I’m writing to ask you to help me in reaching my personal goal of raising $1000 for the second annual Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners, to be held this year outside Philadelphia, over Memorial Day weekend. This Retreat aims to bring together LGBT Muslims, to build community, and to help us reconnect to our faith and ourselves.
I attended the Retreat last year, the first of its kind, and am honored and humbled to do service on this year’s planning committee. Last year’s Retreat was incredibly moving, delightfully energizing, and spiritually nourishing. It was a life-changing blessing to participate in the Retreat and be a part of building a progressive community with LGBT Muslims and their partners. It was healing in ways I could not foresee.
I will never forget the moment I heard a woman’s voice raised in the call to prayer (the adhaan). Muslims signal the beginning of joint services (jum`ah) with a human voice. The first person ever to do this was a freed African slave, Bilal ibn Rabah, in the newly established Muslim community in Madina, at the invitation of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This happened in Year One for Muslims—our history begins after our ancestors fled persecution in Mecca. Non-Muslims may be familiar with the Hajj, the annual Muslim ritual pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina, in which we celebrate this event.
Having a woman call our gathering to prayer, opening our jumu`ah, was not simply a symbolic act of inclusion. There was deep meaning to it.
It was radical, getting to the “root of the matter.”
I have shivers when I talk about it and remember it.
Why am I, a man— and a pretty secular cultural Muslim at that—so deeply moved by such a simple thing, and a thing that does not directly (at first glance) affect my gender?
The only thing I can say is that this call to prayer healed a rift in my soul, healing a rift in Spirit, I had not realized was there. It was a spiritual awakening of a sort, and I am grateful for both the awakening and experience.
If you know me, you know I am committed to equality and equity. These are fundamental Islamic values, certainly as I was taught them, apparent in the teachings of Islam and its early history. I have shared how the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) invited Bilal to initiate the first prayer gathering in the emancipated Muslim community. That too was a deeply meaningful and spiritually significant act, not just a symbolic token of inclusion.
Today, I am sad to say that the Muslim community does not stand, to the world outside of it certainly, and maybe even to some within it, as a byword for justice, equity, equality, diversity, and anti-oppression. Centuries of influence by closed-minded social traditions on Islamic values and practices have turned us from the path that we began with that first radical call to prayer.
The Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners continues the Islamic tradition of righteous justice: it is a space of inclusion, healing and in our own way, incrementally righting wrongs done in the name of our Muslim culture. Maybe we are reconnecting to the authentic roots of the faith. Maybe we are amending it to correct for ways we have gone off the path.
What is there to correct? I look around at the Muslim world and I see a civilization wracked by spasms of violence and hate, with criminals and extremists from one sect killing members of other sects or killing the non-Muslims among them. And granted, it is a minority that is criminal in this way, but we are all suffering for it and from it, and we need more voices and more examples of what it looks like to do things a different way. I also see subordination and exclusion of women, and oppression and violence of sexual and gender minorities like LGBTQ folk.
Within mainstream and conservative Muslim communities in the West, we face these problems and conflicts as well. A minority is hateful and dangerous, and the majority does not always know what to do or say about it. Often, it is too busy defending against the Islamophobia in the larger society, which we as LGBT Muslims sometimes face even from our LGBT non-Muslim communities.
At the Retreat, we are open and inclusive of all partners, whether they are Muslim or not, believe in a divinity or not. We are open and inclusive of all sects—if you say you are Muslim, we believe you. In this we are part of a global progressive Muslim movement, one which also is committed to ending the exclusion and subordination of women within our faith communities, and challenges those who would oppress and marginalize LGBT people.
My soul experience at last year’s Retreat revealed to me that excluding women from spiritual spaces and leadership has deeply damaged all of us, not just women. This is not just a diversity issue or an intellectual issue of equality. It is an issue of spirituality and spiritual healing. And it is a truth that resonates within my core.
The Retreat is part of healing that injury, with women calling to prayer, women leading prayer, and people of all genders praying side by side and not in gender-segregated spaces.
Hopefully the Retreat heals other injuries as well, and provides a space to do much more. It is a place of exploration and reconnection—people who felt they would never pray again find a safe space to discuss this and may join in worship. Those of us raised secularly can attend the Islamic Prayer 101 workshop and learn how to pray or brush up on the rituals, even learning about the diversity of rituals between sects. Members of sects that outside that space might fear each other are not afraid to have an open discussion about their differences and their histories.
At the same time, the Retreat is a safe space for atheist, agnostic, or secular Muslims who simply want to be there among others with whom they have a cultural commonality and with whom they share a political solidarity in an era of increasing Islamophobia. And it is definitely a place of community-building and fun.
We have an incredible diversity. We are secular, atheist, and devout and practicing Muslims. We are Sunni and Shia and all sorts within those two branches. Some are Sufi, others not. And of course, we include the partners (who may or may not be Muslim). We are young(er) and old(er), we are many genders, we are of many ethnicities and races.
I hope you will join me in supporting the scholarships that we offer to 14 youth (18-25) and 5 not-so-youth (26 & over) to attend. We also would appreciate donations for our general operating costs.
Can you help out with a donation today?* Can you give $50? $25? $10? Any amount you can give will help and all helps us reach our goal!
Love, Light, & Peace,
*All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent permissible by law in the USA, as our fiscal sponsor, Muslims for Progressive Values, is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.