Muslim LGBT women seek support, brace for Trump presidency

People who are interested in sexual orientation and Muslim issue listen to cofounders of Masjid al-Rabia speech about their activities
People who are interested in sexual orientation and Muslim issue listen to cofounders of Masjid al-Rabia speech about their activities

By Fatemeh Jamalpour

On colorful woven prayer rugs covering the hardwood floor of a church in Lake View on Friday, 10 Muslim women observed the weekly or jummah prayer.

But these weren’t just any Muslim women. They are members of Masjid al-Rabia, established two years ago to provide a sanctuary for LGBT Muslim women who have not found welcoming environments in established mosque communities in Chicago.

“We support our own community and find resources because we have so much going against us,” said Mahdia Lynn, 29, a professional chef and freelance writer, the co-founder of Masjid al-Rabia.

Mahdia Lynn and Zainab Shahar speak about Majid al-Rabia at Women and Children First bookstore
Mahdia Lynn and Zaynab Shahar speak about Majid al-Rabia at Women & Children First bookstore on Jan. 11 (Fatemeh Jamalpour/MEDILL)

The jummah prayer last week in Lake View wasn’t on just any Friday. It was Inauguration Day, when Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. During his campaign, Trump made numerous references to Muslims that struck many as antagonistic, causing them as well as members of other minority groups to anticipate his presidency with anxiety.

Lacking backing from other LGBT groups in the Chicago area, Lynn and Zaynab Shahar, the other co-founder of Masjid al-Rabia that provides an inclusive place for worship and community for Muslim LGBT women. While the group does not have a permanent mosque structure, Lynn and Shahar refer to it as a mosque, or masjid.

In addition to offering Friday prayers, the group also holds open events where members and supporters can talk about relevant issues. About 10 non-Muslim women also attended the jummah prayer last week.

“We are working to build infrastructure for pastoral care for people who need it,” Lynn said.

Katrina Daly, 41, a professor of African cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin who attended Friday’s prayer session to observe and continue her research on the group, takes a dim view of how related Trump policies may evolve.

“He is going to discriminate against Muslims, transgender people, gays and lesbians, and he said he may take away people’s right to marry,” Daly said. “So I think we should be worried, and people should fight for their rights.”

Zohra Syed, 27, a member of Masjid al-Rabia who works as a student services coordinator, said: “I am not hopeful that Trump will do anything positive for any of the identities I have as a female LGBT Muslim. I don’t have a lot of faith in him right now. This is unfortunate.”

In his inaugural speech, Trump did not mention sexual orientation, and he vowed to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

But Trump did say that “whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.” He added, “So to all Americans … hear these words: You will never be ignored again.”

Some Muslims think Trump should not only treat them fairly but also assist their community. “In terms of the larger [Muslim] community, I think our primary focus is to want the president to provide us a safer space,” said Shahar, 26, a Ph.D. candidate at the Chicago Theological Seminary.

Among Masjid al-Rabia’s members are also Muslim women who are straight. Caitlin Helinski, 22, an early childhood education teacher who led the Friday prayer, said, “I really do think there are some dark times ahead of us, especially with Trump’s presidency.”

Amid such painful uncertainty, its members see Masjid al-Rabia as a source of optimism and hope.

“I love to come to a space where I feel totally included as woman, as a bisexual person,” Shahar said.

Photo at top: People who are interested in sexual orientation and Muslim issues listen to co-founders of Masjid al-Rabia speech about their activities. (Fatemeh Jamalpour/MEDILL)