By Melissa Etehad
June 14 2016
Photo: El-Farouk Khaki, right, attends a LGBTQ Muslim Retreat in Philadelphia on May 26, 2013. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
When news broke that an American-born Muslim man carried out an attack that left at least 49 dead in an Orlando nightclub, many LGBT Muslims around the world found themselves dreading the conversations that were about to ensue. On social media, some remarked at how their two seemingly antagonistic identities clashed.
But Canada’s most famous LGBT-friendly mosque is providing a safe and inclusive space for those coping with this tragedy.
The Toronto Unity Mosque was co-founded in 2009 by El-Farouk Khaki, a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer. Khaki, who acts as the mosque’s coordinating imam, said hundreds of people are part of his congregation and that they even Skype in Muslims from around the world during the Juma prayer on Fridays. He says that up to 50 percent of his congregation do not identify as LGBT, but all of them are allies of the community.
"People in the Muslim community are aware of this mosque. And there are varying degrees of reaction." Khaki said. "Some people are intrigued and others incredulous."
Khaki found out about the mass shooting that took place on Sunday from a text message his friend sent. "I replied ’what shooting are you talking about?’" Khaki told WorldViews. "Before my friend had a chance to reply, I was on social media and saw what had taken place."
The shooting — the worst in U.S. history — has been especially difficult for Toronto’s LGBT Muslims. The month of June coincides with Toronto’s Pride Month and Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam. What were once celebratory occasions have now been marred by violence and death.
"LGBT Muslims walk this line between two communities, that are ironically almost equally stigmatized and marginalized in many place," Khaki told CBC radio in an interview after the Orlando shooting.
Islam is second-largest religion in Canada after Christianity, according to Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey. And statistics show that the number is increasing, according to Pew Research Center. Although hate crimes in Toronto fell in 2015, police found an increase of incidents that target Muslims after last year’s Paris attacks and the announcement of a plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada. One of the most striking examples of Islamophobia in Canada occurred in December when a Muslim woman was verbally harassed on a bus.
Canada’s LGBT community has also faced discrimination. According to a report that was disclosed to a Toronto Police Services Board meeting in March, the LGBT community in Toronto continues to be one of the most targeted groups since 2006.
The report also found that the LGBT and Muslim communities were in the top three of "most-reported hate crimes in 2015." Because both communities have faced oppression and intolerance in Canada, it seems that they might be natural allies. Khaki sees some truth in that. He said that LGBT Muslims could act as the bridge that unifies both groups.
Khaki said his mosque plans to hold a special prayer this Friday to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting. "Maybe the way forward from here is to come together," he said.