Muslims on the Margins: Creating Queer Religious Community in North America 1479814350, 9781479814350

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Table of contents :
Preface: Commenting in and from the Margins
1 The Opening
2 Feeling Like a Community
3 A Prayer for Every Body
4 Queer Muslim Talk
5 No Longer Just Muslim
6 Skin in the Game
Coda: This Is the Islam of the Future
About the Author
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Muslims on the Margins

N ort h A m e ri c a n Re l i g i on s

Series Editors: Tracy Fessenden (Arizona State University), Laura Levitt (Temple University), and David Harrington Watt (Haverford College) Since its inception, the North American Religions book series has steadily disseminated gracefully written, pathbreaking explorations of religion in North America. Books in the series move among the discourses of ethnographic, textual, and historical analysis and across a range of topics, including sound, story, food, nature, healing, crime, and pilgrimage. In so doing they bring religion into view as a style and form of belonging, a set of tools for living with and in relations of power, a mode of cultural production and reproduction, and a vast repertory of the imagination. Whatever their focus, books in the series remain attentive to the shifting and contingent ways in which religious phenomena are named, organized, and contested. They bring fluency in the best of contemporary theoretical and historical scholarship to bear on the study of religion in North America. The series focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on religion in the United States in the twentieth and twenty-­first centuries.

Books in the series Ava Chamberlain, The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle: Marriage, Murder, and Madness in the Family of Jonathan Edwards Terry Rey and Alex Stepick, Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith: Haitian Religion in Miami Isaac Weiner, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism

and African American Children’s Literature Annie Blazer, Playing for God: Evangelical Women and the Unintended Consequences of Sports Ministry Elizabeth Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions Kerry Mitchell, Spirituality and the State: Managing Nature and Experience in America’s National Parks

Hillary Kaell, Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Finbarr Curtis, The Production of Land Pilgrimage American Religious Freedom Brett Hendrickson, Border Medicine: M. Cooper Harriss, Ralph Ellison’s A Transcultural History of Mexican Invisible Theology American Curanderismo Ari Y. Kelman, Shout to the Lord: Jodi Eichler-­Levine, Suffer the Little Making Worship Music in Evangelical Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish America

Joshua Dubler and Isaac Weiner, Religion, Law, USA Shari Rabin, Jews on the Frontier: Religion and Mobility in Nineteenth-­ Century America

Philippa Koch, The Course of God’s Providence: Religion, Health, and the Body in Early America

Jennifer Scheper Hughes, The Church of the Dead: The Epidemic of 1576 and the Birth of Christianity in the Elizabeth Fenton, Old Canaan in a New World: Native Americans and the Americas Lost Tribes of Israel Tisa Wenger and Sylvester A. Johnson, Alyssa Maldonado-­Estrada, Lifeblood Religion and US Empire: Critical New of the Parish: Masculinity and Catholic Histories Devotion in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Caleb Iyer Elfenbein, Fear in Our Hearts: What Islamophobia Tells Us about America Rachel B. Gross, Beyond the Synagogue: Jewish Nostalgia as Religious Practice Jenna Supp-­Montgomerie, When the Medium Was the Mission: The Religious Origins of Network Culture

Deborah Dash Moore, Vernacular Religion: Collected Essays of Leonard Primiano

Katrina Daly Thompson, Muslims on the Margins: Creating Queer Religious Community in North America

Muslims on the Margins Creating Queer Religious Community in North America

Katrina Daly Thompson


N EW YOR K U N I V ER SI T Y PR E S S New York www​.­nyupress​.­org © 2023 by New York University All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Thompson, Katrina Daly, 1975– author. Title: Muslims on the margins : creating queer religious community in North   America / Katrina Daly Thompson. Description: New York: New York University Press, 2023. | Series: North   American religions | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2022027521 | ISBN 9781479814329 (hardback) |   ISBN 9781479814350 (paperback) | ISBN 9781479814367 (ebook) |   ISBN 9781479814374 (ebook other) Subjects: LCSH: Muslim gays—North America—Social conditions. | Muslim   gays—Social conditions. | Muslims—North America—Social conditions. |   Muslims—Non-Islamic countries—Social conditions. Classification: LCC BP67.A3 G398 2023 | DDC 305.6/97—dc23/eng/20220622 LC record available at New York University Press books are printed on acid-­free paper, and their binding materials are chosen for strength and durability. We strive to use environmentally responsible suppliers and materials to the greatest extent possible in publishing our books. Manufactured in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Also available as an ebook

In memory of radical fighters, artists, and lovers Jack Fertig, Anila Muhammad, and Sabine es Schwarz To God we belong, and to God is our return.

There is no one kind of Islam or just one type of Queer Muslim future. There are many kinds of legacies that storytellers will invoke in the future. . . . A futurism that is inclusive is inherently queer. The movement to a queer future that honors stories is inspired by radical fighters, artists, and lovers. —­The Queer Muslim Collective, “The Queer Muslim.” www​.­thequeermuslim​.­com


Glossary Preface: Commenting in and from the Margins 1. The Opening

xiii xv 1

2. Feeling Like a Community


3. A Prayer for Every Body


4. Queer Muslim Talk


5. No Longer Just Muslim


6. Skin in the Game


Coda: This Is the Islam of the Future








About the Author




adhan, azan call to prayer Amin Amen; may it be so Asalaam aleikum Peace be upon you ‘awrah nakedness aya, ayat verse, sign daw’ah an invitation to Islam du’a personal petition to God, prayer Eid holiday, e.g., Eid al-­Adha or Eid Al-­Fitr Fatiha intercessionary prayer using the opening chapter in the Qur’an, Sura-­al-­Fatiha fitna temptation, chaos, social disorder ghusl full-­body ritual purification with water halaqa study circle haram forbidden imam prayer leader; when capitalized, an honorific InshAllah God willing iqama second call to prayer Juma Friday prayers khatib sermon-­giver khutba, khutbah sermon masjid mosque muezzin the one who performs the call to prayer


xiv | Glossary

namaz ritual prayer, salat nikah Islamic marriage ceremony niyya intention rak’ah a unit of prayer in salat sajda prostration during ritual prayer Salaam a greeting of peace (short for Asalaam aleikum) salat, salah ritual prayer, namaz shahada the declaration of faith to officially become a Muslim Shaytan Satan, devil tafsir interpretation and commentary, usually on the Qur’an tajweed rules of Qur’anic recitation tawhid unity, oneness of God tayammum dry ablution, ritual purification using dust or sand before prayer umma community, especially the global community of Muslims wudu ablution, ritual purification with water before prayer zikr in the abstract, the meditative recitation of God’s names; as a count noun, an event where such recitation is performed communally

Preface Commenting in and from the Margins Beneath or beyond the absolutism, Islam has always been home to misfits, freaks, rebels, and queers. —­Michael Muhammad Knight, Tripping with Allah (Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2013)

In two Facebook groups that I have belonged to for many years, one affiliated with Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) and the other with the El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque in Toronto (ETJC), I asked recently if anyone ever writes in their Qur’an. The first person who responded—­a man with a Turkish surname who lived in Switzerland—­ seemed a bit shocked by my question. He viewed writing in the Qur’an as being deliberately unconventional for its own sake rather than for a purpose. But several others responded affirmatively, with a range of examples and diverse motivations. My interlocutors’ answers revealed the long-­lasting effects of the different communities in which they had been socialized. Three who were raised Muslim explained that they were encouraged to write in the Qur’an. While memorizing the entire Qur’an as a teen boy in a mainly Bengali mosque in the midwestern United States, Ameera (she/her), now a trans and queer woman, was taught to write in the Qur’an to identify pronunciation mistakes and to take note of words that were difficult to remember. Ziya (she/her), a Malaysian lesbian in Singapore, was also encouraged to make notes in her Qur’an while she learned tajweed, the rules of Qur’anic recitation. But those who converted to Islam as adults, like Kelly (she/her), a white-­identifying, cisgender, pansexual woman, and a leader of the Atlanta Unity Mosque, learned different norms. Kelly grew up Christian, as she posted, “in a world of ‘write in your holy books as you study them,’ ” so she continued to do so. But, despite describing xv

xvi | Preface

herself as rebellious in many contexts, she only wrote in translations “out of respect for how people view the text”—­a reference to the widespread Muslim belief that the Arabic Qur’an deserves more reverence than its translations. Others viewed taking a pen to the Qur’an as a necessary form of critique. Shahra (she/her), a cisgender, heterosexual feminist of Southeast Asian ancestry who lived in eastern Canada, said that when she reads a version of verse 4:34 that suggests Allah tolerates domestic violence—­as many translations do—­she crosses it out and writes in her preferred reading, that of female Sufi translator Laleh Bakhtiar.1 In another post, group members discussed Muslim novelist and religious studies scholar Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel The Taqwacores. In the book, Rabeya, who wears a burqa covered in punk patches, simply crosses out that entire ayat (verse) with a black marker—­both in the original Arabic and an English translation. She tells the narrator, “That ayat advises men to beat their wives. What did I need it for?”2 Although fictional, Rabeya represents an extreme among the Muslims I know—­several members of the MPV online group referred to her actions as too “edgy.” The Muslims I know rarely deemed anything “outside the bounds” of Islam, but some views and actions did come close to that edge. Varied attitudes toward writing in one’s Qur’an are just one example of the ideological diversity displayed in the talk and texts of the misfits, rebels, and queers I call Muslim nonconformists. The very fact that they still find the Qur’an an important touchpoint illustrates that, however “edgy” some Muslims are, they are Muslims, engaged with the Islamic discursive tradition.3 While some might be considered “secular” or “cultural” Muslims,4 most of those you meet in this book considered themselves religious, even if they sometimes engaged with Islam in unconventional ways. In a text, the margin describes the “space on a page . . . between its extreme edge and the main body of written or printed matter,” a space where some readers take notes on pronunciation, grammar, meanings, or critiques.5 The Qur’an refers to Muslims as a “people of the Book.” As an extended metaphor, “the Book” represents the umma itself, the global community of Muslims. As an imagined community, the umma has always been marked by divisions between interpretations of Islam

Preface | xvii

dominant at a given moment in time (the main “text”) and commentary from the margins.6 To take the metaphor further, we can see many similarities between the social treatment of marginalized Muslims and the scholarly treatment of marginalia in the Islamic tradition. The margins are a space where people create new texts and intertextual commentary. As historian Susana Lliteras has recently argued, such marginalia have been understudied, undervalued, and even disregarded, especially in Arabic texts produced outside the Middle East. Yet marginalia offer historians rich evidence about the social world in which texts circulated: how people indicated (or claimed) they had read a book, corrected or commented on it, or even left notes unrelated to the main text.7 In the same way, paying attention to how Muslims on the margins talk about the Qur’an, other Islamic texts, and Islam itself, as well as how they practice Islam, offers valuable information about lived religion. But within lived religion, the division between the center and the margins is not as stark as the visual image of a page of print might imply. I met Trina (she/her), an African American convert and a lesbian, in 2016 at Friday prayers with the nonconformist group she ran with Kelly in Atlanta. Over a late lunch at a café in the same building where the group rented space for Friday prayers, Trina told me that she saw the task of Muslims as helping “our margins get wider” and “our edges grow.” People like Trina made room for future alternative interpretations to arise on the margins while not erasing earlier ones.

Lived Marginalization Marginalization is but one component of being on the margins,8 and it takes various forms in Muslim spaces and discourse communities. As interfaith activist Hind Makki’s crowdsourced photo documentary project Side Entrance has shown so clearly, women often have limited access to mosques or are relegated to inferior spaces where we cannot see or hear the imam well. Mosque leaders often exclude women who do not wear hijab from speaking at religious events. Many mosques do not allow women to lead prayer, give sermons to mixed-­gender congregations, or, in some cases, hold mosque leadership positions.9 Shi‘a men may be barred from leading prayer in

xviii | Preface

Sunni-­majority mosques, recordings of anti-­Shi‘a sermons proliferate on the internet, and books of anti-­Shi‘a propaganda are widely available in Sunni-­majority settings. Ahmadis, Ismailis, Sufis, and members of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple are often treated as non-­Muslims altogether.10 Muslims with limited Arabic proficiency often feel excluded at events where speakers use Arabic without translation into local languages.11 African American Muslims are often presumed to be converts or are otherwise victims of anti-­Blackness.12 Muslims with disabilities find some mosques physically inaccessible.13 Although less well-­documented, nonbinary Muslims may not have a space to pray at all because of gender segregation. Trans Muslims may be misgendered and told to pray in the wrong area, refused entry to mosques, or denied Islamic funeral rites. Some imams give homophobic sermons that harm LGBTQ+ mosque-­ goers directly and indirectly. Conscious of the multiple forms that marginalization takes within the umma, the Muslim groups in which I conducted research strived to include all. The nonconformist religious and social practices I describe in this book often took playful, pleasurable forms, including a great deal of joking, laughter, and mischievous juxtapositions of sacred and secular texts. The Pride parade in which I marched with MPV–­Los Angeles in West Hollywood in 2018 was an apt example of such pleasures. Walking down Santa Monica Boulevard, Muslim queers and those in solidarity with us upended stereotypes about Muslims through short shorts, pink turbans, and pun-­filled signs that read things like “Hummus Sexual” and “This LGBT Muslim will bake a cake for your gay wedding.” I wore a T-­shirt that read, “This is what a radical Muslim feminist look like,” as I reveled with my friends in the margins. The margin can be a political or spiritually fulfilling space, even a pleasurable one. That the margins have always existed is evident in the marginalized histories in which some nonconformist Muslims seek role models. The title of Toronto-­based queer Muslim writer Samra Habib’s recent memoir, We Have Always Been Here, exemplifies this approach, suggesting that LGBTQ+ Muslims are nothing new and thus should be more accepted by their co-­religionists.14 In the recently released first issue of Queer Muslim Futures, a zine produced by the India-­based Queer Muslim collective,15 the authors wrote about their goal of recovering “the

Preface | xix

stories of Queer Muslims” that have been “blurred, forgotten, [and] dimmed by ages of censorship.” Indeed, they concluded, “The potential of our future rests on them.”16 But Laury Silvers (she/her), a Muslim convert, historian of Islam, and cofounder of the El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque, cautions Muslims not to romanticize the margins. During a conversation at her home in Toronto in June 2019, the retired professor–­turned-­novelist told me, There was always space for [gay] people, but . . . it’s not like that space was a nice space. . . . It was better than some other spaces. It’s like people post this stuff on Facebook: ‘Oh look, there’s these Ottoman lovers.’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, but you know what? . . . People around them didn’t think good things about them.’ That’s nice that they were able to make this very marginal space for themselves. But, you know, they weren’t thought well of. . . . So there’s this hidden queer history, but it’s also marginalized history as well.

Although speaking of Muslim history, Laury’s caveat suggests that in the contemporary umma, too, acknowledging that LGBTQ+ and other marginalized Muslims exist is necessary but insufficient. Previous research on Muslims on the margins has left unexplored the complex dynamics of doing inclusivity, of creating queer futures together. How do Muslims on the margins acquire the means to challenge norms they find oppressive? How do those involved in nonconformist groups contribute to the making of an inclusive community? What have been their successes and their failures? It takes extraordinary effort to make the margins a safe space. This book explores precisely that effort.

Shukran Gratitude is a central aspect of Islam,17 and I have much for which to be grateful. Many friends—­Muslims, scholars, and a few who fall into both categories—­have assisted with this project. I remain indebted to the many participants in nonconformist groups who welcomed me to pray with them, join their discussions, and record their interactions, as well as to those who spent additional time in interviews with me. I especially thank those who arranged my access to various groups or welcomed

xx | Preface

me to their gatherings: Ani Zonneveld, El-­Farouk Khaki, Troy Jackson, Kelly Wentworth, Trina Jackson, Ahmed Karrar, Kevin Mogg, Frank Parmir, Jean Parmir, Shehnaz Haqqani, and Zahra Khan. Many others deserve thanks but asked me not to use their real names. At UW-­Madison, Jo Ellen Fair supported this project from its very beginning. Venkat Mani offered valuable feedback and encouragement on an early grant proposal, and Emily Callaci shared a grant proposal with me that proved a useful model. Jordan Rosenblum, Susan Ridgely, Jon Pollack, Jacqueline-­Bethel Mougoue, Laila Amine, Zhe Gigi Ann, Nina Clements, and Vlad Dima commented on portions of the manuscript. I thank them for being generous with their time and offering such kind, insightful feedback. Several scholars helped with aspects of the project when they were still graduate students, including Kazeem Sanuth, Sara Farsiu, and Kathryn Mara. I could not have done this work without them. A number of friends and colleagues elsewhere have also pushed this project forward. Khaled Abou El Fadl and Omid Safi read an early proposal and helped me seek funding to begin the ethnographic research. Kira Hall read drafts of several early chapters and offered helpful feedback. Rusty Barrett, Rudi Gaudio, and Kecia Ali wrote letters of support that helped me secure funding. Anna Piela read and provided helpful comments on several chapters. Susan Wardell and Casey Golomski lent me their poetic expertise as I drafted the coda. Adi Bharat, Inmaculada Garcia, Bernie Perley, Kate Riley, and Zane Goebel have all commented on other work-­in-­progress that does not appear in this book but draws on the same set of ethnographic materials; their comments “on the margins” of this book proved helpful to my thinking as I wrote the main text. For more than a decade, Sarah Cypher has been an excellent editor, sounding board, and cheerleader. Jennifer Hammer and Veronica Knutson have been exceptional editors at NYU Press. I am grateful to the North American Religions series editors, Tracy Fessenden, Laura Levitt, and David Watt, who saw value in this project and cheered me on throughout the writing and revision process, and to Kristian Petersen, who introduced me to them. Many of these individuals I have yet to meet in person—­more proof that online relationships are very real, as the participants in my research also taught me.

Preface | xxi

I presented various parts of this project at the University of Wisconsin-­Madison, the University of Kentucky, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Michigan, the American Academy of Religion meeting, several American Anthropological Association meetings, and Mipsterz’s Muslim Futurism conference. I received helpful feedback at all of them. I am especially grateful to Katherine Spellman Poots, whose comments on the coda I presented at the Mipsterz event were incredibly fruitful. Generous research support came from several Second Language Acquisition Summer Research Partnerships, a Vilas Life Cycle Award, a Vilas Associates Award, and an Institute for Research in the Humanities “Next Book” Award at UW-­Madison, as well as a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend. Parts of chapters 3, 4, and 5 were published previously in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, American Anthropologist, and Language & Communication, respectively. I am grateful for permission to reprint those portions and to Deborah Thomas and several anonymous journal reviewers for feedback. Laury Silvers and amina wadud both commented on some of those articles after they came out, and their comments and encouragement have proved helpful in rethinking them for the book. Finally, I thank my spouse, Tony Luebbert, for endlessly listening to me talk about this project for so many years, traveling with me for fieldwork, reading drafts, and taking care of our children while I was traveling and writing.


The Opening Open my book and read your future —­Bänoo Zan, from the poem “Hafez,” Braided Way ­Magazine, July 29, 2017, http:​//­braidedway​.­org

Chapter 16, verse 98 in the Qur’an tells Muslims, َّ ِ‫فَإِذا قَ َرأتَ القُرآنَ فَاستَ ِعذ ب‬ ‫َّجيم‬ ِ ‫يطان الر‬ ِ ‫اللِ ِمنَ ال َّش‬

Since most Muslims outside of the Arab world cannot read Arabic script, many translations of the Qur’an offer a transliteration in Roman script. In one translation popular in North America, Muhammad Asad transliterates this verse as, fa-­ʾidhā qaraʾta l-­qurʿāna fa-­staʿidh bi-­llāhi mina sh-­shayṭāni r-­rajīm

and translates, “When you recite the Qurʾan, seek the protection of Allah against the outcast Satan.”1 Even if they do not understand Arabic, many Muslims worldwide follow this command. Before they recite the Qur’an in ritual prayers and sometimes before other activities, they intone, “A-­udhu bil-­lahi min-­ash shaytan-­ir rajeem.”2 Each time I attended the El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque’s Friday prayers, whether in person in Toronto or online through Skype, Facebook, or Zoom, the person who gave the sermon, known by the Arabic word khatib, began with those same Arabic words. Along with many other traditional elements in its Friday prayers, this tradition indexed the mosque’s claim to a legitimate Islamic identity.3 But this was no ordinary mosque. Founded in 2009 by two gay men, El-­Farouk Khaki (he/him) and his husband, Troy Jackson, and their cisgender, heterosexual friend Laury Silvers (she/her), El-­Tawhid was a mosque 1

2 | The Opening

where “everyone can come” without judgment, as El-­Farouk told me: Muslims and non-­Muslims, born Muslims and converts, hijabis and non-­hijabis, queers and straight folks, and people of all denominations, ages, genders, racialized identities, and abilities. Unlike most mosques, where only men lead prayer or give sermons, anyone could take up one of these authoritative positions at El-­Tawhid. El-­Tawhid’s leaders were also involved in teaching other nonconformists how to launch and run LGBTQ-­affirming mosques. Several throughout the United States and Canada have borrowed the name “Unity Mosque” from them and adopted aspects of their model. When someone signed up to be the khatib at El-­Tawhid, El-­Farouk gave them a document called “Unity Mosque Khutba (sermon) template.” The template included transliterated Arabic and English translations of the opening words that traditionally precede the first and second parts of an Islamic sermon. There was a gap in the middle where the khatib could insert their own text, followed by the closing words, again in transliterated Arabic and an English translation. But the template was a living document, having undergone numerous changes over the fourteen years since the mosque began, changes that also evinced shared authority. For some time, the Arabic line “A-­u dhu bil-­lahi min-­ash shaytan-­ir rajeem” was followed by this English translation: “I take refuge with Allah from the outcast rebellious one.” Evidently, some congregants were uncomfortable with the concept of Shaytan or Satan. The use of an English translation at all is another way that El-­Tawhid differs from many other mosques, where it is often assumed that congregants know such ritualized expressions in Arabic.4 In January 2015, Kaila (she/her), a Euro-­American convert in Montreal who participated in the mosque’s Facebook group and, using Skype, in Friday prayers, posted a critique of this translation. She argued that it left out the vital context that Muslims take refuge from Shaytan because he rebelled against God and was outcast by God. Without that context, Kaila argued, the translation suggested that being outcast or rebellious was negative in and of itself—­ironic, she added, since most Muslims in this community could be considered rebellious or outcasts, at least sometimes. For people unfamiliar with Arabic, Kaila argued, this translation could come across as if congregants seek refuge from those who

The Opening | 3

are outcasts and rebellious. Wrapping up her lengthy post, she offered several alternative translations for the group to consider. Kaila’s post led to an extended conversation that exemplifies a modern form of communal tafsir, or Qur’anic commentary. Seventy comments followed her initial post. Most of them came soon after she posted it, but some group members continued to respond even four years later. When one person pointed out that the final word in the Arabic verse is ‫َّجيم‬ ِ ‫الر‬, which literally means “stoned (to death),” a mosque leader rejected this translation. In some parts of the world, people are stoned to death, he reminded them. On a lighter note, he added: others in the congregation might understand “stoned” differently, as high on drugs. Justice (he/him), a white-­identifying trans convert in Michigan who was an active member of the mosque’s online group and a regular participant in its Skyped Friday prayers, proposed another translation of the whole verse. He explained his choice in terms of anti-­racism: “Satan, who rebelled against God and was cast out by God”? I do appreciate the reference to arrogance/pride. I feel that it is important to keep the name “Satan” since it is used as a name in the original text. I also feel a connection to the concept of God casting Satan out. I feel as though Satan was the first racist, his racism being based on excessive pride. It is impactful to me that this deep sin, which causes so much hurt in the world today, was the reason for being cast out from among the angels.

Tashaun (he/him), a Black convert in Canada and a gay man, responded that he thought Muslims focus too much on Shaytan, and therefore he preferred to leave out the reference. Still, he did not mind including it as an option for khatibs who chose to use it. With input from the many congregants who commented, mosque leaders agreed to change their translation. It became, “I seek refuge in Allah from (Satan/ Shaytan) the one whose arrogance pulls us away from the truth.” As the parenthetical reference to Satan indicated, it was left to individual khatibs to decide if they were comfortable mentioning Shaytan or not. *** While the discussion Kaila started was explicitly about the Islamic discursive tradition, questions of translation intersected with commentary

4 | The Opening

on the mosque community itself and participants’ collaborative, social construction of dispersed authority. As a linguistic anthropologist, I was interested in the degree of metalanguage this online discussion fostered as the community assessed its past language use. They also reinforced their shared values of using language inclusively and engaging in respectful, collaborative dialog. In addition to responding to each other and evaluating one another’s suggested translations and explanations for their preferences, many participants offered assessments of the discussion itself. A number of participants thanked Kaila for raising the issue. Several others evaluated the whole conversation as “very good,” “great,” “lovely,” or “fascinating.” A mosque leader wrote that the conversation inspired the khutbah (sermon) that week about avoiding harmful language. On that theme, Jules (she/her), an African American lesbian convert in New York who sometimes participated in the mosque’s Friday prayers via Skype, posted a concise summary of the thread a year after it started: “Word sound have power,” a reference to a Bob Marley album. Participants used their communal tafsir not as an intellectual exercise but to shape future discourse at Friday prayers to come. One mosque leader explicitly connected the conversation to his future hopes for the community: he dreamed El-­Tawhid would someday publish a communal interpretation of and commentary on the Qur’an. He ended with the transliterated Arabic expression InshAllah (God willing), a phrase Muslims and other Arabic speakers use (among other functions) to describe something they hope to do in the future while suggesting that the outcome is out of their own hands. Aside from this online discussion’s content and discursive features, another interesting element was that the initial impetus for Kaila’s intervention went unremarked by almost all the other commenters. Her argument that participants in this community are rebellious or outcasts, at least some of the time, was accepted without remark. It was, I believe, self-­evidently true to group members because of the various marginalized social positions they inhabited. And since Kaila was also involved in a different Canadian Unity Mosque and would later join another LGBTQ-­affirming Muslim Facebook group, Feminist Islamic Thinkers of North America (FITNA), it seems likely that when she said, “this community,” she meant not just El-­Tawhid but the larger community of

The Opening | 5

interlinked LGBTQ-­affirming Muslim groups in various countries and online, to which she and other participants simultaneously belonged. How were members of this community rebellious? In some Muslim communities, merely bringing forward a critique of the mosque’s practices might have been seen that way, especially for a woman and a convert. The comment about being “stoned,” while inexplicit and not necessarily condoning recreational drugs, acknowledged nonjudgmentally that some congregants might use them. However, the other ways in which some might have felt like outcasts from the wider Muslim community did not need to be stated because this was shared knowledge among participants. They knew each other well, as a group that included many converts, queer and trans folks, Black Muslims, people with disabilities, women married to non-­Muslims, and those in solidarity with them. They did not need to be reminded every week at Friday prayers that they were outcasts from other Muslim communities, some even from their own families. And mosque leaders certainly did not want congregants to believe God has cast them permanently out from Islam, since many were finding their way back to Islam after long struggles with self-­acceptance.

Misfits, Rebels, and Queers El-­Tawhid and its Facebook group are just two of the “sites” I explore in this book. This book focuses on contextualized conversations of those I call nonconformist Muslims: Muslims on the margins of the umma who are trying to create an inclusive community through mosques and other face-­to-­face groups in North America as well as through global online groups. Nonconformist is not a term in use in the groups I studied. Individuals I spoke with called themselves inclusive, pluralist, universalist, or no label at all. Among friends, many also used tongue-­in-­cheek terms to describe themselves. For example, Rahim (he/him), an Egyptian Sufi immigrant to New York, wrote in MPV’s Facebook group that he belonged to a tribe of universalist misfits, proud to be an outsider to what he saw as the narrow worlds of other Muslims. William, a white-­identifying American who lived in Brazil, told me, “We’re progressive Muslims. We’re used to being considered heretics and apostates. That’s who we are,” he said,

6 | The Opening

laughing. “We should wear that with pride.” Others called themselves misfits, rebels, unconventional, nonstandard, or lower-­case muslims, or referred to their approach to Islam as messy. As Omid Safi put it, “Most of us find ourselves in the gloriously messy middle where real folks live and breathe.”5 Still, nonconformist captures the spirit of these various labels, all of which somehow index antinormativity.6 This increasingly global community’s efforts to include not only women but also LGBTQ+ Muslims, Shi‘as, Muslims with disabilities, Black Muslims, and others offer insights into the successes and challenges of creating a pluralist religious collective rooted in social justice. This book reveals the crucial role of online and offline conversation in these processes. Not all the nonconformists I met or interacted with in online groups were marginalized, but I argue that all were on the margins of the global Muslim community. People like Azeem (he/him)—­a cisgender South Asian American man, a Sunni, and a native speaker of English who lives in Los Angeles—­were not necessarily marginalized in other Muslim communities. Instead, they entered the margins because of their feminism, views on LGBTQ+ equality, or openness to diverse interpretations and practices. To be marginalized is to be the object of another’s marginalizing actions or discourse. But to enter the margins, for some, was a choice. The space of the margin, bell hooks reminds us, is necessary for people who experience oppression. It can be a “community of resistance”—­not only for the oppressed but for all those who wish to fight oppression.7 This book, Muslims on the Margins, focuses on the formation of this community of resistance at multiple scales. Central to this project is the use of discourse, not only in the sense of talk and texts but as a form of social action. By examining the ways that individual nonconformists talked about their lives and beliefs, and how they used language in conversation and religious ritual, we gain insight into their lived experiences as Muslims on the margins, what role religious and other texts played in their lives, and the future forms of Muslim collectivity they imagined. At another scale, I examine conversations and embodied interaction within nonconformist groups and mosques, which offers another perspective on lived religion. By listening in on sermons, prayers, study circles, and the conversations that happened at the edges of these

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more explicitly religious genres, and observing how participants use and position their bodies in relation to one another, we can see how nonconformist Muslims practiced Islam, as well as how they talked about it and imagined alternative forms it might take. The rich context in which such talk occurs requires a simultaneous examination of how those involved use their bodies, space, clothing, and other material objects within their religious practices and world-­making. While most of the people I interviewed and all of the face-­to-­face groups I examined were in North America, they were interconnected with one another and with Muslims elsewhere through the internet and, sometimes, offline friendships. Looking at interaction created through online connections and sometimes travel reveals how nonconformists related with one another across geographic boundaries. By creating a global community, they spread their unconventional interpretations of Islam beyond North America. Of course, as religious studies scholar Melissa Wilcox reminds us, a worldwide network is not a “community” in the sense of an institution but rather a set of “broadly shared goals, values, and history,”8 perhaps best understood as a social project, not a fixed thing but, as feminist theorist Sara Ahmed explains, ongoing activities whose effects have yet to be fully realized.9 Besides allowing participants to connect outside of religious rituals, online groups also fostered “meta” discussions about the nonconformist Muslim community itself, facilitating the self-­consciousness that is, according to anthropologist Pnina Werbner, crucial to the “birth” of a community.10 While face-­to-­face groups took part in particular “micropractices”11—­uses of language and the body—­individuals often used online conversations to examine, discuss, ratify, modify, critique, or reject group face-­to-­face practices by fostering “metacommunity awareness” through discussions about their own past and future ways of being together.12 Several other scholars have examined what Islamic studies scholar Edward Curtis calls “a global, English-­language virtual umma, a cybercommunity of Muslims.”13 My approach builds on these by analyzing not only online groups or face-­to-­face communities but also the intersections between the two. Throughout the book, I demonstrate how participants in this global community of Muslim nonconformists, both online and off, were engaged in what I call discursive futurism, using language and joint activity

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to create new traditions that would create precedents for a more just collective future. Like other marginalized peoples, nonconformist Muslims worked within what religious studies scholar Elizabeth Pérez calls a “field of possibilities for action.”14 They regularly assessed the relationships among their own beliefs and practices, the “Islamic discursive tradition,”15 and others’ interpretations. The social justice issues with which they were concerned were central to wider Muslim debates about gender, sexuality, authority, and tradition. They also speak to ongoing “diversity and inclusion” work in other progressive religious communities as well as in the scholarly communities of those who study Islam and other religions.16

Discursive Futurism In “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam,” anthropologist Talal Asad famously argued that Islam should be understood as a “discursive tradition.”17 Asad gestured toward the fact that the Islamic “tradition” is not only a thing of the past with which contemporary Muslims interact but also one still developing, still under construction: “An Islamic discursive tradition is simply a tradition of Muslim discourse that addresses itself to conceptions of the Islamic past and future, with reference to a particular Islamic practice in the present.”18 Anthropologists have engaged extensively and fruitfully with the notion of Islam as a discursive tradition, recognizing that traditions are not static.19 Yet the idea that tradition can also play an important role in creating Islamic futures has received less attention. Asad and others who have taken up the concept of discursive tradition see a necessary link between tradition, orthodoxy, and normativity. But even in contexts where Islamic normativity is highly valued, it is not unusual for Muslims to aim for a different future, at least on the individual level. In anthropologist Saba Mahmood’s ethnographic work on the Egyptian piety movement, she demonstrated how women engaged with particular Islamic discourses to bring their future selves in line with their understanding of desired Muslim ways of being.20 While women in her study experienced inner change, those changes resulted in “the tradition’s reproduction.”21 Change was in the direction of alignment with norms. In contrast, for many Muslims in the nonconformist

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groups I researched, their imagined Islamic futures disrupted notions of orthodoxy, correctness, or normativity altogether. But like the women with whom Mahmood conducted research, nonconformists exhibited agency in ways that defied others’ stereotypes of them—­not rejecting Islam but reworking their practice of it to be more inclusive. Both cases demonstrate the multivalency of religious symbols and practices and the complexity of agency. As a counterpart to discursive tradition, discursive futurism allows a deep understanding of the distinctive uses to which nonconformists put the Islamic tradition. Such an approach resonates with anthropologist Mara Leichtman’s “opening up” of Asad’s definition “to include discursive traditions that are not (yet) established historically.” A broad understanding of tradition allows us to examine the “creative (re)working of local cultures and religious practices” and the invention of new traditions.22 For many of those in the nonconformist groups I studied, their envisaged Islamic futures were theologically diverse, inclusive of gender and sexual diversity, and often counter to dominant Islamic and other normativities that pushed them to the margins. Similar to the “queer nuns” in religious studies scholar Melissa Wilcox’s rich ethnography, many nonconformists simultaneously critiqued and reclaimed cultural and religious traditions “in the interest of supporting the lives and political objectives of marginalized groups.”23 They did not abandon the Islamic discursive tradition, but their use of it was future-­oriented. My exploration of discursive futurism among nonconformist Muslims resonates with several other recent projects, including both scholarship and activism; we seem to be in a futuristic turn in Islamic studies. As progressive Muslim scholar of Islam Sa’diyya Shaikh has shown, using Muslim feminism in the present to rethink texts from the past can have radical implications for the future.24 Within the activist realm, an example is the recent launch of the Muslim Abolitionist Futures project, a coalition of US-­based organizations committed to ending the war on terror.25 Another example is Alhamdu: Muslim Futurism, launched by Mipsterz, “a nonprofit arts and culture collaborative focused on curating, enabling, and amplifying Muslim creative voices.” While I learned of Mipsterz only as my research for this book was wrapping up, their work has much in common with the nonconformist groups I studied, and even some overlapping participants. When they announced their

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January 2022 conference, Mipsterz launched its Muslim futurism project with these words: “We submit to you a joyous, vibrant vision of liberation. A future where our dignity, flourishing, and imaginations as Muslims are actualized. We dream of worlds and communities where we exist boldly, proudly, and unapologetically. It is precisely for this beautiful future that we pray.” Like many of the nonconformist Muslims who took part in my research, Mipsterz envisions “a joyous Muslim future” through resistance against various forms of oppression, including “anti-­Black racism, I­ slamophobia/xenophobia, orientalism, homo-­trans phobias, sexism, ableism, settler colonialism, nationalism, imperialism, militarism, supremacy-­nativism, and everything in between.”26 While the vision Mipsterz offers is more utopian than the ordinary references to the future I found in conversations with Muslims involved in nonconformist groups, in both cases we see a concern with creating more inclusive and more just futures. Through ethnographic observation and analysis of such situated discourse, this book aims to show not only how artists and activists envision such futures but how “ordinary” Muslims actively create them in the present.

Discourse-­Centered Ethnography Although “discourse” is a widely used term in Islamic studies, a discourse-­centered ethnographic approach differs from Asad’s and many other anthropologists of religion by examining contextualized language use through linguistic anthropological frameworks.27 Most scholars in Islamic studies have approached “discourse” as a “way of signifying experience from a particular perspective,” in this case, a category for designating particular ways of representing Islam or Muslims, rather than the contextualized talk of Muslims.28 A discourse-­centered approach has much in common with what historical anthropologist Zareena Grewal and other scholars have called a “discursive approach.” Like Grewal, I do not take people’s claims about themselves at face value.29 Both approaches view language as performative, that is, having real effects on the world. Both examine how people speak about themselves and others as part of their “self-­presentation and identity building” practices.30 Words and silence can have real effects. Nonconformist ideas about how language should be used, like the

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Muslim claims to “orthodoxy” that Grewal examined, were often really claims about who belonged. But recent work in religious studies, such as Elizabeth Pérez’s ethnography of Santeria practitioners, calls for greater attention to “casual conversation—­the lifeblood of social relations” within the analysis of religious utterances.31 Like performance ethnographer Su’ad Abdul Kabeer in her analysis of Black Muslim sociality,32 I respond to this call by shifting from a broad discursive approach to a specifically linguistic anthropology of Islam. This means examining not just Muslim talk, texts, and the relationship between words and the world, but also paying close attention to the social interaction in which talk takes place and through which texts are produced and used. Through detailed analysis of language use, dialog, and bodily action in social context, we can better understand how individuals and groups define themselves and others, socialize one another into group norms, establish community together, and create boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. We are all engaged in discourse, not just under its power. “Islamic discourse” is not just “the foundational texts, shared symbols, legal decisions, and style of argumentation through which Muslims collectively enact their religious identity,” and “discursive agency” is not only the property of those “who exert power by invoking a discourse,” like “religious functionaries.”33 While not denying religious authorities’ power, I view ordinary Muslims as also having discursive agency. Even Muslims on the margins use language and other semiotic resources to enact their identities as particular types of Muslims, differentiate themselves from others, and imagine new forms of Muslim community. Three sets of questions animate this book, and I explore each of them through the lens of discourse. First, what does it means to be a nonconformist Muslim? I approach this question by examining how Muslims in the groups I researched practiced Islam, engaged with Islamic and other texts, created community, and imagined Islamic futures. Nonconformist Muslims’ choices about labeling themselves often depended on the social setting, audience, or purpose of their talk. Language is a resource to negotiate a sense of belonging to the broader umma and in local groups. Pushing back against exclusivist discourses of national origin, language proficiency, denomination, sexuality, gender, and racialized identities, nonconformists used various tactics to position themselves as authentic

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members of the umma and distinct from other Muslims in particular ways.34 As nonconformist Muslims engaged in individual and collective self-­definition, they developed and debated different terms to categorize themselves and others. They defined their community as rooted in both tradition and in affective connections, and as continuously evolving. Understanding what it means to be a nonconformist also requires determining what norms and expectations people needed to learn in order to join a nonconformist Muslim group—­whether online or face-­ to-­face—­and become legitimate participants. For those who grew up Muslim, what behaviors or speech patterns did they “unlearn” when they moved from other Muslim communities to one on the margins or, for some, continuously moved between them? Their learning and unlearning reveal varying perspectives on identity, diversity, and inclusion—­ questions that are important to religious communities and religious studies scholars alike.35 Thus, the second question is how nonconformists learned and taught one another these new norms. New ritual formats and, more broadly, new approaches to Islam required learning, a process I examine as a form of language socialization—­both learning through language and learning to use language in new ways.36 Newcomers to Muslim groups on the margins acquired and negotiated shared understandings through conversation and embodied practices. Like the Santeria practitioners Peréz described, nonconformists developed new ways of using language as they engaged in activity together.37 I examine their learning in naturally occurring talk during religious rituals and their narratives about how they learned what community felt like. Building on the valuable work of linguistic anthropologists Adele Fader and Sarah Benor, who both wrote about adult language socialization in different US Jewish communities,38 I show how the “queer adjustments” to religious practice and discourse that took place in nonconformist Muslim spaces required active learning on the part of newcomers. Such learning was both embodied and discursive, implicit and explicit.39 Socialization did not always result in cultural continuity but sometimes disagreements and new possibilities. In engaging with one another, participants in the groups I studied were also involved in the intentional making of spaces of belonging for those who felt they did not belong in other Muslim communities. Thus,

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the third question I address is how language helps nonconformists “do” togetherness amid difference.40 Many of the Muslims I discuss in this book joined nonconformist groups because they sought a feeling of belonging—­not to “a homogeneous society,” as political scientist Olivier Roy claims of other Muslim subgroups, but instead to one that celebrated their nonconformity and heterogeneity—­in short, their queerness.41 Participants in this subcommunity continuously pushed one another toward new ways of being together, sometimes through explicit instruction and critique, other times by modeling desired ways of using language, and sometimes, necessarily, by excluding those who refused to follow group norms. Even as nonconformists destabilized some Islamic “norms and normativity via antinormative practice,” they also negotiated their own group normativities and future norms through local interactions, narrative practices, and language socialization.42 As a member of the nonconformist community I describe in this book, I am hopeful about its future. Still, I have tried to not let hope cloud my analysis. Creating an inclusive community, especially one with a global reach, is undeniably a fragmented, bumpy process. Thus I attend to power dynamics, including fissures, tensions, and fights over what nonconformist interpretations and practices should look like. As nonconformists made claims and challenges to authority, they revealed evolving arguments about power, embodiment, gender, and sexuality at the center of contemporary discussions about North American religion and a globalized Islam.

