The recent story of a gay mosque in Paris raises conflicted feelings in me. On one hand, I recognize the need for safe spaces of worship, where people are not constantly being threatened for who they are. However, I also fear that creating a separate mosque perpetuates stigma by allowing other Muslims to avoid having discussions about what a truly devotional space could look like.
Just over a year ago, I contributed to a report by Intersections International called "Muslim LGBT Inclusion Project." The report demonstrated two things: that traditional acceptance of sexuality was more open than in the contemporary period and that Muslims were serious about dealing with religion and sexuality. Since the report focused on the US, I believe it offers some insights for what a discussion about sexuality could mean in an American Muslim context.
In the American Muslim community, a separate masjid seems to limit possibilities of what the community could become. One of the things that has happened with a maturing American Muslim community is the effacement of many inherited barriers. Muslims of different schools of thought, races, ethnicities, classes, and immigrant histories are working together in new ways. However, questions of sex and sexuality remain relatively taboo.
Although works like "Love, Inshallah" have attempted to break this silence, the reality is that we are not having these conversations. Every breath in of the diversity of the community has filled the community with possibilities. Conversations about what it means to be Muslim, to be Muslim in America, to be Muslim in the 21st century, to be Muslim in a globalizing world, have all been richer because of this diversity. Shouldn't views about the diversity of Muslim sexuality also be part of defining who we are?
One of my concerns is that by creating a separate space, we are implicitly saying that there is only one way of being Muslim. A separate masjid sends a message to heterosexual Muslims that their sexuality is normative, and others are deviant. A gay mosque simply recreates spaces of normative behavior, and that does not strengthen any aspect of the community. If a gay mosque were to start developing its own culture, as most communities do, it would be seen as a further sign of deviance. Because of the marginalization of Muslims in America, I'm not sure that gay mosques would serve a temporary function, as gay churches have in the Christian community.
For the Muslim community, I have argued that America represents a New Mecca. It is a country that allows Muslims to ask questions of what it means to be Muslim in a way that hearkens back to when Muslims felt it was OK to talk about issues of diversity. For various political and economic reasons, definitions of what it means to be Muslim have become progressively narrower. While that is changing globally, nowhere is it happening faster than in the US.
When we look at the ways in which diversity is successfully managed here is not by getting rid of particularity, but by keeping it. No one is changing the way anyone prays, but recognizing that we have that difference. This recognition means that faith becomes more thoughtful and deeper. And the religion becomes much more flexible and adaptable as a shared common struggle to explore the endlessness that is the Divine.
There is no reason that we should not continuously be building and growing as a community. That means recognizing that there are real differences, and we need to learn about and negotiate those differences. Without a challenge to who we are, how we act, and what we believe -- in a respectful manner -- we stagnate and cannot realize our full potential.
We begin to close possibilities of who we can be and what types of communities we can make. In the US, we need to create masajid that are open to a wide variety of ways of being Muslim. The Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto, Canada seems to offer a model for that sort of dynamic, respectful, challenging, learned, and diverse community.
The future of the Muslim community does not lie in becoming closed off and stagnant. It is in recognizing the fact that there are diverse ways of being Muslim, and it is Muslims that build the house of Islam. The religion only grows when believers grow personally. As we think about what a masjid looks like, we must remember that it is for the sake of devotion, and we cannot turn away anyone who wishes to worship.