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El-tawhid juma circle

 

Embracing an Inclusive & Compassionate Islam

 

We are a  compassionate focused, inclusive, Islamic mosque space. We are an LGBTQ affirming, Gender Equal, Place of Healing and Learning.

 

The El-Tawhid Juma Circle/ ETJC was founded by El-Farouk Khaki, DR. Laury Silvers, and Troy Jackson in May 2009. ETJC is a gender-equal, LGBTQI2S affirming, mosque, that is welcoming of everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender, sexual identity, or faith background.

When we came together in May 2009…

to start the el-Tawhid Juma Circle as manifested in the Toronto Unity Mosque it was with the intention of creating an inclusive tawhidic Muslim identified prayer space where diversity and inclusivity are celebrated and not just given lip service: where the inherent dignity of every human being regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, linguistic group, dis/ability, religion or class is recognized as Allah-given as underscored in the Qur’anic declaration that Allah is closer to each one of us than our own jugular vein, without distinction.

el-Tawhid Juma Circle is Human Positive in that its foundation is that all humans are equal agents of Allah in all aspects of ritual practice. Since May 2009, the Toronto Unity Mosque has been meeting every Friday for congregational prayer. Our service exemplifies the notion of shared authority as jamaat members take turns in giving the call to prayer, delivering the sermon and leading the prayer. Our service is accessible by skype as some of our members are isolated due to health, geography or conscience. 

Our mosques are places of ritual and spiritual healing for everyone – regardless of whether they identify as Muslim or not. Since May 2009, eTJC has inspired, resourced and/ or helped establish 9 similar communities in North America.

In 2015 Dr. Laury Silvers stepped away from ETJC to concentrate on academic and spiritual pursuits. ETJC thanks her for her service, we invite you to follow her work at www.laurysilvers.com

 Our websitejumacircle.com – is designed as a gateway resource center for our global jamaat including those who wish to start similar or eTJC affiliated mosque spaces. 

We invite you join us on Friday afternoons as you are able, in person, by skype or in spirit. We look forward to the day, inshAllah, when there is an inclusive mosque like eTJC in every city.

~ETJC

 

contact

info@jumacircle.com

 

 

Location

Email for Location

info@jumacircle.com

 

Hours

Fri. 12:30pm-3:30pm

Evening Programming throughout the year.

Media

Mosque Makeovers - 2011

Excerpt from Walrus Article:

Another version of this model is the el-Tawhid Juma Circle, a small mosque of straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender worshippers. They gather for afternoon prayers on Friday—the most important day of the week for Muslims—at a private address in downtown Toronto. El-Tawhid has been meeting for about two years now, in a small room covered by a carpet, with an old church pew at one end. People plunk themselves down on cushions wherever there is space; the question of whether to have greater interaction with the wider Muslim community is more important right now than where people sit at prayer time. On this winter afternoon, the room fills up with about twenty people, a mix of born Muslims and converts, academics, and refugees from Muslim countries.
Anyone can sing the call to prayer or lead prayers during the service, and several women have taken regular turns as imam. One is Laury Silvers, a convert from Los Angeles and a professor of religion at the University of Toronto. Other than during el-Tawhid’s services, women have led men in organized prayer only in a few unique circumstances. Silvers has red hair, a cheerful but commanding group leader voice, and a Facebook page full of statements and causes—exactly what you’d expect from a passionate activist.
She calls the group to attention at about 1:15, as a few stragglers are still shaking off their coats. Islamic prayers are to be said at specific times, and she opens by asking everyone to come on time: “If we’re going to be a real mosque, we have to do things by the book.”
After prayers, the group moves to the kitchen for tea and snacks before heading back to work or school. Discussion ranges from academic shop talk to the focused activism expected from a group like this. There is little tolerance here for a go-slow approach. Most aspire to a Muslim culture where chauvinism no longer has a place in the mosque, but Silvers is adamant that el-Tawhid’s approach is one of many and not to be forced on others.
For every feminist frustrated with the pace of change, another is sensitive to the dangers of moving too fast. Little Mosque’s Zarqa Nawaz captured this tension in her 2005 documentary, Me and the Mosque. In it, she sits at her mother’s feet in the women’s section of the Islamic Society of North America mosque in Mississauga, behind a translucent, waist-high divider. The mother says she had not been inside a mosque until she moved to Canada, and likes that she can see the imam behind the small divider. That’s enough for her. But her daughter is not satisfied; she wants vocal support for more.