Defining Nonconformists I use the label nonconformist to refer to Muslims who have two things in common. First, they share identities, interpretations, or practices of Islam that are different from those of more widely understood Muslim communities in various ways. Second, they share a social justice orientation focused on valuing and incorporating others who exhibit such differences, including queers. These are contemporary descendants of earlier North American “progressive Muslims” who were active around the turn of the twenty-­first century.43 But nonconformists are even further toward the edge of Islam’s margins than earlier “progressive Muslims,” in large part because their inclusion of LGBTQ+ Muslims

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marks them as “queer” regardless of their own gender modalities or sexual orientations. Several participants who were involved in earlier progressive Muslim projects shared with me that, despite the pioneering efforts of some scholars and activists, those projects fell short of fully including Muslim queers. For example, Omid Safi’s groundbreaking edited volume on progressive Muslim thinkers and activists included just a single chapter on the topic of homosexuality, written by gay Muslim scholar Scott Kugle.44 As religious studies scholar Laurel Zwissler has convincingly shown for progressive Christian communities, “It is precisely because of their traditional marginalization that active inclusion of LGBTQ people may come to serve as a signifier of less institutionally oriented and more socially progressive forms of religiosity.”45 For Muslims, LGBTQ+ inclusion is not only a signifier, I argue, but also an active force that pushes those involved in nonconformist groups to a marginalized position. While not all nonconformists were “outcasts” themselves, their discourse and actions explicitly centered on the inclusion of those who were. This discursive and embodied work toward inclusion marked them all, at least some of the time, as rebels. But they were not, for the most part, rebelling against Islam. They were rebels within Islam. They wanted to somehow stay within Islam’s tent but expand its boundaries and reimagine its center. Let me say a word about who nonconformist Muslims are not. This community should not be confused with “third-­space” or “unmosqued” Muslim communities, though it shares some features and members with them. In the late 1980s, historian Yvonne Haddad and sociologist Adair Lummis called for more research on increasingly “umosqued” second-­ and third-­generation Muslim Americans, whom they characterized as influenced by Islamic institutions other than mosques and holding a “liberal worldview.”46 The 2011 Pew report on US Muslims found that fewer than half went to the mosque every week, while one-­third went a few times each year, and one-­fifth said they seldom went.47 Yet Middle East studies scholar Sherifa Zuhur points out that the labels mosqued and unmosqued are ideologically laden. Only those who “attend the large mosques in major population centers or belong to large community groups dominated by Islamists” are considered “mosqued.” Like Sufis in Zuhur’s research, others are considered “unmosqued” even if they

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regularly participate in group Islamic rituals.48 For example, the 2011 US Mosque Study report of the Council on American-­Islamic Relations (CAIR) claimed to include “a count of all mosques in America” but defined a mosque as “a Muslim organization that holds Jum’ah Prayers (Friday Prayers), conducts other Islamic activities, and controls the space in which activities are held. This definition excludes places where only Jum’ah Prayers are held, like a hospital, and it excludes organizations that do not control the space that they use.”49 This definition of “mosqued” excludes almost all nonconformist mosques in North America, except for Masjid-­al-­R abia in Chicago, which controls its own space. Yet, in terms of self-­definition, some nonconformists were “mosqued” in ways overlooked by normative understandings of what constitutes a mosque. At El-­Tawhid’s 2016 Eid prayer in Toronto, for example, both the khatib and a congregant argued that “the whole world is a mosque.” Here, they referred to a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad reportedly said, “Wherever you may be, at the time of salah, you may pray, for it [the earth] is all a mosque.”50 Using the word “mosque” in their formal names and referring to the Islamic discursive tradition enabled nonconformist mosques and their members to challenge definitions that excluded them. When “unmosqued” Muslims remain involved in Muslim communities, it has become commonplace to label those communities “third spaces.”51 But the nonconformist groups I studied fit uneasily into this label. More than just “extra-­mosque Muslim enclaves,” as Islamic studies scholar amina wadud has called them,52 Su’ad Abdul Khabeer defines Muslim third spaces as “ecumenical or Muslim intrafaith gatherings.” “The idea of the third space,” she writes, “is gaining prominence in U.S. American Muslim discourse to describe spaces that are neither mosques, which assert a normative spirituality, nor completely secular spaces, which can be devoid of or hostile to religion.”53 Certainly, some nonconformist groups fit this definition. But others functioned as and called themselves “mosques,” adopting some aspects of widely recognized Islamic practices and contesting others. Labeling them “third spaces” or refusing to recognize them as mosques would not accurately capture their relationships to other Muslim communities or forms of authority. Moreover, while many Muslim third spaces may appeal to Muslims who consider themselves “liberal,” from a nonconformist perspective

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they appear comparatively conservative, especially regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion and women’s ritual authority. The most detailed example we have is religious studies scholar Justine Howe’s rich ethnography of Chicago’s Webb Foundation, which her participants identified as a third space. As Howe describes it, Webb’s core membership is heteronormative nuclear families and its central concern is cultivating an American Muslim identity. Webb members share with nonconformists a sense of being marginalized, the goal of enabling debate and disagreement, and a commitment to increasing women’s religious and community authority. Yet Webb members disallow women from leading prayer for “mixed-­ gender” groups, discourage one another from marrying non-­Muslims, and see homosexuality as a “controversial issue” or “hot topic.”54 In the exchanges Howe examines, we see LGBTQ+ Muslims as a conversation topic but not as potential members. Thus, while both third-­space Muslims and nonconformists may consider themselves to be on the margins of Islam, nonconformists’ identities, beliefs, and practices push them even further toward the edge of that margin. Indeed, as Howe aptly concludes, a “spectrum of marginal spaces” merits consideration in religious studies scholarship.55

From Progressive Muslims to Nonconformists: A Genealogy In a khutbah on “righteousness” Mouna (she/her) gave at El-­Tawhid in July 2016, the South Asian Canadian lesbian read from a prepared sermon she later shared with me: “As individuals, we are interdependent on each other. The strong link and interconnectedness between individual lives and community is realized when we are persevering according to each of our abilities against injustice . . . in the community. . . . Doing so allows us to value and respect that all people and communities are from God.” Mouna ended her sermon with the words El-­Tawhid leaders provided to all khatibs: “I ask forgiveness for myself, the community, and the whole world.” One of this book’s central concerns is language’s role in constructing relationships among individuals, the nonconformist groups they belong to, the larger nonconformist community, and as Mouna suggested, the rest of the Muslim world. The groups I describe are, I argue, part of a larger community we might call a nonconformist umma, a global

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community of Muslims on the margins—­of both their local Muslim communities and the broader umma. This larger community involves multiple individuals who interact, multiple sites—­including websites—­ where they can do so, and sometimes movement by individuals among groups. While not everyone had the opportunity to move from one group to another, some visited groups in other cities, often after first getting to know each other online. For example, Azeem moved from Chicago to the Bay Area to Los Angeles, joining different nonconformist groups in each place and connecting with other nonconformists through internet forums and eventually Facebook. Others were international migrants, like El-­Farouk, who migrated from Tanzania to the United Kingdom as a young child, came of age in Vancouver, and eventually settled in Toronto. He was also active in a global network of queer Muslims with connections in South Africa and Europe. Even though only a minority of nonconformists I knew explicitly sought Islamic knowledge overseas,56 transnational migration and intranational travel contributed to the growth of and interaction across their groups, just as they have contributed to transnational interactions and the spread of knowledge for other contemporary and historical Muslims.57 Online networks have played an essential role in allowing nonconformist Muslims to find each other since home internet use became widespread in the late 1990s. Personal email accounts allowed those in the United States, Canada, and beyond to connect despite geographic distance. Nonconformists were part of two partially overlapping networks at that time: one for progressive Muslims like those Safi documented, and one for LGBTQ+ Muslims. The latter network is partially documented in Scott Kugle’s important book Living Out Islam, which focuses on life-­history interviews with gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. Kugle tells the story of gay Muslim activist Faisal Alam, who founded an internet discussion group in 1997 for gay and lesbian Muslims.58 A year or two later, Iranian Canadian activist Pedram Moallemian and other Muslims in Toronto founded an email list that by 2001 had evolved into a web-­based discussion forum called the Progressive Muslims Network (PMN). The PMN had diverse members who included “scholars, students, professionals, activists, organizations, and

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communities” and prided itself on members’ global origins. The network grew rapidly to include Muslims from “Singapore, Australia, and South Africa” and “the Middle East, Europe, and North America.”59 “Perhaps the most exciting part of the new emerging global Muslim progressive identity,” Safi wrote in 2003, “is that progressives everywhere are seeking one another out, reading each other’s work, collaborating with one another’s organizations. This is a fruitful process of cross-­ pollination. . . . Much of this contact is taking place via email.”60 Other networks followed, including those involved in the progressive website Muslim Wakeup! and the short-­lived Progressive Muslim Union of North America (PMU or PMUNA). As Kugle noted of the gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslim support groups in which his interviewees were members, “while some groups have come and gone, the network of such groups continues to expand.”61 Some online networks eventually led to face-­to-­face meetings of nonconformists. A few of those early meetings and events are discussed in Kugle’s Living Out Islam, Islamic studies scholar Julianne Hammer’s American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism, and some blogs and news articles written by those involved in the progressive Muslim movement in the first decade of the twenty-­first century.62 A year after Faisal Alam launched his internet discussion group, he hosted the first Al-­Fatiha spiritual retreat for LGBTQ+ Muslims in 1998.63 Attendees came to Boston from all over the world and some returned to found Al-­Fatiha chapters in their home countries, creating what Kugle calls a “global network” of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims—­to which I would add bisexual and other queer Muslims.64 By 2005, Al-­ Fatiha boasted over seven hundred members and had chapters in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.65 Its chapter in Toronto eventually changed its name to Salaam Queer Muslim Community, which still exists as a support group for queer Muslims.66 Another offline event that emerged from online connections was the widely publicized “mixed-­gender” prayer led by amina wadud in New York in 2005, which was cosponsored by Muslim WakeUp! and the PMU.67 Many of the activists involved in those efforts went on to lead or join other nonconformist groups.68 Ani Zonneveld (she/her) and Pamela Taylor (she/her), both of whom I interviewed for this book, served on

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the PMU board; after the PMU’s demise, they went on to found Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) in 2007, with a first face-­to-­face chapter in Los Angeles (MPV-­LA), where I got to know Ani over several years of membership (2009–­2013).69 During my research, Ani continued to run MPV, which has expanded internationally; Pamela remained active in its online group and occasionally attended MPV-­Columbus, where she led Eid prayers on the day she and I first met in 2016. Even though members of early networks of LGBTQ+ or progressive Muslims sometimes met in person, the limited scholarship on those networks and their activities has mostly focused on the ideas of the scholars and activists who organized in-­person events rather than on the lived religion of their participants. In fact, references to the “scholars and activists,” “Muslim intellectuals and activists,” or “activists and intellectuals” involved in PMU, MuslimWakeUp!, and Omid Safi’s edited volume Progressive Muslims have become part of a shorthand description of the “progressive Muslim movement” in North America. In many books, the whole movement is treated in just a paragraph or two.70 At the opposite extreme from such brief descriptions, we have research that presents individual nonconformists’ stories. But those nonconformists too are often labeled scholars or activists. Using a very broad definition of activist, Kugle calls all of his gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslim interviewees “activists”—­though at least two of them insisted otherwise.71 Other researchers have focused primarily on individual scholars. Adis Duderija’s work exemplifies this approach; he limits the “progressive Muslim movement” he describes to scholars rather than the more extensive network discussed earlier.72 As an ethnographer rather than a historian, my aim is not to fill in the story of the progressive Muslim movement, which many suggest had fizzled out by the end of the first decade of the twenty-­first century.73 But I argue that the nonconformist Muslim groups I describe in this book emerged from that movement’s brief flurry of activity and scholarship, to which some of the participants in my work continued to refer. Despite the lack of a detailed history of the progressive Muslim movement, it is easy to see in the writings that emerged from it the ideas that have nurtured contemporary nonconformist Muslims—­feminism, religious pluralism, anti-­racism, and inclusivity.74 My inclusion of scholars, activists, and the “ordinary” participants who comprise most members of

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nonconformist groups offers a rich set of data for future historians and others interested in lived religion and social movements.

Contemporary Nonconformists By the end of the first decade of the twenty-­first century, progressive-­ cum-­nonconformist networking had extended from email to Facebook and other social media networks, some associated with face-­to-­face groups or events. Muslims for Progressive Values launched its main Facebook group in 2007, within days of hosting its first conference in Yonkers, New York. While El-­Farouk Khaki wrote that he met just two dozen people there,75 by March 2013, MPV’s Facebook group had two thousand members. By the time I began this research in January 2016, it had grown to about eighteen thousand, and at the time of this writing, seven years later, it boasted close to twenty thousand. In 2009, El-­Farouk, his husband, Troy, and Islamic studies scholar Laury Silvers launched both the face-­to-­face El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Toronto Unity Mosque (El-­Tawhid) and its Facebook group (ETJC). A long list of other Facebook groups soon followed. These included Islam and Homosexuality in 2010; the Atlanta Unity Mosque and Forum pour un islam progressiste (the Forum for Progressive Islam) in 2011; LGBT Muslim News, Inclusive Muslims, Prophetic Islam: OneLove, Justice for All, LGBTQ Sufis and Allies, and Liberal Muslims United in 2012; Muslim Women Imams in 2013; the El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Ottawa Valley Unity Mosque and Non-­Traditional Muslim Converts (& Allies) in 2014; the Radical Umbrella Ummah and Inclusive Shia Muslims in 2015; Unitarian Universalist Muslims and FITNA (Feminist Islamic Thinkers of North America) in 2016; Misfit Muslims in 2017; and Masjid al-­Rabia’s Digital Qur’an Study in 2018. And those are just the nonconformist Muslim Facebook groups of which I am a member; I am sure there are many others. In addition to Facebook, many face-­to-­face groups also use other social media sites like Meetup or Eventbrite to attract and communicate with members and announce events. After getting to know one another through participation in online groups or one-­off meetings, or inspired by hearing about others’ face-­ to-­face groups, more North American nonconformists began meeting in person throughout the second decade of the twenty-­first century. Some

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founded various chapters of MPV, including national chapters in Canada (2010) and South Africa (2014) and city-­or state-­specific chapters in Atlanta (2007), Columbus, Ohio (2012), Chicago (2013), New York (2013), Florida (2016), San Francisco (2016), Washington, DC (2016), and Boston (2018). Other groups grew out of connections to El-­Tawhid, including Unity Mosques in Calgary (2013), Ottawa (2014), and Madison, Wisconsin (2019).76 Groups in Columbus and Atlanta were affiliated with both MPV and the Unity Mosque network. After launching FITNA on Facebook in 2016, Shehnaz Haqqani and Zahra Khan hosted a FITNA conference in Boston later that year. Other North American nonconformist communities launched during this period included Chicago’s Masjid-­al-­Rabia (2016) and Berkeley’s Qual’bu Maryam Mosque (2017).77 Still others were established in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and South Africa.78 This book focuses on a subset of these online and face-­to-­face groups. Among the many nonconformist Facebook groups in which I am a member, the online groups in which I examined conversations were the three with the most active participants: MPV’s and ETJC’s main groups and FITNA. I collected more traditional in-­person ethnographic data through participant observation in several MPV chapters, including those in Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, as well as Friday prayers at El-­Tawhid in Toronto and FITNA’s conference in Boston. Some of these were onetime visits, while others I returned to several times, including the groups in Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Toronto. Focusing on particular groups allows me to offer a detailed ethnographic analysis of individual and community micropractices, including embodied and conversational interaction. Simultaneously, the extent to which members of these groups also interacted with members of the other groups meant that, at a macro-­level, the nonconformist community was more than just the sum of its parts.

Queer Ethnographic Methods In an important article on the intersections of queer theory, LGBTQ+ studies, and religious studies, Melissa Wilcox asks, “What would it mean to ‘queer’ the study of religion, beyond the ‘add queers and stir’ formula that has most frequently been applied to date? It would mean paying

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close attention to the dynamics of gender and sexuality that religions hide in plain sight, and it would mean examining the roles of religion in both inscribing and challenging heteronormativity and dualistic conceptions of gender. It might also mean queering our concept of what is religious and queering even our methodology.”79 A large number of the Muslims in the groups I researched were gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or other sexual or gender minorities, but this book aims to do more than “add queers and stir.” A key aspect of my method was approaching the nonconformist community as I experienced it, that is, by examining groups in which LGBTQ+ Muslims were active and actively welcomed, rather than those that are chiefly for Muslim queers. Existing research on LGBTQ+ Muslims has offered meaningful insights into their lives, identities, language use, and religious interpretations, which I draw on here.80 Yet most of that work has treated Muslim queers in isolation, as if they existed either without a Muslim community or found their Muslim community only with other queers, often through LGBTQ+ support groups. These depictions did not match my own experience as a queer Muslim involved in nonconformist groups where queers and our straight “allies” interact regularly. Perhaps allies is not even the right word. Describing the Inner Circle, a South African mosque and support group founded by gay imam Muhsin Hendricks, anthropologist Afshan Kamrudin writes, “As of 2017, nearly half of the congregants each Friday are straight allies supporting queer Muslims.”81 In my view, depicting straight Muslims as “supporting” LGBTQ+ Muslims positions the former outside of the latter’s struggles. In contrast, as religious studies scholar Laura McTighe and others have argued in the context of anti-­racist work within religious communities, the word accomplice suggests a “skin-­in-­the-­game approach to working against oppression and towards liberation,”82 working in solidarity with, rather than just in support of, those on the margins. This approach resonates with the dynamics I experienced and witnessed in nonconformist groups. By placing LGBTQ+ and other marginalized Muslims together at the center of this book, I draw connections between queer theory and the queer approach to Islam that I learned alongside my nonconformist friends, connections that are as personal as they are scholarly, as embodied as they are discursive.

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As a white-­identified Muslim convert, a feminist, a queer woman who does not currently wear hijab, and the mother of a child of color, I have a personal investment in the efforts of “misfit” Muslims to create more inclusive communities.83 As a member of the global community of nonconformists I describe in this book, I came to the specific groups where I conducted research as a partial insider. When I moved to Madison in 2013, I left behind MPV-­LA, where I had been an active member for four years, and increased my participation in online groups. It took six years before I met any other queer or otherwise nonconformist Muslims in Wisconsin. But when I began my research in January 2016, my extensive network of Muslim friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends helped facilitate my access to groups in other North American cities. Historian Yvonne Haddad and sociologist Adair Lummis note that Muslim experiences of Islamophobia often make them wary of non-­ Muslim researchers.84 Although participants and I often differed from one another in other ways, our shared identity as Muslims facilitated our trust in one another and gave us some shared background knowledge that made our conversations flow. Because my membership in the online groups preceded my research by several years, in those groups, I was a full member or “native ethnographer.”85 Nevertheless, in ETJC, some participants wanted to confirm I was queer before they consented to participate in my research. In the face-­to-­face groups, where my presence was more sporadic, I was welcomed as a “legitimate peripheral participant” because of my known involvement in this larger nonconformist Muslim network and because of my self-­identification as a progressive, feminist, and queer Muslim woman.86 In paying attention to gender and sexuality dynamics within Muslim groups, I aimed to include people of multiple genders, gender modalities, and sexual orientations. This was easy to do in my observations and recordings of MPV meetings and El-­Tawhid prayers because attendees were diverse. For interviews, I intentionally approached men, women, and nonbinary people; gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and intersex individuals; and cishet (i.e., cisgender and heterosexual) folks. Although terms like ally or accomplice rarely came up, many of the cishet Muslims I interviewed talked about the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion to their membership in nonconformist groups and the larger community. By demonstrating that “gender” is not only about women’s issues, as

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scholarship on Muslim “gender justice” has frequently portrayed it, and by including trans, nonbinary, and bisexual voices in this book, I aim to extend the vital work that has already been done in Muslim gender and sexuality studies.87 Examining both online and offline interactions as part of the same project has also required some queer methods. Gender scholar Jack Halberstam describes this “scavenger methodology”: using “different methods to collect and produce information on subjects who have been deliberately or accidentally excluded from traditional studies of human behavior.”88 Ethnography offers a view—­ideally, multiple views—­of lived religion. Like other ethnographers who view Islam from its lived “edges” rather than its textual center, I focus on individuals and relatively small groups.89 But because of nonconformists’ dispersal across multiple locations and cyberspace, my ethnography of this community of practice was necessarily multisited. I had to adapt my ethnographic methods somewhat in the Facebook groups I included. I drew from existing scholarship on “netnography” or “online ethnography,” including linguistic anthropologist Ayala Fader’s fascinating new ethnography of ultra-­Orthodox Jews who live a “double life” as heretics online.90 However, Facebook’s interface and the requirements of my university’s institutional review board, which approves human subjects research, required me to develop my own method, one that did not always match my desire to include participants’ voices and analyze their language use. I began conducting participant observation and archival research in the three Facebook groups in 2016, with group leaders’ permission. I sometimes participated in the same ways I had before the research: I read just those posts that appeared in my news feed and interacted with them only if they sparked my interest. Other times I deliberately opened MPV or ETJC to post a question or share some news. I also periodically posted descriptions of my research in MPV and ETJC and sought participants who would consent to my quoting from their posts. Because FITNA was a public group, meaning anything I posted there was visible to all of my Facebook friends, I mostly lurked in that group. Forty-­five people from online groups agreed to be quoted, with overlapping membership across the three groups: forty-­two were members of MPV, five were members of ETJC, and five of FITNA. Once

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someone consented, I did an archival search of their past posts. Some were so prolific that I could not examine everything; others tended to be “lurkers” or just occasionally comment on others’ posts. Sometimes I searched for particular words and scrolled through past conversations to see what group members had written on a specific topic. Unfortunately, I discovered that a search for a particular participant’s past posts would yield different results from one day to the next, making Facebook an unreliable archive. Getting to know participants through Facebook was also different than in the offline groups I visited. Some of them had been my Facebook friends for years, so I was able to get to know them both within and beyond the nonconformist groups in which we were both members, while others I knew only through the groups. For the latter, my knowledge of them does not yield the kind of “thick description” that ethnographers value so highly.91 What an individual elected to share about themselves within each group, whether I was Facebook friends with them or not, and whether their profile was public or not thus created patchiness in the types of information I collected about online participants. Among the forty-­five online group members who consented to be quoted, I estimate that sixteen were white-­identifying or white-­presenting converts. At least twenty-­nine were people of color, eighteen of them immigrants (or children of immigrants) to the United States or Canada. Eleven lived in various countries outside of North America, including one white-­ identifying US expatriate. For those who did not explicitly give consent, I paraphrase their words rather than quoting them. As I introduce individual participants, I share what I know about their identifications but try not to make assumptions about what I do not know for sure; for some, this may include their racialized identity, nationality, current place of residence, gender, pronouns, gender modality, and sexual orientation, while for others it might only be a name or pseudonym. My face-­to-­face ethnographic research was more conventional in some ways and queerer in others. For research with the MPV chapters, I first sought permission from MPV’s cofounder and current president, Ani Zonneveld. I then contacted chapter leaders for permission to visit. My research began in January 2016 with a return to Los Angeles. Although I had moved away, I still felt connected with a

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Muslim community there, friends I had made through my four years of involvement in MPV-­LA. I had spent a great deal of time with them from 2009 to 2013: at Friday prayers at a borrowed community center, monthly zikrs at Lisa’s home, Christmas parties at Ani’s, Ramadan iftars at Aiman’s, and Qur’an discussions in my living room or in a classroom at the community college where Ali taught Islamic history. When I went back, I interviewed these old friends and several others. Hoping to rekindle my connection with the group and make it a primary research site, I returned twice more, in April 2017 to attend a group discussion at the home of a gay convert in Hollywood, and in June 2018 to attend a Ramadan iftar and march in the Hollywood Pride parade with the group. Although the chapter boasted more than twelve hundred members on its mailing list, the local group was less active when I began my research than it had been when I lived there. I decided to expand my efforts to include other groups. From January 2016 to December 2019, I traveled to various research sites, spending time with several other MPV chapters, including those in Washington, DC; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; San Francisco; and Atlanta. In May 2016, I visited MPV-­DC, attending its halaqa (study circle) and conducting interviews with group members, including “the gay imam,” Daayiee Abdullah, whom I had first met during his visit to Los Angeles some years earlier.92 In April 2016, I attended Friday prayers with MPV-­Chicago and stayed on afterward to record a discussion with group members. I returned in May 2018 to participate in a workshop they cohosted with MPV National on LGBTQ+ inclusion, led by queer imam Ludovic-­Mohamed Zahed.93 In September 2016, I joined the MPV–­Columbus Unity Mosque for Eid prayers, shared a meal with its members, and stayed on to interview its leaders, Frank and Jean, at their home. In October 2016, I attended FITNA’s conference in Boston, put on by the online group’s founders. The last of my travels was to the Bay Area in December 2019, where I attended a Friday-­evening gathering of MPV–­San Francisco. One of the group leaders, Kevin (he/him), was the only other person who showed up, so rather than recording a group meeting as I had intended, I interviewed him. The next evening he invited my son and me to attend an art event on “Muslim Zombies” in Oakland. We started getting to know each other better and eventually became friends on Facebook.

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In addition to those one-­off visits to various group meetings, I spent more significant time with groups in Atlanta and Toronto. The nonconformists with whom I spent the most time belonged to the Atlanta Unity Mosque, which was, at the time, also affiliated with MPV. My access to the Atlanta group was facilitated by my friend Kelly (she/her), whom I had first met when she visited Los Angeles sometime in the early 2010s for a board meeting of MPV National. We got to know each other better through MPV’s Facebook group and as Facebook friends, and she welcomed me to the Atlanta group several times. I first visited them in August 2016 for Friday prayers, followed by an interview with Kelly and another group leader, Trina. I returned in February 2017, this time for Friday prayers and an evening zikr that some group members regularly attended at a local sheik’s home. And in both May 2017 and May 2018, I spent weekend-­long Ramadan retreats with the group at Kelly’s family home outside Atlanta, where I recorded both group conversations and individual interviews and just generally hung out—­an ethnographer’s favorite activity.94 In February 2021, I interviewed Trina again over Zoom about the mosque’s decision to disaffiliate from MPV, a central topic of chapter 6. Another key site for my research was El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque in Toronto. I had first met the mosque’s cofounder, El-­Farouk Khaki (he/him), through MPV’s online group in 2009. When we realized our shared interest in Tanzania, where El-­Farouk was born and where I had done research on Swahili-­speaking Muslim women and queer men,95 we struck up a friendship and occasionally corresponded by email or on Facebook. For several years before I began this research, I sometimes attended El-­Tawhid’s Friday prayers via Skype. The first time I visited in person was in September 2016. During that visit, I also met up with current and former group members I had come to know through various Facebook groups. In July 2018, my friend Sofi (she/her), an Iranian immigrant in Madison, visited El-­Tawhid and shared her observations with me, offering insight into how a newcomer to the larger nonconformist Muslim community experienced the mosque. I returned to Toronto for ten days in June 2019 to attend Friday prayers twice. In between Fridays, I conducted interviews with two of the mosque’s cofounders, Laury and El-­Farouk, and four other group members. My family and I also spent some time hanging out at Toronto Pride both on

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our own and with El-­Farouk, his husband, and their son. In September of that year, I returned to give the khutbah at Friday prayers, visit friends from the mosque, and accompany El-­Farouk to the Sufi dergah (literally “lodge” but in this context “group”) where he, Laury, and several others I had met through El-­Tawhid are members. I also spent time with some other Muslim groups I consider nonconformist but which were not formal research sites. I visited Masjid al-­Rabia in Chicago for its open house in January 2017 and again for Friday prayers in March of that year. I also interviewed one of its founders, Mahdia Lynn, one of the first people I spoke with who roundly rejected the label progressive. During the research period, I helped found an ETJC chapter in Madison, which met twice a month for discussion through most of 2019 and into 2020, when the COVID-­19 pandemic caused the group to temporarily fizzle out. While neither Masjid al-­Rabia nor ETJC-­ Madison was a research site, both have informed my understanding of nonconformist Muslim groups and the larger nonconformist community. Recent research on Muslim uses of space and community creation during the COVID-­19 pandemic has focused on online religious rituals, such as congregational prayer or Eid celebrations, as something new.96 But these uses of technology have a long history for nonconformists, especially those who regularly took part in El-­Tawhid’s Friday prayers via Skype, Facebook video, or, now, Zoom. Increased use of Zoom for nonconformist Muslim meetings and events allowed me to extend my ethnographic research beyond the period that my travel funds permitted.97 During 2020 and 2021, I recorded additional interviews and more meetings, including a monthly gathering of MPV–­San Francisco focused on Juneteenth, MPV’s annual retreat, and an Eid celebration cohosted by MPV, El-­Tawhid, and several nonconformist groups in other countries. I supplement this ethnographic data with an archive of material participants shared with me, including blog posts, the texts of Friday sermons, and photographs. Through these various sites and texts, I investigate the interpretations and social practices of individuals, their interactions, and the activities of the Muslim groups to which they belong. Across these multiple online and offline sites, a queer ethnographic framework focused on language as a social practice reveals how discursive and nondiscursive practices contribute to Muslims’ negotiation of normativities and their attempts to create new forms of community.

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Representing Nonconformists’ Diversity As ethnographers know well, “Embodied participant observation work . . . is shaped by the many aspects of our subject position, which may include gender, age, race, social class, accent, national origin, sexual orientation, language skills, religion, occupation, and political commitments.”98 Less frequently commented on is how our embodied selves and subject positions may impact our audiences. In May 2018, I spent a weekend at Kelly’s family home in rural Georgia, where she hosted a Ramadan retreat for members of what was then MPV-­Atlanta. I had first met Kelly, a blond-­haired, blue-­eyed convert like myself, sometime before 2013, when she came to town for an MPV National board meeting with Ani, Daaiyee, and others. Kelly and I were already both members of MPV’s Facebook group and had become Facebook friends. When I began my research in 2016, I reached out to her. She graciously ­welcomed me to visit MPV-­Atlanta’s Unity Mosque, record Friday prayers, interview her, and meet with other group members. I returned several times over the next several years, including for two weekend-­ long Ramadan retreats with the group. During the second Atlanta retreat I attended, I shared some preliminary results of my research to get feedback from other group members. Noticing that most of the quotations and audio clips I shared were from women, Lei (she/her), an African American lesbian who was married to another group member, urged me to diversify the voices I included. She argued that an audience unfamiliar with Muslims would likely make assumptions about all “liberal Muslims” based on their reading of me as well as of the quoted participants (or, in presentations, those whose voices I shared through audio recordings). “You can have your quotes coming largely from women,” she said, “but if you don’t include some kind of male voices [when] presenting this, . . . if you don’t have any type of masculine-­presenting voices, then [the term] liberal is gonna be associated with woman.” Similarly, Lei suggested that because I am “part of the norm” as a “white” person in the United States, people might assume that only “white” or “Western” Muslims are “progressive,” retaining stereotyped assumptions about other Muslims as racialized or foreign. As many scholars have noted, and as I discuss further in chapter 6, this familiar

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“good Muslim / bad Muslim” dichotomy feeds into Islamophobia.99 Lei suggested that I include photographs of those I write about to highlight their diversity and disrupt such assumptions. For ethical reasons, I have not heeded this advice. Images would have violated participants’ privacy, especially those who identified as queer or trans, and potentially even endangered them. For the same reason, most of the names I use in the book are pseudonyms. I do use the actual names of those who asked me to do so, but I do not specify which names are pseudonyms and which are real.100 But, honoring the spirit of Lei’s suggestion, I include many different voices in this book, representing the diversity of the nonconformists with whom I met and spoke. I generally use first names for participants, but full names or surnames for scholars or activists I consulted. My positionality—­a middle-­aged white-­identified convert, a cisgender queer woman who chooses not to veil, an academic, and a parent—­is neither representative of nonconformist Muslims nor particularly unique. The people who attended the nonconformist mosques and groups I visited differed from me (and from one another) in meaningful ways. I describe these individuals and each group in more detail later in the book, but for now let me paint them with broad strokes. Taking the groups as a collective, the majority of attendees were people of color. Some of those were immigrants, but more were children of immigrants, with the largest group being those of South Asian ancestry. White-­ presenting converts were perhaps the second-­largest group. Arabs and Black Muslims were underrepresented compared to the broader populations of Muslims in the United States and Canada.101 In most of the meetings I attended, participants came individually. In contrast to Muslim communities that center and encourage heteronormative nuclear families,102 only at a few Friday prayers and Eids did I see couples or children. About half of those I met in person were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. A handful were trans, one was intersex (but not Muslim), and about half were probably cisgender and heterosexual. The heterogeneity of these groups was also reflected in the thirty-­four people who participated in ethnographic interviews. Fourteen identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, gender-­fluid, intersex, queer, or some combination thereof, while the others were presumably heterosexual and cisgender (or cis for short), meaning their sense of their gender corresponded to the sex they were assigned at birth.

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I interviewed nine (presumably cis) men, twenty presumably cisgender women, two trans women, two nonbinary Muslims, and one intersex male-­presenting person. Unlike many mosques affiliated with Muslims of one particular ethnic group, most nonconformist Muslim communities in North America are multiethnic.103 One interviewee identified as both Indian and Pakistani. One was Egyptian, one Iraqi, one Palestinian, one Filipino, one Indonesian, and one had Tunisian-­Jewish ancestry. Two were Iranian, two had Bengali parents, three were African Americans, three were Malaysian, six were Pakistani, and eleven were white-­identified or white-­ presenting Americans. Unlike immigrant communities, like the British Pakistanis Werbner studied, who could “create their community out of their shared memories, their myths, about the early years of their migration,”104 nonconformists created their communities out of shared experiences of feeling like “misfits” in other Muslim communities—­for some their communities of origin, and for others, mosques or other spaces and groups they tried out as adults. While those I interviewed and interacted with during group meetings were diverse in ethnicity and racialized identities, race and racism rarely came up in conversation. As an ethnography, this book focuses on the primary concerns of nonconformists themselves, which revolved chiefly around creating inclusive groups for other Muslim outcasts. Racism and Islamophobia were certainly an important backdrop to their experiences, but, like class, were rarely concerns they directly addressed in interviews or at the group meetings I attended. As critical geographer David Seitz notes in his ethnography of a predominantly LGBTQ+ church in Toronto, queerness did not always translate into “willingness to grapple openly or adequately with questions of race.”105 However, some nonconformist Muslims did critique this silence around race and racism and what they saw as the community’s failure to align itself with larger anti-­racist struggles. Chapter 6 focuses on this and other critiques I encountered in online groups and individual interviews. Other important variations in interviewees’ experiences related to the diversity of places they now lived, their relationship to Muslim denominations, and whether they were raised in a Muslim family or had converted. Interviewees lived in more than ten cities, mostly larger ones in the United States and Canada, but also in Singapore, the Philippines,

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the United Arab Emirates, and Brazil. The majority did not talk about denomination but were probably socialized into Sunni Islam; a few identified as Shi‘a, a few as Sunni, and some as “just Muslim”—­a label others problematized, as I discuss in chapter 5. Several belonged to Sufi orders. Eighteen grew up in Muslim families, fifteen had converted, and one was a non-­Muslim Jew who nonetheless regularly attended Friday prayers at a nonconformist mosque. Lei was right when she said that people would bring assumptions to my research. At a few talks, some audience members assumed my participants were not religious, seeming not to hear me when I talked about attending Friday prayers with them or referred to some as imams. Similarly, when I wrote about El-­Farouk and did not mention his denominational affiliation (because he does not have one), a reviewer assumed he was Sunni. These incidents suggest that people are so loaded with notions about Muslim identity that it is hard to prevent them from leaking into how the work is read, obscuring what is actually true. I try to preempt such assumptions by providing as much detail as I can about each person you meet in this book. However, I did not systematically collect demographic information from participants, preferring to keep my interviews as close to ordinary conversations as possible. When I describe individuals here, I draw on my own observations and their self-­representations in interviews, group conversations, and online group postings. When I do not know someone’s gender, gender modality, sexual orientation, ethnicity, racialized identity, or denomination, I try not to make assumptions.106 No doubt I have not always been successful. Nevertheless, I invite readers to avoid such assumptions about the people I describe in this book.

In Terms of Language Most participants in the groups I studied had limited Arabic proficiency, using it for religious purposes only, and their pronunciation was often influenced by their first language, usually English. Nevertheless, many used Arabic words for various Islamic concepts, like khutbah (sermon), khatib (sermon-­giver), and Juma (Friday prayers). Many also used Arabic or Arabic-­derived expressions for phatic purposes in social interaction, such as greetings like Asalaam aleikum

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(Peace be upon you) or Salaams for short, indexing their shared identities as Muslims.107 As Muhsin Hendricks suggests in his interview with Kugle, sometimes nonconformists used Arabic for strategic purposes, “Islamizing” their language or practice in the face of awareness that others may question their Muslimness,108 a topic I return to in chapter 4. For English-­speaking Muslims, many Arabic words have become part of a contemporary “Islamic English” widely understood by Muslims, quickly learned by converts, and not usually marked as foreign.109 Outside of quotations, I give Arabic terms in transliteration, italicizing them and explaining their meaning on the first usage. I also include a glossary. But after the first usage, I leave them in roman type, representing the unmarked way they were used by most of the people with whom I spent time. As my Arabic is limited, I sometimes write Islamic words as I first learned them or as I heard them pronounced by the Muslims with whom I spent time. Very few had studied Classical Arabic, and even fewer fetishized its “correct” pronunciation. I do not italicize Arabic or other non-­English words in quotations from research participants’ written words unless they did so themselves. Muslims and others familiar with Arabic should have no trouble understanding the Arabic terms in the book even when spellings vary. My decision to use the past tense when describing fieldwork observations and conversations also merits explanation. While the nonconformist community continues to grow globally, and most of the nonconformist groups I studied still exist, many changes occurred during the six years I conducted this research. Some individuals I interviewed left their groups. Some groups stopped meeting. Face-­to-­face groups were forced to move online because of the pandemic. Some new groups were formed. As anthropologist Johannes Fabian argued, the use of the ethnographic present tense marks the ethnographer as an outside observer and can imply—­or worse, contribute to—­a static view of society, ignoring the fact that cultures are always changing. “At the very least,” he wrote, “the present tense ‘freezes’ a society at the time of observation; at worst, it contains assumptions about the repetitiveness, predictability, and conservatism” of the people at hand.110 While Fabian was concerned about representations of so-­called primitives in earlier anthropological writing, these concerns might apply equally to Muslims today, who are often stereotyped as conservative fundamentalists.

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Although I argue that nonconformists are invested in the future, using the past tense more accurately captures the dynamism of their interactions and changing norms. Concerns about the ideologies behind seemingly simple grammatical choices have also interested religious studies scholars. For example, Lucia Hulsether argues that at Harvard Divinity School in the 1960s, the religions of “racial Others” were treated as “living religions” and described in the present tense, while Christianity was treated as a religion with a history, thus worthy of study, and described in the past tense.111 I use the past tense throughout to acknowledge that, while some of the processes I describe may be recognizable cross-­ culturally or over time, the people, groups, and places I describe have histories, and may have already changed.

Outline of the Book The remaining chapters address Muslim discursive practices and learning in diverse online and offline settings, paying attention to both nonconformists’ use of the Islamic discursive tradition and their discursive futurism. I draw in all the chapters on multiple data sources—­interviews, naturally occurring talk in face-­to-­face groups, and discussions in the online groups. But the story gradually progresses from a focus on individuals (in chapters 2 and 3) to group interactions (chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5), and then to the concerns and challenges faced by nonconformists across multiple, interconnected groups (in chapters 5 and 6). Finally, in the coda, I present—­in poetic form—­the futures they envisioned in response to those challenges. During the years I’ve been involved in nonconformist Muslim groups and throughout six years of ethnographic research with them, I heard many participants tell stories about how or why they came to seek out the group and why they stayed. They often described finding community in terms of affective experiences, talking about how they felt and what emotions they experienced. In chapter 2, “Feeling Like a Community,” I use narrative analysis to examine situated narratives in which community itself became a feeling. Paying attention to affect in narratives told within nonconformist Muslim groups, I argue, offers important insights into how participants socialized one another into membership in the

The Opening | 35

community, how they felt about it, and how, through shared affect, they created a sense of community together, what I call affective community. Chapter 3, “A Prayer for Every Body,” introduces the physical spaces where nonconformists practiced Islam together and shifts our focus beyond the verbal to consider the role of the body in ritual practice as another form of learning and congregational prayer as a site of future-­ making. Through embodied interpretive shifts, participants unlearned the interpretations, habitus, and uses of space acquired in previous communities and learned new queer/ed ones. The chapter reveals how ritual, communicative, embodied, and spatial practices established group boundaries between Muslims on the margins and those from whom they differentiated themselves, and how new practices became part of the discursive (and embodied) tradition that could be drawn on in the future. Throughout the book, I describe the groups I studied as nonconformist Muslims and Muslims on the margins. One could also call them queer Muslims, using queer to refer to their antinormativity rather than their sexual or gender identities. In chapter 4, “Queer Muslim Talk,” I delve more deeply into why I consider even cisgender, heterosexual nonconformist Muslims queer. I examine various communicative events—­a public prayer, conversational narratives, and community conversations during group meetings—­through the framework of “indexical disjuncture.”112 I argue that participants combine verbal and other semiotic signs that point to two things many others see as incommensurable: Islam and homosexuality. In doing so, nonconformists disrupt the ideology that deems them incongruent to begin with. Through repeated exposure to such disjuncture, participants—­regardless of sexual orientation or gender modality—­acquire a queer position toward normative Islamic interpretations. I end by considering whether this queer position might help shift them beyond liberal projects, like LGBTQ+ inclusion, to more radical ones, like joining Black folks in fighting for racial justice. An important aspect of becoming more inclusive was fully including Shi‘a in the nonconformist Muslim community. Although all of the nonconformist mosques I visited were nondenominational, many participants in both online and offline groups acknowledged that they were “Sunni-­normative.” Chapter 5, “No Longer Just Muslim,” examines

36 | The Opening

discourses and critiques of sectarianism, Sunni-­normativity, and Shi‘a exclusion in both nonconformist mosques and online groups. Paying attention to the community’s ongoing struggles to critique, queer, and even dismantle the so-­called Shi‘a/Sunni divide illustrates the learning still underway, the uncomfortable edges of the community’s claims to inclusivity, and the entanglement of denominational inclusivity with gender, gender modality, and sexuality. While Sunni-­normativity was openly called out and there was generally receptivity to change, other forms of exclusion remained unresolved. Despite individual intentions and even official group policies designed to create inclusive spaces for marginalized Muslims, the nonconformist community was no utopia. Like the predominantly LGBT African American pentecostalist fellowship anthropologist Ellen Lewin studied, for nonconformist Muslims, too, “the story of radical inclusivity is aspirational rather than consistently realized.”113 Chapter 6, “Skin in the Game,” focuses on critiques and complaints I encountered. I begin by examining criticisms of the nonconformist project and of particular nonconformists, like Ani Zonneveld, that have been raised by others in scholarship, the media, and in some of the online groups I studied. I then turn to conversations with Shams and Trina, two women who narrated negative experiences with nonconformist organizations, Shams with shared authority in El-­Tawhid and Trina with anti-­Blackness and “aspirational whiteness” in MPV. Building on Laura McTighe’s work on Black women’s talk as theory-­making and recent work on whiteness and anti-­Blackness in religious communities, I examine Shams’s and Trina’s transformative demands.114 They offered, I argue, a vision of a more radical Muslim community that is committed not only to LGBTQ+ inclusion but also to dismantling racism and creating more egalitarian leadership structures. Tying their arguments back to the issues of “queer voice” presented in chapter 4, I argue that embracing “queerness” more fully would allow nonconformists to move “both within and beyond the LGBTQ idiom” toward deeper engagement with anti-­racist and other humanitarian justice efforts.115 Although the trope of discursive futurism winds through all the chapters, I return to it with a greater focus in the book’s coda, “This Is the Future of Islam.” Given the space that close analysis of excerpts from conversations, narratives, and sermons takes up in the book’s core

The Opening | 37

chapters, I was left with a great deal of discourse I collected but could not explore in detail. As part of my commitment to representing nonconformist Muslims’ tremendous diversity, in the book’s final section, I present their voices in a poetic coda. By juxtaposing excerpts from my field notes and recordings, this extended found poem offers a reflection on the major themes of the book—­normativity and antinormativity, exclusion and inclusion, language and the body, queerness and allyship, authority and power, denominational pluralism, and expanding understandings of gender and gender modality—­in the voices of participants themselves. Showing how the themes of previous chapters are intertwined, the coda also reveals how nonconformists envisioned possible futures for themselves, other Muslims, and even, for some, a radical humanitarian justice. As a queer project in which I remain a member of the community I studied, this work has no clear endpoint for me. As my research came to a formal end during the writing of this book, the nonconformists who participated in it continued to consider where their own margins were, challenging one another to dismantle exclusion, sectarianism, ableism, anti-­Blackness, and authoritative power structures not only within their own project but also by engaging with other intersecting activist movements. This book makes visible some of the local and global practices of community-­building, resistance, learning, and imagination taking place on the margins and the crucial role of language in these practice.


