic terms were invented after the Quran’s revelation, by medieval jurists and contemporary journalists, doctors and social critics. The religion is largely interpreted as condemning queer and trans folks, but its scriptural sources are open to other interpretations.
With no formal organized movement representing all liberal or progressive Muslims and no network of inclusive mosques across Canada, it is smaller, localized and grassroots groups of progressive Muslims, such as K-W Unity Mosque, that are taking on the responsibility of creating safe spaces but are also the ones often excluded in conversation about 2SLGBTQIA+ rights and Islam.
It is with this sense of responsibility and duty to one another that we at K-W Unity Mosque have decided to step into the public light and offer opportunities for others to explore, discover, heal and practice as part of our community. Our first public event is a screening of FreeTrip to Egypt on Nov. 1. The film explores the transformative power of human connection as it brings indivduals from two atagonistic cultures together. The screening will take place at 6:30 P.M. at th Princess Twin Cinema and will be followed by an intimate discussion with Tarek Mounib, the film-maker. For more info. visit www.princesscinema.com
Kamil (he/him) is a first-generation immigrant and settler from Pakistan who identifies with various communities including bisexual and Muslim. Passionate about mutual aid, resource distribution and building communities of care, Kamil is an organizer at Community Fridge KW. He is a photographer, facilitator, speaker, vegetarian, and a big fan of farmers markets.
This article was updated to protect the group members’ identities.