Frustration and friction seem natural when diverse peoples confront shared taboos. Even though they represent a small group of reformers among Canada’s roughly 600,000 Muslims, many of those pushing for gender equity in mosques today see more differences than similarities among themselves. For instance, when Naseer Ahmad was pondering his approach, the implications of welcoming menstruating women meant more than just a large enough prayer section. He installed coin-operated tampon and pad dispensers in the washrooms. Reactions to this decision underscore the range of preferences and sensitivities: some were pleased, and some felt it a trivial move, or a reminder of how far there is to go. Others did not realize that in some Muslim cultures people think a tampon can deflower a virgin. And some were surprised: “I’ve never even thought to look for that!” said Globe and Mail columnist Sheema Khan.
 
It was reassuring for El-Farouk Khaki (far left) to know he wasn’t alone, yet meeting others with a similar religious and sexual orientation made evident the lack of a space that spoke directly to queer Muslims’ needs. Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth Faith September 2016 It’s a Friday afternoon in April, and I’m standing among eight other people in the lobby of an office building in downtown Toronto, waiting for an elevator. Finally, a chime, and we all make our way in. The doors close, and we start to climb. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the car who is moments away from entering a space LGBTQ Muslims around the world can only dream of.  El-Farouk Khaki, one of the co-founders of Unity Mosque, happens to be passing by as soon as the elevator stops and I step out. “You must be Davide,” he says. “You look exactly like your photos.” I realize Khaki has Googled me; strict safety concerns require a vetting of anyone who asks for the mosque’s location. We step into the boardroom where Unity Mosque holds its prayers, and Khaki is immediately swarmed by people jockeying for his attention. He’s been on vacation for three weeks with his husband and co-founder, Troy Jackson, and it’s clear he’s been missed. Khaki recognizes he can’t speak with me today, and after glancing in my direction to let me know he hasn’t forgotten, he invites me to his home for dinner. It’s no surprise Khaki is adored by congregants at Unity Mosque. The space likely would not exist without him. Unity Mosque, part of an umbrella group known as the El-Tawhid Juma Circle, with Unity Mosques around North America, including Ottawa and Montreal, is Khaki’s attempt to show Islam’s beauty. Started by Khaki, Jackson and Laury Silvers, the egalitarian space seeks to provide a welcoming place of worship and community to all, particularly queer people, trans people and women. For many, this is the difference between abandoning Islam and finding spiritual fulfilment, and the first chance to be queer and Muslim in one space without giving anything up. Still, the mosque’s ability to reach queer Muslims outside the progressive hubs of major cities is unclear, and in the aftermath of the massacre perpetrated by a Muslim man at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the stakes of this outreach seem higher than ever. The difference between success and failure rests on reaching a demographic in need versus remaining physically and intellectually relegated to a minority within a minority. I show up to Khaki’s house a few days after our first meeting, where he is sending emails relating to his work as a refugee and immigration lawyer. He tells me he believes the emphasis on beards and the hijab is a product of Bedouin culture, not a requirement of Islam. We have a back-and-forth, and eventually, smiling, he comes to a compromise: “If women want to keep beards, and men want to wear head scarves, it’s fine by me too.” This gender-bending line has deep implications for Khaki’s egalitarian view of Islam, and the principles that inform how and why Unity Mosque functions. Unity Mosque’s existence is Khaki’s most important accomplishment, but making it possible was an emotionally draining process that at times also put him in physical danger. Khaki was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but his family fled from political persecution when he was seven. After living in England, Khaki eventually came to Canada in 1974, at the age of 10, and settled in Vancouver. For him, coming out was a process of self-discovery beginning at 13. He regularly prayed at mosques at the time, but as the years went by, he felt he couldn’t fully express his identity. Vancouver didn’t have a large Muslim population, and he had no luck meeting other queer Muslims. This changed in 1989 when Khaki came to Toronto, and he began working as a political staffer for the Ontario New Democratic Party at Queen’s