Feeling Like a Community One of the ways we survive, actually, is by telling our ­stories. . . . It also allows us to imagine new futures. —­Ayesha S. Chaudhry, interview by Shehnaz Haqqani, New Books Network podcast, May 14, 2021, https:​//­newbooksnetwork​.­com

In May 2017, I spent three days with the Atlanta Unity Mosque (AUM) for a Ramadan retreat. We hung out all weekend: watching movies, relaxing, playing with my then-­s ixteen-­m onth-­o ld baby, cooking, and breaking our fast together. While there, I recorded a conversation with Dana (she/her), whom I had met for the first time at the mosque the previous fall. Dana was a white-­presenting American woman I took to be in her fifties. Born in Atlanta, where she also earned a doctorate in international relations at a local university, Dana had lived overseas in various countries and had converted to Islam about twenty years earlier. While she had been exposed to Wahhabi interpretations of Islam while living in Saudi Arabia for a couple of years, she converted only after meeting her second husband, who had been raised Muslim. They took part, along with their son, in what Dana described as “moderate” Muslim communities in various countries, including, most recently, England. When Dana and her family returned to Atlanta, she searched the web for a local group and found AUM. As we sat at Kelly’s kitchen table, I asked Dana, “What was it that made you feel like, ‘This is the group for me’? Or what keeps you coming back now?” “I feel like it’s my community,” Dana said in a southern accent. “These are people who think the way I do, for the most part, I think. . . . We can have these conversations, and it’s really the intellectual stimulation and conversations with like-­minded people and building knowledge. It


Feeling Like a Community | 39

really is . . . inspiring. . . . It’s kind of a synergy that builds. So I feel like every time I go to Juma [i.e., Friday prayers], I learn something, and I love that.” *** During the twelve years I have been involved in nonconformist Muslim groups, and throughout six years of ethnographic research with them, I have heard participants tell many stories about how or why they came to seek out a particular group and why they stayed. Like Dana, they often described finding community in terms of affective experiences, how they felt and what emotions they experienced. As Dana said, “I feel like it’s my community.” Community itself became a feeling. While I heard many such stories in individual interviews like Dana’s, in this chapter we explore situated narratives, those told during nonconformist Muslim group meetings. We focus on their telling in community and in relationship to participants’ affective experience of community. The Muslims who shared these stories often spoke of a shift in affect, from feeling not fully part of other Muslim groups (in some cases even their own families) to feeling included, welcomed, and valued in nonconformist groups. Most narrators depicted themselves as always having held “progressive,” “feminist,” or “inclusive” beliefs. Yet their beliefs differed from those of others around them until they found a group of like-­minded Muslims. Attending to how a person adapts and integrates into a community, we see that, even for “born Muslims,” the lives of those in nonconformist groups were marked by what anthropologist Attiya Ahmad calls “religious shifts”—­whether in clothing, language practices, gender relations, or the types of rituals or religious gatherings in which they took part.1 Moreover, this approach reveals, as religious studies scholar Edward Curtis argues, that religious shifts entail more than just a “change in a human being’s theological perspective or even adherence to certain canonical formulations like the five pillars of Islam” but rather the “processes by which human beings come to define themselves, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly, as Muslims”—­or more specifically, in the case of nonconformists, as particular types of Muslims.2 By focusing on narratives told in community, I follow linguistic anthropologist Marjorie Goodwin, who warns against treating stories “as

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artifacts that can be abstracted from their local circumstances and examined in terms of their internal features.”3 Rather than focusing on their internal features or form, we examine these narratives within the social contexts in which they were told, in this case, group interactions, with particular attention to affect, the emotions or feelings that arise in the body or, intersubjectively, among bodies.4 While affect is not always displayed through language, and some scholars even consider it “pre-­discursive,” anthropologists have productively examined how “affective registers,” “affective language” (or “affective discourse”), and “affective stance” are often present in conversations, narratives, and other forms of interaction.5 As religious studies scholar Elizabeth Pérez argues, “Although inconsequential to outsiders, micropractices like . . . trading anecdotes organize space, time, and intensities of affect for participants.”6 Islamic studies scholar Julianne Hammer has examined how LGBTQI+ Muslims and their allies use “emotive appeals” in the Muslim public sphere to convince those she calls “patriarchal Muslims” of “the right as well as the need of queer Muslims for full recognition of their shared humanity.”7 Here, we examine the use of affect in more private Muslim settings, where its aim is less to convince hostile others of nonconformists’ rights and more to create and share feelings of inclusion among those who are assumed to support those rights already. Paying attention to affect in narratives told within nonconformist Muslim groups offers essential insights into how participants socialize one another into group membership, how they feel about it, and how, through shared affect, they co-­create a sense of community. I call this sense affective community. It is akin to what scholars in other contexts have called “affective citizenship,” albeit at a smaller scale. Political philosopher Monica Mookherjee proposes affective citizenship as a label for “the emotional relations through which identities are formed” across multiple, intersecting modes of belonging that are not limited to national citizenship—­multiple sets of “affective bonds.”8 While nonconformist Muslim groups were not engaged in governing participants in the sense addressed by sociologist Anne-­Marie Fortier in her work on affective citizenship, they nonetheless relied on similar means of creating belonging through a “register of emotions” and forms of interaction they deemed meaningful.9 In addition to examining affect in situated narratives, we also return to the issue of discursive futurism introduced earlier. The narratives

Feeling Like a Community | 41

I heard in nonconformist groups did more than just reflect participants’ personal experiences. They also organized their understandings of one another as individuals and group members, thereby shaping future interactions. Like other types of stories in different contexts, narratives about joining a nonconformist group “provide[d] affectively charged, ‘contagious’ vehicles and a language” for talking about their experiences, identities, communities, and futures.10 Not only did those who told stories positively evaluate the affective community they found in face-­ to-­face nonconformist groups, but their storytelling practices actively contributed to the production of that community. Through such situated transformation stories, we learn how Muslim storytellers’ identities, experiences, and relationships led to their involvement in nonconformist groups and how their participation in those groups, in turn, impacted their identities, experiences, relationships, and imagined futures. Muslims’ narratives about why they joined nonconformist groups are thus a fruitful site for examining not only their past experiences but also the future forms of community they imagined. We explore these issues with extended examples from two groups: the Washington DC chapter of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV-­DC) and the Atlanta Unity Mosque (AUM). Different types of interaction occurred at the two sites: the first, in DC, took place during a halaqa (discussion circle) among strangers who were not quite sure at first what they had in common, besides being Muslim; and the second, in Atlanta, at Friday prayers with participants who already knew each other to varying degrees. In the former, we examine the role of affective narratives in establishing belonging, and in the latter how affective community is deepened.

Belonging through Narrative Religious studies scholarship on conversion stories and other types of self-­narratives demonstrates that telling faith development narratives to one another is an important way that participants in a religious community learn to see themselves as members. Communications scholar Elizabeth Molina-­Markham examines the telling of Quaker “spiritual journey” narratives as a speech event through which they teach one another how to be Quakers.11 Anthropologist Anna Meig’s work on

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fundamentalist Christian women’s “testimonies,” too, found that women learned to tell rehearsed versions of their stories of being “born again” and that doing so helped them see themselves as part of a community.12 Medical anthropologist Rebecca Seligman examines how newcomers to candomblé in Brazil learned to tell personal stories about becoming spirit mediums.13 Although not focused on religious change, anthropologist Jean Lave and educational theorist Etienne Wenger’s “community of practice” approach helps explain the relationship between an individual’s personal story and the communally available stories they must learn in order to become part of a religious community.14 In other words, it is not just that Baptists’ conversion narratives come to resemble one another, as historian Lincoln Mullen suggests, but that learning how to tell a Baptist conversion story appropriately is part of what legitimizes one’s identity as a Baptist.15 Forming an identity as a member of a community means taking on its valued practices, including its “habitual narrative practices.”16 As Edward Curtis shows of African American Muslims, narratives construct not only the storyteller’s identity but also “what is ultimately an imagined communal identity”—­sometimes depicted as a “recovery” of an original, “authentic” identity.17 A conversation I recorded at a Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV­D C) halaqa in May 2016 offers an extended example of narrative’s effectiveness in helping newcomers feel like they belong in a nonconformist—­in this case, explicitly “progressive”—­group.

Muslims for Progressive Values—­Washington DC One of the first nonconformist groups I visited for research was the Washington, DC, chapter of Muslims for Progressive Values. Founded in 2007, the group is described on its Meetup page as follows: While a variety of definitions of “progressive Islam” can be found, this group is guided by the words of Professor Omid Safi: “Progressive Islam encompasses a number of themes: striving to realize a just and pluralistic society through a critical engagement with Islam, a relentless pursuit of social justice, an emphasis on

Feeling Like a Community | 43

gender equality as a foundation of human rights, and a vision of religious and ethnic pluralism.” We welcome all individuals to this group, regardless of your level of familiarity with Islam or progressive politics.18

At the time of my 2016 visit, more than five hundred people had subscribed to MPV-­DC’s event listings, and by this writing (at the end of 2021) that number has more than doubled. Many subscribers posted brief bios or introductions when they first signed up; their posts suggested that the majority were new to Washington and looking for Muslim community. There is limited scholarship on Muslims in the DC area beyond the Sierra Leoneans whom anthropologist JoAnn D’Alisera worked with in the early 1990s and the two college campuses where anthropologist Shabana Mir did ethnographic work with Muslim women in the early 2000s. Historian Kambiz GhaneaBassiri describes the political forces that led to the building of the Islamic Center on Embassy Row in 1957, which D’Alisera described as “the single, central force” of the community for many Muslims more than thirty years later.19 Today, the DC metro area is home to about three hundred thousand Muslims, many of them immigrants, and more than seventy-­five mosques, seven of which are Shi‘a, two nondenominational, and the rest Sunni.20 The area is also home to dozens of colleges and universities, and thus several Muslim Students Association (MSA) chapters. Mir writes that Washington drew many Muslim students interested in “professional development in the foreign service, law, development, and academic careers in religious and area studies.”21 Some of her participants were raised in the area, describing one woman’s local community as “a well-­established mosque and social network in the D.C. suburbs” considered “conservative.”22 Despite DC’s 46 percent “Black or African American” population in the early 2000s becoming “increasingly African,”23 little data are available on the number of Black Muslims there, and there seem to be only a handful involved in MPV-­DC. According to Malika (she/her), the chapter leader who facilitated my visit, “a lot of progressive Muslims . . . do vouch for some mosques in the area and say they’re a little more progressive than others,” though she

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never attended herself. The only LGBTQ+ inclusive mosque, however, was Masjid an-­Nur al-­Isslaah (the Light of Reformation Mosque), which was founded and run by African American imam Daaiyee Abdullah, a member of MPV-­DC and one of the moderators of the chapter’s Facebook group, along with Fatima Thompson.24 For a few years in the early 2010s, MPV-­DC listed the Light of Reformation Mosque’s Friday prayers among its events and described the mosque as “a natural outgrowth of Muslims for Progressive Values.” It was also affiliated with the El-­Tawhid Juma Circle, and according to some, was the first “dedicated” gender-­ equal prayer space in the United States.25 Aside from Friday prayers, which had only a handful of attendees, MPV-­DC hosted a wide variety of events. Malika described the group as follows during the 2016 meeting I attended: We do all sorts of events and activities, ranging from social to religious, you know, events during Ramadan iftar dinners, really based on what our members want. . . . We tend to see a different group of people show up at different events, and it’s pretty great.

During MPV’s online Ramadan retreat in 2020, she added, In the DC area, we use primarily Meetup​.­com as our platform for organizing and meeting up. We have a little over a thousand members registered across the District and Maryland and Virginia. And . . . similar to Atlanta and some other chapters, we do a variety of activities, religious and social, both, throughout the year. Ramadan is generally really special. We do a bunch of things. Of course we’ve taken it virtual this year [because of COVID-­19] so we’re doing nightly Qur’an readings alongside Atlanta and New York.

Malika was born in Pakistan, raised in New York, moved to DC for college, and when we met in 2016 had recently finished law school. She joined MPV-­DC around 2011, when it was meeting at a Quaker meetinghouse, and within a few years had become a group leader. After our interview over tea on a Sunday afternoon in May 2016, she and I walked across the street to a local library, where she had reserved a meeting room for the halaqa.

Feeling Like a Community | 45

The Halaqa A few weeks before my visit, Malika had posted the following in the online event description where I and other attendees had registered: We’ll be discussing the role of culture in Islam, and more specifically, the role of culture in our individual religious practices. Muslims come from numerous backgrounds, we speak various languages, and have varying customs and traditions. Quite often our backgrounds and cultural norms impact our religious practices. At this halaqa I’d like for us to share how our cultural backgrounds impact our religious practices (if at all).

She also alerted attendees that I would be there conducting research, with instructions on how they could contact me in advance if they had any questions. Nobody did, and I did not get the impression that any of them had paid attention to the announcement that I would be there. Traditionally, the Arabic term halaqa refers to a study circle, and is used in religious contexts to refer to meetings for the study of Islam and the Qur’an. I had not encountered the term in nonconformist groups before, so I asked Malika why she used it. “I think it’s just a very common form that everyone would understand,” she said. With a halaqa, she explained, “the central focus is religion, so it’s not just any kind of discussion. . . . It immediately narrows your focus.” Malika’s use of halaqa illustrates anthropologist Garbi Schmidt’s argument that the word has become Americanized. “The Arabic word halqa/halaqa (circle) has been used for centuries in the Muslim world to describe the circle that students at religious seminars and universities formed at their teachers’ feet during instruction,” during which students accumulated Islamic knowledge and eventually achieved status as religious authorities or scholars in their own right. But at both the Chicago campuses where Schmidt studied Muslim Student Associations (MSAs) and at MPV-­DC, “although halaqas were indeed periods of religious instruction, the participants did not expect to receive any religiously defined authority as a result of their participation.” Participants were peers, “not Islamic scholars,” and “the structure of the halaqa was mostly democratic.”26 As a democratic discussion, the MPV-­DC halaqa was a space in which affective experiences could be shared.

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At the halaqa, five of us were present, all but Malika newcomers. Aziza (she/her) was an Egyptian American woman in her early twenties. Born in the United States, she told us she had spent part of her childhood in Egypt and had recently graduated from college in nearby Maryland. Shehnaz (she/her) was a talkative medical doctor who appeared to be in her thirties. She had immigrated from Egypt to the United States a few years earlier, was raising a young son, and had only been in DC for a year. John (he/him) was a white-­presenting American who looked to be in his sixties, and wore a kufi. He told us he had converted to Islam some twenty years earlier while living in Mali. “I’ve been a member [of MPV-­DC] for probably five years,” he told us, “but I’ve never been to an event, so this is a first.” Malika, Aziza, Shehnaz, John, and I talked for an hour and forty-­five minutes, covering a wide variety of topics. Before getting to the topic Malika had posted online, we introduced ourselves, discussed my research project, discussed definitions of the term progressive, shared descriptions and evaluations of various local mosques and other Muslim groups, and heard about Shehnaz’s and Aziza’s varied experiences in Egypt and John’s time in Mali. Toward the end, we recommended books on Islam to one another, and talked about some possible future events. Because we were all strangers to one another, I felt a palpable awkwardness in our conversation at first. John kept asking us, especially soft-­spoken Aziza, to repeat ourselves, while Shehnaz had a “high-­ involvement” conversational style marked by personal stories, abrupt shifts in topic, persistence, a fast pace, and frequent overlap of others’ speech.27 After introducing myself and my project to make sure that everyone consented to being audio-­recorded, I was relatively quiet for most of the meeting, since I had nothing to share when they compared notes on local mosques or planned future events. Malika, for her part, tried hard to keep the discussion on topic and to make sure Shehnaz did not dominate the conversation. The awkwardness at the start of the conversation was mirrored, or perhaps exacerbated, by the physical setup of the room we were in: a large meeting room that could have held one hundred people, with the five of us in a small circle of folding metal chairs, spread out a bit more than necessary. A few minutes into our conversation, when it became apparent that John was having trouble hearing, we moved our chairs

Feeling Like a Community | 47

a little closer together, forming a smaller, more intimate circle. Malika had brought two plastic containers of croissants to share but, for most of the meeting, they remained on the floor in the middle of the circle, next to my audio recorder, untouched. Our conversation was interrupted several times by people we thought (hoped!) were joining us but who turned out to be at the library for a different meeting. After the third time we were interrupted, it started to seem funny, and our shared laughter broke the ice a bit. As the meeting started, I introduced my research project, which at that time I had titled “Progressive Muslims through Discourse.” Even though Shehnaz had learned about the meeting on the group’s website, and thus must have known it was a meeting of Muslims for Progressive Values, as a nonnative speaker of English she was confused by the term progressive. She asked me several times what the word meant. I hesitated to respond since I was interested in hearing how the others might define it, and I did not want to influence their answers. Saving me from this awkward line of questioning, Malika responded, twice: first with description and second through narrative. I examine each of her responses in turn.

Different Meanings for Different People: Malika’s Descriptive Account “Right. Okay. Yeah,” Malika said when it was clear I was not going to give Shehnaz a “straight” answer. So the question you bring up is actually really great, and it’s a good starting point, especially for something like this, especially for people that are new to MPV. I think the term progressive might have different meanings for different people, obviously. . . . I’ll speak from my own personal perspective, and then from an MPV standpoint. So, for me, it’s partly kind of someone . . . who thinks critically, and who does kind of make progress in their own thinking of different issues and whatnot. So, not someone who’s stuck on one interpretation and kind of sticks with that throughout the course of their life. That’s one way I think about it. And from the MPV perspective, . . . a broader, I guess, description would be like a nonjudgmental way of viewing others, and being inclusive. . . . That means

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being inclusive of LGBTQ folks, being inclusive of any other m ­ inority, . . . ­promoting women’s rights, and promoting all sorts of other thoughts within the Islamic community. You know, there’s a variety of thought within Muslims, so kind of recognizing all that, having respect for all that. . . . That’s my understanding of it.

Stressing the word my, Malika emphasized the individual nature of her understanding even while giving “the MPV perspective.” “So, if anyone wants to chime in,” she said, trailing off and looking at me expectantly. “Want to chime in?” Malika asked me directly. I explained again that I would rather hear others’ definitions. Looking at Shehnaz, I said, “I’m not defining what it means to be a progressive Muslim. I’m really interested in how people are defining that for themselves.” Despite Malika’s lengthy explanation, Shehnaz responded, “I—­I—­I don’t know what that meaning, progressive.” Aziza and John were quiet, so Malika tried a different tactic, turning to narrative.

“I Didn’t See That I Fit In”: Malika’s Story “Right,” Malika said. “I’ll give you a little more background, so maybe that will help [you] understand a little bit more.” This time she began a story, going all the way back to her childhood. I come from a Pakistani background. I grew up in a very traditional setting. You know, not too religious: My parents were never religious. I never wore the hijab. . . . So, you know, I had that kind of upbringing, but my parents still in their values were much more progressive than, I think, people within the community in the sense that, you know, they didn’t have too many restrictions on certain things. They viewed people open-­mindedly. Generally. And were much more inclusive about all sorts of people. So I saw myself kind of get more and more distant from the typical mosque setting. And I didn’t see that I fit in. So, after years of just kind of having no real interaction with a Muslim community, I found this group when I moved here. And I thought, you know—­When I came to events, saw various perspectives and a lot of LGBT Muslims, you know.

Feeling Like a Community | 49

And that blew my mind. I didn’t realize that there were so many people who really identified as Muslims, who were gay, lesbian, or, you know, however they identified themselves, but also one of the other parts of their identity was being Muslim. And practicing Muslims, and the way they practice, . . . you know, it was just fascinating to me. So, that really drew me to this group. So, kind of those aspects of it are what I consider progressive. Yeah.

This time Shehnaz seemed satisfied. “Now I got the meaning,” she said, giggling. “Good. Good. I’m glad,” Malika said with a smile.

What’s the Difference? Description versus Narration While MPV-­D C’s page on Meetup had referenced “a variety of definitions of ‘progressive Islam,’ ” and Malika initially tried to offer one possible definition, her narrative rather than her straightforward explanation of the term ultimately led to Shehnaz’s epistemic stance of “getting the meaning.” In both cases, Malika used a series of contrasts between, on the one hand, “someone who’s stuck on one interpretation,” “the community,” and “the typical mosque setting”; and, on the other, those like her parents who were “not too religious,” “didn’t have too many restrictions,” “viewed people open-­mindedly,” and were generally “inclusive.” While one might surmise, then, that Malika considered her parents “progressive,” in fact she called them “very traditional.” Up to that point, Malika’s talk was more description than story, but her utterance shifted into narrative when she said, “So I saw myself kind of get more and more distant from the typical mosque setting.” By assessing her distance from “the typical mosque setting,” Malika displayed her affect toward it. She narrated the change in her emotional reaction to “the [typical Muslim] community” over time: from feeling like she did not “fit in” to experiencing events that “blew [her] mind.” She also depicts her own changed epistemic stance (“I didn’t realize”). This change fit with her earlier definition of a progressive as “someone . . . who does kind of make progress in their own thinking of different issues.” Words like “fascinating” suggest both her strong affective stance and an epistemic one, emphasized by her stress on the first syllable.

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Malika’s story invited participants into “progressive Muslim” identity in at least two ways. First, her narrative answered the question of what progressive means through illustration rather than explanation. While Malika’s first (nonnarrative) response to Shehnaz gave two different definitions (both her “own personal perspective” and “the MPV perspective”), only the second definition referenced LGBTQ+ inclusion. But in her second (narrative) response, Malika brought these two perspectives together, using her changed epistemic stance toward the existence of practicing LGBT Muslims to illustrate her alignment with MPV and thus, by implication, “this group,” this particular MPV chapter. Only this affective story resulted in alignment from Shehnaz, offering the newcomer a felt understanding of the category progressive Muslim and what kinds of beliefs or stances belonging to this category entailed. The second way that Malika’s narrative established at least a temporary sense of belonging became evident later in our conversation, after the ice had been broken. Early on in the meeting, when Malika asked everyone what brought them to MPV, nobody had much to say. It was only after hearing Malika’s self-­narrative about how she came to join MPV-­DC, her changed epistemic stance toward LGBTQ+ Muslims, and her affective stance of feeling “drawn to” the group that others began to tell their stories. Not surprisingly, since this was everyone else’s first meeting, their stories did not display the same kind of changes in stance or affect as Malika’s did. Nonetheless, her story of not fitting in in other Muslim settings offered a model that those in attendance subsequently used to tell their own. In their assessments of various local mosques or other Muslim groups, feeling excluded or judged by others was a common theme. I do not know whether Shehnaz, John, or Aziza ever became active participants in MPV-­DC, but by the end of the meeting, Aziza had volunteered to help Malika organize future events. Hearing Malika’s story of finding a welcoming Muslim community certainly played a role in creating a space, at least for that day, where participants felt welcome to share their own experiences, to see themselves as belonging, and to plan for possible future involvement. In contrast to the newcomers at MPV-­DC, most of the participants at the Atlanta Unity Mosque were “old-­timers.”28 Their stories, which were more elaborate and affective than those I recorded in DC, played

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an important role in not only establishing belonging but creating a sense of community that extended across time.

Deepening Affective Community Used in the abstract, as a noncount noun without the articles or determiners a or the, the word community points to an affective experience of “social cohesion” or “mutual support and affinity.”29 Affective community appears at two levels in the conversations I examine next. First, at the level of language, we see participants narrating their search for community, for a feeling of belonging and inclusion, and describing what it felt like when they found it. Second, in their ways of interacting, participants enacted community in embodied ways, the “sensorial and affective properties” of which are not easily translated in my transcriptions of our conversations.30 These include greeting each other warmly with hugs and smiles, sitting around a table facing each other and making eye contact, listening attentively to one another’s stories, laughing and joking together, and referencing shared knowledge from past conversations. Such displays of “good listenership,”31 I argue, not only “reflect a mutually positive stance” among participants but also “function to reinforce shared positive affective experiences.”32 Drawing on communications scholar Kate Siegfried’s recent work on “feeling collective,” I explore how individuals at the Atlanta Unity Mosque came to feel like members of a nonconformist Muslim community and “how they generate[d] collectivity with one another through affectively saturated practices.”33

The Atlanta Unity Mosque In August 2016, I attended Friday prayers at the AUM for the first time. Founded in 2007, initially as the American Islamic Fellowship (AIF), AUM become a chapter of MPV in 2011 and within a few months had affiliated with the El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosques as well. At that time, AIF’s name changed to AUM. Sometimes they used the name AUM interchangeably with MPV-­Atlanta, until 2020, when mosque leaders ended their affiliation with MPV (a topic I discuss more in chapter 6), but retained the name AUM.

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With an estimated seventy-­five thousand Muslims, the Atlanta metro area is home to about eighty-­five mosques (using an expansive definition of mosque), the majority of them Sunni, a handful Shi‘a, and a few—­like AUM—­nondenominational.34 According to religious studies scholar Jamillah Karim, “the Atlanta ummah [is] known for its African American Muslim professionals, its progressive African American mosque communities, and its Muslim private schools.”35 Sociologist Tal Peretz describes the city as having a strong history of “community mobilization and the social movement culture it encourages, . . . a close-­knit progressive community that feels beset by the conservatism of the surrounding region, . . . [and] substantial Black, Muslim, and gay/queer populations and the institutions that network them.”36 Both Karim and Peretz note the influence of the Nation of Islam (NOI) on African American Muslims in Atlanta.37 In a conversation in MPV’s Facebook group in July 2017, AUM cofounder Kelly (she/her) described the landscape of metro Atlanta’s Muslim community comprising several subgroups. Most Muslims in Atlanta, she wrote, were “Sunni Orthodox” and highly segregated by race and ethnicity, with South Asian, Middle Eastern, and African American Muslims all very active in the community. While she described all of those as “socially conservative,” she saw African Americans who had been part of the NOI and converted to Sunni Islam in the 1970s as more politically liberal than the other two groups. Black Sunni Muslims in Atlanta were, Kelly said, “progressive in lots of areas except LGBT+ acceptance,” though she said there was one African American Sunni mosque that was “welcoming, but not affirming” of Muslim queers. A small NOI group still existed as well, she said, and was very politically active. She also listed the Jafari Shi‘a, describing them as socially conservative and less active than the other groups she mentioned. There were two groups she described as active in the city’s interfaith circles: the Ismaili Shi‘a, whom she labelled socially and politically liberal, and Ahmadiyya Muslims, who she said were more socially conservative. She also listed Salafis, describing them as “very strict,” “socially very conservative,” and as keeping to themselves. Finally, there were the “progressive Muslims,” including those involved in AUM. “There’s a few groups in the area of varying social and political liberalism,” she wrote,

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including “at least three Sufi groups that align with progressive Islam.” Summarizing her view of the city’s Muslim scene, Kelly wrote, For the most part in Atlanta, Muslims tend to be very politically liberal and very active politically. The Sunni Orthodox population tends to control the conversation as to what is “Islam” or not, but they generally tolerate other types of Muslims unless one group starts to become more prominent. I find the outward tolerance level to be fairly stable, but there have definitely been instances of specific people/groups being kicked out of a particular community due to belief/practice—­LGBT+ ideas are particularly sticky . . . whereas there is more of a general acceptance of female-­identified leadership even if the specific group doesn’t practice/ agree with it.

Fitting into the subgroup Kelly called “progressive Muslims,” AUM functioned as a “pop-­up” or “makeshift mosque” in that it did not have its own brick-­and-­mortar space.38 Like El-­Tawhid and some other nonconformist Muslim groups, they used the space of another LGBTQ-­affirming organization.39 At the time of my visits to AUM in 2016, 2017, and 2018, congregants gathered every Friday for Juma in a sparse rented room at an LGBTQ+ community center. Trina (she/her), one of the group leaders, described the center as “queer-­friendly, social-­justice-­oriented. It hosts a number of organizations that are queer-­health focused or Jewish queer folks or just a lot of organizations who are doing some of the same work [as AUM]. Not all religious, but who are doing some similar community-­ building in Atlanta.” In addition to weekly Juma, AUM also hosted other events, including zikrs or parties (like their annual “Big Fat Muslim Christmas Party”) at one another’s homes or in public places. In February 2020, there was a fire at the community center where they usually met, and then, during the COVID-­19 pandemic, the space closed completely. As of May 2021, AUM was meeting remotely using Zoom for Jumas, nightly Qur’an readings during Ramadan, and a virtual Eid prayer, with occasional in-­person outdoor meetings as its members began to receive the COVID-­19 vaccine. On the day of my first visit to AUM in 2016, five us were at Juma: me, Kelly, and Dana, all white-­presenting American women; Trina, an

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African American woman; and Fadil, an Indian man. On subsequent visits, I met a more ethnically diverse crowd, one more representative of Atlanta’s demographics, which were also evident in group photos in the mosque’s Facebook group: the majority were Black, followed by South Asians (including a third group leader who was Bangladeshi), and sometimes two or three white-­presenting participants. In a different conversation, Trina described AUM as “kind of the outlier” compared to MPV’s other chapters in the United States not only because it hosted Juma regularly but also because it had “Black people as members.” Indeed, none of the other chapters I visited had more than one Black participant on the days I visited. Trina readily admitted that the group’s Black membership was “not because we’re so awesome, but because we’re based in the South, in the Southeast, and there’s a culture, right? There’s a culture of getting together for religious services and stuff. So that worked to our benefit.” In addition to the religious culture of the Southeast, Trina cited AUM’s long-­standing relationship with other social justice organizations, religious and not. “And so, we have kind of staked a claim around being progressive, . . . being a place where progressive and radical Muslims in this part of the country” can gather. After mentioning various local organizations with whom AUM had developed relationships, Trina offered the Black Lives Matter movement as an example, “where we’ve been very involved as a congregation and as individuals.” Whereas Karim writes that “African American and South Asian Muslims in Atlanta are more segregated than integrated,” AUM brought together Muslims from a variety of racialized, ethnic, and national backgrounds, even if in much smaller numbers than Atlanta’s other mosques.40 Both during my visits and in the AUM photos I saw on Facebook, there were always more women or nonbinary femme Muslims present than men, and women took up significant authority roles. This was a stark contrast to Jumas in most Muslim communities, where “men dominate mosques [numerically] because, according to majority fiqh rulings, only men are obligated to attend the Friday congregational prayer.”41 At AUM, like all of the nonconformist mosques I attended, congregants departed from the wider Muslim norm of male imams and khatibs and segregated gender lines. Whereas Karim reports that none of the Muslim women she interviewed in Atlanta supported “mixed-­gender prayer

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lines,” they are the norm at AUM Jumas.42 At the Juma I describe here, Kelly served as khatib and later Trina led us in prayer.

Storytelling during Friday Prayers Before Kelly’s sermon, we sat around getting to know each other. Kelly, a bisexual white-­identifying American woman with long, straight blonde hair, blue eyes, a ruddy complexion, and a southern accent, was one of the mosque’s founders, still one of its leaders, and at that time, on the board of MPV National. She and I had met a few years earlier in Los Angeles, when MPV’s board members were introduced to members of the LA chapter, and then we became Facebook friends. For many years, we were both members of the MPV, ETJC, and FITNA Facebook groups, and Kelly was a moderator of MPV’s main Facebook group, making her an “old-­timer” in multiple nonconformist groups.43 That Friday in 2016, as we sat around a rectangular table, Kelly welcomed me to the mosque, invited me to introduce myself and my research to the group, and then turned things over to the other attendees.44 “So you guys want to go around and kind of introduce yourselves a little bit?” Kelly asked. “And then, like how you relate to MPV and what we do?” Kelly gestured to Fadil (he/him), indicating that he should speak first. “So basically, okay, how we came to MPV?” Fadil asked, reframing the task at hand from general introductions to the telling of faith development stories. “Or whatever,” Kelly said, looking at me to see if that was what I wanted to hear. “I don’t want to dictate what you talk about,” I said. In several of the groups I visited, participants initially tried to guide the conversation in ways they thought would be helpful for my research, and I was used to reminding them that I hoped to record naturally occurring conversations. Unlike the Christian testimonies that religious studies scholar Anna Meigs collected, which “were never . . . the occasion for further discussion or questions,” and “plainly a previously prepared performance,” participants in nonconformist groups regularly commented on one another’s narratives and asked each other questions, as this discussion shows.45 These were conversations about religion, but

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not altogether different from colloquial conversations among groups of friends who happened to be Muslims. During the conversation I present here, three participants told stories: Fadil, Trina, and Kelly. I present them in the order in which they told them, pausing after each to discuss the affective nature of their situated narratives and its contribution to the creation of felt community.

“Promise Me You’ll Marry a Muslim”: Fadil’s Story Fadil began by describing himself as an electrical engineering student at a local university and told us where he was interning. Then he launched into a narrative: “Last year I came out to all my friends. Not to my family due to many cultural reasons. I’m putting that off until my sister gets married. And after the Orlando incident,” he said—­referring to the June 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub, just two months before—­“I heard a podcast and I heard these two lovely ladies”—­he gestured toward Kelly and Trina—­“and that’s how I learned about MPV. I heard a lot of stories online. And, through my own research, I just found [that] people here in my situation usually just leave Islam altogether. I wanted to avoid that situation. I actually made a promise to my grandmother, saying, telling me, asking me, ‘Will you please promise me you’ll marry a Muslim?’ ” Fadil laughed. “You’re like, ‘No pressure, Grandma,’ ” Kelly said, joining his laughter. Fadil laughed again. “Oh, Indian family marriage is the biggest—­” “Well—­yeah,” Kelly, who had many South Asian friends, agreed. Fadil laughed again, adding, “Indian and Pakistani.” Dana offered some advice: “Just make sure he’s Muslim and—­” “Exactly,” Fadil said, interrupting Dana. “No, that’s the point. That’s my point. I didn’t want to just lose faith that quickly. So I want to find an organization that will still be accepting and I can still grow as a Muslim as well. And it’s nice to come—­Now that I’m here it’s nice to see different viewpoints of different things. ’Cause I think last week we talked, like a couple of weeks ago we talked [about the idea that] every Muslim has a different conception of what Islam is. I think that’s very important to always be open to hearing what others think. And add that to your own knowledge and filter what you want or don’t want.” “So how long have been involved?” I asked Fadil.

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He laughed. “Just recently,” he said, laughing again. “Three weeks. Two weeks,” he said, looking at Kelly to see if his recollection matched hers. Kelly laughed. “Oh yeah, ’cause,” she seemed to be trying to remember when Fadil had last come to Juma. “Yeah.” “Two,” Fadil answered confidently. *** Fadil’s contribution to the conversation was an example of what narrative theorist Michael Bamberg calls “small stories,” narratives that “surface in everyday conversation . . . as the locus where identities are continuously practiced and tested out,” in contrast to “big story narratives” that tend to be more rehearsed and ritualized, like the Christian testimonies both Meigs and theologian Graham Hill collected.46 Though it was brief, Fadil’s story spoke to how his identity had changed over time, from being a member of a Muslim family (and presumably a larger Muslim community) to being a queer Muslim faced with the possibility of leaving Islam. Unlike Malika or many of the other nonconformists I heard narrate stories about their experiences in other Muslim communities prior to finding a nonconformist group, Fadil did not mention any negative experiences of his own. Yet he knew of them: through his epistemic stance he positioned himself as knowledgeable about the experience of other gay Muslims, whom he had “heard” and “learned” often leave Islam altogether. But eventually, as a result of additional learning, he became a member of a group that welcomed him, now a queer Muslim determined to stay involved in Islam. Through research, hearing the stories of other queer Muslims like Kelly and Trina, and eventually attending AUM, Fadil was able to resolve his identity in a way that enabled him to remain Muslim and plan for an imagined future when he would eventually come out to his family. He was able to stay a part of his original community (his Muslim family), and join a new one as well. While it was his queer identity that led him to seek out AUM, in doing so he also found hope for future spiritual growth within Islam. As other scholars have shown and I discuss further in chapter 4, a queer Muslim may find acceptance for their sexuality in a queer community, but not for their religion, and it is this total acceptance that Fadil sought, and seemed to have found, at AUM.47

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Fadil’s comments also extended to other ways that nonconformist groups queered Muslim discursive norms: by welcoming “different viewpoints,” “different conceptions of what Islam is,” “being open to hearing what others think,” and selectively learning from others. Indeed, the group discussion that day illustrated Fadil’s point: instead of just hearing a formal sermon from one khatib, we had an extended discussion about our own personal histories before hearing Kelly’s sermon. (And even when she did give her sermon, it was very conversational in style.) The pluralist norms that Fadil valued at AUM echoed what I heard from members of other nonconformist Muslim groups, departing dramatically from what Islamic studies scholar Shadaab Rahemtulla calls “the marked absence of an analytic, participatory role for the congregation, which is invariably reduced to an ‘audience’ ” at most mosques.48 Even though Fadil was a relative newcomer to AUM, his narrative was nonetheless marked by an affective closeness to other participants as he gestured toward what being in community with them might mean for his future. When he called Kelly and Trina “lovely ladies” and talked about how “nice” it was to attend, he spoke with affection. And when he dramatized his grandmother’s words through reported speech, he was able to represent not only her words but also their “emotive-­affective elements” as well as her imagined future for him, one in which he would be married to a Muslim.49 Applied linguist Michael McCarthy argues that when participants in conversation do more than just offer the minimal responses required to keep a conversation going (e.g., “yes/yeah, no, okay, or a conventionalised vocalization” like uh-­huh or mm-­hmm), they “orientate affectively towards their interlocutors, and . . . create and consolidate interactional/relational bonds.”50 This is precisely what we saw when Kelly and Dana interrupted Fadil’s story. Kelly’s joking ventriloquization of Fadil’s possible response to his grandmother (“No pressure, Grandma”) is further evidence of the “affectivity” of Fadil’s story and of how the group created bonds through conversational narratives. Furthermore, by interjecting, “Just make sure he’s Muslim,” Dana coconstructed with Fadil an imagined future for him, one in which his Muslim spouse would be a man and his family would accept Fadil as queer. Affectively aligning with her, Fadil implied that developing an accepting Muslim community was “exactly” what allowed him to imagine such

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a future, one in which he could fulfill his promise to his grandmother while also staying true to himself as queer.51 In contrast to the brief narrative offered by a newcomer like Fadil, old-­timers in the group told much longer stories. After we spent a few minutes discussing how Dana and I could access the podcast Fadil had mentioned, Kelly turned to her co-­leader, Trina, inviting her tell her story by asking, “So?”

“I Could Bring All of Myself ”: Trina’s Story Trina (she/her), who was often called “Imam Trina” in the mosque’s Facebook group and public statements, was an African American woman in her mid-­thirties. She wore glasses, had her hair covered, and smiled warmly as she spoke. “My name is Trina,” she said. “I’ve been a part of MPV for seven years maybe?” she said, trying to remember. “I came to MPV from ‘Internet Research,’ ” she said with a laugh. I understood her ironic tone to mark her amused acknowledgment that finding a welcoming Muslim group through the internet was a common trope in the stories of Muslims who joined nonconformist groups. “I moved to Atlanta seven years ago for grad school,” she continued. “Came back,” she clarified. “I’m from Georgia but I didn’t live in Atlanta. I was looking for a faith community and found MPV. Or at that point it was American Islamic Fellowship, AIF, which was founded here in Atlanta by Kelly and [another woman]. So I came and sat very quietly and listened to them and didn’t say much. And I remember singing a song. I wrote a song that night on my way back.” “You’ll have to perform that some time,” Kelly said, smiling. “I was so excited that I had encountered this,” Trina continued, smiling back at her friend. “This community of people. Because I could bring all of myself. ’Cause at that time I was attending a predominantly Black masjid here in Atlanta, and I really enjoyed it, but there were pieces of myself that I felt like I had to check at the door: my queer identity, my strong gender and feminist identity, my critical analytic identity. I didn’t feel like I had to check that when I came here.” Like Fadil a few minutes earlier, who had commented on the value of hearing “different viewpoints” and “different conception[s] of what Islam is” and “always be[ing] open to hearing what others think,” Trina

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said she found value in “staying at the table and having discussion.” She continued, “Whether we agree or not is actually not the point. The critical conversation around religion and politics, around observance or nonreligion [is the point]. I think in a community that’s legitimately focused on justice, that’s legitimately kind of taking folks up, whether we’re Muslims or not, as kind of equals in the world, equals in the universe, equally valuable, I think was the lynchpin for me. And I can’t quit. You know, I just keep coming back,” she said, laughing. Everyone at the table laughed with her, then Trina continued, It’s gratifying to have a community like this, where I grow spiritually and intellectually and socially. It pushes me in places around my politics and so I appreciate that. I think that’s exactly what I need from a spiritual community, but what I need from a social community as well. Those things aren’t separate. So, yeah, I think we are building the world we wanna live in and that’s deeply impactful and hopeful to me. In a very harsh climate that gives us the message that that we are worthy of hate for various reasons, it’s deeply, deeply impactful and very meaningful to me that I’m in a community of people that’s not only building the world we wanna live in [but also] we live life, we live with each other, and live in the world like that already exists. We model it, we perform it now. So, yeah, that’s the kind of world I want my kids to be in, that’s the kind of world I want my community to be, the community I want my kids in.

