This data was last updated on 14 August 2020.
History: As a teenager, Ahmad turned to the internet for answers on how to navigate being queer while being Muslim. He found numerous chatrooms and discussion forums where people had questions similar to his. He also stumbled across the Al-Fatiha Foundation, a global LGBTQ Muslim group started in Boston in 1997, whose webpage contained many helpful resources. (Al-Fatiha means “the opening.” It is the name of the first chapter of the Qur’an, a chapter which is always recited during each of the daily prayers). Al-Fatiha disbanded circa 2011 for reasons that remain unclear, but its work was pioneering and its existence provided an important precedent. Some members of Al-Fatiha, are still active online and/or as part of a newer national-level LGBTQ Muslim advocacy group, the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, MASGD; a few are directly involved in Queer Muslims of Boston (QMOB), a newer group founded in 2013.
The connections that Ahmad and others have forged on online message boards became the basis for an underground network of Muslim queer activists across the globe, including across North America, Europe, and Asia. For Ahmad, these online forums eventually, amidst much trepidation and anxiety, started to translate into real life meetings. When Ahmad moved to New York City after college, he started a group for queer Muslims on Meetup (Meetup is a website where users can find other people with shared interests and partake in activities together). That same year (2011), the first Retreat for LGBT Muslims & Their Partners was held in Philadelphia, organized by former affiliates of Al-Fatiha and what would later become formalized as MASGD. The retreat became an annual event and continues to serve as an incubator for queer Muslim activists like Ahmad. Every year a diverse cross-section of the queer members of the Muslim community, approximately 100 people, are accepted to attend the retreat, with the organizer prioritizing new attendees. Attendees pay for the retreat themselves, but there are a limited number of scholarships available which prioritize young people, people of color, people travelling from the west coast, and new attendees. Scholarships are paid for through individual donations and sponsors including nonprofits such as Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
While attending the first retreat in 2011, Ahmad met three of his future QMOB co-founders. When Ahmad moved to Boston to start graduate school, he felt the need for an intentional queer Muslim community as a source of grounding. He also realized that, many younger Muslims, queer or otherwise, shared feelings of discomfort in traditional spaces and felt a yearning for something more, something else. The first meeting took place in February of 2013 when five friends (some of whom had originally crossed paths at the 2011 retreat, and some of whom had found each other as undergraduates at a Boston-area liberal arts college) who were coming to terms with life as young adult queer Muslims, gathered together in one of their living rooms. Through the retreat network, online forums, and general word of mouth, more people came to know about QMOB, and the average monthly meeting quickly grew from five to fifteen people. Members of the group started to take on increasingly defined leadership roles, and various tasks were delegated including creating an email account, website, and two Facebook groups, one for the public and one for group members to use internally. QMOB shifted from meeting in people’s homes to meeting in public venues such as church basements and other community centers, as well as hosting interactions through its own social media accounts. While some religious observance such as salat prayer were included in QMOB gathering for those who wished to partake, QMOB was not a ritual space.
In 2014-2015, QMOB was briefly affiliated with the Unity Mosque, a queer-inclusive mosque in Toronto. During that year, several QMOB members held a jummah-like service regularly on Saturdays at a Cambridge community center (jummah is the name of the Friday afternoon Muslim prayer service, which many believe is obligatory for men). The service was held on Saturday instead of Friday in order to accommodate those with work schedules, and included leadership activities (such as sermons) by non-males. This experiment in religious organizing ended when the member who had taken the initiative in connecting QMOB to the Unity Mosque moved away from the Boston area. QMOB’s membership numbers peaked in 2015 in terms of regular monthly meeting attendance, but they remain steady. During Ramadan of 2018 (1439 AH), QMOB celebrated its fifth anniversary with an intimate community gathering in downtown Boston. This event saw the reunion of co-founders and former members, as well as allies and new membership, and marked a milestone and the transition between QMOB’s beginnings and its future
Description: QMOB sees itself as a third space for LGBTQ Muslims that are looking for community and often find themselves out of place in both normative Muslim spaces and popular queer spaces. Anyone who identifies as queer and Muslim (in any way) is welcome to join QMOB and attend the monthly meetings. The monthly meetings vary in structure but usually involve eating food, sharing events and news relevant to the community, a suggested discussion topic, and free-style conversation and socializing. In the last few years the monthly meetings have averaged ten to fifteen people, and there typically are at least two new faces per meeting. Some members attend meetings monthly, others drop by more occasionally, and still others predominantly interact with the group online through the private Facebook group and the email listerv.