Park two years later. In Toronto, he met others who were both queer and Muslim. Khaki says, “Intellectually I knew I was not the only one, but my social reality before that was that I was the only one.” It was reassuring for Khaki to know he wasn’t alone, yet meeting others with a similar religious and sexual orientation made evident the lack of a space that spoke directly to queer Muslims’ needs. “Putting those two words together has always been a challenge,” Khaki says, as people are, “Muslim in one place, and queer in another place. But rarely, if ever, combined.” So, in 1991, he decided to create that space. The initial outcome was a monthly group, Salaam Social/Support Group for Lesbians and Gay Muslims. In his spare time, Khaki printed fliers advertising the group. He also put out ads in Xtra!, then a gay and lesbian weekly paper, and the left-leaning  news and entertainment tabloid Now, and quickly had a contact list of over 100 names. Members found the meetings to be useful, with some coming from as far as New York state. Salaam began to have internal issues, however, mostly revolving around privacy concerns. Many members weren’t out to their families yet, and some told Khaki, “If you phone me and my mom picks up the phone, don’t tell her your name. Don’t tell her why you’re calling. If she asks you if you’re gay, say you’re not.” The group also began receiving disturbing threats. Khaki and another woman, whose identity he keeps private, were approached by an editor at The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s main student newspaper, and asked to write about being gay and Muslim. They did, but after the article was published the newspaper received a letter from Islamic Jihad, a militant group, calling for the writers’ deaths. “I was very traumatized by the threat,” Khaki says. The police hate crimes unit was called, but Khaki says they told him they could do little, telling him they’d have an easier time protecting him if he had a higher profile. In 2002, Khaki publicly presented himself as a gay Muslim for the first time. Trembling Before G-d, a film about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews, had come out the year before, and the publicist co-ordinating the film tour asked Khaki to sit on a post-screening panel as a queer Muslim. There Khaki met Rev. Cheri DiNovo, a United Church minister who is currently the NDP Member of Provincial Parliament for Parkdale-High Park. She asked him to speak at an interfaith vigil at her church on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. She also invited him to what became a formative event for Khaki: an LGBT-friendly Passover celebration held by two queer women, where Jews, Christians and Muslims came together to celebrate. “This is so incredibly subversive!” Khaki thought, and he decided to share a Muslim tradition in a similar way. The result was the annual Peace Iftar, where people of all faiths and gender identities are invited to join Muslims in breaking their fast on a night in Ramadan. The first Peace Iftar was held in October 2003 in the basement of Emmanuel-Howard Park United, DiNovo’s former pastoral charge in Toronto, and saw 140 people come together. Khaki also began to hold Jummah (Friday) prayer, a weekly congregational service Muslim men must attend, at his office. The Noor Cultural Centre, a progressive Muslim space in Toronto, was also established that same year. Samira Kanji, its president, says her father created the centre out of a desire to see women treated in the same way as men in the mosque. Kanji notes that many of the people who now attend Unity Mosque also attend Noor Centre, and always feel welcome, something Khaki corroborates. Khaki has a deep respect for the centre, and continues to attend its Eid prayers. Still, he found the space wasn’t exactly equal because men and women are still segregated during prayer, women aren’t allowed to lead prayers and Kanji won’t perform same-sex marriages. Khaki wanted more. In March 2009, Laury Silvers, a sessional instructor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, approached Khaki, eager to start a Jummah prayer space that would strive to be entirely equal. Khaki was excited to give this idea another shot, believing social media would eliminate past logistical and privacy issues. After a month of planning, including creating a Facebook group that now has over 1,000 members, Khaki held the first El-Tawhid Juma circle and Unity Mosque assembly at his office. Khaki, Jackson and Silvers sat waiting for people to show up on a hot afternoon in May, hoping this would be the start of a long-lasting institution.     Renée Mercuri says the rules help make Unity Mosque, ‘A space that honours you for who you are and where you are on your journey, instead of saying where you are is problematic and doesn’t fit in.’ Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth Around 1 p.m. on Fridays, congregants at Unity Mosque file into the boardroom, take yoga mats out of a closet, form a large square and lay thin sheets on top of the mats. These act as replacements for the plush carpets found in a typical mosque. Participants make their way to the ground, sitting in a circle on the mats; a few congregants sit on chairs for more comfort. In the centre of the circle are a couple of pots of tea and several mugs. Once everyone is gathered, including some who join in online, Khaki invites someone from the circle to read the rules of etiquette established for the space. Sometimes that person is Renée Mercuri — a middle-aged bisexual convert to Islam with short dark hair who attends almost every Friday. It feels more like the itinerary you’d find in an activist space than in a mosque. The khutbah (sermon) includes an Indigenous land claim; the rules incorporate a proclamation that any sort of dress will be allowed in the space, with a citation from the Qur’an calling congregants to lower their gaze if they feel someone is dressed immodestly, as opposed to confronting them; and an explicit reminder that women don’t need to cover their hair in the space. Mercuri says these rules help make Unity Mosque “a space that honours you for who you are, and where you are on your journey instead of saying where you are is problematic and doesn’t fit in with our rules.” At Unity Mosque, everyone can participate in the religious discussions following the khutbahs, which are more seminar than lecture. Finally, a congregant’s voice recites a call to prayer, as men, women and trans people all find spots next to each other to pray — a stark difference from the gender segregation at the overwhelming majority of mosques. At Unity Mosque, the mixed congregation bows and prostrates in unison. The Jummah prayer wraps up, and the people move back into a circle to offer duas (communal supplications). Some want prayers for the Black Lives Matter movement, some the ongoing Attawapiskat suicide crisis and some for family members stuck in Syria. Unity Mosque attracts a wide range of congregants who represent Toronto’s diverse population. There are several refugees on any given week, a diverse demographic of black people, more white converts than you’d find at a typical mosque, more women than men, more queer than straight. Congregants range in age from six to 70. Their histories are as diverse as they are: each has a unique story of how they made it to Unity Mosque. It took Samra Habib nearly a decade to find her way there. Habib was born into a “super religious family.”  She recalls being made to wear a hijab as a child, and by the age of 10, when they moved from Pakistan to Toronto, her parents had already selected someone for her to marry. At 16, Habib had her nikkah, which refers to the ceremony whereby the bride and groom become legally married, though the actual wedding usually occurs at a later date. After quickly realizing she didn’t love her spouse, Habib broke the marriage off, and, in the process, alienated herself from her mosque. By 18, she had run away from her family, living with friends for a couple of years, and then marrying her high school sweetheart. The marriage started off well, but it didn’t take long for Habib to realize she was a queer woman. I sit across from her as she tells me her story, at a bar in Toronto’s west end with a rainbow flag outside its entrance. She pauses, sipping her gin and tonic, before continuing. Habib says she was unsure of what to do with her feelings. Eventually, she started to come out to people, but didn’t find what she was looking for in Toronto’s queer community. “It just felt like I wasn’t very welcome. They didn’t seem like my people,” Habib says, noting that most were white, and couldn’t relate to growing up Muslim. She eventually stumbled upon Unity Mosque after hearing about Khaki through activist friends. Her first time attending, in early 2013, was overwhelming. “I was crying throughout the whole thing. It was really emotional because I hadn’t prayed in almost a decade. I was emotional because there was a trans woman saying the adhan,” Habib says, referring to the call to prayer usually conducted by a man. “It felt like it was my homecoming.” Habib began attending Unity Mosque regularly. It inspired her to launch Just Me and Allah, a photography project featuring portraits and stories of queer Muslims around the world. It has since been exhibited in Toronto, Belgium, Germany and New York City. Unity Mosque is a rarity internationally, according to Habib, who says most of the people she’s spoken to for her project are more isolated, lacking any physical queer Muslim community. “When I tell people while I’m travelling that there’s a queer Muslim space, it blows their mind.”   