“Did you grow up Muslim?” Dana asked Trina. “I can’t remember.” “I didn’t grow up Muslim,” Trina said. “I grew up in a Pentecostal Christian family. So I often tell people I’m a Pentecostal Muslim,” she said with a smile. We all laughed. *** In addition to feeling hated as a member of a group (“us”) with intersecting marginalized identities, Trina also revealed the affective nature of her experience at two different mosques, one where she felt like she had to check some of her identities at the door and another where she did not feel that way. The metaphor of checking things at the door was a recurring trope in several other conversations I recorded, one that presents the doorway of a typical mosque as “a politically charged spatial

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divide,” an “affective space” that reveals “felt difference.”52 This use resonates with feminist theorist Sara Ahmed’s observation, “For some to pass through the door, to enter a room, requires being given permission by those who are holding that door. A door is not just a physical thing that swings on hinges, but a mechanism that enables an opening and a closing.”53 In contrast to these negatively charged feelings and experiences, Trina’s story of finding AUM was marked with affective stances of excitement, creativity, compulsion to return, gratification, appreciation, meaningfulness, and hope. Trina’s was not a linear narrative: she described herself as a seeker, narrated her excitement at finding MPV, and then flashed back to contrast that excitement with her earlier experiences at another mosque. She did not present her own identity as changing; instead, she suggested, she had long been firm in her identities as queer, a woman, a feminist, and a critical analyst, and sought a community that would welcome those identities. She neither critiqued her previous mosque nor presented herself as in crisis; instead she presented a contrast between simply attending a mosque as an institution (a physical space with a “door”) and feeling like part of a community, an affective space. For Trina, what made AUM a “community of people” rather than simply a mosque was being able to bring all of herself. In describing this group, she repeatedly used the term community to describe it while also adding descriptors that clarified what kind of community was meaningful to her (“a community that’s legitimately focused on justice,” “a ­community . . . where I grow,” “a spiritual community,” “a social community,” “a community of people that’s . . . building the world we wanna live in,” and “the community I want my kids in”). She further emphasized her affective sense of community, of “we-­ness,” through repeated use of the pronouns us and we (“a harsh climate that gives us the message that we are worthy of hate,” “We are building the world we wanna live in,” “We live life, we live with each other,” “We model it, we perform it”).54 By focusing on the community she desired and then found, rather than on the masjid she left behind, and on her personal sense of lack at her previous masjid rather than a critique of the masjid itself, Trina’s narrative stepped from the past into the present and the future.55 She saw AUM as building a future world in the present, one that was not only meaningful at the time of our conversation but one in which she

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also envisioned her future community and potential future children. By referring to her “kids,” Trina created an “embodied connection” among herself, her chosen Muslim community, and her future family, “a generational connection that not only endured across spatiotemporal scales but also provide[d] an affective tenor” for her story by indexing a sense of familial intimacy.56 In this way, Trina extended her affective community into an imagined future.

Building Community: Kelly’s Story Moving the conversation along by following up on Trina’s joke about being a Pentecostal Muslim, Dana turned to Kelly, saying, “And you’re an agnostic Muslim,” clearly referencing an earlier conversation. Dana spent a few minutes telling us why her teen son had not joined her for Juma that day, and then it was Kelly’s turn to explain how she came to the group. Kelly began her story further back in time, during college, when she had first converted to Islam. Even then, she said, “I converted to progressive Islam ’cause I didn’t know there was any other type,” she laughed. She explained that the Muslims she knew in college, shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, were trying to counter Islamophobic views, telling her, “Well, whatever you want to believe, you know, Islam’s all these different things; there’s not one definition.” Eventually, though, Kelly came to see her friends as not typical of the wider Muslim community. “And so,” she continued, “when I went in and, you know, I was kind of like, ‘Okay, well, you know, I really connect with Qur’an but, you know, if I’m going to interact with the community, these are my demands, essentially.’ I mean, I was twenty-­one at the time,” Kelly said, laughing at her earlier naivete. As we saw earlier, in the early 2000s, the website Muslim Wakeup! and Omid Safi’s edited volume Progressive Muslims were important resources for Muslims who considered themselves progressive.57 After college, Kelly said she learned about the website at a progressive Baptist convention where she’d been hired to play piano, during which she also heard Safi speak about his book. “So I read that whole book. I still have it,” she said. “I connected to lots of people. The Progressive Muslim Union was there at that time. I met Ani through that,” Kelly said, referring to

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Ani Zonneveld, cofounder and leader of MPV National. Kelly married a Yemeni man and moved to Yemen for a few years, where she was impressed with the diversity of Muslim viewpoints she encountered. When she came back to the United States, she was pleasantly surprised to meet other “progressive Muslims” through the Muslim Wakeup! site. “I thought I was the only one actually!” Kelly recalled saying to herself, “Okay, . . . because of my different experiences, I can now confidently come back here and practice Islam however I want, because that’s not only my right as an individual but also I have that option here; I can do it publicly here.” “So that led to the creation of the American Islamic Fellowship,” Kelly told us. “And then Ani and I stayed in touch over the years and eventually we”—­meaning AIF—­“joined MPV. A lot of it was because of the resources that MPV had versus what we had. You know, it was laziness,” she said with a laugh. It was just easier to. . . . I focus a lot more on our community and doing that rather than trying to [save the world]. I mean we try to save the world in our own little ways, but we also wanna build our community here as well. So that gave us that freedom to do that. . . . When Ani and I first met, it was fun! It was so great because . . . we [AIF] had our Principles and they [MPV] had the Values and we’re like, “It’s so funny we developed these completely separate but they were so similar!”58 That, to me, was great! Because it wasn’t that our ideas were coming out of thin air. We weren’t pulling them out of whatever. Because we based our ideas on things that we had read and found in the Qur’an. So had MPV, and it was so nice because it was like, “Oh, we aren’t crazy, we’re not just making up Islam to be something that it’s not. Because if there’s other people doing that, then that’s the importance.” So anyway, that’s how we got here.

Although Kelly didn’t address Dana’s labeling her “agnostic” in her narrative, she returned to it in her sermon later. “I personally identify as agnostic,” she told us. “But a lot of that’s because I’m an engineer, and so,” she said, laughing, “I have this rational side of me that just is like, ‘I’m never gonna be able to prove that God exists; it’s not possible for me.’ So I don’t mind living in a space where I don’t know, but I’m still gonna participate in a religious community because I can’t explain

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some experiences that I’ve had, and this is how I connect to that side of myself. . . . I really connect to this community and how it interacts with, y’know, causes and things that I care about, beyond just worship.” *** Whereas most of the converts I got to know first attended more typical mosques or Muslim groups and later sought nonconformist ones, Kelly’s early involvement with a “progressive” Muslim group made her story a bit unusual. She contrasted that group with “the community,” by which she seemed to mean the wider Muslim community, one she realized did not necessarily share the “progressive” values of her international student friend group. While nonconformists used community in varied ways (meaning different things, even opposite things, at different times), making the term sometimes confusing, it was clearly a powerful concept. After college, Kelly found other progressive Muslims online and through books rather than in person. When she finally met them she expressed her surprise (“I thought I was the only one actually!”). Like several others I interviewed who launched nonconformist mosques or groups, Kelly’s quest for a progressive community postcollege led her to create one herself. Even after launching AIF, she was committed to community-­building by making connections to other groups, like MPV, and by “build[ing] our own community here.” Despite the values that AIF shared with organizations like MPV, Kelly contrasted her efforts to build community through affective local relationships with MPV’s efforts to have a more global influence (to “save the world”). Both locally and beyond, finding similarities with other nonconformist groups allowed her (and other members of AIF, she seemed to suggest) to feel sane, legitimate, and connected to one another.

Finding Community While Trina and Kelly spoke explicitly of AUM as a community, it was clear from their comments and Fadil’s that they also found community in the abstract, affective sense there. As we saw in both Trina’s and Kelly’s stories, one way that AUM participants both created and sustained their affective ties was through their repeated use of the pronoun we to refer

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not just to the particular people present during our conversation but to group members more generally.59 Indeed, Kelly kicked off the conversation this way when she requested narratives about “how you relate to MPV and what we do.” Narratives told in community fulfilled various functions. Not only were they personal faith development stories, telling one another how they came to join this particular “faith community,” but they also offered “communal forms of memory,” as when Trina briefly narrated Kelly’s cofounding of the American Islamic Fellowship and subsequent name change to MPV-­Atlanta, and Kelly filled in further background to that development.60 Their narratives were situated not only in the context of their telling, but their stories themselves took place in particular places and times they named, contributing to a sense of shared knowledge that helped create affective community. Both Trina and Fadil placed their stories in Atlanta, Fadil by naming his university and a well-­known local employer, and Trina by beginning with her return to Georgia and move to Atlanta for graduate school. And time was important, too: Fadil’s introduction to AUM came “after the Orlando incident” when Kelly and Trina were interviewed on Atlanta Public Radio “about the intersection of those in the LGBT community who are also Muslim.”61 And while Trina’s story began in relation to her move to Atlanta for grad school some years earlier, later she described the time of our conversation as “a very harsh climate that gives us the message that that we are worthy of hate for various reasons,” one of the few references to Islamophobia I heard during my research. By leaving the “various reasons” for such hate vague, Trina also, I understood, referred to homophobia and anti-­ Blackness. Throughout their conversation, such experiences of temporality centered on affect rather than historical sequence.62

Conclusion In the narratives we have examined in this chapter, we have seen how participants in two nonconformist Muslim groups enacted affective community through their stories. At an MPV-­DC meeting, we saw how storytelling can be used to draw in newcomers, orient them to group norms, and create room for warm affects. At the Atlanta Unity Mosque,

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we saw that even group members who already knew each other to varying degrees could deepen their sense of affective community by sharing their faith development stories. An important part of the context of these stories is that they were told by participants in nonconformist Muslim groups to other participants in those groups, rather than, say, to other Muslims whose attitudes toward LGBTQ+ Muslims were unknown, or to non-­Muslims. While participants did not always already know one another, even newcomers could assume they were speaking to a friendly audience. In the same way that newcomers learned to give a sermon or to lead prayer, by hearing the stories of old-­timers, newcomers like Fadil learned the skills of telling “how I came to a nonconformist group” and thereby became “legitimate participants in the community of practice.”63 “While narratives of personal experience center around a specific past experience,” linguistic anthropologist Elinor Ochs argues, they also “regularly step out of the temporal domain of the past into . . . the future to make story-­coherent predications of possible events to take place after the present moment,” including “possible implications of past experiences for the future.”64 Thus we saw in both MPV-­DC and AUM that storytelling about past events not only helped create space for future feelings of community but also stepped into the future to comment on desired forms the community might take. Although not the main focus of this chapter, another theme that arose in these stories was negotiations over the meaning of the label progressive. Many of the Muslims I interviewed avoided using the label progressive to describe themselves because, as one woman told me, some might see “progressive” Muslims as changing Islam to suit their needs. In contrast, not only did Kelly use the term progressive freely, but she also responded to this critique by noting that both the AIF and MPV had independently developed similar principles that were grounded in the Qur’an. In doing so, Kelly buttressed Trina’s earlier claims of AUM’s legitimacy within Islam. Speaking to an audience with shared values, though, neither of them needed to argue for the legitimacy of those values; rather they spoke of affective legitimacy—­a “great” and “nice” feeling that they were on the right track, one they shared with a larger community of Muslims even if not with “the community.”

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None of the stories I heard during group conversations or in interviews suggested that participants in nonconformist groups wanted to change Islam like some feared the label progressive implied. Rather, they sought communities that included and supported them—­whether as political activists, queers, women, racialized Muslims, people with mental illness or other disabilities, or transgender folks. Thus the experiences we heard about in this chapter departed from what Islamic studies scholar Sylvia Chan-­Malik calls “affective insurgency”—­the “ever-­shifting forms of againstness” that she argues are “the hallmark of U.S. Muslims.”65 The Muslims we heard from here defined themselves not against other groups or interpretations, but rather in relation to the affective ties they had to one another and the futures they envisioned building together—­ ties and futures they established, in part, though storytelling.


A Prayer for Every Body “Here is the way Muslims touch the ground,” Khadra thinks in sajda. “Here is the way we shift our bodies daily, and alter our angle of looking.” In prostration, you see the underbelly of things. —­Mohja Kahf, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006)

Five or six years after we had first met at MPV-­LA’s Friday prayers, my friend Samia (she/her) sat across from me at a picnic table in a Los Angeles park in 2016. Samia had joined MPV initially just to meet other Muslims. She did not specifically think of herself as a “progressive Muslim” when she joined but described her politics as “liberal progressive.” She knew about the group’s “acceptance and welcoming of gay and lesbian Muslims” and that they allowed both “women leading the prayer and praying with the men.” Samia did not “have any issues” with those practices, she said, and found the people “cool.” Though she continued sometimes to attend King Fahd, a Saudi-­funded mosque in Culver City, she found it somewhat limiting in comparison. When she attended educational lectures there, they were not very inspiring, and the style did not speak to her. Samia grew up in India and ­Pakistan, where she had studied “the traditional sources” of Islam in Hindi, Urdu, and Arabic. Still, after coming to Los Angeles for college, she experienced “major shifts” in her “intellectual outlook.” She found intellectual discussions at King Fahd disappointing, though she still found contentment while praying there and had made some friends. Reading Omid Safi’s edited volume Progressive Muslims several years before she found MPV gave her a way to understand “progressive values.”1 She now defined progressive as “being open to change” and “open to exploring new ways of answering world questions and solving world problems—­understanding that when


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context changes, the answers have to change. That there isn’t just one right answer to every problem in every context, in every situation.” Despite identifying with this definition, Samia said she found labels limiting: Sometimes people are confused by me. For example, when they see me dressed the way that I dress, that I choose to wear the headscarf, and so forth, people, a lot of times, just assume that I must be traditional or conservative. And then once they get to know me more, they’re oftentimes surprised that I have what may be called liberal/progressive views, but there are other things where . . . my views or my lifestyle choices appear to be traditional or conservative. Sometimes, it’s like . . . if I try to fit myself in a label, it’s too hard. It doesn’t make any sense, so I don’t even try, but I don’t mind the label of progressive.

Even though Samia had been raised in a setting that stayed close to traditional Islamic sources and still attended King Fahd, nothing surprised her at MPV. “I think it’s kind of my personality. . . . I don’t find anything strange. I go to places I’ve never been before, and I feel like, ‘Oh, I could have been here before.’ You know? And I meet people, and I’ve never met them before, but I just feel connected to them anyway, so . . . it just all felt very natural to me, like it made sense.” However, the one thing that Samia had to get used to was praying next to men. Because I didn’t know. . . . I [had] never prayed standing shoulder-­to-­ shoulder next to men. . . . I thought I’d be distracted by it, just because I’m not used to it. It’s a new thing. . . . If I’m actually standing there, as a new thing, as likely as not, I’d be [thinking], “Oh. I’m standing next to a dude. I’m standing next to a dude. I’m standing next to a dude.” So, just preventing that.

But the bodily experience of praying near men changed Samia: “After a few months of going there, I was used enough to the idea. One day, I didn’t actually intend to stand next to a guy, but a guy just came and stood next to me. I was [thinking], ‘Should I move? Or should I not

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move?’ I was like, ‘Eh. I think I’m okay.’ I didn’t move, and then after that, I just let the chips fall where they may.” *** Praying near someone of another gender outside of one’s immediate family is a rare experience for many Muslims. Even those, like Samia, who chose to attend woman-­led, “gender-­expansive” Jumas sometimes were not entirely comfortable at first, especially if they grew up learning more conventional interpretations. But, as Samia’s story illustrates, experiencing it could change their minds. Samia’s decision to attend MPV-­LA’s Juma demonstrated her openness to praying in a congregation that was gender-­expansive, meaning not only gender-­integrated but also involving “expanded ways of thinking about, working alongside, or changing the binary culture of gender.”2 By initially not positioning her body near a man’s body, she allowed herself to become accustomed to “cross-­gender” proximity gradually. Over time, she unlearned the habit of segregation and acquired a new one. Samia’s experience speaks to discursive futurity as embodied—­you cannot just talk about change; you have to do change. Because prayer can involve offerings, promises, or vows, linguistic anthropologist Patricia Baquedano-­Lopez argues that it “discursively extends the domain of the self in anticipation of future life events.”3 But Islamic congregational prayer, because it involves conventional bodily movements together with others, is not only a site of discursive futurism but also a means for Muslims to practice that future together using their bodies. This chapter shows how a future dream was created in physical space by exploring congregational prayer as a site of interpretive shifts among people like Samia. Such shifts, as the discussion illustrates, are somewhat different from those that religious studies scholar Tanya Luhrmann, in a different context, has described as “interpretive drift.” Whereas both involve a “shift in someone’s manner of interpreting events, making sense of experiences, and responding to the world,” the shifts participants told me about were often more dramatic than the “slow, often unacknowledged shift” Luhrmann describes. More importantly, the shifts we trace in this chapter were not learned “through conversations or books,” but instead because of actual experiences in which participants’ bodies were bound up with others.4 By examining

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how nonconformists used their bodies in congregational prayer, this chapter demonstrates that, through new practices, knowledge, or beliefs that were once hypothetical, theoretical, even unimaginable, became phenomenal in both senses of the word: both extraordinary and perceptible by the body. This chapter thus offers readers a chance to feel futurity and queer process in the physical experience of these events—­to hear from individuals and observe the dual work of unlearning the old and absorbing the new—­and uses this as an orientation point. At the same time, we examine how nonconformists co-­created inclusive spaces that transcended gender binaries. In chapter 4, we see how they queer their talk; here, we see how nonconformists used their bodies to queer the spaces in which they prayed together. In the mosques where I conducted research, prayer practices reworked tradition in recognizably Islamic ways while differing markedly from mainstream Sunni-­led mosques. The ways people used their bodies in interaction with others—­in other words, their intercorporeality—­ shaped their understandings of gender in their everyday lives and congregational prayer.5 Through gender-­expansive prayer space, nearness to people of other genders, hearing differently gendered voices, and making their prayer spaces and practices accessible to people with various abilities and types of bodies, nonconformists created support for feminist and queer religious interpretations and solidarity with marginalized others. Stories like Samia’s illustrate that nonconformists have moved beyond advocating woman-­led prayer, which was a significant focus during the progressive Muslim movement in the first decade of the twenty-­first century and has been well documented by scholars and those who took part in it.6 Encouraging woman-­led prayer was still an essential aspect of nonconformist discourse and practice during my research. But most of my interlocutors would agree with Islamic studies scholar Shadaab Rahemtulla, who argues, “To attain a truly gender-­egalitarian approach to the Friday prayer, women’s leadership is necessary but, in and of itself, insufficient. That is, women’s ritual leadership is a crucial step toward—­ rather than the summation of—­a systematic rethinking of the prayer in the light of justice.”7 In line with Rahemtulla, the nonconformist mosques I visited embodied “a critique not only of sexism but of all forms of gendered hierarchy and exclusion.”8

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In the online groups in which I participated, too, most members supported more radical forms of gender expansiveness than merely encouraging women to lead prayer. Even though women’s mosques enable women to be ritual leaders in China and more recently in North American cities like Los Angeles, some nonconformists found their separating women from men and nonbinary Muslims problematic. Shabu, a woman from Dubai who lived in Alberta, Canada, rejected women’s mosques as an answer to gender injustice, asking other members of MPV’s Facebook group, “Why can’t we pray shoulder to shoulder with men? . . . Look at Kaaba, men and women pray together, why is it ok there and not in a mosque, aren’t both the house of God?” Like Shabu, many nonconformists saw gender-­divided mosques with men on one side and women on the other as a middle ground between “typical mosques” and the ones they desired. These mosques ostensibly offered gender equality but continued to exclude nonbinary individuals and those who simply critiqued gender binaries. Participants in nonconformist mosques were not concerned chiefly with mainstream norms around male and female authority or where men and women prayed. Instead, they also aimed to be fully inclusive of nonbinary Muslims. In line with Shabu’s rhetorical questions, nonconformist congregations actively encouraged gender expansiveness, praying with people of all genders (or no gender) standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Paying attention to differences in context, through stories like Samia’s, demonstrates that alternative understandings developed not from individual beliefs, practices, or desires but rather through embodied practice within a community of like-­minded co-­religionists. Looking at the interplay between active unlearning, undoing, and deconditioning, on the one hand, and relearning or reconfiguring, on the other, we consider here how spatial, ritual, and bodily “micropractices” established group boundaries between nonconformist Muslims and others.9 The two were always present: participants actively shed earlier interpretations and incorporated others. Just like unlearning a trans friend’s “dead name” and learning their new name and pronouns, practicing a future vision often involved this two-­part action of shedding old ways and learning new ones.

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In contrast to the way most mosques divide space linearly by binary gender, in the nonconformist congregations I visited, intercorporeality, proximity, and a nonlinear positioning of bodies provided participants opportunities to not only display but actually cultivate and incorporate (literally, bring into their bodies) felt (or “thick”) solidarity with others who differed from them in sex, gender, sect, religious interpretation, dis/ability, or any number of other ways—­another form of the affective community that we saw earlier.10 Given the importance attached to precisely how Muslims pray, communal prayer is an apt site to explore how people used their bodies to learn and enact both difference and solidarity with others.11 The role of intentional retraining in conservative religious practice in the modern world is well understood. We see in the following sections that nonconformist practice entailed not rejecting tradition, as others may see it, but rather an active and interactive reworking of it through bodily and discursive practices. Furthering ethnographic understandings of embodied performativity, this chapter offers insights into the ways diverse individuals—­especially women and queer, trans, and nonbinary Muslims—­gain access to space, voice, and authority within congregational prayer and thus about the ways solidarity can be created through the experience of interaction with the difference of others’ bodies.

Intercorporeality and Performativity Both conformist and nonconformist congregational prayers engaged Muslim bodies in varying degrees of proximity and interrelationship depending primarily on gender and secondarily on other bodily differences like racialized physical characteristics or postures indexing sect. My discussion of nonconformist congregational prayer serves as an entry into broader anthropological and religious studies conversations regarding the role of intercorporeality (the relationships among people’s bodies during interaction) and performativity (the creation of new understandings through action). As historian Rudolph Ware notes, “Islamic studies has always been interested in bodies of knowledge,” but as sites for archiving, transmitting, decoding, and actualizing religious knowledge, “the physical forms of human beings” also deserve our attention.12

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Embodying Difference in Interaction Religious community is established not just by communal activities, like praying together or storytelling, but also by interacting with others’ bodies and voices during such activities.13 As in anthropologist Rebecca Lester’s ethnography of a Catholic convent in Mexico, “practices of piety . . . involve not simply the abstracted soul but the organized semiotic relationships of the bodied self to other bodied selves and to the divine.”14 Recent work in anthropology and other fields has taken up the concept of intercorporeality to show how social identity and action are constructed through bodily interaction15—­ “activities in which the single body’s agency . . . would be pointless without the simultaneous participation of an other.”16 Even if we do not always acknowledge our own or others’ bodies, our bodies are always involved when we encounter others. Intercorporeality is thus a valuable framework for understanding how individuals relate to others, especially those whose bodies are different from them in locally significant ways: sex, gender expression, clothing choices, dis/ability, prayer posture, visible signs of ethnicity or “race,” and voice. In line with recent work insisting that “diversity” and “inclusion” not become depoliticized catchwords,17 paying attention to relationships across bodily differences allows us to understand diversity discourses “as communicative practices of affective embodiment.”18 Such an understanding is increasingly important as many people are trying to imagine our evolution to better systems that honor differences, transform the ways we relate to one another, and even—­as in the Black Lives Matter movement—­save lives. Muslims, generally, have ambivalent attitudes toward intrareligious differences. According to a recent report by the Council on American-­ Islamic Relations (CAIR), “While Sunday might be the most segregated time for American society”—­presumably because churches tend to be relatively homogeneous in terms of racialized identities—­“Friday congregational service might be the most diverse time for the Muslim community” because many Muslims attend the closest available mosque when prayer time arrives rather than one they live near, the latter typically less ethnically diverse.19 Muslim diversity (on Fridays, at least) is constructed as something that distinguishes Muslims from

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other religious Americans. It is also often used to mark North American Muslims as distinct from supposedly homogeneous communities in Muslim-­majority societies, rivaled in diversity only when international Muslims converge in Mecca during the hajj.20 While ethnographies of Muslim communities elsewhere demonstrate that Muslim diversity is not uniquely American, comments on diversity typically refer to ethnicity or country of origin, rarely to sect, and seldom to nonbinary gender or other forms of diversity central to the nonconformist Muslim groups I discuss.21 When Muslims refer to intrareligious (ethnic) diversity, they generally do so positively, but diversity of interpretations is less clearly valued.22 Even while lauding diversity in the report cited above, CAIR’s survey explicitly excluded the Nation of Islam, Moorish Science Temple, Isma’ili organizations, and the Ahmadiyyah.23 Different means of embodying religiosity, indexing interpretation, cause debate in various Muslim communities the world over, with some ways of praying seen as less valid than others.24 Woman-­led “mixed-­gender” prayer is particularly contentious.25

Mixed-­Gender Prayer, Bodies, and Performativity Scholars who write about Muslims involved in woman-­led mixed-­gender prayer rarely address embodiment directly, but the bodies of their subjects sometimes momentarily become visible. In her important book American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism, Islamic studies scholar Julianne Hammer describes a documentary about the controversial public 2005 “mixed-­gender” prayer led by Qur’an scholar amina wadud, writing, “As the camera moved over the group of worshipers, the diversity of American Muslims—­ethnic background, choice of clothing, and perspective on Islam—­became visible for a moment.”26 Again we see the discourse of “diversity” linked to Americanness and implicitly framed as positive. It makes sense that one might read the diversity of people’s physical features as indexing various ethnic backgrounds, and clothing choice is patently visible. But how do we read “perspective on Islam” from congregants’ bodies? Presumably, all those present were in favor of, or at least open to the possibility of, woman-­led prayer, so diversity of perspectives here does not seem to refer to the

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internal diversity of the congregation. Rather, “diversity” here suggests its difference from mainstream congregations. Building on Hammer, I turn from embodied performance of mixed-­ gender prayer to performativity.27 As performative acts rather than simply performances, nonconformist groups’ religious practices were a tool through which their understandings of gender were cultivated rather than merely displayed. Like Saba Mahmood, I understand prayer as performative—­(re)creating norms through enacting them—­rather than only a performance. In contrast to those who see bodily acts like prayer or veiling as performances of piety, Mahmood showed that they could serve “both an expression of, and a means to, the realization of the subject,” enabling Egyptian women in the mosque movement to cultivate interior piety through exterior acts.28 Examining ethnographic encounters enables us to see how what Hammer calls nontextual “interpretive encounters with the Qur’an” can contribute to “shaping the understanding and application of . . . understanding in ritual, social, and political acts.”29 Like Mahmood, and many others who have drawn on her work, I read bodily acts as “both an expression of, and a means to, the realization of the subject.”30 I show that nonconformists developed shared practices as a result of their mutual engagement and interaction together during prayer and shared beliefs as a result of their physical practices, configurations, and nearness in shared space. I read the re-­creation of norms by those who participate in congregational prayer as taking place among bodies rather than embodied in individual congregants or even iconic prayer-­leaders like wadud. Studies that privilege individual subjectivity ignore the intersubjectivity inherent in communal practices like religious rituals and the extent to which religious dispositions emerge through engagement with others’ bodies and voices.31 As anthropologist Adeline Masquelier writes in a different Muslim context, “More than just an expression of piety, the performance of [ritual prayer]” can be “an expression of group solidarity,” one’s bodily posture demonstrating one’s alliance with one Muslim faction or implicit critique of another, or indexing one’s gender.32 But even in the context of “group solidarity” in many communities, the emphasis is on individual adherence to group norms, displayed through particular bodies. As the analysis shows, Muslims who prayed in nonconformist congregations developed and enacted solidarity with one another through

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bodily learning of new norms, which occurred through affective engagement with one another’s bodies and embodied voices.

El-­Tawhid To give a more in-­depth ethnographic specificity to my description of ritual prayer, I offer some additional background on El-­Tawhid, one of my main research sites, although many of the groups with which I prayed had similar practices. The El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque was founded in May 2009 in Toronto by El-­Farouk Khaki (he/him), his then-­partner, now-­ husband, Troy Jackson, and their cisgender, heterosexual friend Dr. Laury Silvers. Before that, El-­Farouk had been hosting weekly zikrs at his home, and attendees there were some of the first El-­Tawhid congregants. In this respect, El-­Tawhid was similar to the mainstream immigrant-­ founded mosques that cultural theorist Raymond Williams studied in the 1980s, many of which began with a handful of families meeting in private homes.33 In an essay published in a 2012 Festschrift for amina wadud, El-­Farouk credits feminist scholar of Sufism Ghazala Anwar for leading prayer at the first Salaam/Al-­Fatiha International conference in 2003, the first woman to do so for a gender-­expansive congregation in Canada. In her khutbah, Anwar encouraged congregants to “start Juma and people will come,” a message El-­Farouk took to heart.34 Interestingly, this was two years before wadud’s public prayer but received much less media attention, perhaps because it took place at an LGBTQ+ event. Explicitly linking the mosque’s name to wadud, El-­Farouk writes and speaks often of wadud’s “tawhidic paradigm” as an inspiration.35 Describing the mosque three years after its founding, El-­Farouk wrote that it “has been functioning regularly as a Friday Jami Mosque since then, welcoming all regardless of sect, religion, faith, gender, race, sexual orientation / gender identity or class or disability. Working with the concept of shared authority ‘that we all have something to learn and all have something to teach,’ jamaat members regardless of gender or orientation or GI [i.e., gender identity] take turns in giving the Call (adhan), giving the sermon (Khutba), and leading the Prayer (salaat).”36 This description still held true during the period of my research. Throughout the Muslim world, a city may have many mosques but

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people call the main or central one the Friday or Jami‘ (congregational) Mosque.37 By using this label for El-­Tawhid, El-­Farouk not only claimed its authenticity as a mosque but also its legitimate place in a network of other Toronto mosques. The Anglicized word Juma in the mosque’s name derives from the Arabic word for Friday, Jumu’ah (‫)جمعة‬, the day Muslims around the world assemble for weekly prayer, itself from the root ‫( جمع‬j-­m-­ʿ), related to gathering or collecting. El-­Farouk’s use of other Arabic terms in this description, like jamaat (congregation), also served to authenticate the Muslim identities of the El-­Tawhid “jamaat members” he described. By 2012, El-­Tawhid had become something of a hub for nonconformist Muslims. Like other mosques that attract congregants from large urban areas for Friday prayers and special events,38 El-­Tawhid attracts nonconformists from throughout the Greater Toronto Area and sometimes even from the United States. In his essay for the same Festschrift, Daaiyee Abdullah, often described as “the gay imam,” wrote of driving up to Toronto from Washington, DC, with Fatima Thompson, founding board member of the nonconformist mosque Masjid Nur al Issllaah in the nation’s capital, “to spend some time with [a]mina and the Toronto gang—­El-­Farouk Khaki, Laury Silvers, Troy Jackson, . . . and a slew of other folks.”39 Similarly, in our 2016 interview at their home in Columbus, Ohio, Frank (he/him) and Jean (she/her) told me they had visited El-­Tawhid together three times, and Frank had gone a fourth time on his own. After leaving their previous mosque, Masjid Al-­Islam, they had no Muslim community for several years, until they found MPV and El-­Tawhid through Facebook and eventually started their own mosque, the MPV–­ Columbus Unity Mosque. As we sat around their dining room table, Jean, now in her seventies, told me that they had attended several MPV retreats but that she valued most the sense of community they experienced at El-­Tawhid. “The most powerful thing for me has been Toronto,” Jean said. Because of the sheer size of it . . . The first time we went, I think there were only twenty-­five or so people. . . . The first time was lovely. It was very nice: very welcoming people, a diverse group, clearly not all straight people, and women were given a prominent role. And so that was just

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r­ eally, really good. . . . Then this most recent time . . . there were over forty people, which was just powerful. I mean, it’s still good even when there’s, you know, four of us or whatever, but having that presence and saying, “Oh yes! These people are part of my experience.” And the acceptance. They really go out of their way to . . . make sure that women are a big part of it.

While visiting El-­Tawhid became something of a pilgrimage for nonconformists like Frank and Jean, the majority I spoke with had not yet been there. Nevertheless, some other mosques borrowed some ritual practices from El-­Tawhid. Kelly referred to it as the Atlanta Unity Mosque’s “parent mosque.” “ ’Cause they were there first and that’s why we exist,” she said in a March 2020 khutbah on Zoom. Moreover, many of those who had not yet visited in person nonetheless took part in its Juma using Skype, Facebook Live, or Zoom. For example, Ameera (she/her) and I both lived in Madison, Wisconsin, but met through El-­ Tawhid’s Juma when I saw her mention her location in the chat after the khutbah one day in 2019. We became friends and eventually cofounded a Unity Mosque community in Madison. More than a year later, in a Zoom interview after she had moved away, Ameera described El-­Tawhid and its online group, ETJC, as “a space where I have really been able to feel like myself and also fully Muslim and fully queer.” When I asked her what it was like to participate in El-­Tawhid at a distance and what she got out of it, Ameera told me, “While I would prefer to have a brick-­and-­ mortar masjid”—­using the Arabic term for mosque—­“it’s really good, and I think the people make up more substance than the material.” While El-­Tawhid’s LGBTQ+ inclusivity, gender expansiveness, and feminism drew nonconformists from all over the world to it virtually, many of its other features owed themselves to the mosque’s relationship to its environment, the city of Toronto. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has more Muslims than any other part of Canada, estimated at more than half a million; the downtown area alone boasts more than sixty mosques.40 The ethnic and racialized diversity of El-­Tawhid’s congregants mirrors that of Toronto itself, including a small percentage of Black Muslims.41 Mouna (she/her), who grew up in a mostly South Asian community, recalled attending a very diverse high school where she was exposed to various religious beliefs and cultures, influencing her

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desire to belong to a heterogeneous community like El-­Tawhid. Mosque leaders and other congregants are also influenced by Canada’s Indigenous presence. At least one congregant is an Indigenous woman who is often invited to smudge the prayer space as a form of wudu or ghusl, forms of Islamic purification that traditionally involve water. Toronto is also home to several other queer-­inclusive religious and interfaith communities, and many El-­Tawhid members took part in other communities, too, either before joining the mosque or through multiple affiliations. One of these was the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCCT), richly described in David Seitz’s ethnography: “For Toronto’s LGBTQ Christians, MCCT has historically served as a ‘revolving door,’ welcoming people whose faith community of upbringing rejected them, only to see some of those people return to their childhood faiths as attitudes about sexuality in many faith communities have liberalized. Importantly, MCCT also acts as a revolving door for people who are not necessarily Christian.”42 He might have been writing about Mouna, who told me that before she found El-­Tawhid, she had joined MCCT, which she described a “mixed congregation” of “straight folks” and “queer folks,” where she felt inspired by the “queer-­identified” reverend and welcomed by congregants. She even met some other queer Muslims there. David, a queer intersex Tunisian Jew who joined El-­ Tawhid as soon as it began hosting Juma, also remains very involved in Toronto’s progressive Jewish community. Fatma, a bisexual Bengali-­ Canadian woman I met at El-­Tawhid, told me she found queer Muslim community in Toronto primarily through the Sufi community (as part of the Rifai dergah that Laury, El-­Farouk, and several other ETJC members also attended) and through Salaam. El-­Tawhid was thus one choice among several options for nonconformist Muslims seeking community. In our June 2019 conversation on his rooftop patio, El-­Farouk listed a number of groups that welcome queer Muslims, including Salaam, the Muslim Womxn at Ryerson, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, the Noor Center, and the Rifai dergah.43 “People actually do have options here. We’re not all Wahhabi-­mosqued, right?” he asked, laughing. “Or simply unmosqued.” El-­Farouk’s point, I think, was that those who came to El-­Tawhid did so because it was more than just a community organization or support group; they valued the religious rituals it conducted. As Laury put it in

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my conversation with her the same week, “There’s a critical mass of Muslims” in Toronto: “Good enough for a group of weirdos,” she concluded. El-­Farouk prided himself on El-­Tawhid’s diversity, which extended beyond ethnicity. For example, describing attendance at an April 2018 Juma, he reported that about twenty-­six had attended in person, and an additional fifteen via live video. Those in person included seven refugees from sub-­Saharan Africa, six converts (two African Americans, one African man, and three white-­presenting converts), one Malaysian, one Afghani Canadian with two children, two Bangladeshis, and a couple of first-­and second-­generation South Asians. At the end of a Juma in fall 2018, El-­Farouk asked those of us online to use the live video’s chat feature to type our introductions, give our pronouns, and say where we were during Juma. As he read each person’s introduction aloud for the benefit of those in Toronto, we learned that participants were at home or work in Toronto and other cities in Canada, the United States, Germany, and Turkey. El-­Farouk concluded, “So, not only are we multicultural and multidenominational, and a multiethnic, and a multiracial, and a multigendered Juma, physically with us, but even more diverse online, so Alhamdulillah”—­praise be to God. At El-­Tawhid, and no less at the other mosques I visited for research, participants treated their ethnic, racialized, sectarian, and gender diversity as linked to their mission to promote solidarity across differences. And attendees learned, through physical practices and nearness to one another’s bodies, to enact solidarity across difference in prayer. We explore these issues here in two parts: first, by examining how the spatial and corporeal arrangements in El-­Tawhid’s Jumas differed from those of most mosques and, second, how the bodily experience of these differences created participants’ sense of solidarity with other Muslims on the margins.

Queer(ed) Gatherings At an individual body level, Juma at El-­Tawhid and other nonconformist congregations looked and sounded much like Juma anywhere. In each prayer cycle, one stands and faces Mecca, bows, and prostrates oneself, repeating the cycle twice, and concludes by kneeling on the ground. Mecca is a standard “anchoring point” toward which Muslims are

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“oriented,”44 one binding them together across ideological differences. Some Muslims hold that Juma is valid only when an imam leads a collective. Many nonconformist groups gathered for Juma, a practice they shared with other Muslims, but reinterpreted based on the particular feminist and queer values to which they ascribed. In some sense, this practice is legible to all Muslims even if some would not see the bodily relations I describe as acceptable. When we think about bodies, we must do so in relation to the physical world, space, objects, and other bodies. The positioning of bodies in space and in relation to one another links social values and human practices.45 For many Muslims, Juma’s purpose is not only worship but also to participate as a community member, a group of bodies moving and voices reciting the Qur’an in unison. Instead of the usual midday prayer, which has four prostration cycles, listening to a sermon replaces two cycles on Fridays. Specific bodily movements and discourse genres (e.g., Arabic greetings, Qur’anic verses recited in ritual prayer, memorized petitions to God) are expected at congregational prayers. A linear spatial orientation to Juma regulates how participants enter a typical prayer space, in which part of the mosque or room they pray (front or back, one side or the other, main prayer hall or in an area designated for women) and in which direction (toward Mecca). In nonconformist congregations, communal prayer was where difference from other Muslim mosques emerged and a means through which they cultivated new forms of solidarity. Whereas, in most mosques, one’s shoulders only meet those of someone who shares one’s assigned gender, in a nonconformist Juma Muslims both sat and stood side by side without regard for sex or gender. Thus, while ritual prayer involved “acts of following” familiar forms, in their deviation from gender-­segregated prayer, nonconformist congregations were, in Sara Ahmed’s terms, “queer gatherings” using “the same ‘points’ for different effects.”46 Still oriented toward Mecca, nonconformist Muslims created new prayer lines and new “lines of thought.”47 Positionings and social values differ in nonconformist congregations from typical ones in several important ways. We investigate three examples: locating and entering the prayer space, the extent to which bodily contact “across” gender was permitted and normalized, and how bodies became ritually pure.

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Finding and Entering the Space It is not hard to find a mosque in most North American cities. Even in neighborhoods where they are not immediately visible, websites offer addresses and, in some cases, even user-­generated reviews.48 But those who want to perform Juma in a gender-­integrated setting have to search harder. Most inclusive congregations did not own their own spaces, instead renting or borrowing rooms from community centers or churches to create “pop-­up mosques” for just a few hours weekly.49 Many were hidden from public view through their security practices, which gave congregants safety and anonymity. In many cases, the Juma’s location was kept secret and given out to individual newcomers directly by group leaders after some vetting, usually by electronic messaging. Such caution warded off critique and protected queer and trans congregants from family ostracism and even violence. Such secrecy also stands in stark contrast to earlier instances of highly public women-­led prayer events, like the wadud prayer discussed above, which garnered extensive media attention and seemed designed to stir up controversy.50 While many nonconformist mosque leaders I met did not shy away from the media, their primary goal was to provide a safe space for Muslims on the margins to practice their religion together, not to cause discord in the wider umma. The materiality of mosques was an important aspect of how nonconformists experienced Juma. Once one knew the Juma’s location, the nongendered entrance to an inclusive prayer space was the first difference from many other mosques. This difference was especially noticeable to the women I spoke with, who often criticized mosques that have a women’s entrance or separate and inferior women’s spaces.51 My conversation with Inok illustrates this critique. I became friends with Inok (she/her) when I lived in Los Angeles. We both regularly attended MPV-­LA’s Juma for a few years, and we bonded over being pregnant at the same time in 2011–­2012. When I returned to LA for research and interviewed her in 2016, Inok described her experience attending a Texas mosque after she came from Indonesia to the United States for college: “I went there for Ramadan because that’s what I was used to. And I hated it. The women are upstairs or in the back. It’s just the typical mosque where the women are segregated and in the

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back room, and the loudspeaker [to hear the sermon and the imam] isn’t really good. It was just like we were an afterthought, so after a while, I thought, ‘Why bother?’ ” When Inok said, “a typical mosque,” at the start of her description, at first I assumed she was speaking of Indonesian mosques. However, as she continued, her comparison of the Indonesian mosque to the Texas one made clear that the “typical mosques” she critiqued were in the United States: “It wasn’t like that at the mosque when I was in Indonesia. I mean, it is segregated, but there’s no window. . . . There’s a big hall, and then men are in the front, and . . . women are in the back.” Although women in Inok’s Indonesian mosque were segregated from the main prayer hall, she did not mind much because she could still hear everything. She continued, “And so going from that to the mosque in Texas, where women have to go to the back, for the back room, instead of [entering through] shared gates or shared doors, it wasn’t welcoming, so I stopped going, and that was the last time until MPV-­LA.” It was not the gender-­segregated prayer itself that bothered Inok, but rather the extension of segregation to entrances and the unequal spaces allotted to men and women, where the imam and khatib became disembodied voices the women could barely hear over an inadequate loudspeaker. Inok’s experience disrupts the assumption that migration itself leads to increasingly liberal religious beliefs, and echoes Leila Ahmed’s description of North American mosques, which she suggests tend to be more conservative than those immigrants leave behind in their homelands.52 Concluding that the Texas mosque “wasn’t welcoming,” Inok left the space of the mosque altogether, not returning until she found MPV-­LA’s Juma. There, all congregants entered through the same door, shared the same space regardless of gender, and had equal access to the imam and khatib.