Some group members are no longer in the Boston area, but like to stay in touch through the Facebook page - for instance, members of a smaller sister community of queer Muslims in Western Massachusetts are connected to QMOB through the social networking platform. In the past, QMOB has also made exceptions by welcoming non-Muslim LGBTQ members to the monthly meetings on a case-by-case basis. The exception has been made for LGBTQ people who are considering or in the process of converting to Islam and want to establish community and learn more about queer Muslims. QMOB’s public Facebook page has a little over six hundred likes. This page includes both QMOB members and allies and serves as a place to share related news stories and QMOB events that are open to the public. Perhaps most importantly, this Facebook page provides visibility for the organization, allowing people who are new to the Boston area to find out about QMOB. Potential members with no previous connections to queer Muslim networks will typically stumble upon the public Facebook page and then message the page or send an email to learn more about the organization. In order to become a member of QMOB and access the private Facebook page, the prospective member must either know someone connected to QMOB who can vouch for them, or agree to be vetted by a QMOB member, which involves a brief phone interview and a social media check. QMOB’s private Facebook page, as of this writing, has one hundred and thirty-five members.
Aside from the members-only monthly meetings, QMOB periodically hosts larger events that are open to the public, or open to allies and friends of QMOB members, such as Ramadan iftars, self-defense trainings, and movie screenings. Members and non-member allies and friends also frequently get together to socialize in a less formal fashion, such as going to a hookah bar or an Ethiopian restaurant. When events are more open, many QMOB members bring their non-Muslim partners. In order to reach queer Muslims who do not yet know about the group, QMOB often creates a public in addition to a private version of their events, so that the event circulates more widely, and more people contact the page. Only people with verified identities are invited to the private event, and only the private event lists the event location.
Many QMOB members are not fully out to everyone in their lives about their gender or sexual orientation, and QMOB prides itself on protecting the confidentiality of its members and offering a safe space where people can find community without worrying about facing consequences from outside parties. Furthermore, many members wish to live their lives without facing security concerns over Islamophobes and/or homophobes targeting them. The email account, public Facebook, and individuals who have frequently identified themselves with QMOB publicly are frequently contacted by an array of organizations with requests and inquiries. These opportunities are then posted in the private Facebook and people sign up for them if they are interested. In this way QMOB has been represented in a variety of spaces, including Brookline High School’s LGBTQ Day of Dialogue, Boston Spirit magazine, Boston’s Pride Parade, a class at Middlebury College, and Harvard’s annual LGBTQ conference. Requests by non-profits and academics looking to interview and poll queer Muslims are also frequently posted to the private Facebook. QMOB’s leadership is very decentralized. Of the original leaders of QMOB, only Ahmad remains in the Boston area. Currently Ahmad splits administrative duties such as answering emails with two other QMOB members. Many members take the initiative to get involved with QMOB leadership, both internally by organizing social events and externally by representing QMOB at events around the Boston area.
Challenges: Boston is a very student-centric city, and students and young professionals tend to be very transient. This has affected QMOB’s membership and leadership. Students who are members are sometimes less likely to regularly attend monthly meetings, and students frequently leave Boston after a few short years when they are done with their studies. There are several groups similar to QMOB (in the sense of being groups catering to LGBTQ Muslims in some manner) throughout the country, including New York, across California, Texas, and the Washington DC area. The Chicago group, which is affiliated with Masjid al-Rabia, is also gaining prominence.
However, because of privacy concerns and because of the decentralized nature of these groups, there have not been regular established channels of communication, and group membership and activities frequently wax and wane. The Philadelphia retreat remains the most reliable and centralized network of queer Muslim activists in the United States. Not all queer-identified Muslims desire to be affiliated with QMOB, which Ahmad takes less as a challenge and more as an interesting observation, mentioning gay Arab Boston queer communities that seem to be happy on their own path. Ahmad has speculated that this group, consisting to some extent of expatriate Arabs in the Boston area for school or a couple of years of professional experience, are satisfied with the support that exists in their communities and may not find QMOB’s mixed-gender and multi-cultural group, highly informed by its American context, appealing. On a related note, QMOB tends to struggle with queer Muslims who are not students or young professionals, particularly those who are older or financially struggling. There are continued barriers that prevent people from joining QMOB, including concerns with privacy, fear of being outed, internalized homophobia, or even a desire to distance oneself completely from all Muslim spaces because of past trauma or a perceived incongruence between being Muslim and being queer.
Looking Forward: Some QMOB members and allies are interested in starting a mosque in Boston that is aimed towards queer Muslims, much like Masjid Al-Rabia in Chicago which promotes itself as providing “spiritual care for marginalized Muslims,” or like the Unity Mosque in Toronto with which QMOB was briefly affiliated. Some QMOB members envision a mosque just for queer Muslims, while others dream of an integrated space that is not exclusively for queer Muslims but still welcomes them. Others have no interest in this potential project and prefer maintaining the current model of QMOB. QMOB was in the summer of 2018 approached to be featured on a new Netflix news series. *Note: In keeping with the interviewee’s wishes the name Ahmad was used as a pseudonym and identifying characteristics of the other three QMOB co-founders have been left out of this profile.