It was reassuring for El-Farouk Khaki (far left) to know he wasn’t alone, yet meeting others with a similar religious and sexual orientation made evident the lack of a space that spoke directly to queer Muslims’ needs. Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth

Faith

September 2016


It’s a Friday afternoon in April, and I’m standing among eight other people in the lobby of an office building in downtown Toronto, waiting for an elevator. Finally, a chime, and we all make our way in. The doors close, and we start to climb. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the car who is moments away from entering a space LGBTQ Muslims around the world can only dream of. 

El-Farouk Khaki, one of the co-founders of Unity Mosque, happens to be passing by as soon as the elevator stops and I step out. “You must be Davide,” he says. “You look exactly like your photos.” I realize Khaki has Googled me; strict safety concerns require a vetting of anyone who asks for the mosque’s location. We step into the boardroom where Unity Mosque holds its prayers, and Khaki is immediately swarmed by people jockeying for his attention. He’s been on vacation for three weeks with his husband and co-founder, Troy Jackson, and it’s clear he’s been missed. Khaki recognizes he can’t speak with me today, and after glancing in my direction to let me know he hasn’t forgotten, he invites me to his home for dinner.

It’s no surprise Khaki is adored by congregants at Unity Mosque. The space likely would not exist without him. Unity Mosque, part of an umbrella group known as the El-Tawhid Juma Circle, with Unity Mosques around North America, including Ottawa and Montreal, is Khaki’s attempt to show Islam’s beauty. Started by Khaki, Jackson and Laury Silvers, the egalitarian space seeks to provide a welcoming place of worship and community to all, particularly queer people, trans people and women. For many, this is the difference between abandoning Islam and finding spiritual fulfilment, and the first chance to be queer and Muslim in one space without giving anything up. Still, the mosque’s ability to reach queer Muslims outside the progressive hubs of major cities is unclear, and in the aftermath of the massacre perpetrated by a Muslim man at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the stakes of this outreach seem higher than ever. The difference between success and failure rests on reaching a demographic in need versus remaining physically and intellectually relegated to a minority within a minority.


I show up to Khaki’s house a few days after our first meeting, where he is sending emails relating to his work as a refugee and immigration lawyer. He tells me he believes the emphasis on beards and the hijab is a product of Bedouin culture, not a requirement of Islam. We have a back-and-forth, and eventually, smiling, he comes to a compromise: “If women want to keep beards, and men want to wear head scarves, it’s fine by me too.” This gender-bending line has deep implications for Khaki’s egalitarian view of Islam, and the principles that inform how and why Unity Mosque functions. Unity Mosque’s existence is Khaki’s most important accomplishment, but making it possible was an emotionally draining process that at times also put him in physical danger.

Khaki was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but his family fled from political persecution when he was seven. After living in England, Khaki eventually came to Canada in 1974, at the age of 10, and settled in Vancouver. For him, coming out was a process of self-discovery beginning at 13. He regularly prayed at mosques at the time, but as the years went by, he felt he couldn’t fully express his identity. Vancouver didn’t have a large Muslim population, and he had no luck meeting other queer Muslims. This changed in 1989 when Khaki came to Toronto, and he began working as a political staffer for the Ontario New Democratic Party at Queen’s Park two years later. In Toronto, he met others who were both queer and Muslim. Khaki says, “Intellectually I knew I was not the only one, but my social reality before that was that I was the only one.”