Gender Muslims who grow up attending mainstream mosques and events in other Muslim spaces are often taught to avoid interaction with Muslims of the “opposite” sex, even in unsegregated settings.53 As a new convert, I remember being surprised when I went to dinner at the home of a friend I had made through the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and found

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all the women sitting together, away from the men. My friend Azeem, a “mixed-­race” American from a multireligious “Pakistani-­Punjabi-­ Muslim” family described his experience at his MSA during college in Chicago: “You’re at a school with all different genders and yet in the Muslim space, . . . you lower your head . . . and you barely acknowledge women exist.” For American-­born Muslims like Azeem and me, the experience of embodying space with people of diverse genders in one’s secular life contrasted starkly with the expectation of segregation in mosques and Muslim social settings influenced by conservative ideologies. In contrast, in inclusive spaces, there was no gendered restriction on interaction, even physical affection. Describing this difference, my friend Aiman, a Palestinian who immigrated first to Syria and then to the United States, told me that he enjoyed MPV-­LA, where we first met, because “things are more dynamic, more liquid, people [of all genders] can get together, which is a lot more comfortable.” I had a similar experience to Aiman’s when I arrived at El-­Tawhid for my first visit in September 2016. People I knew from Facebook came over to welcome me, and the mosque’s president greeted me with a warm hug as we met for the first time. El-­Farouk, whom I had known through various online groups and other projects for several years, came over to hug me as we met in person for the first time. Maher, an Iranian Canadian man I knew from online groups, also came over to greet me. My experience, even as a first-­time attendee, was similar to my longer-­ term experience as a regular participant in MPV-­LA. It also echoed Azeem’s description of the “progressive” community in the Bay Area he joined after college: men and women “were side by side” during events “and it wasn’t a big deal to shake hands or to give each other hugs,” he said. As anthropologist Marjorie Goodwin explains, touch enables the “embodied interactive constitution of intimacy,” which she calls haptic sociality.54 In the book Inside the Gender Jihad, amina wadud describes being asked by a male colleague if she hugged men. Her story indicates how transformative this form of haptic sociality can be: I was surprised that a Muslim male had asked me this question, although the answer was “Yes, as a matter of fact I do.” Until then, I had only embraced women and non-­Muslim males. There in a public setting, in the

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company of others, for one brief moment, I exchanged embraces with several of the non-­mahram Muslim males. I felt I was actually accepted as another equal human being. This had a profound symbolic effect on me and surrounded my hopes that somehow it might really be possible to transcend gender disparity within Islam.55

The physical arrangement of space in nonconformist Jumas facilitated such cross-­gender interaction. When I arrived for the first time at El-­Tawhid, others had already begun to sit in a rough circle around the edges of rugs and scarves where we would sit for the sermon before the prayer itself, mostly cross-­legged on the floor, a few on chairs. Adults and children intermingled side by side: men, women, children, cis, trans, and nonbinary Muslims and a few non-­Muslims. Congregants’ circular orientation required proximity to one another regardless of gender. The circle is charged with symbolism in many religious traditions, but here it also enacted equality among bodies and gazes. The cosmological symbolism of the circle resonated with many congregants’ affinity with Sufism. Sufis see the revealment of the divine’s infinite names from the incomprehensible Essence [i.e., God] as analogous to the projection of the circumference’s indefinite number of points from the indivisible center and to the reflection of God’s “forms” in the mirrors of beings. Through this ontological relationship, the circle becomes the symbol of the first comprehensible form of unity the Essence takes on. The circle’s inherent geometrical qualities are thus conditioned by the metaphysical reality it embodies. The circle, therefore, offers effective cues that help us understand the paradox of unity and multiplicity.56

Many mosques utilize circles in their architecture because of such symbolism. El-­Tawhid had no physical space in which to do so and instead incorporated it into its congregants’ use of their bodies in this borrowed space. Enacting this “unity and multiplicity” while sitting in a circle, every congregant faced everyone else in a simultaneously face-­to-­face and side-­by-­side bodily arrangement. What El-­Farouk called “gender apartheid” was impossible: even if men sat on one side of the circle and women on the other, they would meet in the middle; there were

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also several participants who did not identify as men or women. Many participants mentioned the circle as a salient feature of the Jumas they attended, one they associated not just with gender equality but also with rejecting authority and of “the visual symbolism of the pulpit” found in typical mosques.57

Purity The approach to purifying the body before prayer at El-­Tawhid also differed from most mosques. Every Juma began with one congregant leading others in tayammum (dry ablution), a practice many Muslims consider appropriate only if water is unavailable.58 Instead of dipping their hands in water and wiping the requisite body parts, during tayammum, El-­Tawhid congregants tapped the floor and wiped unseen dust over their hands, face, and arms. While water was available in nearby restrooms, some forwent wudu (wet ablution) either for practical reasons—­washing one’s feet in a public bathroom is challenging—­or for political and environmental ones—­concern for Indigenous people’s water rights. Finding an alternative way to perform ritual purity parallels religious studies scholar S. J. Crasnow’s depiction of trans Jews who have created queer mikveh (ritual bath) traditions. The mikveh, wudu, and public bathrooms all “may be associated with purity” and “may involve the surveillance and regulation of bodies in ways that are problematic for trans individuals, particularly through binary gender segregation and the policing of gender according to normative expectations.”59 Tayammum solved this problem by enabling congregants to skip washing up in the bathroom and come immediately to Juma. While I never witnessed tayammum in the other congregations I visited, it did come up in discussion. Some participants in other nonconformist groups considered it acceptable to perform tayammum rather than wudu, mentioning its use by “people with limited movement” who might have trouble washing their feet. Many believed that what matters is intention rather than orthopraxy, invoking an important Islamic theological and legal concept, niyya (intention), which many Muslims agree is foundational to action.60 For those who approved of tayammum as an alternative to wudu even when water was available, the practice contributed to accessibility for those with physical disabilities, functioning to

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incorporate various bodies in the congregation. It also created parity of access to water, time, and bathrooms: No matter where one is coming from before Juma or how long it has been since one last made wudu, everyone has equal access to time and space to become ritually pure before prayer. Because tayammum was done communally, unlike individual wudu, it also focused the congregation (as a body) on their bodies, inviting others’ gaze toward the tayammum leader’s body as each person mimicked their movements. Incorporating ablution into the congregational ritual itself, as opposed to assuming individuals were already in a state of ritual purity when they arrived, demonstrates how congregants appropriated and reused the practices of a wider Muslim public to do interactional embodied work that constituted their congregation as a Muslim one—­ whereas, for example, forgoing ablution altogether would not. Tayammum with carpet dust also subtly shifted ablution’s purpose: whereas wudu symbolically creates ritual purity and physically cleanses the body parts touched by water, tayammum here was purely symbolic.61

Intercorporeal Shifts How did uses and understandings of the body in inclusive Jumas come to differ from those of more typical congregations, and how did a newcomer come to find meaning and value in these new bodily practices? Even when congregants followed tradition by seeking out a mosque, attending Juma, or performing ablution before praying, they found differences from conventional practices, and those differences created new possibilities. As nonconformist congregations grew, they welcomed newcomers to new bodily experiences. These experiences, in turn, performatively produced new norms and future forms of embodied solidarity within religious practice. In the use and positioning of spaces and bodies, congregants strategically drew on and departed from the schematic elements of other mosques in interesting and important ways. Because most participants attended prayers in other mosques previously, they learned expectations of the conventional format. In Living Out Islam, Islamic studies scholar Scott Kugle argues that “gradual shift in religious practice happens most slowly (or perhaps halts altogether) when it comes to highly symbolic

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events, like communal prayer.”62 In contrast, for the nonconformists I interviewed, communal prayer was often the site of sudden shifts or realizations. Through the corporeal experience of doing something different, and the experience of doing it alongside others who may differ from oneself in multiple ways, a newcomer had to not only unlearn previous bodily practices but also learn to respect others who may fail or refuse to conform in ways different from one’s own nonconformity. We examine here three examples of difference that participants learn through intercorporeality: using and hearing women’s voices, shifting understandings of modesty from clothing to the gaze, and proximity to differently gendered bodies. In each case, we see not that individual nonconformity drives religious practices but precisely the opposite: it was through taking part in nonconformist practices together that participants’ beliefs and understandings shifted.

The Speaking Body At El-­Tawhid and in the Jumas and Eid prayers it hosted on Zoom, El-­Farouk asked a different congregant to read the group’s etiquette guidelines each time. Hearing the etiquette ensured that newcomers quickly learned they were in a nonconformist space and what was expected of them. Although there are other ways of reading the commitment to having diverse etiquette readers, my interest here is in gendered voices as embodied ones. As feminist philosopher Judith Butler observes, “Speaking . . . requires the larynx, the lungs, the lips, and the mouth. Whatever is said not only passes through the body but constitutes a certain presentation of the body. . . . The speaking is a sounding forth of the body, its simple assertion, a stylized assertion of its presence. I am saying what I mean: but there is a body here, and there can be no saying without that body.”63 By encouraging various people to speak, read aloud, or recite during Juma, the mosque incorporated both multiple voices and multiple bodies. It also accustomed congregants to hearing nonmale voices in an Islamic setting. Reading the etiquette guidelines aloud, teaching the congregation to perform tayammum, or leading the group in reciting various duʿa (petitionary prayers) were entry points for women to get used to hearing their own voices during a Juma, which for some eventually led to

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the willingness to give a sermon. Political scientist Amaney Jamal argues that mosque involvement gives Arab Muslim women a “political voice” outside of the mosque as well. If this holds true for nonconformist mosque-­going women, too, then it may be that using their voices in the mosque has broad effects.64 As the reference to “political voice” suggests, voice can also serve as a metaphor for “perspective.” Congregants are reminded each week, “Please be mindful that there are many voices in the circle. If you are not the khatib, keep your comments brief and give others who have not spoken a chance to speak if you wish to contribute more than once.” But including actual, literal voices—­vocalization and hearing as bodily experience—­is equally important, especially as linked to gender.65 Among some Muslims, a woman’s voice is considered part of her ‘awrah (nakedness), “that which should be concealed in public,” treated similarly to her physical body.66 In a 2016 Eid-­al-­Hajj sermon, El-­Farouk spoke of the link between women’s voices and bodies and expressed his solidarity with women: Many of us have grown up or been in Islam for a number of years, when you’re told, “Well, as a woman, you know, you shouldn’t raise your voice in public.” . . . Women in public social, religious, and sacred places should have little or no voice at all. Not seen and not heard, certainly never seen in a Muslim context, right? Particularly in the new mosques of our era where women and men have separate entrances and prayer, separate prayer halls, and so on.

As El-­Farouk claimed in his sermon, Muslim women have little opportunity to use their voices or share their perspectives in most mosques. After attending Juma at El-­Tawhid for the first time, Frank posted in the mosque’s online group about how touched he was by the experience, noting that “the prayer was led by a woman from South Africa who had not heard her own voice in public prayer before.” Mouna described her prior mosque experience as having been limited to talking with other women in a “Sister’s Circle”: I felt like I was talking to people who had the same ideas, who had the same way of thinking. . . . I met the learning curve really fast. For me, I was looking for more. I wanted to talk to the guys, . . . I wanted to talk to

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people who are older than me, younger than me. I wanted those perspectives, and I felt like I couldn’t. . . . I think I needed more.

When she eventually joined the Unity Mosque, Mouna found space, voice, and religious authority: “The founders . . . really opened the space for other people to sort of take leadership roles. . . . And so, I felt like for the first time in my life, I gave a sermon there, and I felt so good ’cause I’ve always wanted to give sermons.” The opportunity to use her voice and share her perspective in a gender-­expansive religious setting transformed Mouna into a khatib. Frank’s comments “not . . . before” and Mouna’s reference to “the first time in my life” highlight the novelty and difference through which participants framed their experiences in LGBTQ-­inclusive congregations. Male newcomers to inclusive Jumas are also likely never to have heard a woman recite Qur’an in a public, gender-­integrated space or giving a sermon. Azeem told me, “I’m used to Muslim spaces, growing up, where the female voice is relegated to a whisper or nothing at all.”He recalled mosque leaders in Illinois yelling at women to quiet down in the back of the prayer hall: “I always felt kind of angry inside, growing up with sisters and growing up with a lot of women in my life, because [their] voice wasn’t present.” In contrast, Azeem described a Sufi space in the Bay Area where he first experienced Muslim gender expansiveness: a “mixed, gender-­inclusive sort of space” where people of all genders took turns in all the ritual roles. Azeem liked “having the female voice” there, he said. Eventually, he joined “a community where women were reciting Qur’an, . . . we were reading prayer together, we were doing zikr [reciting God’s names], . . . Sufi chanting, meditation practices, and all that stuff together.” That exposure had a strong effect on Azeem, one he described in bodily terms: “Instantly, it felt really, really good, and I almost felt a kind of sigh, like a sigh, breathing a sigh of relief, ’cause I finally felt . . . ‘Okay. This is where I’m meant to be, . . . in these sorts of spaces.’ ” Hearing Muslim women’s voices in congregation is a transformative experience for nonconforming Muslims, one felt in the body.

Lower Your Own Gaze Just as nonconformist mosques encouraging women to use their voices in congregation transgresses conservative understandings of ‘awrah, so

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do their norms surrounding modesty and the gaze. El-­Tawhid’s etiquette guidelines—­now also used by several other Unity Mosques throughout North America—­highlight its departure from conservative conceptions of appropriate prayer garb, reminding congregants, There is no imposed dress code at the mosque. The Qur’an enjoins modesty for all believers. Congregants are free to express modesty according to their own experience and understanding. If you think someone is not modestly dressed, we refer you to the Qur’anic injunction to lower your own gaze. To be clear, this means that the mosque does not require women to cover their hair at any point during service. If a person does so, it is her choice; if she does not, it’s her choice.

Muslim men are accustomed to significant sartorial freedom and, at least in North America, wear whatever they like to Juma. But women in most mosques are expected to cover their arms to the wrist, their legs to their ankles, and wear a scarf over their hair during prayer, even when they pray in an area invisible to men. As religious studies scholar Nina Hoel describes, “the ethical category of modesty” invokes certain forms of women’s clothing and is also used to regulate women’s “bodily conduct, behaviour, speech, and performance.”67 Nonconformist mosques that use etiquette guidelines borrowed from El-­Tawhid expand understandings of the modest body to include people of all genders and, by focusing on bodily communication inherent in the gaze, put modesty’s onus on the viewer rather than the body viewed.68 Nonconformists’ heterogeneous clothing at Juma, which often included loose headscarves, T-­shirts and jeans, knee-­length dresses, leggings, kufis, and West African–­style headwraps, evidenced their liberal approach to modesty. Many women prayed like I do, with wrists, ankles, and hair exposed. Whereas many religious traditions associate cultivation of modesty with covering the body, nonconformists reorient and train themselves toward dispositions of group indifference to one another’s dress.69 As their reference to the “Qur’anic injunction to lower your own gaze” suggests, this approach does not merely invert conservative practice but explicitly draws on the Islamic discursive tradition to authenticate and authorize the congregation’s norms.70 Their indifference to others’ clothing choices also resonates with other forms of modesty-­as-­avoidance-­of-­gaze

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practiced in secular settings like public gyms, saunas, and workplaces. Both ways of seeing modesty have to be learned and unlearned; both are formed contextually and interpersonally. While many nonconformists do not cover their hair in prayer, this is a learned choice for some women. Dana (she/her), whose decision to join the Atlanta Unity Mosque (AUM) appeared in chapter 2, was a white-­presenting American convert who had initially seen converting as a form of rebellion from her Christian upbringing. She told me that she had learned to wear a headscarf while praying in mosques in the United States and Saudi Arabia, where she had lived for several years. But after joining AUM, she described herself gradually unlearning this: “I remember one time forgetting to bring my [scarf] to Juma. . . . I had to pray with a naked head, and I felt kind of funny. . . . It was just kind of a new freedom. I like that. . . . I forgot my [scarf] another time, but it’s becoming less uncomfortable.” Dana’s use of the present progressive “it’s becoming” even while referring to a past event (“another time”) suggests her “embodied anticipation” of not wearing a scarf during future prayers.71 The embodied experience of praying with others without a scarf gradually created her willingness to do so on future occasions.

Bodily Proximity After each sermon at El-­Tawhid, as congregants stood and prepared for salat, El-­Farouk instructed congregants on how to position their bodies. “So, form your rows,” he said at a September 2016 prayer. He continued, The prophet said believers are like the teeth of a comb. So, line up shoulder to shoulder. Think of yourself as a wall against injustice. After the prayer, we’ll go back into a circle. If you don’t know how to pray and want to join in, no problem. Just stand next to somebody and just follow along. So, one inch behind the imam on either side of the imam. Just step right up, step right up, step right up, step right up, just one inch behind her, that’s it, that’s all you need. One inch behind. Fill this side up.

He pointed to one row. “Fill this side up, Zeinab, Katrina,” he called us by name as we arranged our bodies shoulder to shoulder, as close as “the teeth of a comb.”

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Through reported prophetic speech, metaphor, and directives, El-­ Farouk encouraged us to move closer together than some, especially newcomers, were accustomed. His invitation to those who did not know how to perform Islamic ritual prayers also created a welcoming environment for non-­Muslims or new converts to take part, engaging in learning by copying others’ bodily movements. All those who were physically able to do so stood up and moved into rows, offering a kinesic display of readiness by assuming the appropriate bodily alignment, joining the imam and one another “in a collective positioning of bodies for praying.”72 Those unable to stand or prostrate easily sat in chairs in the last row. We saw earlier how the experience of praying next to men changed Samia’s view of its permissibility. Men, too, are changed by the experience of praying next to women. As we sat in his living room, Aiman told me, “The very first time I did that, it was a little bit apprehensive for me. . . . I felt a little physically nervous. I said, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ And I was a little bit hot, I remember, and it was really ­different. . . . Now it is the norm. If I go to a regular mosque and see all [the] men standing alone, it feels a bit unnatural to me.” I can’t be certain what Aiman meant by “hot” in this context—­he might have been embarrassed, turned on, or just too warm. But it is clear that the shift from being nervous to accepting a new norm, even feeling that an old norm is now unnatural—­these were bodily sensations for him. Frank had a similar experience when he first prayed at a gender-­ integrated Juma during a June 2012 MPV retreat in New York. When I spoke with him and Jean, Jean used reported speech as she recalled the text messages Frank had sent her about his experience: “He sent one that said something like . . . ,” she struggled to recall. Addressing Frank, she continued, “It was something exciting you said.” Then, giving voice to those remembered texts, she told me, “ ‘We did the prayers, and I was standing between two women, and there were women all around me.’ He said, ‘I felt so freed.’ He said, ‘I never realized how oppressive it was. I knew it was oppressive for women, but I never realized how oppressive it was for me to be devalued in that way. To be told that . . . I’m contaminated, I can’t stand next to the women.’ ” Later I found that Frank had also posted about his revelation in MPV’s Facebook group, writing of the prayer:

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After I took my place, a young woman from Indianapolis took her place beside me. It was the first time I had been in a congregational prayer that was oblivious to gender. I was very moved by it. I had been aware of my feeling that the banishment of women from the men’s prayer space was an injustice to women. I had not been aware that I myself had felt devalued because women were unwilling to pray either in front of or beside me as if I were animalistic or unclean. It was quite a surprise to see that I had been feeling the pain of discrimination also.

Although Jean remembered Frank saying he was seen as “contaminated,” the version in his own words suggests he believed Muslim women in what Aiman called “regular mosques” saw him as a contaminant. In anthropologist Mary Douglas’s terms, in those mosques, men and women belonged in separate spaces and to be near each other was to be “matter out of place.”73 Proximity to women’s bodies did not incite Aiman’s or Frank’s desire, as critics of woman-­led or “mixed-­gender” prayer would claim. Instead, it created new understandings of what was natural or unnatural, normal or oppressive, worthy or unworthy of attention. For Frank, a new sense of bodily freedom starkly contrasted with the realization that, in mainstream prayer settings, his body was “contaminated” or rendered “animalistic” by assumptions about the male gaze. These cis men’s experiences suggest that developing an antipatriarchal ritual benefits not only the most marginalized but even the more privileged among nonconformist congregants.

Conclusion One Friday in March 2017, I had lunch with Mahdia at a Chicago diner before Juma at Masjid-­al-­Rabia, the LGBTQ-­affirming mosque she had helped found the previous year. As we ate, Mahdia, a white-­presenting American woman woman of trans experience and a convert with a disability, told me about her first experience sharing physical space with other queer and trans Muslims at a retreat: “Before that moment, I had known hypothetically that LGBT Muslims exist and this is okay, and there is family. . . . But it took to actually be there and to not just see the theory of it. To see those possibilities in action was really phenomenal.”

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When I listened again to the recording of our interview and reread the transcript, the double meaning of the word phenomenal struck me. Although Mahdia seemed to use the word in its colloquial sense, meaning “marvelous, extraordinary, fantastic,” for me, it also carried its original meaning: “capable of being known empirically, esp. through the senses or through immediate experience.”74 More recently, another queer friend on social media posted a picture of himself wearing a T-­shirt that read, “PHENOMENALLY MUSLIM,” which seems like an apt description for many of the nonconformists I know. While focused on the bodily experiences and reorienting practices of nonconformist Muslims in context, this chapter also revealed areas where a focus on the embodied performance of already-­held beliefs or interpretations conceals the performativity involved in ritual religious practice. Widely held understandings of gender, modesty, and voice mask the fact that religious people interpret and practice their religion in ways that do not necessarily conform to taken-­for-­granted understandings. But neither do nonconformists reject such understandings altogether: traditions are reworked through the body in proximity to other bodies and embodied others. Nonconformist Muslims’ religious practices changed not because they decided a religious reformation was needed, but rather because small bodily changes in practice added up to queered gatherings through worshipping together and developing new habits.75 In the congregations I visited, this was evident in many ways—­ for example, frequently articulated positive evaluations of one another’s embodied diversity, spatial arrangements that facilitated gender-­equal interaction, purity rituals that included individuals with diverse needs, incorporating multiple voices into ritual practice, disrupting heterosexism and cisnormativity by reinterpreting modesty and gaze, and allowing participants, through proximity during prayer, to experience themselves as humans equal before God rather than as sexualized beings. In other religious settings, too, the examination of embodied interaction may illuminate the way that small ritual shifts lead to broader religious change, solidarity across embodied and other differences, and new group identities. In their difference from the usual bodily practices of Juma, nonconformists were frequently critiqued for engaging in practices many mainstream Muslims consider alien to Islamic values.76 They not only stood

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behind female imams but broke down gender segregation completely to include queer, trans, and nonbinary Muslims; abandoned conservative norms for modesty and the gaze; shared authority to a large extent (though not completely, as I explore in chapter 6); and valued accessibility. Rather than arguing about these practices’ Islamic legality or seeking precedents for them, inclusive congregations embodied precedent for future practices by enacting them in the present, creating a “future history.”77 By bodily enacting difference, nonconformist congregations made space for Muslims on the margins and opened up possibilities for future solidarity practices. Ethnographic attention to congregants’ lived experience reveals their ongoing work to create new spaces where everybody—­and every body—­is welcomed, creating further opportunities for future solidarity and embodied interaction. An egalitarian prayer space “exists not only in a hoped-­for future; it is recreated and made present” in embodied ways for nonconformist congregants each week.78 Yet their bodies also pointed toward hoped-­for phenomenal futures. Such work toward increasingly inclusive futures resonates with what Tina Campt describes as “the grammar of black feminist futurity,” “a performance of a future that hasn’t yet happened but must”—­both a grammar and a centering of Blackness to which I return in chapter 6.79


Queer Muslim Talk The voices of marginalized groups—­like women, lesbian, gay, and transgender Muslims—­insist on justice after such a long-­imposed silence. —­Scott Kugle, Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims (Oxford: Oneworld, 2010)

At Toronto Pride 2019, my friend Shams (she/her) invited me and others from El-­Tawhid, where we had first met, to hear her give a Muslim blessing at the Dyke March, alongside other women religious leaders from various traditions. Shams wore a green abaya and matching sheer scarf loosely covering her graying hair. Standing in front of a large banner that wished attendees “Happy Pride,” she began with a land acknowledgment, recognizing that the event was taking place on land stolen from Indigenous peoples. Although this statement is commonplace at events in Canada and increasingly in the United States, it was far more than obligatory for Shams because, as she stated, as an African American woman, she is herself “a descendant from stolen people.” She continued by offering all present the Muslim greeting of peace: “I greet the ancestors and elders with the beautiful words that Allah gave us, Assalamu alaykum, may peace be upon you. And dear wonderful sisters and friends and allies here and future generations within your love, Assalamu alaykum.” Shams then addressed an assumption likely held by many in her audience—­that Islam forbids homosexuality. In her characteristic dry wit, Shams said, “Many times Allah has had some really bad publicists.” “But, here’s the thing,” Shams continued, “in the Qur’an, Allah mentions same-­sex desire exactly one time. And in that one time, Allah said, ‘Women, you can take off your headscarves around men who, quote, ‘have no desire for women,’ ” she read from the script she held, 98

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paraphrasing Qur’anic verse 24:31. “That’s it, folks. That’s all. Everything else is someone’s interpretation.” Then Shams offered her counterinterpretation, citing a different verse: “Instead of being against queer people, we have so many examples in the Qur’an where Allah talks about people being different, and everyone’s difference is to be respected. One of those that I really like is in chapter seventeen, verse eighty-­four. Allah says, ‘Everyone acts according to his or her own disposition. For your Lord knows best who it is that’s best [guided] on the Way.’ ”1 Then Shams offered her commentary on the verse: I understand that to mean that everyone needs to act according to their own expression of sexuality, to their own expression of gender identity, to their own expression of just how you wanna rock your style. And the splendid way that Allah has given you individually. And, from my own position, I have found a great deal of comfort in the words that Allah said in chapter fifty-­seven, verse twenty-­five: “When we sent our messages, our messengers with clear evidence and the book, so that people would maintain justice.” Pride has always been a fight for justice.

Shams concluded by offering a du’a, a personal petition to God, ending with, “Oh, Allah, please touch the lives of all queer people everywhere. . . . Please give them pride and dignity, individually and collectively, and please give that to all of us gathered here today. Amin.” The audience, mostly queers, responded in unison, “Amin.” *** Shams’s opening words and Pride prayer spoke to two dominant ideologies threatening to erase LGBTQ+ Muslims. Referring to Allah’s “bad publicists,” Shams aimed to teach her predominantly non-­Muslim audience that Islam is not homophobic. And for the few Muslims present, like me and others from El-­Tawhid, she also disrupted the notion that queerness is sinful, recasting difference as Allah’s will through an argument that echoes the vital work of Scott Kugle—­whose work on sexual and gender diversity in Islam has proved valuable to many nonconformists.2 While making this argument, Shams’s very presence, as a Black Muslim woman in hijab speaking at an LGBTQ+ event, and her words, which combined references to the Qur’an, and both references to and

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direct address of Allah, on the one hand, with talk of queerness, Pride, sexuality, and gender identity, on the other, created a masterful example of indexical disjuncture.3 Linguist Rusty Barrett coined this term to refer to how language and other semiotic signs can be used to point to multiple identities often assumed to be incompatible, thereby undermining and critiquing that assumption. As a cisgender, heterosexual convert offering a queer interpretation of the Qur’an to an audience of primarily non-­Muslims, Shams also demonstrated that one need not identify as queer to take up queer voices and socialize others into queer understandings. Including “future generations” in her opening greeting and ending with a du’a, Shams also engaged in discursive futurism, asking God to intervene in creating a more queer-­friendly future. The ritual closing Amin (like “amen” in Jewish and Christian prayers), echoed by attendees, allowed those who heard Shams’s prayer to join in as participants.4 By involving non-­Muslims in her prayer, Shams petitioned God not just for a queer-­friendly future but for one where queer and other Muslims feel welcome at LGBTQ+ events like Pride. Shams’s prayer exemplified what I describe in this chapter as “queer Muslim talk,” how LGBTQ+ and other “queer” Muslims use language to create belonging and to socialize others into more inclusive understandings of Islam. Queer Muslim talk refers to how nonconformists—­ regardless of their gender modality (whether one is transgender or cisgender) or sexual orientation—­may “queer” their talk by rethinking or disrupting Muslim discursive norms.5 When I use queer(s) as a noun, I do so in an identitarian sense to refer to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, or any of the rapidly proliferating labels used to classify gender and sexual diversity. In this sense, I use the terms Muslim queers and LGBTQ+ Muslims interchangeably. But when I use the adjective queer, I refer to nonconformist Muslims more generally, who, I argue, trouble norms that exclude LGBTQ+ folks and other nonconformists from Islam. Similarly, queer as a verb refers to the disruption that queers and other nonconformists enact in relation to wider understandings of Islam. My friend Frank (he/him), a white-­presenting American convert in his seventies who led the MPV-­Columbus Unity Mosque with his wife, Jean, and whom you met in the previous chapter, captured this dual use

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when he invited congregants to their “queer Juma” in December 2018: “To be queer is to be faithful to one’s true nature. To be queer is to have allowed oneself to be the unique person one is meant to be. Being queer is not about sexuality. It is about integrity.” My use of the word queer in these two ways contributes to a growing body of scholarship on “queer Muslims,” in which queer refers primarily to sexual and gender diversity,6 and to applications of queer theory, in which (to) queer includes the troubling of all kinds of norms.7 For some nonconformists, like Frank, who was bisexual, the word had both meanings, and to contest norms they found oppressive allowed them to live and practice Islam with honesty. In this chapter, we examine how LGBTQ+ and other nonconformist Muslims queered their talk about Islam to claim a simultaneously Muslim and queer voice. As the analysis shows, the Muslim queers and the cishet nonconformist Muslims who practiced Islam in solidarity with them strategically indexed both queerness and Muslimness in their conversations online and offline and in their embodied practices during meetings and prayers. Doing so challenged marginalizing discourses, created safe spaces that benefited other Muslims on the margins, and socialized one another into LGBTQ+ affirmation. We also examine how LGBTQ+ Muslims were marginalized, how they strategically disrupted that marginalization, and how newcomers learned to be in solidarity with them. Taken together, these diverse narratives illustrate how queer Muslim talk created space for both LGBTQ+ and other nonconformist Muslims and opportunities for socialization that helped create the communities they desired. Understanding how Muslims learned to queer their talk reveals how nonconformist Muslim groups established and promoted a sense of inclusivity that upheld certain aspects of the Islamic tradition even while they created and engaged in profound reinterpretations of Islam. This work of gaining understanding was a way of learning, creating know-­how, so that it could be applied intentionally, with the future in mind. With few exceptions, scholarship on LGBTQ+ Muslims has focused on individual experiences collected through interviews, and on those of gays and lesbians—­rarely bisexuals or trans Muslims.8 Except for some work on South Africa’s Inner Circle mosque, very little scholarship has addressed Muslim queers who have joined or created a welcoming

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religious community.9 Ethnographic work in other LGBTQ-­inclusive Christian and Jewish communities, however, has demonstrated how congregants create “citizenship” together in pursuit of “social justice . . . beyond the narrow scope of LGBTQ identity politics.”10 An ethnographic focus on LGBTQ+ Muslims’ self-­understandings and contextualized interactions with heterogeneous others within religious settings contributes to understanding the intersection of language use, queerness, and religion.

LGBTQ+ Erasure in Muslim Communities Although 60 percent of US Muslims support LGBT civil liberties, and 36 percent of Canadian Muslims “believe homosexuality should be generally accepted by society,”11 the belief that homosexuality and Muslimness are incompatible, incongruent, or incommensurable is still widespread among Muslims and non-­Muslims alike.12 For Muslims, on the one hand, this belief is typically justified through reference to a widespread interpretation of the Qur’anic story of Lot (or Lut)—­a version of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah story that claims God punished Lot’s community primarily because its men engaged in sodomy.13 Many non-­Muslims, on the other hand, seem to believe that Muslims are a monolithic group, inherently conservative and universally homophobic, and with no shared membership with “homosexuals.”14 Sadly, even some Muslim queers seem to share this view, assuming that all Muslim communities will forever reject them.15 For those who believe Islam prohibits homosexuality, the idea that one could be both a religious Muslim and queer is a failure of imagination that results in the erasure and silencing of religious LGBTQ+ Muslims. As queer Muslim memoirist (and El-­Tawhid congregant) Samra Habib has written, “It seemed that because we didn’t fit the popular imagination’s perceptions of Muslims, we simply didn’t exist.”16 “Erasure,” according to linguistic anthropologists Judith Irvine and Susan Gal, “is the process in which ideology . . . renders some persons or activities (or sociolinguistic phenomena) invisible.”17 Despite the visual metaphor of invisibility, erasure also often results in silencing. As El-­ Tawhid cofounder Laury Silvers told me, even in times and places where Muslims tolerated sexual diversity or gender variance, this was generally

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only for “unpublicized homosexualities”—­a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that is far from the inclusion and voice that many contemporary Muslim queers seek.18 While many of the Muslim queers I interviewed spoke in general terms about how they had experienced erasure and silencing in Muslim settings, Frank and Jean shared a story that illustrated this vividly. Frank and Jean were a married couple in their seventies, both white-­ presenting American converts, though Frank had converted many years before Jean. Although I knew Frank a bit better than Jean because he was more involved in online nonconformist groups than she was, in person Jean was the more talkative. As we sat around their kitchen table after Eid prayers and a late lunch, Jean described her conversion as something that gradually happened. Her experience was more like anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann’s notion of “interpretive drift” than the cases we saw earlier, but still involved embodied practice rather than primarily conversations or books.19 While regularly attending a discussion group on Turkish culture and Rumi’s poetry with Frank, Jean said, “Somehow I began doing the prayers and to start to think of myself as a Muslim.” Frank and Jean eventually joined the predominantly African American mosque Masjid Al-­Islam. “I took shahada there,” Jean narrated, “and we were quite involved for two, two and a half years there. Until the Imam was very mocking, made some very disturbing remarks during a khutbah. And Frank, after a couple of moments, got up and walked out, and I waited just a bit longer, and then got up and walked out, and that was the last time we were there.” “Well,” Frank added, “I did talk to them after that.” “Oh, yeah!” Jean said, remembering. “And I just, you know, I went to—­” Frank started saying. “To tell them why you were leaving?” I interrupted. Frank recalled what he had said to mosque leaders: “What the hell are you thinking?! . . . This is outrageous behavior! I mean, you can think homosexuality is a sin but, but—­” “What was their reaction?” I asked. “I mean, after that?” “Um, well, their reaction is that ‘It’s a sin.’ That perhaps the Imam was a bit in error there, but ‘It’s a sin.’ ” “Yeah,” Jean said, resignation in her voice.

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“I talked about, you know, ‘Well, you know, what do homosexual people do if they’re Muslims?’ and he said, ‘Well, they get married, and they don’t tell anybody.’ ” Frank laughed incredulously. “Wow! There’s a good use of women,” he said, laughing again, though clearly not finding the situation funny. After their negative experience at the mosque, Frank and Jean had no Muslim community for several years, until they found MPV and El-­ Tawhid through Facebook, and eventually started their own mosque, the MPV–­Columbus Unity Mosque. Frank was bisexual, and they both had family members and friends who were queer. Even though they passed as a heterosexual couple in many contexts, a mosque where homosexuals were treated with contempt could not be a spiritual home for them.

Muslim Erasure in LGBTQ+ Communities Mouna (she/her), a Muslim lesbian in her late thirties we encountered in chapters 1 and 3, grew up in Toronto in a “traditional Sunni conservative” family. “My parents are South Asian,” she told me, “but at the same time they’re also Canadian, and I identify with both heritages because I can’t separate myself.” She laughed. “I’m like two identities or multiple identities in one.” Still living in Toronto, Mouna regularly attended Friday prayers at El-­ Tawhid and, since 2012, also took part in its online group, ETJC, where we first got to know each other. In 2016, I interviewed her over Skype. She told me that she found El-­Tawhid while searching for spaces where she felt welcome, respected, and valued in all aspects of her identities: I identify as a lesbian, I also identify as queer, I also identify as a Muslim. I identify as a racialized woman. I identify as a feminist. I identify with so many things: as a daughter, as a lover, as a friend, as someone who questions, as someone who makes mistakes. As someone who’s spiritual. So all of these areas of who I am, I was trying to find places where these were held and honored and appreciated and also explored and also challenged. So I really found myself gravitating towards El-­Tawhid.

Outside of El-­Tawhid, Mouna said she had trouble finding spaces that respected both her lesbian identity and her Muslim identity.

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Mouna’s experience reminds us that Muslim queers also experience erasure outside of Muslim spaces. After describing her marginalization as a lesbian in Muslim spaces, Mouna told me about her experience as a Muslim in LGBTQ+ groups. “In queer circles, it’s harder to come out as Muslim,” she said. Interestingly, Mouna used “coming out” not to refer to revealing her sexual identity but rather her religious identity. “People almost assume that you would have had to give up Islam. Or there’s always that piece, where people are like—­” She let out a big sigh before continuing. “Because most of the places within the queer, the larger LGBTQI community, are largely quote-­unquote secular, so—­And as soon as I bring up that part of my identity, people kind of get anxious?” Mouna’s voice rose as she ended her sentence, almost as if asking me if I had had similar experiences.20 In secular “homonormative” (predominantly white-­presenting and liberal queer) spaces, many LGBTQ+ folks perceive religiosity as troublesome.21 As scholar of queer religion Melissa Wilcox writes, “Widespread Islamophobia . . . permeates non-­Muslim LGBTQ communities just as much as it has saturated non-­Muslim communities in the United States more broadly.”22 Other scholars report similar findings.23 In an autoethnography of his experience as a “gay Muslim single” in London, criminologist Aliraza Javaid describes other gay and bisexual men verbally assaulting him, saying, “F*ck off! Along with Allah!”24 Even though patriarchy and homophobia are problems in many religious traditions, many in the West see Islam as a particularly patriarchal and homophobic religion.25 These views contribute to the erasure of queer Muslims and silencing of their voices. Mouna also explained why religiosity is troublesome for many queers: “I get that,” she said, “because people have been hurt and are being hurt. And there have been so many things done in the name of God and the name of religion. People are sort of like, ‘Just back off.’ And also because,” Mouna said critically, “religion has had a huge role and continues to play a huge role in the marginalization and colonization of our First Nations, Inuit, Metis, aboriginal population in Canada, right? So it continues to have that kind of space.” As we saw in Shams’s speech earlier, Mouna foregrounded an intersectional approach to identities and oppressions when she talked about Christianity’s colonizing effects on Indigenous Canadians, which may influence queers’ and others’ rejection of religion.

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Summing up, Mouna told me, “I think for me, like sort of navigating between these binaristic spheres, it was hard.” But she also expressed hope for the future: “My understanding of Islam . . . has evolved, of course, over the years and it will continue to.” Mouna offered insight into why some Muslim queers sought out nonconformist Muslim communities rather than merely LGBTQ+ communities: they wanted a space where they can be queers and Muslims and where the norm was that these two aspects of one’s life were not in conflict; neither was erased, and Muslim queers could, like some of those Scott Kugle interviewed, “transcend the conflict-­ridden dichotomy of the two terms ‘gay’ and ‘Muslim.’ ”26 Like Frank expressed in his invitation to “queer Juma,” Mouna and other queer Muslims sought a spiritual life and community that allowed integrity, the queerness of an authentic self.

A Voice in the Community In the face of erasure and silencing in both cishet Muslim communities and non-­Muslim LGBTQ+ communities, nonconformist Muslims often referred to “finding” their voices and valued newfound opportunities to “voice” their opinions in inclusive Muslim groups. There was something powerful about speaking to fight against their experiences of being silenced. Voice, in an anthropological sense, includes elements of both perspective and style.27 As anthropologist Amanda Weidman argues, voice “is a salient category in Euro-­Western modernity, highly elaborated in a host of associations between voice and individuality, authorship, agency, authority, and power,” which we tend to take for granted in everyday speech.28 References to “voice” were frequent in my conversations with nonconformists. Mahdia (she/her), a cofounder of Masjid al-­Rabia in Chicago, described coming out of the closet about her trans history as “getting a voice.” In a 2016 khutbah in Toronto, Salma, a nonbinary Shi‘a Muslim, encouraged congregants to listen to their “inner voice.” In a 2016 post in MPV’s online group, Kelly, cofounder of the Atlanta Unity Mosque, encouraged MPV members to “amplify marginalized voices.” Many said that “progressive Muslim voices” are needed because they are often “drowned out” by Muslims they considered more conservative than themselves. In an interview at his home outside of Los Angeles,

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Aiman (he/him) referred to “the voice of the mosque” as a conservative one, contrasting it with “outside voices” that were “small” when he lived in Syria, but that became more accessible to him when he moved to the United States. And describing his unusual proposal to move Ramadan to December every year to coincide with other Western holidays, Ali (he/ him), an Iranian immigrant in Los Angeles, described his as a “lonely voice.” (Perhaps if Ali had known that the Nation of Islam had promoted the same idea for many years, he would not have felt so lonely.29) Many nonconformists spoke of feeling like they or other marginalized Muslims did not have a voice within the umma. In a Ramadan khutbah in Chicago in June 2016, Amy, a white-­presenting convert married to a man from South Asia, said, “Our . . . African American brothers and sisters, our queer brothers and sisters, and even sometimes people who just came to Islam later in life . . . aren’t given a voice in the community, ’cause it’s considered that they don’t know enough to be able to speak.” Similarly, Azeem (he/him) told me that many of his friends stopped taking part in Muslim events because they “don’t feel included or that they can have a voice.” Describing her goals in writing Sufi mysteries set in medieval Baghdad, Laury told me she wants “to bring to life voices” that weren’t included in most Muslim history.30 These examples depict other Muslim groups, the global umma, or those in the past, denying voice to nonconformists. In contrast to how they talked about the broader historical and contemporary umma or more local Muslim groups, many described the nonconformist community as one where they could hear more diverse voices. According to El-­Farouk, the goal of having a community conversation following the khutbah at El-­Tawhid was “to give voice to those who have traditionally not had voice.” Daaiyee described the “progressive Muslim movement” as offering “an alternative voice.” Referring to Muslim discourse more broadly, he also said, “What we have now is a . . . chorus of voices that over the centuries have . . . blended together in not a very harmonious chord.” Calling for change, he concluded, “There has to be a siren voice that calls for something different, and how I see it is that the only way to do so is to call all the voices together and strip out all the bullshit.” Daaiyee’s prophetic voice spoke to the need for a concept to help us wade into this project of bringing all the voices together, a concept to

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help us navigate, not just negate, contradictions and differences. Indexical disjuncture is precisely this concept.

