2 min

Universalist Muslims embrace queer brothers and sisters

Iftar dinner open to all faiths, genders and sexual orientations

The Ottawa community group Universalist Muslims believes that during the time of Muhammad no one was persecuted for being homosexual and that the persecution of sexual minorities now in Muslim countries is actually contrary to Islam, co-founder Shahla Khan Salter says.  Credit: Adrienne Ascah

Even if you’re not fasting, you’re invited to join the Universalist Muslims for an Iftar dinner.

During the holy month of Ramadan, many Muslims abstain from food and water from sunrise until sunset and then break their fast with an Iftar dinner. The Universalist Muslims’ potluck dinner, taking place Saturday, July 26 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Vanier, is open to everyone of all faiths, genders and sexual orientations.

“We think it’s very important to spread that message that we are all equal and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our queer Muslim [brothers and sisters] and our queer friends of other faiths as well,” says Shahla Khan Salter.

Although Khan Salter co-founded Universalist Muslims in 2013 with her friend Anila Muhammad, who has since died, the group has been active since 2010 as a local chapter of Muslims for Progressive Values. Now a federally incorporated not-for-profit, the organization is passionate about promoting peace and standing up for human rights locally, nationally and internationally.

The view that Islam is synonymous with violence, totalitarianism and homophobia is upsetting to Khan Salter, who is working to change what she and other progressive Muslims see as a profound misunderstanding of Islam.

“During the time of Muhammad, we believe that no one was persecuted for sexual diversity, for being homosexual,” she says. “We believe that there was great tolerance and acceptance during the era of the first Muslims. We actually believe that it is contrary to Islam to persecute sexual minorities as is being done right now in Muslim countries.”

With blogs on Huffington Post and Tumblr, along with a presence on Facebook and Twitter, Universalist Muslims make connections with Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. Sometimes what she hears is distressing, Khan Salter says.

A young gay man in Yemen contacted her after coming out to his brother. His brother responded by grabbing a gun and trying to shoot him. The young man is in hiding and, living in a country where homosexuality is illegal, is in a desperate situation, she says.

“We’re looking for a way to get him out of there, but we can’t find an NGO [non-governmental organization] in Yemen to connect with groups here that are supposed to help,” Khan Salter says. “It seems like the odds are stacked against these young people.”

Locally, queer Muslim youth reach out to Universalist Muslims for support. Khan Salter tells them about people like Scott Kugle, a gay Muslim scholar whose interpretation of the Quran challenges the idea that homosexuality is sinful. She also connects youth to local resources.

In August, Universalist Muslims will march in the Capital Pride parade with the Ottawa Network of Spiritual Progressives, an interfaith group that was co-founded with Faith House.

Khan Salter hopes to see some new faces at the Iftar dinner, stressing it will be a safe and welcoming space for all. Farhat Rehman, a senior volunteer imam, will lead prayers, but people can abstain from prayers if they prefer.