It was reassuring for Khaki to know he wasn’t alone, yet meeting others with a similar religious and sexual orientation made evident the lack of a space that spoke directly to queer Muslims’ needs. “Putting those two words together has always been a challenge,” Khaki says, as people are, “Muslim in one place, and queer in another place. But rarely, if ever, combined.” So, in 1991, he decided to create that space. The initial outcome was a monthly group, Salaam Social/Support Group for Lesbians and Gay Muslims. In his spare time, Khaki printed fliers advertising the group. He also put out ads in Xtra!, then a gay and lesbian weekly paper, and the left-leaning  news and entertainment tabloid Now, and quickly had a contact list of over 100 names. Members found the meetings to be useful, with some coming from as far as New York state. Salaam began to have internal issues, however, mostly revolving around privacy concerns. Many members weren’t out to their families yet, and some told Khaki, “If you phone me and my mom picks up the phone, don’t tell her your name. Don’t tell her why you’re calling. If she asks you if you’re gay, say you’re not.”

The group also began receiving disturbing threats. Khaki and another woman, whose identity he keeps private, were approached by an editor at The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s main student newspaper, and asked to write about being gay and Muslim. They did, but after the article was published the newspaper received a letter from Islamic Jihad, a militant group, calling for the writers’ deaths. “I was very traumatized by the threat,” Khaki says. The police hate crimes unit was called, but Khaki says they told him they could do little, telling him they’d have an easier time protecting him if he had a higher profile.

In 2002, Khaki publicly presented himself as a gay Muslim for the first time. Trembling Before G-d, a film about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews, had come out the year before, and the publicist co-ordinating the film tour asked Khaki to sit on a post-screening panel as a queer Muslim. There Khaki met Rev. Cheri DiNovo, a United Church minister who is currently the NDP Member of Provincial Parliament for Parkdale-High Park. She asked him to speak at an interfaith vigil at her church on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. She also invited him to what became a formative event for Khaki: an LGBT-friendly Passover celebration held by two queer women, where Jews, Christians and Muslims came together to celebrate. “This is so incredibly subversive!” Khaki thought, and he decided to share a Muslim tradition in a similar way. The result was the annual Peace Iftar, where people of all faiths and gender identities are invited to join Muslims in breaking their fast on a night in Ramadan. The first Peace Iftar was held in October 2003 in the basement of Emmanuel-Howard Park United, DiNovo’s former pastoral charge in Toronto, and saw 140 people come together. Khaki also began to hold Jummah (Friday) prayer, a weekly congregational service Muslim men must attend, at his office.

The Noor Cultural Centre, a progressive Muslim space in Toronto, was also established that same year. Samira Kanji, its president, says her father created the centre out of a desire to see women treated in the same way as men in the mosque. Kanji notes that many of the people who now attend Unity Mosque also attend Noor Centre, and always feel welcome, something Khaki corroborates. Khaki has a deep respect for the centre, and continues to attend its Eid prayers. Still, he found the space wasn’t exactly equal because men and women are still segregated during prayer, women aren’t allowed to lead prayers and Kanji won’t perform same-sex marriages. Khaki wanted more.

In March 2009, Laury Silvers, a sessional instructor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, approached Khaki, eager to start a Jummah prayer space that would strive to be entirely equal. Khaki was excited to give this idea another shot, believing social media would eliminate past logistical and privacy issues. After a month of planning, including creating a Facebook group that now has over 1,000 members, Khaki held the first El-Tawhid Juma circle and Unity Mosque assembly at his office. Khaki, Jackson and Silvers sat waiting for people to show up on a hot afternoon in May, hoping this would be the start of a long-lasting institution.
 