Indexical Disjuncture Despite the commonplace way in which those I spoke with referred to voices, I do not understand nonconformist Muslim “voices” as merely a metaphor for their “perspectives.” Instead, I show that the pragmatic details of their talk did important work in creating inclusion.31 Linguist Rusty Barrett introduced the concept of indexical disjuncture in his book From Drag Queens to Leathermen, highlighting how gay men in various US subcultures cited stereotypes and used indexicality to create identities through interaction and performance.32 Indexicality is the idea that the meaning of particular terms, utterances, or signs emerges within a particular linguistic and situational context, not from their denotational or referential meaning alone; words or other signs point to (or “index”) elements of the context that are relevant to their interpretation.33 Through indexicality, “language users both draw on and create conventionalized associations between linguistic form and social meaning to construct their own and others’ identities.”34 In a text or performance that is “indexically congruent,” the elements involved belong to the same “order” and thus index a singular and conventional pattern of social meaning.35 For example, I think of the main character in Leila Aboulela’s wonderful novel The Translator: Sammar wears hijab, prays five times a day, fasts during Ramadan, wants to marry a Muslim man, and so on.36 Every element of her character fits together consistently, each one pointing to the same thing: her identity as a pious Muslim woman. In contrast, “indexical disjuncture” describes talk, texts, or performances in which some combination of elements points to identities or ideas that many would find contradictory. Concerning identity, indexical disjuncture involves “the act of asserting membership in multiple identity categories” simultaneously, especially identities that others see as incongruous.37 For example, in Shams’s Pride prayer, her hijab indexed her Muslimness, but her presence at Pride and her positive stance toward queerness indexed her queer inclusivity, pointing to two identities many people see as contradictory: Muslim and LGBTQ+ or even Muslim and LGBTQ-­friendly.

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By bringing together elements or identities that many assume do not usually go together, the Muslim queers I met during my research used their talk and practices to create space for themselves and others. They challenged two stereotypes simultaneously: that queerness is non-­Islamic and that Islam is a homophobic religion. As we have seen, cishet people like Shams also took up these processes; thus, I argue that indexical disjuncture queered the practices of even cisgender, heterosexual Muslims in nonconformist groups. Muslim queers and those in solidarity with them were both engaged in socialization, modeling for—­ and sometimes explicitly teaching—­one another how to interpret, talk about, and practice Islam in queer ways. Thus, participants in nonconformist Muslim groups created “blueprints” for future Muslim practices and spaces for previously unheard voices to emerge.38 Indexical disjuncture is a framework for understanding complex and intersectional identities. As we have seen, the “lived experiences of people at the intersection of two or more identities” are often erased. “Depending on the context, the ‘Muslimness’ or ‘queerness’ of the queer Muslim subject is overlooked.”39 In nonconformist contexts, queer Muslim participants could share both aspects of their identities simultaneously. I return to Mouna’s narrative to illustrate this process, and then show how cishet queer Muslims also used indexical disjuncture.

Using Language to Make Space Later in our interview, I asked Mouna, “Are there particular words or concepts in the Qur’an that you have found problematic? Or troublesome? As a queer Muslim or as a progressive Muslim?” In her response, Mouna presented herself as resistant not to the Qur’an but rather to the ways that many Muslims exclude queers from Islam. She made a tsk sound, hesitated, sighed, and then tsked again before saying, “I think, for me, it goes back to the concept of the idea of resistance, and for me, it’s about taking back. In some spaces, I identify myself as queer because I wanna take that back. I wanna take back dyke. I wanna take back lesbian. I wanna take these things back.” Openly naming herself as both queer/dyke/lesbian and Muslim resisted others’ exclusion of her from these identity categories and the erasure at work in mainstream discourse about Islam. Simultaneously, Mouna’s

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self-­presentation as resistant mirrored her subtle resistance to my question’s framing, evident in her tsking, hesitation, and sighing. Mouna went on to describe how using Arabic words for Islamic concepts was also a means of resistance, signifying her authenticity as a Muslim: For me, when I use certain things, you know, certain concepts like the concept of unity, the concept of tawhid, I wanna say it in Arabic because people question my authenticity as a Muslim because of me identifying as lesbian, queer, whatever. And so I want those words uttered by a queer mouth that are uttered by heterosexual people everywhere. So I wanna add that voice to that. That’s one of the reasons why I do it. And plus I also like it sometimes.

Later, Mouna added, “So words like tawhid, I would say that, because . . . when I say tawhid, I affirm myself as part of the diverse plan of God, the whole plan. I am a part of it.” It is common to find English-­speaking Muslims, including nonconformists, using Arabic terms like tawhid, sometimes functioning to authenticate their Muslimness and other times simply because there is no easy English equivalent.40 But here, Mouna’s use of Arabic also exemplified indexical disjuncture because she used it to insist that she was Muslim when others might see her only as queer. Moreover, Mouna’s Arabic also indexed her Islamic knowledge, refuting accusations that if Muslim queers only understood Islam better, they would know that homosexuality or gender transgression is forbidden. Mouna thus claimed religious and discursive authority, a power rooted in her agency rather than an established institution. As she suggested, when a Muslim queer uses Arabic words for Islamic concepts, the words themselves are queered—­ given a queer “voice.” By both using Arabic words that mark her as a Muslim and refusing queer silence, Mouna combined the categories of Muslimness and queerness, thereby challenging dominant assumptions that they are separable categories at all. Whereas for many Muslims, Arabic has high prestige value, Mouna went on to critique Arab influence on North American mosque culture, making it clear that Arabic does not hold the same prestige for her.41 Rather, Arabic terms for Islamic concepts like tawhid functioned

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as authentication and resistance to others’ attempts to delegitimate and erase Muslim queers, a nonconformist means of reclaiming Islam. Growing up, the idea of being Muslim was connected to the Arab culture. . . . Like, we would wear the abaya to mosque. And that’s not my tradition. So I don’t wear the abaya anymore to mosque. I wear jeans or shorts or whatever the heck I have. Which is clean, you know? And so there’s a huge Arab influence, the Wahhabi influence on how Islam is taken up and practiced and lived, lived out, and blah blah blah.

“So,” she sighed, “sometimes . . . I make a conscious decision of using certain things because I wanna take them back, or I don’t want some people just to have ownership over it, because it’s mine too.” By rhetorically linking queerness and religious Arabic but delinking Arabic from Arabs, Mouna indexed a stance as a “good” Muslim without denying or negating her identity as a lesbian, a Canadian, or a person of South Asian ancestry. Islam, Mouna concluded, belongs to queers too. Her queer, theologically framed self-­understanding of homosexuality as within God’s plan resonated with the discourse of sexually diverse and gender-­variant Muslims in other contexts as well.42

Cishet Muslim Queerness As we saw in Malika’s narrative in chapter 2, even those who did not identify as LGBTQ+ saw connections between Muslim attitudes toward queers and other forms of inclusivity. Because nonconformists also held progressive views on women’s rights and various political issues, many said they also had to hide parts of themselves in other Muslim communities. Stephanie, a Canadian who described herself as a “white girl,” said she found it “hard to join the Muslim community” because she had gay fathers. My conversation with her revealed how cishet nonconformist Muslims could also resist LGBTQ+ Muslim erasure by queering Islamic discourse. Stephanie and I met through MPV’s Facebook group, which she joined in 2011, and I interviewed her over Skype in 2017. Now in her early thirties, Stephanie told me that she converted to Islam in her mid-­twenties and had studied Islam for about three years before that.

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Describing herself as “somebody who was mostly raised in the LGBTQ community and within the Catholic Church,” she exemplified indexical disjuncture. She depicted her involvement with her local nonconformist Muslim group as focused on “community bridging”—­entering Muslim spaces she described as conservative to invite attendees to the ETJC chapter in Ottawa, with which she was involved. As somebody who can navigate conservative communities fairly easily—­ because there’s a lot of privilege to be white and cis and heterosexual, in conservative circles—­I try to do that and then sometimes just kind of chime in and disrupt their train of thoughts and their conservatism. Whether that’s showing up at convert events and being like, “Yeah, I’m a Muslim convert and I converted after I realized that there are progressive Muslims who believe LGBTQ people are okay.”

Stephanie laughed. “And [that] kind of totally derails everybody else, and it’s great and I love it,” she said, laughing again. Stephanie’s reference to “convert events” exemplifies a salient difference between the “conservative circles” she described and the nonconformist groups where I conducted research. Many mosques and other Muslim groups host convert events to socialize new Muslims into the umma. They teach them normative religious interpretations, give them the linguistic and social skills they need to take part in the wider community, and sometimes offer them material objects such as prayer rugs or scarves. Because a significant tenet of most nonconformist Muslim groups is acceptance for diverse interpretations and practices, most do not host convert events.43 As a convert myself, I have attended some convert events in Muslim communities, so I recognized Stephanie’s reference. Such events often began with a time for “convert stories” about how one became Muslim, similar to the “faith development narratives” linguistic anthropologist Susanne Stadlbauer collected among Muslim women undergraduates in Colorado. Since these events are not just for converts but also potential converts, converts’ narratives also serve as daw’ah (an invitation to Islam), another practice that most nonconformist Muslims avoid.44 But Stephanie upended the genre by describing not how she became Muslim but rather how she became an LGBTQ-­affirming Muslim. In doing so,

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she contrasted nonconformist support for LGBTQ+ equality with the norms she implied were taught in convert circles. In a sense, Stephanie enacted her own queer daw’ah by inviting others to her nonconformist, “progressive” circles. As our conversation continued, Stephanie told me, “Fitna is where I stay in with life basically. I’m like, ‘Oh, what? Am I totally disrupting your worldview? Awesome. Let’s do this.’ But I’m much more disruptive, whereas, for example, Shahra”—­another nonconformist we both knew—­“who has found much more comfort in the community, sits within the community, and doesn’t really go outside of the circle of progressive Muslims. Whereas, for me, like I said, I kind of go everywhere and just kind of cause shit wherever I go.” Stephanie concluded with a stream of laughter. Like Mouna’s use of Arabic, Stephanie used a “queer voice” in reclaiming the Arabic word fitna (temptation, chaos, and social disorder)—­an Islamic concept often associated with women.45 Here it also alluded to the nonconformist Facebook group FITNA (Feminist Islamic Thinkers of North America), of which Stephanie and I were both members. Similar to Mouna’s tawhid, Stephanie’s fitna indexed her Muslimness, but, like FITNA’s founders, she resignified the word by evaluating it positively. By derailing conversations in “conservative” circles, disrupting mainstream worldviews, and “causing shit,” Stephanie used both language and her cishet privilege to queer the Muslim spaces she entered, recontextualizing Islamic genres and Arabic words to advance LGBTQ+ inclusivity and make space for more diverse voices within Islam.

Socialization into Queer Norms Stephanie’s performance of queer daw’ah raises questions about whether one can teach others to become LGBTQ-­friendly. Like members of any religious group, participants in nonconformist Muslim groups actively taught newcomers the discursive norms of their community, including ways of talking about their religious beliefs, their identities, and their rituals, indeed the very stuff of positioning themselves as a community.46 During religious rituals, talk about their rituals, and other conversations, Muslims on the margins taught one another what it means to be inclusive. Often, they explicitly focused on the inclusion and affirmation of

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women, Muslim queers, Shi‘a, and others who felt marginalized within more typical Islamic spaces. Such talk occurred during and outside religious rituals such as Friday prayers and, as we saw in Shams’s remarks at Pride, with one another and non-­Muslim participants. Even if, as children, most people learn heteronormative and binary forms of language, queer language socialization occurs when people enter LGBTQ+ communities or seek out other sources of queer input, like books and magazines. While some critical work in queer linguistics has made precisely this claim,47 very few scholars have examined actual interactions in which queer learning is evident.48 Because queer language use is often antinormative, it has mostly escaped the notice of language socialization researchers, who typically focus on how people learn the broader society’s norms.49 But, following historical anthropologist Zareena Grewal, if we “understand normativity to mean any and all claims directing people to ways they ought to act or think,”50 then we can look to nonconformist communities as sites of social interaction through which participants learn the queer norms of these groups. Mouna’s “queer voice” and Stephanie’s queer disruptive strategies made apparent not only moments where participants explicitly discussed their queer sexuality but also those where even cishet nonconformist Muslims took on tradition. Questioning or modifying religious language or practice created potentially queer or queered moments, “moments of contradiction and subversion through which new forms . . . emerged.”51 I turn now to a “queer moment of deviation” that occurred during Friday prayers at El-­Tawhid,52 as Sofi, a newcomer to the mosque, described it to me. I had known Sofi (she/her) for several years while she was a graduate student in Madison. Sofi described herself as a “born Muslim,” but was no longer practicing because she resented the imposed religion of the Islamic government of Iran, where she grew up and where her parents still lived. She often spoke of refusing Islamic norms that had been forced on her in Iran, especially her enjoyment of pork, which many Muslims believe is haram, or forbidden. In summer 2018, Sofi traveled to Toronto to visit extended family. I encouraged her to visit El-­Tawhid while she was there, and a few days after she got back, I interviewed her about her impressions. Sofi was cishet, and talking about sexual and gender diversity was not typical for her, at least in English.

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“People came by one, one, one by one,” Sofi told me. “And, then, so one person led the khutbah,” she said, her intonation rising as if she wasn’t sure of the Arabic word. “Or sermon. And do you want to know the—­?” she asked, trailing off. “Sure, yeah,” I said, encouraging her to be as detailed as possible. “So, he was German,” she continued. “And it was about his—­He was bisexual, and he was saying that—­Apparently, he used to be a religious Christian. And—­I understood like this, that, after he, what, he, he came out? Yeah, is it?” she asked, unsure of the phrase coming out in English. I affirmed her word choice, and she continued. “After he came out, apparently there was some issues, in church. I don’t remember exactly his story. But he converted to Islam. And he married a man. So yeah, he was telling his story. And this was also very surprising to me. A sermon about, I don’t know, a homosexual person’s experience?” Again, Sofi’s intonation rose as if she was asking herself, Was this really possible? “This is, there was—­Although I shouldn’t have been surprised, because I knew that,” she said, referring to her familiarity with my research project. “But still, it was surprising in that environment. And, there were a lot of wows and like, ‘Wah!’ It’s—­And I was waiting,” Sofi said, laughing, “for other surprises the whole time.” She laughed again. “Yeah. And of course, the next surprise was the person who said the adhan”—­again, Sofi seemed to hesitate with the Arabic term—­“I think she was also a homosexual. It’s, from her outfit and—­I guessed. And that was also,” she started to say, but I interrupted. “What was her outfit?” I asked. “Or what was—­” Sofi overlapped me: “So she, uh, her outfit was like [a] man. She was very manly, and manly dressed. And she had this cappy hat. Like the way that rappers wear it.” “Mm,” I said, laughing at the image. I wondered if Sofi was describing Esraa (he/him), a trans man from Oman I had met at the mosque during one of my visits, who sometimes dressed the way Sofi described. “So yeah, and just imagine that she told adhan, and that is very interesting.” Correcting the story slightly, Sofi said, “I think she was the one who led the prayer. Adhan was said by another woman again. . . . And they, men, women, everybody, they stood next to each other and—­And also the prayer was also very interesting.” ***

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In Sofi’s account of her visit to El-­Tawhid, the presence of an openly bisexual man talking about coming out, experiencing religious discrimination, and marrying a man indexed a liberal community that welcomed and valued his participation, voice, and experience. So too did the active involvement of women (or people Sofi perceived as women) in a public performance of ritual while wearing clothing that conventionally indexes masculinity. But the setting, Friday prayers, and the ritual speech genres—­a sermon and then the call to prayer—­as well as the use of Arabic terms for these genres all indexed a Muslim community engaged in religious practice. LGBTQ+ lifeworlds and Muslim congregational ritual practices entered the same space, another example of indexical disjuncture. Similar to Mouna’s desire to put Arabic terms in queer mouths, here we see attendees at a nonconformist mosque asserting membership in multiple identity categories: bisexual and Muslim, bisexual and sermon-­ giver, or masculine woman and Muslim, woman and muezzin (the one who performs the call to prayer). These categories did not align according to conventional assumptions about sexuality, gender, and Muslimness, thus challenging them and resulting in Sofi’s surprise. But Sofi also showed knowledgeability when she said, “I shouldn’t have been surprised because I knew that,” and intellectual flexibility, an openness to learning from this new experience. Surprise is not necessarily positive, but Sofi’s laughter, smiling voice, the way she piled on more surprising details with “and” again and again, and her repeated claim that everything she observed there was “very interesting” suggested an overall positive stance toward her experience. Through such stances, Sofi constructed an identity as an LGBTQ-­friendly person and an open-­ minded Muslim, even if she did not consider herself religious. Her experience demonstrates how a newcomer to a nonconformist group could experience shifts in their understanding of what is permissible within Islam, thus opening up new possibilities for future attendance and new ways of identifying or even socializing others.

Learning Queer Modesty Congregants’ clothing also played a role in queering the mosque. When Sofi read masculine clothing on a person she perceived as a woman as

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indexing lesbianism, she made clear the discursive entanglement of gender, sexuality, and sartorial choices within Muslim nonconformity. Recall Mouna’s rejection of the imposed abaya and her claim that she wore “jeans or shorts or whatever the heck I have which is clean” to congregational prayer. While wearing jeans might simply point to a Westernized identity, wearing shorts marked Mouna’s resistance to Muslim norms that require women to cover (at a minimum) their legs, arms, and hair during prayer. Sofi’s description of her own clothing choices resulted in the chance to teach her uncle about El-­Tawhid’s alternative norms for modesty. Before she went to the mosque, she had asked me if there was a dress code, and I said she should wear whatever made her comfortable. When I asked her later what she ended up wearing, she said she wore a black sleeveless dress, surprising her uncle. “The way I dressed in the morning before I left home, my uncle came to [the] kitchen and he saw me. And he said, ‘Huh! Aren’t you going to that Friday prayer?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Like this?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ And he said, ‘Nooo, this is not the way you should. . . .’ I said, ‘No, this is, this is the whole point about this group.’ ” “And normally, would your uncle care if you dressed like that?” I asked Sofi. “No, not at all. Not at all,” she said. Even after Sofi explained that El-­Tawhid was different from the mosques in Iran with which her uncle was familiar, he told her, “I still think that you should pay respect to them. And wear better clothing. Or more appropriate one.” But Sofi told him, “No. It depends on how you define respect.” “But at the end,” she told me, “my aunt gave me a shawl. It was actually a beautiful shawl, and I wore it because my dress was black, and this shawl was pink, pinkish. It was a very nice shawl. I wore it, but it was not necessary. Because there were also other women who came [and] wore dresses. And El-­Farouk also mentioned that before he started the prayer. That everybody’s welcome. And everybody can choose their outfit.” Sofi referred here to El-­Tawhid’s etiquette guidelines, which are posted online and read aloud weekly at the start of Friday prayers, and which we encountered in chapter 3. Hearing this etiquette read aloud, each week newcomers like Sofi learned they were entering a queer/ed space where tradition—­indexed through the phrase “The Qur’an enjoins

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modesty for all believers”—­was remade in transgressive ways, and new community norms were performatively created. Sofi’s story also revealed how one person’s experience at a nonconformist mosque could have a ripple effect, with Sofi learning about El-­ Tawhid from me, deepening her understanding by visiting, and then further socializing her family members into an understanding that nonconformist approaches to Islam exist. Although one interview is not enough to know the long-­term impact of this experience on Sofi or her family, it was evident that she experienced a queer Friday prayer as valuable and that she aimed to socialize others into a similar stance. She spent the rest of her weekend in Toronto, she told me, talking about El-­Tawhid with other Iranians at a large family wedding. “Iranians who are not religious,” she said, “are done with religion, and they really don’t want to hear anything about religion.” But, to her delight, “everybody was so positively surprised about my experience. And many of them told me, ‘Oh, you should take us there.’ ” In a small way, their plans for the future were underway.

Conclusion Outside of the nonconformist Muslim community, there is widespread erasure of Muslim queers and of other nonconformist Muslims who are, in a sense, also queer. At best, LGBTQ+ Muslims, like other queer/ed Muslims, were included nominally in other Muslim spaces but not truly affirmed. Secular LGBTQ+ communities also often erased Muslims due both to stereotypes about Islam as antihomosexual and more general LGBTQ+ resistance to religious beliefs perceived as fundamentalist. Many queer/ed Muslims thus sought out nonconformist groups precisely because LGBTQ+ inclusion and affirmation were important to them, and LGBTQ+ issues emerged as central to the nonconformist project. While it is important to acknowledge that religious discourses perpetuate homophobia and transphobia, as religion scholar Laurel Zwissler notes, limiting scholarship to studies of those discourses unwittingly shores up the position that religion and queerness are incompatible and contributes to the erasure and silencing of religious queers.53 Similarly, many queer theory scholars have perpetuated the perspective of those LGBTQ+ people who see religion as oppressive.54 Scholars of religion

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have complicated this picture, offering a fuller picture of lived religion by paying attention to religious groups that actively support LGBTQ+ inclusion,55 like the progressive Christian church Zwissler examined or the nonconformist Muslim groups I describe in this book. For almost two decades, sociolinguists and linguistic anthropologists interested in queer theory have called for expanding the limits of queer linguistics to include queer language beyond only “the language of people who self-­identify, or who researchers believe to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.”56 By examining both the practices of Muslims “immediately legible as ‘queer’ ” and their interaction with others within LGBTQ-­affirming groups,57 this chapter has revealed that queer methods need not be limited to “ethnographic objects deemed ‘queer’ at the outset.”58 The approaches to Islam among the individuals in nonconformist Muslim groups were, in many ways, parallel to queer theory’s troubling of norms, concerned with undermining not only heteronormativity but also the stereotypes associated with Muslimness.59 When “uttered by a queer mouth,” practiced by a queer body, or queered in other ways by even cishet nonconformist Muslims, religious language or engaging in ritual practices might index not conventional piety but rather multiple identity categories simultaneously. As they embraced spiritual practices both within and on the margins of the Islamic tradition, nonconformists loudly proclaimed that they could be both Muslim and queer. Queer Muslim talk allowed LGBTQ+ Muslims to claim Muslimness and queerness simultaneously, in ways foreclosed not only in other Muslim communities but also in non-­Muslim LGBTQ+ communities. We also saw how participants queered their religious practices through indexical disjuncture in nonconformist congregational prayer. Muslim women’s and queers’ participation in roles usually reserved for cishet men effectively queered these rituals, not just for themselves but for cishet Muslims in solidarity with them. Their clothing choices also allowed them to trouble Islamic modesty norms, taking the burden of modesty off of Muslim women. Nonconformist Muslim approaches to Islam pushed back against limiting definitions that contribute to the domination, exclusion, and erasure of those who did not conform to hegemonic interpretations of Islam, including Muslim queers; feminists; those, like Stephanie, who

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identified as “progressive”; or those, like Sofi, who were Muslim but not religious. The forms of resistance that nonconformists used to talk about and practice Islam revealed how even cishet participants resisted the marginalization of LGBTQ+ Muslims. Through such resistance, Muslim queers and those in solidarity with them together created a multisited community that affirmed Muslim diversity. During an Atlanta Unity Mosque Ramadan retreat in 2017, Kelly shared her belief that “a defining characteristic of progressives is being affirming of LGBTQ people.” I have argued that it is not just LGBTQ+ affirmation but queerness itself that is the community’s defining characteristic. That is to say, queerness—­epitomized through this troubling of norms and an openness to new possibilities—­offered all Muslims on the margins a voice through which they both created space for Muslim queers and resisted other norms, like why one might convert to Islam, who takes up religious leadership positions, what is an appropriate sermon topic, or what constitutes modesty. There is some evidence of similar learning from queerness in nonconformist Muslim spaces beyond North America: the People’s Mosque in Cape Town was “created as a religious space in which queer individuals”—­primarily gay men—­“could feel safe practicing their faith” but expanded to become “a radical feminist space, where prevailing Muslim practices are also challenged.”60 Both there and in the groups I studied, acceptance of Muslim queers pushed cishet nonconformists, despite their gender and sexual normativity, to a marginalized position concerning Islamic gender and sexual norms; in this sense, they too were “queer,” and they too helped transform how their communities expressed themselves more inclusively. While occasionally nonconformists used queer in the expansive nonidentitarian sense in which I have used it in this chapter, its dominant use was still to refer to LGBTQ+ identities. Would understanding themselves as queer change how cishet nonconformists understand their relationships to marginalization? Seitz’s ethnography of a predominantly LGBTQ church in Toronto argues that openly embracing the label queer “in a subjectless sense” allows religious institutions to position themselves “as welcoming a wide range of abjected and pathologized ­subjects . . . within and beyond an LGBTQ idiom.”61

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While LGBTQ+ inclusivity was central to nonconformists, some argued that inclusivity should not end with LGBTQ+ Muslims. As the following chapters show, nonconformists could do more to welcome Shi‘a and Black Muslims and engage with more radical projects, such as joining Black Muslims and non-­Muslims in the struggle for racial justice.


No Longer Just Muslim We Ahmadis prayed with our Shia neighbours for the first time, our bodies so close there was barely space between us. My eyes wandered to the different placement of hands on the chests of our Shia guests, placed higher than I was accustomed to. It struck me that despite our differences, we were all terrified of the same people. —­Samra Habib, We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir (Toronto: Viking, 2019)

Over tea after Juma one Friday in Toronto, I asked Salma (they/them) how they would like to be described in my work. “An American-­born, currently residing in Canada, Shi‘a Muslim who’s not a very good Shi‘a or a very good Muslim,” Salma said, laughing hard. “I’m a dervish,” they said, referring to their involvement in a Sufi group. “I’m Pakistani. . . . My mother’s Punjabi from Pakistan; my father is Kashmiri from the Pakistani side. His grandmother was Sicilian. So, interesting mix there. So, I broadly identify as Pakistani.” Salma moved to Canada in 2013 after marrying Zahid, a Canadian cisgender man who was also of Pakistani heritage and a Shi‘a. Salma grew up in a family they described as “pretty ‘secular.’ ” “I’m using air qualifiers for that,” Salma explained with laughter, “because I don’t even know what that means anymore.” Salma’s sense of religiosity came from their grandparents. Salma’s maternal grandmother taught them to read the Qur’an, and Salma considered both grandparents “prophetic,” even more so than “scholars and other saintly people” they had met. When Salma’s grandfather passed away, Salma was so impressed with his peaceful demeanor at death that they decided to mimic his religiosity in the hopes of one day dying as peacefully as he had. Beginning at age twelve, they taught themself how to pray and learned the rules of fasting, and then started fasting and praying regularly, the only person in their immediate family to do so. 122

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I asked Salma why they described themself as “not a very good Shi‘a or a very good Muslim.” “I don’t have a problem with any of the Shi‘a practices,” Salma replied, “but I don’t necessarily see myself doing them. They just don’t make sense to me in my current space.” Using the adjective bad, Salma said, represented how others might see them. “A person who actually goes to a Shi‘a masjid would not look at me and say, like, ‘Yeah, that’s a model Shi‘a.’ They would . . . probably use me as a cautionary tale: ‘Don’t let your daughters get too educated because this is what happens.’ ” While recognizing that others might consider them a “bad Shi‘a” because they are gay and polyamorous, and consider shorts to be a legitimate form of hijab, Salma is actively involved in both a Sufi group and El-­Tawhid, and continues to find prayer essential. “When I’m in prayer, I’m calm; everything’s good. It’s my number-­one antianxiety approach. That’s how I manage daily whatever, right? If I didn’t have prayer, I would be a nut job.” When I asked what brought Salma to El-­Tawhid, their answer had to do with prayer, their Shi‘a identity, and their gender nonconformity. “I went to Mecca, and I prayed there,” Salma told me in their usual breathless tempo. “And I remember the first time I prayed,” they continued, “I was standing next to a man, and I was just like, ‘Oh, my God. This is weird.’ It wasn’t just the man. I was Shi‘a; I had my turba with me,” they said, referring to the clay tablet many Shi‘a Muslims place between their forehead and the ground during ritual prayer. Salma paused their rapid-­fire story to offer an evaluation in the form of an instructional aside: “They confiscate those, by the way,” Salma laughed, referring to the Saudis who control Mecca. “It’s contraband; you’re not allowed to have that.” Then Salma continued the narrative: “I had my turba with me. I put it down. Two guards, both male, come and stand on either side of me. I’m just like, ‘Holy God,’ like, you know, like, ‘Protect me right now!’ ” Salma giggled. “Because you can get arrested for being Shi‘a, basically. And especially for having a turba,” they explained. The story continued: “We said our prayer, they went away, and I was just like, ‘Wow, that, that was, you know, nothing happened. Cool. Okay, great!’ For other people, they take your turba away when you’re entering the Haram,” Salma explained, referring to the “sacred precinct” surrounding Mecca, into which non-­Muslims are forbidden entry.1 “They

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have guards that confiscate anything that you’re not supposed to have. So like, cameras, weapons obviously no one’s going to bring, but they’re checking for weapons. They end up also taking cameras, turbas, anything that they think is suspect. You know, turbas are just literally a disc of clay; you can’t cause any harm with that, but whatever.” Summarizing the import of this story, Salma concluded, “And I realized that the experience was really unique because . . . there was nothing separating us. Like, our gender identities didn’t matter, the fact that we were different sectarian affiliations didn’t matter. They didn’t interfere with my prayer even though they had the right to do so in Saudi Arabia. And I came back with that experience kinda like, ‘Wow, that made a lot of sense to me, and it felt right, and what’s going on here doesn’t feel right.’ ” When they said, “what’s going on here,” Salma referred to the other options for Muslim community in Toronto: Sunni spaces near where Salma lived, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at the university where they worked, and the Shi‘a mosque their husband’s Pakistani immigrant family attended. Similar to the stories we heard in chapter 3, Salma’s embodied experience—­praying alongside those of a different denomination and gender and of having their way of using their body during prayer (signified by the use of the turba) not only respected but even protected by others—­transformed their approach to congregational prayer and led them to seek out a mosque that was gender-­expansive and perhaps, by analogy, what we might call “denomination-­expansive.” When nonconformist Muslims described themselves, their groups, or their mosques as “inclusive,” they often meant including women and queer Muslims. But as Salma’s story illustrates, an essential aspect of inclusion work is also fully including Shi‘a in Muslim spaces and discourse. All of the groups I describe in this book were nondenominational. Still, many participants acknowledged that they were “Sunni-­normative”: their beliefs and practices are influenced by Sunni Islam even when they think of themselves as “just Muslim.” Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims’ relationship remains fraught, and subtle forms of discrimination against Shi‘a members persist. Similarly, as Islamic studies scholar Aysha Hidayatullah points out, scholarship on Islam often focuses on Sunni perspectives without naming them as such.2

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Participants in my research called the exclusion of Shi‘a perspectives from both discourse and practice “Sunni-­normativity.” Muslims who do not identify with a denomination—­often, but not always, converts—­and those unaware of differences between Sunni and Shi‘a Islam both often unknowingly practice forms of Islam that are Sunni in origin.3 A lack of knowledge of denominational differences can be attributed, in part, to the fact that in most Muslim mosques, Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims do not typically pray together. In sociologist Yuting Wang’s ethnography of a suburban Muslim immigrant community in the US Midwest, a Sunni participant from Pakistan told her, “It was unimaginable to pray together with a Shi‘a Muslim.”4 Many Sunni nonconformists mentioned having a similar bias before joining inclusive online or in-­person Muslim groups. This chapter examines discourses and critiques of sectarianism, Sunni-­normativity, and Shi‘a exclusion in both inclusive mosques and online nonconformist Muslim groups. By analyzing the community’s ongoing struggles to critique, queer, and even dismantle the so-­called Shi‘a/Sunni divide, we linger at the uncomfortable edges of the community’s claims to inclusivity. While scholars across several disciplines have explored the “Shi‘a-­Sunni conflict,” and Sunni—­mainly Wahhabi and Salafi—­“othering” of Shi‘a is well documented in both Muslim-­majority settings and the West, scholarship has rarely addressed Shi‘a Muslims’ experience of such othering.5 Focusing on discussions in MPV’s Facebook group and conversations during Juma at El-­Tawhid, we examine Shi‘a interaction with others in settings where Sunni-­normativity is evident yet openly discussed and challenged. In resonance with Salma’s story of praying as a nonbinary Shi‘a at Mecca, we also explore how nonconformists’ efforts to acknowledge Sunni-­normativity intersect with their struggles against heteronormativity and cisnormativity.

Historicizing Anti-­Shi‘ism Shi‘a Muslims have always been a minority within the global community of Muslims and are known for their dissent from the majority. In 2009, the Pew Research Center reported that Shi‘as constituted 10 percent of the Muslim population of the United States and Canada combined, down from scholarly estimates of 20 percent in the United States in the early 1980s.6 But they have not always experienced

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discrimination in North America. In a detailed account of Sunni-­Shi‘a interaction in the United States, sociologist Liyakat Takim demonstrates that interpretive differences did not initially prevent Shi‘a and Sunni Muslims from engaging socially, intermarrying, and praying together at the same mosques. Some Shi‘i in the Midwest told Takim they had never heard of “the Sunni-­Shi‘i divide” before the 1940s.7 Shi‘a imams led prayers for mixed congregations in some places, and some early presidents of Muslim Students Associations (MSAs) were Shi‘a. Indeed, before the 1960s, Shi‘a groups were located throughout the United States and had few separate institutions or mosques.8 Joint programs with Sunni Muslims in MSAs and mosques were not uncommon up to the late 1970s.9 Summarizing this history, Takim argues that, for most of the twentieth century, Muslim immigrants’ “need to unite in an alien American environment” led them to overlook their differences in religious interpretation.10 Good relations between Shi‘a and Sunni Muslims began to dissolve in the 1970s when more Muslims came to the United States and created their own ethnic-­or denomination-­based communities and mosques.11 Simultaneously, conservative Wahhabi and Salafi interpretations increasingly influenced Sunni Muslim organizations and mosques, which often included anti-­Shi‘a discourses. It is perhaps no surprise that, by 1988, cultural theorist Raymond Williams would write that “Shi’ite Muslims tend to associate in religious and social affairs only with people of their own ethnic and religious group.”12 Surveys show that almost half of the Shi‘a in the United States report experiencing “overt or subtle forms of discrimination when attending Sunni-­dominated mosques.”13 Major organizations like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and MSA reportedly distribute anti-­ Shi‘a literature.14 Takim cites the example of a predominantly African American mosque in Texas with a sign on its door reading “No Shi‘a Allowed” and another in New Orleans that told congregants that “praying on stones” is not permitted, much as Salma expected to hear in Mecca.15 Some Sunni Muslims, Takim writes, refuse to eat meat from an animal slaughtered by a Shi‘a, and some MSAs prohibit Shi‘a students from leading prayer or disallow books by Shi‘a authors in their reading rooms.16 Shi‘a scholar Shadaab Rahemtulla offers this personal recollection:

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During my undergraduate years, I was actively involved in the local Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), which, paralleling the global Muslim community, comprised a Sunni majority and a Shi‘a minority. While the organization was open to Shi‘a participation and often spoke of the importance of Muslim unity, there was one unspoken rule: only Sunni males could lead the prayer. This was the case even when the rare occasions arose in which there were numerically more Shi‘as in the room than Sunnis. I vividly recall one instance when there were a dozen or so Shi‘as and only a couple of Sunnis sitting together, and yet when the time for prayer arrived, one of the Sunni brothers, without a moment’s hesitation, stepped forward to lead the prayer. I often protested this unjust practice and, on a few occasions, pushed my way forward to lead the prayer, much to the consternation of the organization. Each time that I would turn around after leading the prayer, however, I would see the Sunni behind me—­men and women—­repeating the prayer individually. How could their own prayers be valid, after all, sitting behind a deviant Shi‘a? It was during this difficult period that I came to know intimately the sense of being less, of being almost Muslim but not quite.17

Today, outside of the nonconformist community, Shi‘a and Sunni Muslims are still unlikely to socialize together in religious settings or pray together behind a Shi‘i imam.18

Just Muslims Today, many Muslims do not think of themselves as belonging to a denomination but rather as “just Muslims” or “nondenominational Muslims.” Large-­scale surveys of US Muslims in 2006 and 2007 found that between 23 and 40 percent considered themselves “just Muslims.”19 A smaller study of 189 Muslim students in Toronto found 28 percent identified as “just Muslim.”20 And these statistics are relevant beyond North America, too: A 2012 Pew report based on international surveys found, in many countries in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe as well as in Indonesia, Mali, and Cameroon, most Muslims “do not identify with either branch of Islam, saying instead they are ‘just a Muslim.’ ”21 Similarly, an extensive survey of Australian Muslims in 2020 found 34 percent identified as “just Muslim.”22

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Many commentators assume that those who identify as “just a Muslim” reject denominational orthodoxy. For example, the Council of American-­Islamic Relations (CAIR) reports they “could be Muslims who are tired of sectarian divisions in the community and prefer to regard themselves as denominationally neutral.”23 Citing CAIR’s report, some have suggested identifying as “just Muslim” indicates a move away from “conflict abroad among Muslims” and toward assimilation in the United States.24 Likewise, the Pew report claims, “sectarian identities, especially the distinction between Sunni and Shia Muslims, seem to be unfamiliar or unimportant to many Muslims.”25 Contrary to such assumptions, most people who claim the identity of “just a Muslim” probably practice Sunni Islam. Indeed, CAIR’s report acknowledges, “There is reason to suppose that those who opted for the ‘Just a Muslim’ category are mostly Sunnis [because] historically, Sunni Muslims have regarded their community [as] representative of mainstream Islam.”26 And all of the countries where this response was widespread, Pew’s data show, have substantial Sunni populations.27 Surveys can also miss important nuances that are better addressed through ethnographic conversations. When I asked Salma whether they would ever qualify the word Muslim when describing themself, they told me, “I do still identify as being a Shi‘a . . . when talking to other Muslims. Because I feel like there is a lot of divide in the Muslim community, and a lot of people don’t realize that they’ve actually spoken to a Shi‘a Muslim. They’ll just assume that all the Muslims they’ve spoken to are Sunni. So when I’m speaking to another Muslim, I’ll add the qualifier that I am a Shi‘a Muslim, but for non-­Muslims, I’m just a Muslim.” Context matters, including the religion of one’s interlocutor. In the case of large-­scale surveys like those Pew conducted, some surveyors probably were not Muslim, so it makes sense that respondents might not have indicated a denominational affiliation. Many assume identifying as “just Muslim” is an inherently progressive, conciliatory, or assimilative stance. Some Muslims whom sociologist Besheer Mohamed interviewed around Chicago in 2011 told him they thought making distinctions within the category “Muslim” was inappropriate.28 A Canadian study reported, “Those who identified as just Muslim were more likely to have been in an interfaith relationship compared with [those who identified as] Sunnis or Shias, and they also

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tended to report more positive attitudes toward interfaith dating and marriage.”29 As Iranian American Shi‘a activist Hoda Katebi writes, “Saying ‘we’re all just Muslim’ . . . is seen as progressive and unifying.”30 But even Salafi participants in Kaliszewska’s ethnography of Daghestan called themselves “just Muslim,” dramatically drawing into question the “progressiveness” of the label.31 Like Katebi, many nonconformists question the assumption that there is anything progressive about calling oneself “just Muslim.” In October 2020, I posted in MPV’s Facebook group asking for Shi‘a perspectives on observable differences between Sunni and Shi‘a congregational prayers. Novelist and scholar of Islam Michael Muhammad Knight (he/him), a longtime participant in “the progressive Muslim movement,” and an on-­again, off-­again participant in MPV’s Facebook group since 2008, commented, “It seems to be a prog[ressive] trope that thinking of yourself as Sunni or Shi‘i is the problem.” Indeed, nonconformist Shi‘a and those who have had substantial interactions with Shi‘a are keen to point out that identifying as “just a Muslim” often indexes not freedom from denominational labels but rather an alignment with Sunni-­normativity, constituting Sh‘ia erasure.32 Continuing his comment, Michael wrote that to say belonging to a denomination is problematic is, “Ahem, the most Sunni thing one could possibly say. This ‘I’m not Sunni or Shi‘i, I’m just Muslim’ trope really just means ‘I’m Sunni, but I’m not a jerk.’ In that trope, Sunnism gets privileged as generic/universal Islam, and only Shi‘i-­specific concepts/practices are deemed ‘sectarian.’ ” Tallan (he/him), a trans man who lived in New England, agreed with Michael, commenting that he did not understand calling oneself “just Muslim” as inclusivity, but rather as privileging Sunni Islam as the generic, unmarked norm. A white-­presenting convert to Sunni Islam who joined MPV in 2009, Tallan said that he went through a brief period of describing himself as just “progressive Muslim,” but by 2020 identified as “a progressive Sunni Muslim.” Even though he did not intentionally choose Sunni Islam over anything else, Tallan wrote, he knew and had internalized practicing Islam in Sunni ways. Therefore, he now believed he must “own” his Sunni identity by explicitly claiming it. Furthermore, Tallan equated Sunni Muslims calling themselves “just Muslim” to “white people” who claim not to have a race. Just as many people now understand such claims as perpetuating racism, Tallan

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argued that Sunni refusal to recognize their own “Sunni-­ness” by describing their faith as “just Islam” contributes to the oppression of Muslim minorities. Many of the Shi‘a commenters on the thread agreed. Justice (he/him), a trans man and a white-­identifying convert who lived in Michigan, wrote, “Honestly, unless otherwise specified, it really feels like ‘Just Muslims’ are just Sunni Muslims. It is erasive, as though we don’t properly exist. I am a Shi‘a Muslim,” he declared proudly.

Identifying Sunni-­Normativity By criticizing a generic, unmarked, presumptively universal Islam that disguises its implicit reference to and affiliation with Sunni Islam, Michael, Tallan, and Justice referenced what some nonconformists call Sunni-­normativity. Among scholars, “Sunni n ­ ormativity”—­usually without a hyphen—­is used to denote one of two things: either Sunni prescriptivism—­that is, normative beliefs and practices among ­Sunnis33—­or simply the fact that Sunni Muslims outnumber other Muslims in many places and thus Sunni beliefs and practices are the norm.34 Another use is less common in scholarship, but is widespread among nonconformist Muslims: a critique of Sunni practices presented as “normative, embracing all Muslims, whether Shi‘is accept them or not.”35 In this use, the term has a critical edge, used to point out Shi‘a and other minoritized Muslims’ erasure.36 This use resonates with that of Muslim activist blogger Huda Katebi, who describes the “structural Sunni normativity and anti-­Shi‘ism” that “exists and thrives in Sunni Muslim spaces”—­even in those that claim to be “just Muslim.”37 Indeed, MPV members discussed Katebi’s blog post on this topic for several days. Although the terms Sunni normativity and Sunni-­normativity sound the same in speech, I use the single-­word hyphenated form to represent the way nonconformists use it, which parallels terms like heteronormativity or cisnormativity.38 One example of a discussion about Sunni-­normativity took place in MPV in July 2014. Tanvir (he/him), a Bengali American based in New York who joined the group in 2013, posted to ask group members if they perceive a Sunni-­normative culture among Muslims. He grew up in a Sunni family, he wrote, and was ignorant of Shi‘ism until his teen years. Several other Sunni group members commented that they had grown

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up with similar experiences, including a woman who said her Bengali parents knew nothing about Shi‘a Muslims and therefore had never taught her. Even when Tanvir learned about Shi‘ism, he explained, the Sunni community around him taught him to perceive Shi‘a as deviant. Tanvir compared this phenomenon to heteronormativity: He did not know his parents were straight until learning what the word gay meant. Even then, he thought his parents were simply “normal,” and gay people were somehow less than normal. Fifteen group members responded to Tanvir’s post, writing a total of thirty-­nine comments. Several of them knew each other offline, and many of them were children of immigrants from Sunni-­majority Bangladesh, one of the top countries of origin for Muslim immigrants to the United States.39 As Tanvir managed the ongoing discussion, he reiterated and further developed comparisons between Sunni-­normativity and other forms of oppression, similar to Tallan’s ideas about white colorblindness. In response to Tripta (she/her), a Bengali American woman in Washington, DC, who argued that Shi‘a children are probably just as ignorant of “us” as Sunni children are of “them,” Tanvir countered that Shi‘a Muslims learn about Sunnis early on because Sunnis’ unfair treatment of Shi‘a is a large part of the Shi‘a historical narrative. Just as he had compared Sunni-­normativity to heteronormativity, he now compared it to white privilege and male privilege, likening anti-­Shi‘ism in Sunni-­dominant settings to misogyny or anti-­Black racism. Referring to an “intersectional cycle,” he depicted a kind of Muslim privilege hierarchy, with Sunni Muslims at the top, followed by Sunni Sufis, and then Shi‘a. When Tripta continued to dispute his claims, Tanvir buttressed his argument with markers of epistemic stance, positioning himself as knowledgeable.40 Talking with Shi‘a friends and reading about Shi‘ism, he wrote, had made it clear that Shi‘a are aware of Sunnis early on. Shandar (he/him), an Indian American man who had been an MPV member since December 2013, aligned with Tanvir, commenting that at a recent MPV–­New York meeting, a Shi‘a attendee had described learning, even as a child, about how Shi‘a and Sunni beliefs differ, as well as being explicitly taught how to respond to “the Sunni worldview.” Tanvir tagged a Pakistani American Shi‘a friend, Saima, at the time a newcomer to MPV (having joined the same day this conversation began), asking her to chime in by hyperlinking to her name, which alerted her that she was

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being hailed. Joining the discussion, Saima (she/her) validated Tanvir’s claims, writing that she had been taught from a very young age about the ways Shi‘a and Sunni Islam differ. Offering a concrete example, she recalled that during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, her family regularly attended services where she heard “the Shi‘a narrative” and where speakers highlighted the ways that Shi‘a and Sunni Islam differ. Both Tanvir and Shandar also shared memories from the Sunni “Sunday school” (actually on Fridays) they had attended together as children in New York. Shandar said he only remembered Shi‘ism being discussed once—­in response to a classmate’s questions, not as part of the curriculum. Tanvir agreed, adding that his class was told that what they were learning was simply “regular Islam.” When the teacher mentioned Shi‘a at all, Tanvir commented, he did so disparagingly, through claims that Shi‘a divide the umma and worship Ali (the Prophet Muhammad’s son-­ in-­law and the first Shi‘a imam), a stereotype Saima also said she had heard. Tanvir mentioned the book The Shia Revival, in which Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr describes Sunni images of Shi‘a as literally monstrous41—­ akin, Tanvir pointed out, to homophobic representations of gay men, circling back to his earlier claim that Sunni-­normativity was like heteronormativity. When Shandar said he did not remember the discourse being quite so antagonistic at their Sunday school, Tanvir insisted, upgrading his description to “Sunni Oppression against Shias”—­oppression with a capitalized, proper name perpetuated through institutions and misconceptions.

Disinvesting from Sunnism In a related but slightly different use from Katebi’s and Tanvir’s, some nonconformists also used the adjective Sunni-­normative to refer to practices influenced by Sunni Islam or that appear Sunni on the surface but do not index prescriptivism or antipathy toward other denominations. During an interview on his Toronto rooftop in June 2019, El-­Farouk told me, “I come from a Shi‘a background. My family became Sunni-­ identified. I now do not identify as Shi‘a or Sunni. ’Cause I’m actually not really either. I don’t actually believe in the imams,” he said, referring to the Shi‘a belief in divinely designated imams who inherit their

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knowledge and authority in a linked chain beginning with Ali as the first imam.42 “I don’t actually believe in the khalifas,” he said, referring to the first four leaders who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad after his death, “and in the institutions that have spread, that have developed in Sunni Islam in order to perpetuate that sort of modality.” Although he said he also does not believe in Sunni doctrines, El-­Farouk acknowledged that some of the ways he embodies Islam are Sunni in form: “I pray the way I learned how to pray, which is as a Shafii,” the dominant school of Sunnism in Tanzania. El-­Farouk and I had talked occasionally about our shared connection to Tanzania, where he was born and spent his early childhood, and where I conducted much of my earlier fieldwork. Now he acknowledged the mutual influence of Shafii interpretations on our practice of Islam, saying, “East Africa and all of that. Right?” Then he continued, “That’s how I do my namaz; that’s how I do my salat,” he said, using both the Persian and Arabic words for ritual prayer. Summing up, he told me, “I am Sunni-­normative because that’s the Islam I grew up in. But I am not invested in Sunni Islam. Like I’m not like, ‘Yay, Sunnis go!’ Right? It doesn’t make sense to me. So I’m nondenominational.”43 Some nonconformists use the term culturally Sunni the way El-­Farouk used Sunni-­normative, though they usually apply it to converts. In an MPV discussion of Shi‘ism, Pete—­a white-­presenting Shi‘a convert—­ used this label to distinguish people whose practice is (sometimes unknowingly) Sunni-­influenced from those who explicitly identify as Sunni. Many converts to Islam have not had much opportunity to learn about Shi‘ism and so convert without realizing they are learning Sunni interpretations and practices or being “invested” in them, as El-­Farouk put it. After William, a white-­identifying convert from Oklahoma who lived in Brazil and joined MPV in 2012, shared his positive view of Shi‘a Muslims he knew and Shi‘ism more generally, I asked why he had not chosen Shi‘a Islam when he converted, more than forty years ago. “As I saw it,” he responded, “I became a Muslim.” He went on: There were no Shi‘a mosques within a couple of hundred miles. I decided to graze at the Muslim smorgasbord and just pick out the good stuff. The choice of mosque had more to do with it being the closest one. I lived halfway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa at the time. There weren’t very

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many options, and none of them were remotely progressive. Where I live today [in Brazil], there is only one mosque, very Sunni and very conservative, which I do not frequent. (I don’t frequent it because it’s very conservative, not because it’s Sunni.) The closest Shi‘a mosque that I know of is in São Paulo, which is a little over 500 km away.

Although he did not identify as Sunni, William became Sunni-­ normative, or culturally Sunni, for pragmatic reasons. Like William, when I converted in 2009, I learned how to practice Islam from Sunni Muslims—­in my case, my Swahili in-­laws (at the time) in Zanzibar. Like El-­Farouk, my religious practices were influenced by Shafii interpretations. However, my Swahili family never named them as such, so I never thought of myself as Shafii or Sunni. Similarly, Florence (she/her), another white-­identifying convert who has been an MPV member since 2011, remarked that she does not practice Islam in a “conventional” sense. While she found her Muslim community online, most of her “real” contact with Muslims was with Sunni communities in Michigan. In this sense, William, Florence, El-­Farouk, and I were examples of people who might, in some settings, call ourselves “just Muslim” but still took seriously Justice’s caveat that, “unless otherwise specified,” identifying as such indexes anti-­Shi‘ism. Thus all of us offered specific, pragmatic explanations of why we came to practice Islam like Sunnis, even though we never made conscious choices to do so.

Experiencing or Witnessing Anti-­Shi‘ism We saw above, in the discussion Tanvir started, some references to anti-­ Shi‘a discourse in Sunni-­majority spaces. But anti-­Shi‘ism is not only discursive; it has real effects on Shi‘a Muslims. Just as Katebi wrote about her experience of structural Sunni-­normativity even in Muslim “third spaces,”44 many Shi‘a nonconformists told me that they have personally experienced or observed anti-­Shi‘ism within the nonconformist community—­specifically in progressive, inclusive, and queer Muslim circles. Latife (she/her), a trans Shi‘a woman in Germany who joined MPV’s Facebook group in 2011, agreed with Michael’s argument that anti-­Shi‘ism is inherent within the antisectarianism of many progressive Muslims. Offering four examples as evidence in support of Michael’s

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statement, she said that she once heard an otherwise “progressive” imam making Wahhabi claims, including that Shi‘a believe the Qur’an was meant to be revealed to Ali rather than the Prophet Muhammad. In a liberal Muslim community in Germany, she added, a prominent member once argued with her that Shi‘a do not believe in the same declaration of faith as Sunni Muslims. Even in a purportedly inclusive mosque, Latife observed Sunni Muslims walking out when the call to prayer included the Shi‘a phrase Hayya ‘ala khayr il-­‘amal (Hurry toward the best of deeds), instead of the Sunni Al-­Salat khayr-­un min al-­nawm (Prayer is better than sleeping). When Latife led the prayer at a queer Muslim gathering, she wrote, some congregants complained about her praying with a turba and did not want to pray behind her. Even among those who did not identify as Shi‘a, many nonconformists shared that they have witnessed anti-­Shi‘ism. While William formally converted at a Sunni mosque in Oklahoma, he wrote, “I learned very quickly to keep my positive views and opinions about the Shi‘a to myself,” when he encountered anti-­Shi‘a prejudice. Tallan offered a specific example of such prejudice: when he lived in Morocco shortly after converting, friends told him it was wrong to pray with his hands at his sides, as Shi‘a do. In interviews, David and El-­Farouk both told me about an incident they had witnessed in Toronto, similar to one of Latife’s examples, where a Sunni woman who was comfortable praying next to men and with queer Muslims—­and thus theoretically “progressive”—­ nevertheless walked out in protest when a Shi‘a congregant led the prayer. Fakhri (he/him), a Malaysian man who joined MPV in 2016, observed that, in his country, Shafi‘i Sunni Muslims, who constitute the majority, are more tolerant of non-­Muslims than they are of Shi‘a or those who belong to other denominations.

Disrupting Sunni-­Normativity While we find Sunni-­normativity in many Muslim settings, nonconformists suggested various ways they disrupted it. Several MPV members offered examples of how they had done so during interactions with Sunni Muslims. For the Sunni among them, this meant being explicit about their identifications. Sabahat (he/him), an Indian American active in both MPV–­San Francisco and the MPV Facebook

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group, exemplified this when he wrote, “I was brought up and follow Hanafi madhab in my personal practice, with a light sprinkling of Maliki influence from my years growing up in northern Nigeria.” He also offered several examples of assumptions about Islam he tries to counter, beginning with the claim that Shi‘a have modified the shahada, the declaration of faith required to become Muslim, which most Muslims say at the end of every ritual prayer: “Hooooboy! The Shahada!! Yes. I love giving my fellow Sunnis a serious thing to think about on that. And a few other things.” Ostensibly descriptive, nondenominational comments on the shahada often treat the Sunni version—­“ There is no god except God, Muhammad is the messenger of God”—­as “the Islamic declaration of faith,” Sabahat said, and describe Shi‘a as “appending” the line, “Ali is the custodian of God.” Sabahat critiqued this position by arguing that the shahada itself is simply, “There is no god except God”—­a Qur’anist position based on the Qur’an 3:18—­and that we should understand both Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims as having added to it.45 Sabahat also pointed out that “the five pillars are a Sunni concept. . . . If someone is merrily going on about five pillars being what Islam is all about, you know they are Sunni. My job,” he wrote, “is to interrupt every person who claims to be representing all Muslims/Islam and starts a discussion with ‘There are five pillars of Islam’ with the sentence ‘You know you are showing your Sunni privilege, right?’ ” Here Sabahat referred to Twelver Shi‘as having five “principles,” Ja’fari Shi‘as having five pillars (or principles) that differ from those that Sunnis (and many non-­Muslims) think of as the five pillars, as well as eight secondary pillars, and Ismaili Shi‘a Muslims having seven pillars of faith.46 When I talked with nonconformist Muslims, I sometimes experienced such a disruption of my own unrecognized Sunni-­normativity. In 2016, I spoke with Mahdia (she/her), whom we met in chapters 3 and 4, over lunch at a café near the Unitarian Universalist church where the mosque she helped found, Masjid-­al-­Rabia, gathered for Juma every week.47 Mahdia mentioned that often the mosque hosted a “community conversation” rather than the normative khutbah that is part of most Jumas. I had taken part in a similar format at Juma with MPV–­ Los Angeles and the Atlanta Unity Mosque, and later that day, I would do so with Mahdia, when she led a conversation on “Muslim forms of

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resistance.” But as we ate before heading to the mosque, I asked her, “Is there any sense that you needed to look to tradition or have some kind of basis for saying, ‘It’s religiously legitimate to have a conversation rather than a single individual giving a khutbah’?” Mahdia responded by pointing out my question’s Sunni-­normativity. “Well,” she said, “the khutbah itself is not a monolithic, across-­the-­board Muslim tradition, across history and across sect.” Mahdia’s well at the start of her answer indicated a dispreferred response, marking my question as in some way deficient, or acknowledging—­and mitigating—­that her answer might fall outside my expectations or even seem uncooperative.48 She continued, “Maybe Sunni-­normativity or the dominance of particular sects and how they practice has made us think that the khutbah is an inextricable part of a Juma service, but that isn’t necessarily the case.” Beginning with the hedge maybe and using the pronoun us rather than you, Mahdia softened her critique of my question by suggesting both of us—­or perhaps Muslims generally—­might have been led astray by Sunni-­normativity. “In most Shi‘a traditions,” she explained, “or many Shi‘a traditions, the khutbah is the same topic. Like a sheikh decides what the topic for the week is going to be, then every masjid that’s a part of that sect is giving the same talk.” Although Mahdia was Shi‘a, she used her understanding of Shi‘a traditions here not to stake a claim for Shi‘a-­normativity as a counterpoint to Sunni-­normativity, but rather as a kind of lever with which to expose the religious normativities indexed by my use of the terms tradition (in the singular) and religiously legitimate. Even her self-­correction and downgrading in quantity, from most to many Shi‘a traditions, and her use of the plural traditions in contrast to my singular form, demonstrated her avoidance of essentialism. Mahdia continued, “But there are a lot of different ways that it’s looked, and once we take that research to see that the different possibilities of a Juma service—­and that’s . . . opposed to considering ourselves progressive and saying we’re creating something completely new—­we’re looking back to what has come before us and seeing the possibilities within our own traditions.” In other words, for Mahdia and the other leaders of Masjid-­al-­Rabia, looking to traditions rather than a monolithic tradition became a means of authenticating diverse practices without privileging any denomination or “sect” over another, including—­in Mahdia’s view—­“progressive Muslims” as a

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sect. For this reason, Mahdia said, she and other mosque leaders did not consider Masjid-­al-­Rabia “progressive,” but preferred the term pluralist.

Denominational Diversities As my conversation with Mahdia illustrates, nonconformist Muslims attempted to disrupt Sunni-­normativity and anti-­Shi‘ism by educating one another and others about Muslim diversity. For example, several MPV members explained that the claim that Sunni Muslims pray with their hands folded is not true for those who follow the Maliki school of jurisprudence, who pray, like Shi‘a, with their hands at their sides.49 (A man in Switzerland added that, as a result, Malikis sometimes experience anti-­Shi‘a discrimination from other Sunni Muslims when they attend congregational prayers.) Idris, a white-­identifying convert from New York who joined MPV in 2008, pointed out that the focus on Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims also erases others, such as Ibadis. Like Mahdia, some MPV members pointed out that Shi‘a are not a monolithic group. According to Sabahat, they include “the Asna Ashari, or 12ers” (the majority of whom, Latife added, are Usuli Twelver Shi‘a, with smaller groups including the Akhbari and the Shaykhi), “the Ismailis (including the ‘Aga Khanis,’ the ‘Bohra’),” and “the Zaidis (5ers).”50 Safiya, a woman of South Asian ancestry who joined MPV only recently, echoed Sabahat, remarking, “Big pet peeve for me is when ‘Shia’ is used as a singular category. There [is] a range of Shia communities that follow different lineages of Imamat and also have very different practices. ‘Shia’ as a synonym for Ithna’ashari is just as problematic as ‘Muslim’ as a synonym for Sunni.” Safiya’s comment illustrates how such forms of erasure are fractally recursive,51 with Muslim often used to refer only to Sunni Muslims and Shi‘a to refer only to Twelvers, even in some scholarly work.52

Praying Together Nonconformists depicted congregational prayer not only as a site of Sunni-­normativity and anti-­Shi‘ism but also a place where nonconformists challenged those practices.53 During Ramadan 2012, Mike Ghouse, an Indian American Sunni writer and public speaker on interfaith

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issues, encouraged readers of his blog to attend various mosques during Ramadan. In a post reporting on his visit to a Shi‘a mosque in Texas, he cataloged some of the differences he noticed: The ritual prayer outlines are the same, but with a few differences in the process. During the Qiyaam (i.e., the standing position), the hands are dropped to the sides. I made an effort to do that but did not feel [at] home with it, so I did what I am used to; place my hands on my stomach folded together. The feeling was almost like the feeling when you don’t wear [a] seat belt while driving. There is nothing wrong or right about either method; it is simply what you are used to. Lifting of forefinger as a witness is a Sunni practice while reciting Ashadu anna Muhammadur Rasool Allah [I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God] in the Tashahhud [sitting in prayer] position and not a Shia practice. Sunni prayers are concluded with a physical turn of the head to the right and then to the left with a Salaam Alaikum o Rahmatullah [May the peace and mercy of God be with you], while the Shias conclude it with the words alone in the middle of the recitation.54

Here, as in chapter 3 and in Salma’s story of visiting Mecca, we see that how one uses one’s body during congregational prayer is important: embodied micropractices can index different religious identities, and what one is “used to” helps create norms. The fact that Ghouse felt the need both to encourage his readers to attend various mosques and to teach them about the differences he observed—­the fact that these differences were salient to him in the first place—­confirms how unusual it is for Sunni Muslims to pray in a Shi‘a-­majority mosque or behind a Shi‘a imam. Of course, the differences one notices are shaped by one’s identifications, and Ghouse’s Sunni background certainly influenced what he observed. In October 2020, when I asked Shi‘a MPV members what they noticed when they pray with Sunni Muslims, the answers varied. Latife responded that she finds certain Shi‘a-­specific practices comforting because they help her feel a unique intimacy with God. These include putting her forehead on a turba, performing qunut (supplicatory prayers while standing) in the second unit of prayer, and saying Bihawlillahi wa

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quwwatihi aqumu wa aq‘ud (With God’s help and through God’s power I stand and sit) when standing up. She also noted appreciatively that some Shi‘a invoke the feminine by mentioning Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad’s beloved daughter, in the qunut. She added that some other Shi‘a prayer practices Ghouse cited, like keeping the hands at one’s sides while standing and reciting the Qur’an or lifting the forefinger, are requirements for some but not personally important to her because they do not give her the same feeling of intimacy with God as the other practices she mentioned. Throughout, she repeatedly qualified her statements with the modifier some, making clear that Shi‘a should not be treated as monolithic. Sunni dominance, -­normativity, and privilege in the West mean that most Shi‘a congregants are accustomed to being in Sunni-­majority spaces. But as Salma told me, “It’s not comfortable to be a Shi‘a in a Sunni space.” Nonconformists thus often sought or created spaces that were deliberately not Sunni spaces. The challenge was to make those spaces truly pluralist rather than “just Muslim” and blind to Sunni-­ normativity. However, for both Sunni Muslims and those who claimed to be “just Muslim” to become aware of Sunni-­normativity and their relative privilege—­working toward full inclusion of Shi‘a and other minoritized Muslims—­required socialization. In the next two sections, I examine nondenominational congregational prayer as both a site and a strategy for learning to value pluralism and inclusivity. Socialization is a useful framework because it helps us see inclusion as something that can be taught and learned and has both embodied and discursive elements. Similar to the “queer voice” that we saw nonconformists acquiring in chapter 4, here we see participants socializing one another into not only queer understandings but also Shi‘a inclusivity. Moreover, this socialization extended, through online networks and a live-­streamed prayer, from a co-­present congregation to the larger nonconformist community to which they belonged.

Sunnis, Don’t Freak Out Like the other mosques where I conducted research, El-­Tawhid is nondenominational. In addition to their instruction on modesty, which we saw in earlier chapters, its etiquette guidelines also inform attendees:

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“Our community is not monolithic, with people from diverse sects and tariqas, with diverse relationships with Islam, and diverse understandings of Islam. . . . Unity Mosque is informed by Sunni, Shi‘a, Sufi, and other Muslim and non-­Muslim traditions.” The extent to which the mosque draws on various traditions is evident in the khutbah format provided to volunteer khatibs. Near the start of the khutbah, and before getting to their unique contribution, the khatib reads aloud—­from transliterated Arabic, English translation, or, most often, both—­the following lines: Was-­salatu was-­salaamu ala Muhammadin Rasoolihi wa ahli baytih it-­ tahireen wa sahbihit-­tayyibeen wa salaam Blessing and peace on Muhammad, the Messenger of God, and his purified family, and his worthy and good companions, and peace. ya `ibadullah, wa nafsi, itaqullah O worshippers of God, and myself, maintain due reverence towards God.

According to El-­Farouk, “his purified family” is a phrase from both Shi‘a and Sufi traditions, as is the final line. At Juma the day before Toronto’s 2019 Pride festival began, El-­Farouk asked me to give the azan (call to prayer). After my azan, David, an Arab-­Jew of Tunisian ancestry, gave the khutbah on the topic of “modesty and its relationship to Pride.” In an interview, I asked David, “How would you like me to describe you, or how would you introduce yourself?” David thought for a moment before offering this description: “Arab-­Jewish guy negotiating a place within progressive Islam within Toronto.” Although David used the word guy, had a typically male name, and self-­described as “male-­presenting,” David was intersex, preferred to be referred to as a person rather than a man, and asked me to use the name David rather than any third-­person pronouns.55 David began attending Juma at El-­Tawhid almost as soon as the mosque was launched in 2009 and told me, “I feel connections to the Muslim community, as Jewish, and sort of think that I, we, enrich each other.” David’s active participation in the mosque demonstrates another layer of its “radical inclusivity,” extending beyond denominational expansiveness to interreligiosity.56

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Despite not being Muslim, David was welcome to give sermons at El-­Tawhid and did so regularly. When David’s Pride-­themed sermon ended, El-­Farouk explained how the prayer would be conducted. He assigned different congregants to lead the prayer and recite the second call to prayer. In a polite request, El-­Farouk asked, “Would you lead today?” giving Salma the role of imam, and then turned to Zahid, Salma’s Canadian-­born husband, asking if he would recite the iqama (second call to prayer). Then, addressing all of us, El-­Farouk announced Salma’s position to the congregation: “Salma is going to be our imam.” Then he shifted into socializing the congregation: “Form your lines one inch behind the imam. She is going to be leading Shi‘a style so there’ll be some variations. For the Sunnis, don’t freak out, it’s all fine. Just breathe,” he said, laughing. As we saw above, El-­Farouk did not identify with any denomination. Along with Salma, Zahid, and many other El-­Tawhid regulars, he was, however, involved in a Sufi order. Thus I do not understand his address to “Sunnis” here as denominational identification with them, but rather as indexing his awareness of (potential) anti-­Shi‘ism. By doing so, he anticipated and attempted to mitigate a possible adverse reaction from Sunni members of the congregation, by using humor, encouraging them not to “freak out,” but rather “just breathe.” Interestingly, El-­Farouk explained Shi‘a-­style salat here, but did not explain that prayer would be led by a woman—­or rather, by a person El-­Farouk thought was a woman. In the same way that storytellers explain things “to repair apparent ruptures in narrative coherence” that might be considered “morally problematic,”57 El-­Farouk’s warning, even in the form of a joke, marked as potentially problematic the congregation’s departure from its (and the wider umma’s) Sunni-­normativity. Even though most Muslims condemn woman-­led prayer of a mixed-­ gender congregation,58 at El-­Tawhid it was the taken-­for-­granted norm and therefore went unremarked. The congregation went on to pray, with Zahid reciting the iqama and Salma leading prayer, both in Arabic. When everyone had finished the prayer, El-­Farouk addressed us again. Instructing congregants what to do next, he told us, “Fall back into a circle,” as he sat down cross-­legged in his usual spot at the front of the room. While we found our seats, El-­Farouk again shifted his conversational style. Addressing Salma and making

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specific contrast to previous Shi‘a-­led prayers, he remarked, “So, Salma, you did different stuff, you did qunut in the first rak’ah.” El-­Farouk’s position here was ambiguous. Perhaps he positioned himself as a learner, merely wanting to understand variations in “Shi‘a style”; or perhaps he implied that Salma had made a mistake, offering a subtle correction. Although El-­Farouk did not phrase his comments as a question, Salma interrupted to explain. “So this is actually the proper way of doing Juma salat in the Shi‘a style,” Salma said. “What I had been doing is just a normal jamaat style but—­” Taking up a teacherly position, Salma explained “proper” Shi‘a salat for Juma and contrasted it to other Shi‘a congregational prayers, thus also contradicting the implication that they might have made a mistake while leading prayer. In addition, by performing the “proper” form of Friday prayers and explicitly articulating the value of leading prayer “properly,” Salma socialized the rest of us into being good imams.59 Both El-­Farouk’s and Salma’s use of untranslated Arabic words indicated their expectation of one another’s shared religious knowledge. Perhaps they assumed that others present also understood these words. They were probably right about those congregants raised Muslim, who shared a common Arabic religious vocabulary even if they did not speak Arabic fluently, but possibly not for the converts (me and others) or the non-­Muslims present (David and others). For example, I did not know the term qunut and had to look it up later. The occasional use of Arabic words thus also served a socializing purpose, exposing participants to key religious terms, the meaning of which they could usually understand from context. As Salma started to say, “But,” El-­Farouk interrupted, their words overlapping. “Ah, okay, gotcha.” Salma laughed as El-­Farouk continued. “I was like, just when I thought I had it down, she goes and changes it on me,” he said in a smiling voice, his words overlapping with Salma’s laughter. El-­Farouk’s response, along with his laughter and smiling voice, indicated his positive stance toward Salma’s explanation. His response also confirmed his understanding of the Arabic terms Salma used and his more general knowledge that different kinds of ritual prayer are performed in different settings. The fact that he went on to explain his earlier observations, and described himself as someone who thought

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he had mastered the norms of Shi‘a ritual prayer, seemed designed to minimize a potential loss of face, to ensure that he was seen as having the knowledge and authority that allowed him to take up the position of coordinating imam in the mosque each week. Grinning, Salma responded, “I realized that if I’m going to be like the Shi‘a imam here, I should do it correctly.” Both Salma and El-­Farouk laughed some more. Salma’s self-­reference as “the Shi‘a imam here” alluded to the fact that El-­Farouk often assigned them the role of imam. As we have seen, El-­Farouk tried to rotate all the religious and other leadership roles among congregants, seeking a mixture of people of various genders, dis/­ abilities, nationalities, skin colors, denominations, and so on in various roles. Because Shi‘a congregants were in the minority, when there were Shi‘a present, he often tried to include them somehow. As El-­Farouk made clear, the mosque usually had women serve as imams, implying that the scarcity of Shi‘a women congregants was what prompted him to give Salma the role of “the Shi‘a imam.” But El-­Farouk’s statement rested on the mistaken premise that Salma was a woman, as he began to explain. “Usually, we have women lead the salat, right? So, uh—­” “I’m not a woman,” Salma interrupted. El-­Farouk’s face showed his surprise. “Huh?” Salma repeated themself: “I’m not a woman.” “Hmm.” El-­Farouk puzzled over this news from a congregant he had known for several years. “So, okay, then help me figure that one out then. So, okay, maybe I just move you out to the side, and we have to find another?” he said, his voice rising like a question, implying he might need to find another Shi‘a woman to be “the” Shi‘a imam. “I’m gender nonconforming,” Salma explained matter-­of-­factly, “so it’s actually not a gendered salat for me.” Shams, whose Pride prayer we encountered in chapter 4, spoke up: “We can just say we can have people who aren’t men.” “There we go,” Salma and El-­Farouk said simultaneously. David also spoke up, adding, “I know three people here today who don’t identify as male or female.” “So nonmale persons. How’s that?” El-­Farouk asked. “Yes, there you go,” David agreed.

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“Because that’s what we need,” Shams affirmed. “They were policing masculinity and drawing this fence around masculinity, and that’s the fence that we need to destroy. And there’s so many ways to do it. Yay Pride!” she concluded, linking the conversation and the Toronto Pride festival, which had begun the same day. In this conversation, we see how the mosque’s effort to include both women and Shi‘a in leadership roles resulted in—­through negotiation and input from congregants of diverse ancestries, life experiences, and even religious traditions—­a capacious understanding of antipatriarchal leadership not based on binary gender or sex. Through both conversational and embodied interaction, Salma’s imamship—­initially understood by El-­Farouk and perhaps other congregants as woman-­led prayer—­performatively created a space where the congregation could negotiate new norms for future nonbinary imamship. Thus Salma remained “the Shi‘a imam,” but there was no longer an assumption that prayer was “woman-­led.” Toward the end of each Juma, the community usually made Fatiha requests, sharing joys or sorrows for which the group then recites Sura al-­Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur’an, as a kind of collective petition to God on one another’s behalf. On the day of Salma’s revelation, El-­ Farouk had assigned a woman named Malaika to collect prayer requests and then recite the chapter on the congregants’ behalf. After congregants who were there in person had finished addressing their Fatiha requests to Malaika, El-­Farouk read additional requests aloud from his computer screen, where participants in the Facebook Livestream chat were posting typed comments. “Shakila online is asking a Fatiha for joy and humor in all of our lives,” he said, referring to a Malaysian immigrant who now lived in Vancouver and regularly participated in the mosque’s livestream. “And I’m going to ask a Fatiha for Shakila’s new tattoo. . . . She made a joke about it, getting my line—­What did I say? ‘Sunnis, don’t freak out, just breathe.’ ” Everyone laughed, Shakila’s request for joy and humor instantly granted.

“That’s a Sunni-­Normative Interpretation” At Juma a week later, Shi‘ism came up again, this time in a friendly critique of Sunni-­normativity. El-­Farouk gave a khutbah about why

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he sees the mosque as “traditional” despite its many differences from other mosques. We sat in a circle listening to him, most of us cross-­ legged on the floor of the women’s center the mosque borrowed each Friday. Toward the end of his sermon, a dark-­skinned woman named Jade interrupted. Wearing a colorful headwrap and speaking in an accent that sounded West African to me, she said, “Are we allowed to ask questions?” “You can ask,” El-­Farouk responded. “I may not answer you,” he said, smiling. He was used to being interrupted. Jade laughed before continuing. “Because my faith doesn’t allow [me] to ask questions. But there is something that has always confused me. I’m not a Muslim, so I’m getting all the information that I can. Talking about women,” she said, “I’m wondering whether marrying four women is traditional. And what that says to, um, homosexual person. So if you’re gay, should I expect that you’re getting more, three? husbands?” She ended each word as if it were a question. Several congregants laughed good-­ naturedly. “And if I become a Muslim?” Jade went on. “Uh-­huh,” El-­Farouk said, waiting for her point. “Am I going to get three, four wives? If I want to follow the tradition and laws, where does that come in?” “Okay, so,” El-­Farouk started to respond and then paused to laugh. “Love you, Jade,” he said. El-­Farouk offered a popular liberal interpretation of the Qur’an 4:3, addressing the entire congregation to explain at some length that polygamy is only allowed if one can treat one’s spouses equally—­and, since this is nearly impossible, taking more than one spouse is precluded. He ended with, “So if you actually engage the tradition and the discourse, it actually is preclusive of being able to take on a second spouse. Except in very, very limited—­” He broke off to address Jade directly: “Sorry, you can still become Muslim, but you may not end up with four wives.” He burst into a long stream of laughter. El-­ Farouk’s use of the nongendered term spouse rather than wife marked his interpretation as progressive. But his and Jade’s presupposition that she might end up a wife made this conversation quite queer since most Muslim authorities would not endorse a same-­sex nikah, an Islamic marriage. The conversation could have ended there, but Salma interrupted and queered it even further. Salma was known for their relentless “pushback”

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on the mosque’s developing norms. “Can I respond to that?” they asked El-­Farouk. “Of course,” he said. “Um, so that’s, I want to say, it’s a Sunni-­normative interpretation,” Salma said. “Okay,” El-­Farouk said, adding in a smiling voice, “Of course it is, yeah,” he emphasized, acknowledging his Sunni-­normativity. “I think Islam,” Salma began, but then backtracked to add, “I’m a Shi‘a”—­an aside directed to the newcomers that day—­“And I think Islam allows for polyamorous relationships. If you look at the marriage contract itself—­and for any kind of marriage, you need to have a ­contract—­it looks like a business transaction.” By labeling El-­Farouk’s interpretation of polygamy Sunni-­normative, Salma challenged it. But El-­Farouk responded with openness, immediately conceding the point. Indeed, I often observed him use his position of authority to allow other congregants to speak, ask questions, and even critique his interpretations. Those who did so were often women, gender nonconforming, or nonmale—­an essential link to this congregation’s work to be gender expansive. Their speaking up was a marked difference from many mosques, where usually only cisgender men have opportunities for speaking roles during congregational prayers. Although El-­Farouk’s and Salma’s interpretations were far beyond the bounds of “orthodox” Islam, both relied on tradition in fascinating ways that opened up possibilities for very different Muslim futures. In these two conversations, we see that interaction at El-­Tawhid was managed in ways that (re)defined religious values while socializing everyone into communicatively performing them. By bringing humor into Juma, airing potential sources of discomfort around denominational and other biases that might cause some participants to “freak out,” and making space for open discussion and learning of nonbinary or nongendered language and varied interpretations, the community collectively socialized one another into new forms of inclusivity. As Shakila’s joke in the livestream comments suggested, participants watching the livestream sometimes also participated in this process. As we also saw in the discussions from MPV’s Facebook group, tools of socialization traversed into digital spaces, and socialization occurred through multilayered, multitool processes that reached broad audiences.

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Conclusion When Salma prayed as a nonbinary Shi‘a in Mecca, their head on a turba, surrounded by Sunni men, they realized the possibility of other forms of Muslim community. Disrupting the Sunni-­normativity and anti-­Shi‘ism that have arisen in North America since the 1970s was not only possible but underway within the nonconformist community. However, it was not easy. Resting on the notion that declaring themselves “just Muslims” would magically allow Muslims to overcome their differences was no more realistic than the idea that declarations of “colorblindness” would end systemic racism. More often than not, those who thought of themselves as “just Muslim” practiced Sunni-­normative forms of Islam, even while avoiding the label “Sunni.” As many nonconformists pointed out and experienced, normativities intersected in much the same way that different forms of oppression did: parallels existed among Sunni-­normativity, white privilege, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, and even homonormative monogamy. Efforts to overcome them also needed to operate in tandem, and many nonconformist Muslims in inclusive groups actively undertook this work. Talk among nonconformists, whether online or in person at Juma, offers a glimpse into this community’s process of self-­consciously creating new Muslim groups, communities more “radically inclusive” than those they have experienced in the past.60 This was no utopia: we heard stories of “progressive” imams and queer-­inclusive groups spreading anti-­ Shi‘a discourses or inflicting microaggressions on Shi‘a congregants. But change was underway. We saw this through a mutual dialectic between socializing individual group members and creating their groups. As part of the nonconformist community, group members freshly imagined themselves not only as queer in various ways but also as pluralist, committed to exposing Sunni-­normativity. Participants in these mosques and online groups remained unsatisfied with being “just Muslims.” They did not strive to be “sect-­blind” but rather self-­and other-­aware, appreciative and welcoming of denominational differences without allowing such differences to divide them. And when they stumbled, there was always someone like Michael, Salma, or Mahdia to challenge them, saying, “That’s a Sunni-­normative interpretation.” As the next chapter shows, however, nonconformist Muslim leaders were not always so open to being challenged, and not all missteps were so easily rectified.


Skin in the Game It is imperative to forge angry coalitions with other activist and academic projects against discrimination such as anti-­ patriarchy, anti-­ cissexism, anti-­ racism and anti-­ ableism, which are prompted by similar bouts of rage. This is very much in line with the very nature of “queer” as a signifier. —­Tommaso M. Milani, “Fuck Off! Recasting Queer Anger for a Politics of (Self-­) Discomfort,” Gender and Language 15, no. 3 (2021): 439–­46 Although one must . . . categorically reject all coercive and intolerant practices espoused in the name of religion, the recovery of a long obfuscated egalitarian conception of Islam, together with an effort to reconceptualize a progressive Islam for the future, are necessary undertakings if one is to go beyond a negative critique of homogenized Islamic cultures. —­Anouar Majid, Unveiling Traditions: Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000)

While some nonconformists openly called out Sunni-­normativity and many were open to change, some other forms of exclusion remained unresolved. Despite individual intentions and even official group policies designed to create inclusive spaces for marginalized Muslims, the nonconformist community was imperfect. For them, like people in other “inclusive” religious groups, “the story of radical inclusivity is aspirational rather than consistently realized.”1 In this chapter, we focus on critiques and complaints I encountered among those I met during my research, contributing to two sets of recent scholarly conversations, one on the management practices of religious groups2 and the other on (resistance to) anti-­Blackness within them.3 149

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We focus on the talk of Shams El-­Din (Shams for short) and Trina, two women who narrated negative experiences with nonconformist organizations: Shams with shared authority in Toronto’s El-­Tawhid Juma Circle (El-­Tawhid) and Trina with anti-­Blackness and “aspirational whiteness” in Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV). Building on recent work on lived experience as theory-­building, as well as on white supremacy and anti-­Blackness in religious communities, we examine Trina’s and Sham’s transformative demands.4 They offered a vision of a radical Muslim community that did not stop with LGBTQ+ inclusion but also created more egalitarian leadership structures and committed to dismantling anti-­Blackness. Tying their arguments back to the issues of “queer voice” presented earlier, I argue that embracing queerness more fully would allow nonconformists to move “both within and beyond the LGBTQ idiom” to more profoundly engage with anti-­racist and other humanitarian justice efforts.5

Problems in the Scene Despite their apparent focus on humanitarian justice and inclusivity, the nonconformist Muslim groups I studied sometimes fell short. Participants were quick to call out those lapses, sometimes engaging in self-­critique but more often criticizing one another—­especially those in leadership roles. While some participants in nonconformist groups have written critiques, in this chapter, I focus on conflicts and criticisms I encountered during my fieldwork. Existing critiques of nonconformist Muslims are often problematic in two ways. On the one hand, they tend to lack specificity, highlighting problems without giving concrete examples. For instance, Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente and Eren Cervantes-­Altamirano have critiqued the elitism, ableism, misogyny, and other forms of oppression they encountered within “Progressive Islam(s)” writ large, even though it was clear that they had particular “progressive spaces” in mind.6 On the other hand, some critics give examples of problems they see with MPV or its cofounder Ani Zonneveld (often conflating the organization with the person) while generalizing those problems to all Muslims who self-­identify as progressive. For instance, in a recent undergraduate thesis, FITNA member Sara Abdelghany examined media coverage of

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Zonneveld to argue that some of her statements fed into Islamophobia. However, Abdelghany expanded her critique to “MPV members such as Zonneveld” without offering evidence of other participants in MPV chapters or Facebook groups adopting such stereotypes.7 And while Abdelghany criticized the “activism of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV),” the only examples she gave of MPV’s work were references to Zonneveld.8 In other cases, Abdelghany attributed the activism of individuals who happened to be affiliated with MPV somehow, like Fatima Thompson or Pamela Taylor, to MPV itself, even when their activism occurred before MPV’s 2007 founding. Similarly, in a 2012 Vice article, novelist-­cum-­religious-­studies-­scholar Michael Muhammad Knight focused on a critique of Zonneveld, only to generalize about “the bigotry inherent in this scene.” Yet he clarifies that “the scene” refers not to all those—­like him—­who might be labeled progressive but rather specifically to those invested in that label, epitomized, for him, by Zonneveld.9 Part of the reason that nonconformist groups and their leaders are often treated interchangeably in critiques, I believe, is a lack of shared authority within those groups, despite their participants’ best intentions. As I turn to the concerns, conflicts, and critiques that emerged during my fieldwork, I aim to give specific examples and avoid conflating individuals with the groups or “scenes” in which they are involved. At the same time, I show that specificity, especially when it emerges from lived experience, can yield theory, or what Trina called “depth of analysis.” The groups I document in this book are not monolithic. Even those affiliated with MPV, like its Facebook group or the various chapters where I conducted fieldwork, had members like Knight who were critical of the organization and its leader. While some of the criticisms I encountered were similar to those mentioned above, I focus on two that emerged as particularly salient: a lack of shared authority, and anti-­Blackness entangled with liberalism and aspirational whiteness. While these groups welcomed multiple voices, voice did not always lead to shared authority, and while Black Muslims may have been “included,” many participants had insufficient understanding of the systemic anti-­Black environment in which such groups exist. Both Shams and Trina argued that—­now and in the future—­nonconformists need systems of accountability that included a willingness to hear critique.