 

Renée Mercuri says the rules help make Unity Mosque, ‘A space that honours you for who you are and where you are on your journey, instead of saying where you are is problematic and doesn’t fit in.’ Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth


Around 1 p.m. on Fridays, congregants at Unity Mosque file into the boardroom, take yoga mats out of a closet, form a large square and lay thin sheets on top of the mats. These act as replacements for the plush carpets found in a typical mosque. Participants make their way to the ground, sitting in a circle on the mats; a few congregants sit on chairs for more comfort. In the centre of the circle are a couple of pots of tea and several mugs. Once everyone is gathered, including some who join in online, Khaki invites someone from the circle to read the rules of etiquette established for the space. Sometimes that person is Renée Mercuri — a middle-aged bisexual convert to Islam with short dark hair who attends almost every Friday.

It feels more like the itinerary you’d find in an activist space than in a mosque. The khutbah (sermon) includes an Indigenous land claim; the rules incorporate a proclamation that any sort of dress will be allowed in the space, with a citation from the Qur’an calling congregants to lower their gaze if they feel someone is dressed immodestly, as opposed to confronting them; and an explicit reminder that women don’t need to cover their hair in the space. Mercuri says these rules help make Unity Mosque “a space that honours you for who you are, and where you are on your journey instead of saying where you are is problematic and doesn’t fit in with our rules.” At Unity Mosque, everyone can participate in the religious discussions following the khutbahs, which are more seminar than lecture.

Finally, a congregant’s voice recites a call to prayer, as men, women and trans people all find spots next to each other to pray — a stark difference from the gender segregation at the overwhelming majority of mosques. At Unity Mosque, the mixed congregation bows and prostrates in unison. The Jummah prayer wraps up, and the people move back into a circle to offer duas (communal supplications). Some want prayers for the Black Lives Matter movement, some the ongoing Attawapiskat suicide crisis and some for family members stuck in Syria.


Unity Mosque attracts a wide range of congregants who represent Toronto’s diverse population. There are several refugees on any given week, a diverse demographic of black people, more white converts than you’d find at a typical mosque, more women than men, more queer than straight. Congregants range in age from six to 70. Their histories are as diverse as they are: each has a unique story of how they made it to Unity Mosque.

It took Samra Habib nearly a decade to find her way there. Habib was born into a “super religious family.”  She recalls being made to wear a hijab as a child, and by the age of 10, when they moved from Pakistan to Toronto, her parents had already selected someone for her to marry. At 16, Habib had her nikkah, which refers to the ceremony whereby the bride and groom become legally married, though the actual wedding usually occurs at a later date. After quickly realizing she didn’t love her spouse, Habib broke the marriage off, and, in the process, alienated herself from her mosque. By 18, she had run away from her family, living with friends for a couple of years, and then marrying her high school sweetheart. The marriage started off well, but it didn’t take long for Habib to realize she was a queer woman.

I sit across from her as she tells me her story, at a bar in Toronto’s west end with a rainbow flag outside its entrance. She pauses, sipping her gin and tonic, before continuing. Habib says she was unsure of what to do with her feelings. Eventually, she started to come out to people, but didn’t find what she was looking for in Toronto’s queer community. “It just felt like I wasn’t very welcome. They didn’t seem like my people,” Habib says, noting that most were white, and couldn’t relate to growing up Muslim. She eventually stumbled upon Unity Mosque after hearing about Khaki through activist friends. Her first time attending, in early 2013, was overwhelming. “I was crying throughout the whole thing. It was really emotional because I hadn’t prayed in almost a decade. I was emotional because there was a trans woman saying the adhan,” Habib says, referring to the call to prayer usually conducted by a man. “It felt like it was my homecoming.” Habib began attending Unity Mosque regularly. It inspired her to launch Just Me and Allah, a photography project featuring portraits and stories of queer Muslims around the world. It has since been exhibited in Toronto, Belgium, Germany and New York City. Unity Mosque is a rarity internationally, according to Habib, who says most of the people she’s spoken to for her project are more isolated, lacking any physical queer Muslim community. “When I tell people while I’m travelling that there’s a queer Muslim space, it blows their mind.”