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Talk, Lived Experience, and Theory In this chapter, I approach both Shams’s and Trina’s talk about their lived experiences not as “an object of study, nor [as] data” but instead as “a space of theory-­making” or “theory building.”10 As linguistic anthropologist Arthur Spears argues, “Lived experience is the substance of the, perhaps temporarily, ineffable structure of feeling, shaping, and structuring what we should desperately want theory to account for, including our pain, resentments, hatreds, longing, and joy.”11 Feminist anthropologist of religion Elizabeth Pérez exemplifies this approach by taking a Black trans reverend’s “theorization of her own subjectivity [as] substantial enough to be brought into conversation with her academic peers.”12 Similarly, I bring Shams’s and Trina’s arguments into conversation with each other and with published work on related topics. The two women, in different ways, experienced what feminist philosopher Sara Ahmed calls “a restriction of possibility” within nonconformist groups,13 Shams in relation to a desire for more authority and Trina in relation to anti-­ Blackness. While they learned from navigating those restrictions, we can, in turn, learn from them. In our conversations, both women tacked back and forth between storytelling and evaluation. Rather than simply presenting their narratives as evidence, I disentangle their accounts, offering summaries of their narratives as context—­the specificity I argued for earlier—­but focusing mainly on their arguments. My interest is not in determining authoritative versions of what “really” happened in the events each described; I suspect that others involved in their narratives would have different versions of them or even contest them altogether. I have elected not to pursue those counternarratives—­even at the risk of some participants and friends feeling betrayed. As Sara Ahmed argues, “Learning to hear the anger of others, without blocking the anger through a defence of one’s own position is crucial.”14 While neither protecting nor condemning the actors in their stories, I take seriously the arguments of these two Black women religious leaders as they analyzed the problems they have witnessed and experienced in nonconformist organizations, and they theorized better futures.15 In this sense, at the level of my writing, I am also exploring shared (ethnographic) authority.16

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Shared Authority By March 2020, when the United States and Canada went into lockdown because of COVID-­19, El-­Tawhid and the other nonconformist groups where I conducted research stopped meeting in person. Having livestreamed its Jumas for many years, El-­Tawhid was, in some ways, ready for this shift; the main difference now was that everyone participated via computer (Zoom or Facebook Live) rather than some participants gathering in person in Toronto. The mosque’s Facebook group, ETJC, began to attract more and more members from all over the world. I noticed an increase in online conversations there, presumably because everyone felt isolated. Although my ethnographic research was winding down as I turned more to writing, I began to pay more attention to posts in ETJC, especially those of people I had met face-­to-­face during previous trips to Toronto. My friend Shams, whose Pride prayer opened chapter 4, was a prominent poster in the group and a frequent khatib during Jumas. So I was surprised when, in December 2020, she announced that she was leaving El-­Tawhid and ETJC. The following month I sent her a Facebook message to find out why, and we arranged a Zoom call. Shams’s concerns can be summarized as problems with what El-­ Tawhid leaders often call “shared authority,” a notion that came up frequently during Jumas, in the Facebook group, and descriptions of the mosque. When Laury Silvers, El-­Farouk Khaki, and Troy Jackson launched El-­Tawhid in Toronto in 2009, the concept of shared authority was a founding principle. In his writings about El-­Tawhid, El-­Farouk defines shared authority as the belief “that we all have something to learn and all have something to teach.”17 Drawing on interviews with El-­Tawhid leaders she conducted in 2013, religious studies scholar Lisa Worthington describes the mosque’s approach to shared authority as “opening leadership positions to women including non-­Muslims in worship.”18 Because “congregation members take turns in giving the adhan (call to prayer), delivering the sermon and leading the prayer” and “religious leadership positions are open to all (including women),” Worthington writes, “the service format embodies the notion of ‘shared authority.’ ”19 Worthington also suggests that leaders’ use of the title

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coordinating imam rather than simply imam is additionally symbolic of the mosque’s commitment to shared authority.20 As an occasional El-­Tawhid congregant via Skype and later visiting in person during fieldwork, I witnessed the application of shared authority. Indeed, I benefited personally from it when, during my second in-­person visit, El-­Farouk invited me to give the call to prayer; and during my fourth, when I gave the sermon (based on an early version of chapter 4). Other nonconformist mosques where I had attended congregational prayers, such as Masjid al Rabia, MPV–­LA’s Unity Mosque, the MPV–­Columbus Unity Mosque, and MPV–­Chicago’s Friday prayers, also reflected a shared authority model, though without necessarily using that label. For example, in a recent article coauthored with religious studies scholar Adis Duderija, MPV cofounder Ani Zonneveld described MPV prayers: “MPV does not have a dedicated imam for its congregation. Whether you are a man, woman, or LGBTQI+, all are welcomed and encouraged to take spiritual ownership and lead services.”21 As a participant, I saw and felt the value in encouraging congregants—­ especially women—­to take up speaking roles during religious rituals. One problem with shared authority—­one frequently mentioned by mosque leaders in ETJC and during Jumas—­was getting people to do things, especially to commit to leading worship. Some leadership roles required little preparation; one could lead prayer at the drop of a hat as long as they had memorized a few short Qur’anic verses, and mosque leaders had the azan transliterated on a handout for anyone willing to do the call to prayer. But giving a sermon required more preparation, commitment, and oversight. During announcements at the end of a Juma in June 2019, El-­Farouk made a plea for khatibs. “We need khatibs to sign up for Jumas. This is a shared-­authority space. So the idea is that different people are giving the sermons on a regular basis so we get a diversity of opinions and experiences and interpretations and perspectives. It also alleviates my burden of having to come up with the khutbah on the regular.” He reiterated this the following week during his khutbah when he told us, When we started this space, we . . . didn’t want a singular person. I keep telling you, “Please sign up to do khutbahs,” because I don’t want to be the only voice here. What you’re hearing is my voice, my understanding,

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and my interpretation. But I have actually learned and grown by listening to other people. And so the idea of this is that we all have something to share and always have something to contribute and always have something to learn. So it was based on this notion of shared authority. This is an expression that Nakia Jackson in the United States—­one of our first female imams in the US—­came up with. The notion of shared authority: that we share together and we build community and our understanding together.

Others also credit African American writer, activist, and imam Nakia Jackson with the concept of shared authority.22 Although Jackson was still a member of several online nonconformist groups, nobody I asked remembered precisely when or where she first addressed shared authority. She was not a formal participant in my research, but when I reached out to her on Facebook Messenger, she speculated that it was probably in an essay she wrote in 2006 for progressiveislam​.­org, a blog Laury ran from 2005 to 2011. Though neither she nor Laury still had the essay, Jackson recalled how she had initially conceptualized shared authority: Adult members of a community have a collective and mutual responsibility to maintain a community. In terms of religious communities, somebody’s got to organize worship, decide the parameters of charitable giving  / ­mutual aid, manage the logistics of celebrations, etc. But without shared authority, what we have is [an] uneven and inefficient distribution of power. It makes things less efficient when people removed from the work have undue power to control the parameters of that work. It also encourages apathy among those who do the work, if they know that the results are at another’s mercy. Shared authority, regardless of gender, means that we have equal responsibility and we benefit maximally and equally from a well-­run community. And that shared authority includes the responsibility to lead worship. When all have the responsibility to ensure that worship services are conducted well, those with the skill and inclination to do so can step forward and the community is more invested in the results.23

While shared authority was important to the mosque’s founders, the fact that El-­Farouk had to remind congregants repeatedly about it suggests that, like “radical inclusivity” in anthropologist Ellen Lewin’s study

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of a Black Pentecostal church, shared authority was “more aspirational than fully realized.”24 A more significant problem, I came to see through my conversations with Shams, was that authority in “shared authority” remained underexamined, leading to the very problems that sharing it was meant to prevent: in Nakia Jackson’s terms, an “uneven and inefficient distribution of power,” a lack of efficiency because some people “have undue power to control the parameters of that work, and “apathy among those who [would otherwise] do the work, if they know that the results are at another’s mercy.” Whereas there was undoubtedly more diversity of voices and interpretations at El-­Tawhid than in most mosques, thus fulfilling El-­Farouk’s vision of shared authority, authority remained, contra Jackson’s conception of it, in the hands of a few people.

Shams’s Story: Seeking Authority Shams was an African American woman raised in Detroit by a Christian mother and a father of “unknown religion.” She had known Muslims most of her life and eventually converted and took an Arabic Muslim name during graduate school (where she became friends with Daaiyee Abdullah) after living in Cairo and Morocco. A schoolteacher in Vermont, Shams was also studying for a certificate to become a French teacher in Canada, and she and her non-­Muslim husband divided their time between a US home and a Canadian one. She had joined El-­Tawhid after meeting two men from the mosque during Eid prayers in summer 2017 at Toronto’s Noor Cultural Centre25—­a relatively liberal Muslim “third space” where many El-­Tawhid members attend large Eids and other events. In addition to attending El-­Tawhid in person when she was in Toronto and online when she was in Vermont, when we first met, Shams was also a member of the Facebook groups for ETJC and MPV, and at the time of this writing (September 2021) she was still a member of the MPV Facebook group and had joined FITNA. Shams considered herself a progressive Muslim, defining progressive as “a reexamination of the rules, the beliefs, and practices of Islam to fit with understandings of human rights and to try to discern what is essential and what is a practice that can change.” She was one of the most outwardly religious people I met during my fieldwork, frequently

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mentioning Allah in conversation and in Facebook posts. “I like a religious khutbah,” she told me. “So giving one, I like to try to make people feel, ‘Okay, they went in there.’ We have an expression in the Black community in the US; we say, ‘We feel like we had church.’ I understand that you can’t say, ‘We feel like we had mosque.’ ” We both laughed. “I’m the only one who says that,” she said. As a deeply religious woman with a high level of education in Islam and Arabic, Shams brought a unique perspective to the nonconformist groups in which she was a part, both in-­person and on Facebook. During our first conversation, after an El-­Tawhid Juma in June 2019, Shams and I sat with her husband in the back of the Toronto prayer hall for about forty-­five minutes. When the mosque’s room reservation ended, we moved downstairs and walked to a nearby coffee shop to continue talking for another fifteen minutes. Soon after our interview, Shams and I became friends on Facebook. When I returned in September of that year, we got together for dinner and more conversation, and we now communicate regularly via Facebook. During our second interview, Shams was in her finished attic where she could find some quiet for our Zoom call, and although she did not usually wear hijab, she wore a red scarf draped over her head to ward off the attic’s cold. As we spoke, I occasionally heard the pleasant sound of her husband practicing piano two floors below. Although Shams did not use the term shared authority in our first conversation, she valued the model and the community respect it granted her. Describing her role in El-­Tawhid, she said, “To some people, I’ve become kind of like an auntie.” Some queer congregants not accepted by their parents sought her out as a listener. “So, I’ve kind of gotten into that role,” Shams said. “I also do the khutbah quite often. Before my studies started, I was doing it about once a month. Now, it’s been once a quarter.” As an experienced teacher, Shams found writing khutbahs an easy and enjoyable way to contribute to the mosque. “I have different topics,” she told me. I talk about “Drive Like a Muslim,” or . . . about poverty, and/or food shortages, or sex in a progressive Islamic community; that God is in a trans body. . . . I like [giving khutbahs]. . . . It’s something that isn’t difficult for me. When people are working hard and making their khutbahs

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and stressing and working all week, for me, this is like a half-­hour lesson plan. It’s something I know how to do. And I think I do well. Because the people are online saying, “Thanks again.” Or some people say, “Shams is there; we’re glad.”

We both laughed as she continued to give examples of the compliments she had received on her sermons. Despite Shams’s educational background in Islamic studies and Arabic, her widely recognized skill as a khatib, and the evident respect in which many El-­Tawhid and ETJC members held her, in the story she narrated of her experience in the mosque, it became clear that authority had not been shared with her in the way the phrase shared authority had led her to imagine.

Shams’s Multiple Critique Shams critiqued not just shared authority in the abstract but also what she saw, in at least one case, as a sexist abuse of authority, and more commonly, an uneven distribution of intellectual labor without the attendant respect for the religious knowledge needed to perform that labor. I thus read her narrative as a multiple critique, Middle East studies scholar miriam cooke’s term for “a multilayered discourse that allows [Muslim feminists] to engage with and criticize the various individuals, institutions, and systems that limit and oppress them.”26 Drawing on cooke’s work, Islamic studies scholar Omid Safi writes, “Multiple critique entails a multi-­headed approach based on a simultaneous critique of the many communities and discourses that we find ourselves positioned in.”27 While Shams named particular individuals involved in El-­Tawhid, her critique was not ultimately of them as individuals but rather of the need for more transparent systems that would enable not only shared authority but also shared responsibility. Her critique, and the narrative she used to illustrate it, concerned the need for an organizational system with a clear structure, yet flexible enough to allow the creation of new roles as the community grew, and one in which authority meant not only voice during ritual prayer but also decision-­making power.

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Systems and Structures

At one point, Shams had hoped to become an associate Imam in the mosque, but that had not worked out. “I’m disappointed,” she told me, “but Allah’s the best planner.” I had never heard anyone in El-­Tawhid refer to an “associate imam,” so I asked her what that title meant. “Well, I’m not quite sure,” she said, thinking. “That’s probably the problem,” her husband interjected, laughing. “From what I understand, . . . there was a conflict,” Shams said, between two of the mosque leaders, referring to an incident that happened in 2016 before she joined El-­Tawhid. She mentioned their names and what she knew of the conflict, but I have omitted these details, focusing instead on the systemic issues. “There was no system; there was no constitution; there were no bylaws; there’s no treasurer; there’s no bank account. So, there was no way for the two of them to resolve this problem by going to organizational rules.” After that conflict at the time she joined, Shams said, the mosque had put in place a three-­role structure: coordinating Imam, president, and director. “There was no formal system that made these people have these offices; it’s simply that they said they had these offices. There was no, necessarily, buy-­in from the community. . . . There was no mechanism to get them in or out. They just had those roles. We’re not even sure what responsibility or roles each of them had.” Shams continued, “When I came in 2017, this was the system in place. Calling it system, I think, might be greater than it deserves,” she said sardonically, “but that was what was presented to me.”

Named Roles

While the existing system may have lacked clarity about each person’s responsibility or role, Shams also described it as rigid, with little opportunity for the creation of new roles. By 2019, Shams had begun doing a lot of volunteer work with El-­Tawhid, creating her own role, and she wanted a title: associate imam. I’d already started going with people, praying with them at the hospital. Making sure to contact whoever had lost a parent. Doing the pastoral care responsibilities, and then people coming to me with questions and concerns, and younger people saying, “I have these religious questions,”

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and things like that. So, I thought that it would be a good thing, especially because I am well suited to serve the community, and I went to grad school for Islamic studies. I know a lot about the classical rules—­the ones we are choosing sometimes to deviate from, but I know them. I studied the tradition. I studied Arabic. . . . So, I thought being an Imam would be a useful way to help the community and continue doing that kind of pastoral work more efficiently.

Shams offered an example of how an official title would have helped: “When I was at the hospital with one of our congregants, the nurses were asking me, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m a friend from the mosque.’ But it’d be nice also to be able to have that role, to be a little more help to [the mosque] by being more official with these things.” When Shams told mosque leaders that she would like the title of associate imam, they instead offered her the recently vacated position of director. But she felt that title “seemed less than” the others; she “wanted one that was equal,” one that would reflect her spiritual authority, not just administrative authority. Describing the work of the previous director, Shams said her role had been to “lead the weekly meetings. [The director] would help people write their khutbahs or edit their khutbahs, and she put people on the schedule. Because of shared authority, we all should take turns doing khutbahs; and it’s really a lot of work because if you want to say you’re going to take turns, you mean you’re going to have trained and untrained people of varying experience and so . . . editing that was a big commitment.” In Shams’s view, mosque leaders valued her expertise enough to make use of her skills, but not to recognize it publicly with an appropriate religious title. While shared authority at El-­Tawhid was supposed to mean that “religious leadership positions are open to all”28—­in practice, only some religious leadership positions (khatib, muezzin, Juma prayer leader) were open. During Shams’s meeting with mosque leaders to discuss her request, they said that the existing tripartite structure was “the structure that they wanted this mosque to run by. So,” Shams concluded, “I was insulted.” Later, Shams returned to this story, imagining my unspoken question: “You say, ‘Why is she insulted? Why did she use the word insulted’? Because I felt like, ‘After all this time, there should be some acknowledgment that Shams has at least a third of a clue on how to

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interact in a professional setting.’ ” When she rejected the role of director, mosque leaders suggested Shams could instead call herself “assistant to the Imam.” But she told them, “I don’t wanna be an assistant. I wanna be an associate imam, and to have the same level of voice as you do.” Shams’s recognition that there were different “level[s] of voice” is an important intervention in the claims of mosque leaders (as we saw above in El-­Farouk’s plea for khatibs) that having a variety of voices would lead to shared authority. At first, in June 2019, Shams shared her critique with me in confidence; when she told me she felt insulted, she added, “I don’t hope that you tell them that, but it’s also the truth.” But nineteen months later, when she had left the mosque and we met on Zoom for a second interview, she told me, “I feel differently now.” She clarified that her critique was with the mosque leadership structure, not with particular people. Explaining why she had balked at being at an assistant to the Imam, she told me, I didn’t want it to be so personal about him. Again, I need to say that I really admire [him] as a human being, as a person. And part of the reason that I didn’t want to make public my objections was because I really do admire the things he’s done with the mosque, with things he did . . . for queer Muslims, the things that he’s done in the community. . . . I like him as a human being. I like to be around him. That said, I don’t see myself as a minion or assistant to [him]. I see myself as an independent actor allied with [him] to the goal of helping improve the world, starting with the Muslim community around us and especially queer Muslims wherever they may be. But I don’t view him as more than me or better than me. . . . I never felt that I wasn’t good enough to do the same thing or to help in the same thing.

If Shams had agreed to call herself the Imam’s assistant, she said, “[The] focus [would have been] on him rather than the mission.”

“Things Have to Be Authorized”

Even though Shams turned down the director title, she continued to volunteer actively, give sermons, do pastoral care, and lead charity activities. But she also continued to be frustrated by what she saw as a lack of

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transparency and mosque leaders’ failure to find time to meet to discuss various ideas she had. “I had no authority to do anything because there was no structure.” Offering an example, Shams said, I wanted to teach an evening class in Islam—­Intro to Islam—­and [a mosque leader] said, “Well, you have to get your syllabus . . . from Muslims for Progressive Values.” I said, “I can write a syllabus. I’m certified in several states to write syllabi and have taught in several states and countries. I know how to write a syllabus.” Everybody said I had to use [MPV’s] syllabus. [But they] would never give it. I said, “Well, can I just teach a class?” He said, “Well, things have to be authorized. We have to make sure you’re teaching the right thing.” I felt [like saying], “Fool, I know more about what to teach than you. I legally taught Intro to the Middle East at two universities, so I think that I know how to teach Intro to Islam, which is part of Intro to the Middle East.” I was really insulted. . . . There are things that I’m willing to do as a volunteer that I’m being stymied from because the [leader] doesn’t have time to talk to me about it or, in this case, is saying that “We have to verify, we have to check.”

In contrast to the published summary of “shared authority” as “we all have something to learn and all have something to teach,”29 in Shams’s experience, leaders restricted her teaching to what she could offer during Friday sermons. There, too, she experienced their oversight as heavy-­handed. In the ETJC Facebook group, members were invited quarterly to sign up to serve as khatibs, providing a working sermon title, an outline, and a summary of their objectives in sharing their chosen topic. After discussing their proposed topic with the “Imam or designate,” khatibs were required to submit a draft or outline at least seven days before their chosen Juma date and await feedback. Those who failed to provide their outline or draft in advance were warned that their sermon might be canceled. Shams told me she and some others found the policy unfair, especially after she had been offered the role of director, which would have meant checking others’ sermons. Last summer, a woman contacted me, a member of the masjid, to say they weren’t happy with having their khutbahs checked. . . . They asked me,

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“Do you have to submit your khutbahs to [a mosque leader] in advance?” And I said, “Yes. I do submit at least my outline.” They said, “How do you feel about that?” . . . This was when I was still feeling like, “I don’t want to criticize [mosque leaders] in a public fashion.” I was like, “Well, we all do it.” And it’s true, I did it. But the truth of it is at no time has there ever been a comment saying, “This is a way you could improve your khutbah,” or, “This is an area you’ve left out of your khutbah.” I’ve never submitted an outline that was questioned in any way. I am not sure at what point I no longer would have to submit outlines. We can’t say we’re insulted if this is a requirement for everybody, but really? “First, you ask me to do this for other people, which means I must know what belongs in khutbahs, but now I have to submit my khutbahs?”

While conceding that some khatibs needed assistance in writing appropriate sermons that are not “more conservative, Islamically speaking, than we would like” but still guide a congregant “toward being a better Muslim and a better person,” Shams argued that since “they’re always checked by one person, and people are guided to giving better khutbahs by that one person, definitionally authority is not shared.”

Generative Refusal

On at least one occasion, Shams had resisted the policy. Over Zoom in January 2021, she told me that when someone invited her to speak at Toronto’s 2019 Dyke March (discussed at the start of chapter 4), a mosque leader asked to review her speech beforehand. “I said, ‘Let me get this straight: It’s a Dyke March. That means it’s for women. The whole point of that thing is that it wasn’t on the same day as the Pride activity because they want to separate themselves to say, “This is a woman-­led activity.” And you want to review my speech?’ . . . And he said, ‘Oh, well, I mean, you were there representing the mosque.’ And I said, ‘I’m not accepting your male authority over a woman’s speech to a group of women. I’m not going to be giving you my speech.’ ” In June 2019, Shams had told me—­unprompted—­that she did not see male mosque leaders’ refusal to call her an associate imam as “grounded in sexism. [With] some people, I would suspect that it was.” At the time, she said, “Instead, I do think that it’s a desire to control power in a specific way.” But the narrative she shared a year and a half later about the

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Dyke March prayer suggested she had begun to look back at her conflict with mosque leaders and see things differently; sexism may have been a factor. Yet the more prominent issue seemed to be those Shams had summarized: too much authority held by too few people (regardless of gender), insufficient documentation of how power and responsibility should be distributed, and a refusal to give up some level of oversight so that authority could be shared more evenly. By announcing her departure from the mosque and its Facebook group and sharing her concerns with me, Shams’s critique was a generative one. She offered not just reproach but concrete suggestions. If a mosque’s goal is shared authority, she argued, “you can’t have a one-­man show”; both responsibilities and decision-­making power needed to be distributed. To run smoothly, Shams advised, a mosque needed a sexual harassment policy. “Organizations that are real, growing, functional organizations have made decisions among themselves about what we’re going to do when someone violates the rules we’ve set up for ourselves and each other. We also should have rules for ourselves and each other.” Large events needed planning committees that began their work months in advance and, in some cases, security during the events themselves. A mosque should have transparency around donations and their use, she argued. And her vision was far grander than improving El-­Tawhid alone. I’d like the hospitals; I’d like schools; I’d like libraries. And I believe that this can be achieved. But we need organization. . . . I see other communities start their own thing. Again, a hospital’s a long way off, but wouldn’t it be nice? If they [queer Muslims] could . . . come to these things and be understood and greeted in their wholeness and completeness as themselves? Shared authority would be the first step. We also need shared responsibility.

What Shams demanded, in my view, was not only a rethinking of shared authority in terms of shared responsibility. In her request for the authoritative title of Imam, Shams also wanted to see those with religious expertise not only given the authority to speak in the mosque but also a public recognition of their authority that extended beyond

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the mosque itself. At some other nonconformist mosques, that recognition was evident. At the Atlanta Unity Mosque, for example, both Trina and Kelly were called Imams. But they had other concerns, chief among them anti-­Blackness.

Anti-­Blackness While Shams left El-­Tawhid with minimal drama, sometimes whole groups broke up. In September 2020, amid the COVID-­19 pandemic, a post by Kelly in the Atlanta Unity Mosque’s Facebook group appeared in my newsfeed. “To best serve this community,” she had written, “especially in light of our community’s ongoing commitment to [fighting] anti-­black racism, we have decided to operate independently from other organizations, including MPV–­Atlanta and MPV–­National. Atlanta Unity Mosque will operate within the realm of the El-­Tawhid Juma Circle and we will continue to offer services like Jumah, holiday services, officiant/Nikah services, listening, and networking to provide community services.” When I messaged Kelly asking what had happened, she encouraged me to contact Trina, who agreed to a follow-­up interview. I begin by summarizing Trina’s version of the events that led to AUM’s disaffiliation from MPV and then turn to what I see as the most significant among her arguments. For most of our seventy-­two-­minute conversation, Trina avoided naming the main antagonist in her story, referring to them only as MPV’s “founder.” Of course, I knew (and Trina knew that I knew) who she meant. Nonetheless, this anonymization, I think, speaks to Trina’s larger argument: her narrative’s particulars notwithstanding, she was concerned with issues of anti-­Blackness and aspirational whiteness among Muslims generally and what she saw as “liberal, progressive, and radical” Muslims’ failures to engage with anti-­racism in the ways that their stated commitment to humanitarian justice demanded. While MPV’s “founder” exemplified these issues for Trina, Trina’s vision for a more just nonconformist Muslim community surpassed a critique of MPV or its “founder.” As Trina argued, a focus on individuals marks a failure to “deal with systemic anti-­Blackness.” For this reason, as I did with Shams’s story above, I follow Trina’s example by anonymizing her references to specific individuals and focusing on the systemic issues she

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critiqued. I also follow Trina’s reference to “the founder,” even though I understand that MPV had two founders.30

Trina’s Story of Struggle In February 2021, I sat at a desk in my bedroom-­turned-­pandemic-­office, my hair shorter than the last time Trina and I had seen each other and now died pink. Over Zoom, Trina looked much like she had the previous times we’d met, a bright red scarf covering her hair and black glasses framing her eyes. After we had caught up for a few minutes, I asked her to tell me about the events that led to disaffiliation of the Atlanta Unity Mosque (AUM) from MPV. The Atlanta chapter had long been in “struggle” with MPV National, Trina said, describing their relationship as “tenuous” and recalling at least “five Black folks in Atlanta” who had left the group because they had negative impressions of MPV’s founder. But AUM began a more “active struggle” with MPV in late 2019, when someone from MPV National asked Trina to participate in a fundraising campaign. “They basically wanted us to say like, ‘I’m so glad I’m part of MPV, ’cause MPV is doing a lot of great things as far as social justice,’ ” Trina recalled. Similar to Shams’s reaction to being asked to serve as El-­Tawhid’s director, Trina balked at the request. She told them she would not take part because, in her view, “MPV doesn’t show up for Black folks. . . . MPV doesn’t have any real depth of analysis. . . . I can’t in good faith let you use my photo in basically a tokenizing way in order to make other folks think that MPV has a good relationship with Black folks.” As a result of Trina’s refusal, MPV’s “community board” invited her to say more during a December 2019 virtual meeting of eight or nine chapter leaders. At that meeting, when Trina suggested that MPV suffered from “institutional and systemic . . . anti-­Blackness,” she recalled that “the founder got really upset” and asked Trina to tell the group how to solve the problem. Trina did offer some solutions, to which I return below, even though she recognized that doing so was not her responsibility. MPV’s chapter leaders initially appeared to take Trina’s criticisms seriously. After some discussion, they decided to take a few months to read and discuss together Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning:

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The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.31 Published in 2016, the book won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and became popular among liberal book clubs and discussion groups throughout the United States.32 But MPV’s discussion of the book took a while to get going, Trina said, because “the founder would not prioritize it, wouldn’t come to the meetings, wouldn’t read the book, would be very defensive when we had constant conversations about race and racism.” In the end, the group had “maybe two or three” discussions of the book, which were interrupted when, in March 2020, everyone went into lockdown because of COVID-­19. Although Trina and other chapter leaders attempted to discuss Kendi’s book, MPV’s founder, Trina reported, “wouldn’t read, wouldn’t show up.” Trying to resolve the tension between Trina and the founder, chapter leaders asked the founder to come to “facilitated meetings” with a professional facilitator present. During one of these meetings midyear, Trina said, she and the founder got into an argument. “And she said,” Trina laughed wryly, “all the things—­it was funny, in hindsight—­all of the things . . . that [Robin] DiAngelo [author of the 2018 book White Fragility] kind of lays out.”33 In lectures, Trina said, DiAngelo lists white people’s typical responses when someone calls them out for saying or doing something racist. Even though MPV’s founder was a brown-­ skinned immigrant, Trina said she checked all the responses on DiAngelo’s list: “She’s defensive. She starts crying. [She says:] ‘If you really knew me, you wouldn’t say I was racist.’ ”34 She told Trina that she had Black friends—­as if this meant she couldn’t be racist.35 Even if that were true, Trina argued, those friends were not part of MPV’s leadership; Trina was the only Black person ever on the leadership calls. In response to this conversation, in August 2020, the founder brought in two Black women from the Detroit-­based social change organization Muslim Anti-­Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) to offer chapter leaders a training.36 Trina described the training as “a two-­hour thing to talk about racism: anti-­racism 101.” She later confirmed with the trainers that they had not been given any background about the conflict that had led to the session. Moreover, when attendees wanted to debrief after the training, the founder was not available for a month. “So,” Trina told me, “I talked to the other two folks here in [AUM] leadership”—­another woman of color and Kelly. “Look, I’m done,” Trina

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told them. “I’m not asking y’all to do anything, but I’m done with this. After all the uprisings last year,” she said—­referring to the Black Lives Matter protests that followed George Floyd’s murder in 2020—­“I’m Black, I’m Muslim, I’m queer; I have a certain urgency about this that this institution does not. So I need to step away.” Kelly and their co-­leader told Trina, “We were waiting on you.” Trina and I both laughed. The three women would have liked to involve other AUM members in their dialog about disaffiliating, but the pandemic made it challenging to do so. Ultimately, the three women wrote and sent a formal “letter of disaffiliation” addressed to the board of trustees and community leadership of MPV and then announced it to AUM members. AUM leaders received a “short and cordial” response from one chapter leader on behalf of the community board but no response from the founder or the trustees. The AUM members they heard from supported their decision. The announcement on Facebook that I saw received just one response other than my own: Justice—­a trans Muslim man based in Michigan who had also critiqued MPV—­ wrote, “I love this.”

Trina’s Multiple Critique Before our meeting, Trina sent me a copy of the letter of disaffiliation that she, Kelly, and their co-­leader had coauthored and co-­signed; it provided a concise summary of the arguments she elaborated during our conversation. During the community board meetings Trina attended, and in our interview, she detailed AUM’s multiple critique, which she had played a significant role in shaping, and her suggestions for how a nonconformist, “progressive” Muslim organization could do better. Many of Trina’s suggestions grew from her extensive experience working with various organizations focused on humanitarian justice. But what prevented Muslims, in particular, from fighting anti-­Blackness, Trina argued, was the aspirational whiteness of Muslims of immigrant ancestry.

Aspirational Whiteness

“We refuse to support and align with an organization that replicates and upholds white supremacist behaviors of assimilation and respectability

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politics,” AUM’s letter began. Explaining the assimilationist attitudes of some nonconformist Muslims, Trina told me, “They want white progressive people to say, ‘They’re doing the right things. These are the other kinds of Muslims.’ ” She labeled this desire to assimilate aspirational whiteness, a term first used by social analyst María Josefina Saldaña-­ Portillo to describe Mexican Americans who identified as “other white.”37 More recently, critical race theorist Khaled Beydoun has used the concept to discuss Arab and South Asian Muslim ethnocentrism and attempts to achieve model-­minority status in the United States.38 Aspirational whiteness refers not only to one’s phenotypic proximity to whiteness (though such proximity brings with it relative privilege), but more specifically the use of what linguistic anthropologist Arthur Spears calls whiteners “to alter situationally, and sometimes permanently, their individual status” as people of color. Although Spears’s examples are linguistic—­namely “being able to speak, often to shift into, the standard dialect” in the presence of powerful white people39—­in Trina’s analysis, for non-­Black Muslims of color, liberal politics served as a whitener. In her view, identification with whiteness was especially evident among Muslims of immigrant background, who, she observed, “are often very interested in their proximity to whiteness and white acceptance.” As historian Kambiz GhaneaBassiri shows, immigrant Muslims have long been engaged in an assimilationist project, motivated by “appreciation for the prosperity they experienced, . . . to fight for citizenship rights as ‘white’ Americans.”40 “And in order to do that,” Trina argued, “they kind of have to put some lines, draw some lines in the sand, . . . get their white benefactors, and get in line with white liberalism.” Whiteness in Trina’s use was not a “demographic descriptor but rather an identity thoroughly shaped by and implicated in white supremacy.”41 As such, her critique resonates with that of recent religious studies scholarship, exposing a link “between injunctions to liberal sympathy and institutional investments in whiteness.”42 One example of the “white progressive” views or “white liberalism” that Trina observed in MPV was the central commonality of all the nonconformist groups I document: support for LGBTQ+ rights. As a lesbian and a supporter of trans rights, Trina certainly did not discount the value of fighting for LGBTQ+ freedoms. “I’m glad I can marry my wife. I’m happy about that,” she said. At the same time, she argued, those

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freedoms—­epitomized by marriage equality—­benefit white people more than others. “The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) falling [in 2013] was about white men being able to pass off their property to other white men. . . . I’m glad that the rest of us get collateral benefits,” Trina said, “but that’s about . . . people who have property being able to pass on property to other folk. . . . White men can pass on their shit to white men. White women can pass on their shit to other white women.” The benefits, she argued—­in line with recent political science research—­are much less significant for Black and poor folks and those in relationships other than coupledom.43 While supporting LGBTQ+ rights costs nonconformists status among more conservative Muslims, Trina said, in the larger context of North American white supremacy, doing so helped establish them as “the good Muslims,” more proximate to whiteness. Supporting LGBTQ+ equality “was a safe avenue for Muslim progressives to say, . . . ‘We’re the other white meat to white people.’ So, white people can say, ‘These are the Muslims who are okay with gay folks.’ We became the more approachable Muslims. We became ‘the good Muslims.’ ” Trina laughed, recalling the “game of good Muslim, bad Muslim” that arose after 9/11: Every Muslim had to take that test wherever they went because Christians and white folks demanded that of us. “Are you a good Muslim or bad Muslim?” . . . We started playing that game of Muslim respectability politics. . . . Again, it’s not about Muslims respecting us; it was about white Christians respecting us. And white Christians were looking for Muslims that they could identify with. They can say, “Y’all just like us. Y’all like the Episcopal Church, right? We want to bring queer people into leadership. We . . . want to ordain women.” . . . They could finally be aligned with Muslims who were more palatable. We became palatable Muslims in the Western world, which, frankly, is why a lot of Muslims hate us. Right? Because they looked at us and said that we were just assimilating.

Many scholars have examined the “good Muslim, bad Muslim” public rhetoric that emerged in the United States after 9/11.44 But Trina’s is the only critique I have encountered explicitly connecting such rhetoric to the appeal of nonconformist approaches to Islam specifically for white Americans and for Muslims who, she argued, aspire to

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whiteness through assimilation.45 Trina’s argument resonated with those who have critiqued MPV, and Zonneveld in particular, for playing into Islamophobia by “adopt[ing] stereotypes of the American dominant ideology and perpetuat[ing] them against mainstream Muslims.”46 Whereas nonconformist Muslims benefited from aligning with white non-­Muslim liberals in supporting LGBTQ+ rights, doing so, Trina said, entailed anti-­Blackness. Anti-­Blackness, she argued, “comes with” whiteness. The only way Muslims of immigrant descent could have privilege in the United States, Trina posited, was to participate in the dominant culture’s anti-­Blackness. “So, why would they try to bring down anti-­ Black structure?” she asked rhetorically. “Why would they try to eliminate poverty? What’s the incentive? What’s the game? What is the cost? What is the skin in the game for them?” she asked. The cost to Muslims ready to have skin in the game with African Americans by fighting anti-­Blackness is that they will lose their ability to “assimilate to white culture hardcore” and thereby become less “palatable to white folks,” Trina argued. Unlike white liberals who, linguistic anthropologist Jennifer Delfino shows, sometimes use deictic positioning to metaphorically claim to “walk beside” or “stand with” Black people,47 Trina used standing with literally. She said standing with other marginalized communities requires “taking a stand, putting ourselves out there,” doing things that risked offending white liberals. Only then would Muslims be more concerned about “doing the work” than with “that white aspirational identity of how other people perceive us.” But, for Trina as a Black woman, remaining involved in an organization that did not commit to fighting anti-­Blackness also had costs. “It’s fucking costing me at this point,” she said, laughing wryly. “It’s costing me in community because . . . the lack of self-­awareness around anti-­Blackness is just too deep.” For change to happen, Trina prescribed, “someone or a group of people, a coalition of folks, [needs to] come together and say, ‘We can’t afford not to do this.’ ” Participants needed to realize the cost to them would require them to “get in community” with African Americans—­ Muslims and non-­Muslims—­which would entail losing their alignment with liberal whites. Being truly in relationship with African American Muslims “means they’re invested in you too. If they have a relationship, they’re invested in you and your community too.” Groups that are “in

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community” with African Americans will “figure out what [committing to Black lives] is gonna cost them, and that they’re willing to pay it, and that they can’t afford not to address it.”

BEING IN Community

Many Muslims did not have skin in the game in combatting anti-­ Blackness, Trina argued, because they were not in community with Black folks, whether Muslim or not. AUM’s letter of disaffiliation from MPV had called out a “lack of Black people, and lack of ability to recruit and maintain Black leadership specifically” while dismissing several oft-­ given explanations: it was “not just a matter of representational politics”; not “because Black people do not know that the organization exists; not the lack of “an inclusive meeting and logistics model that makes room for Black people”; not “because Black people are more conservative, homophobic/transphobic, sparse in an area, or simply uninterested.” The real reason? Many nonconformist groups and leaders failed to “get in community” with Black people. We saw in chapter 2 how members of nonconformist groups—­ including Trina—­narrated the positive affect they experienced in community with others who fully welcomed them. Similarly, Trina argued, a commitment to humanitarian justice required being in community with marginalized people. Valuing Black lives required being in community with Black people. Fighting class privilege, a topic that rarely came up in the groups in which I conducted research, required being in relationship with working-­class people or those at or below poverty level. Too often, progressives just did “that theoretical anti-­racism thing” from a distance. But if all they did was “check off the boxes around progressivism,” Trina told them, “Good luck learning and organizing for Black people with no Black people.” Muslim engagement in anti-­racism required “real conversations with actual Black Muslims . . . living actual Black Muslim lives.” “Get in community with Black folks where you are,” Trina demanded. She had often heard from leaders of nonconformist groups outside of Atlanta that there were “no African Americans here,” a claim she dismissed outright. How could such a claim be true when, according to social scientists, the largest group of Muslims (between one-­fifth and one-­third of Muslims) in the United States today are Black?48 “No, there are African Americans there,” Trina said. “You just don’t know them.

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You’re not in community with them, but there’s some there,” she scoffed. “[There] may not be as many as there are in Atlanta, but they’re there, and you’re not in community with them, so you don’t see ’em. Or you’re living in a place where they can’t afford to be. Or where it’s not safe for them to be. But they’re there.” Being in community with Black folks, Trina suggested, required examining the intersecting factors—­such as location, monetary cost, or safety—­that might prevent them from joining any given group.49 Trina offered AUM as a model for how being in community with the marginalized might look. AUM, she said, “has a good relationship with Black folks because we’ve been there; we’ve earned that; we’re in real community. We have the receipts around that.” In contrast to groups with few Black members, “there’s more at stake” for AUM. In addition, she said, “We’re in relationship with other folks who are doing it, with other organizations and religious congregations that are doing it.” She offered an upcoming event as an example: “We’re gonna have a soul food brunch with a [predominantly Black Christian] congregation that lives in Michigan. . . . We’re gonna get on Zoom and jam out together and talk about our food, and talk about African Heritage Month together.” In this way, she said, even at a distance, they could create community.

Politics, Theology, and History

Trina connected her critique of problems she saw in MPV with a powerful take on what the larger nonconformist community should do to move forward differently. While a few “progressive” Muslims in advisory roles to MPV chapters offered “deep political analysis” and “deep theological analysis,” Trina argued that more participants needed to engage in “reading deeply” the work of progressive Muslim scholars such as Omid Safi or amina wadud.50 By reading such scholars, Trina said, nonconformists could try “to apply . . . liberation theology to what we were doing” instead of just promoting “hashtags” and “campaigns” that highlighted superficial differences from other (“bad”) Muslims and allowed them to avoid doing the “deeper work” of struggling with marginalized people. Relatedly, AUM’s disaffiliation letter argued that any organization claiming to be “progressive” had to have a deeply rooted relationship with “Black people’s politics” and “Black people’s histories.” A Muslim

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social justice struggle, Trina elaborated, “needs to have a clear political analysis that [is] growing and evolving, that’s connected to a larger history in this country,” especially Black Muslim history. In particular, she argued, nonconformist Muslims needed to learn how they are “connected to the [Black] Panthers” and to the Nation of Islam (NOI). “The only way that we can exist,” she said, “is because of the Nation of Islam. Because the Nation of Islam made a place in the national and even international imagination that there was another type of Muslim that could exist here in the US.” Unlike most Muslim groups, in Trina’s view, the NOI offered contemporary nonconformists a model because “it was clearly political.” By claiming the NOI as a precursor to contemporary nonconformist Muslim groups, Trina weaved groups like AUM into a history of politicized Muslims.51 She argued that to fully understand the history of which AUM and other nonconformist groups are a part, we must understand the aspects of that history that have been erased.52 Muslims who considered themselves progressive needed to learn more about “the continuum of progressive Islam, or the continuum of different politicized expressions of Islam in this country and beyond,” she said. Trina’s argument resonates with the work of scholars who have demonstrated that the experiences of Black Muslims are central to understanding Islam more broadly, and can help in connecting our understandings of Islamophobia with anti-­Blackness.53 Participants in the nonconformist groups I document sometimes mentioned the history of Black Muslims in North America, but I saw little depth in their discussions of that history. Their comments often resembled that of Faisal Alam, founder of North America’s first support group for LGBTQ+ Muslims, who told Scott Kugle, “The struggle of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims for recognition and rights involves the same principles as the struggle of African Americans against racial prejudice and women’s struggle for feminist dignity.”54 As Black feminist theorist Deborah King has argued, analogies comparing other forms of oppression to racism are problematic for two reasons: we do not learn much from them about those who inhabit the intersection of multiple subject positions, and they obfuscate important differences among these identities and struggles.55 Another example of where nonconformists’ understanding of Black history could have been deeper was in discussions of Ahmadis, marginalized Muslims seen as needing

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nonconformists’ support. While I often heard nonconformists voice their support, I heard little recognition that the Ahmadis had attracted thousands of African American converts to Islam in the twentieth century.56 Similarly, as we saw earlier, some US-­based nonconformists proposed reforms—­such as celebrating Ramadan in December rather than following the Islamic lunar calendar—­without acknowledging that the NOI had Americanized Islam in some of the same ways decades earlier.57 Nonetheless, some Muslims involved in nonconformist groups have looked to African American traditions as sources of inspiration. For example, Scott Kugle writes of gay African American imam Daayiee Abdullah that his “progressive political agenda” was “derived from the US civil rights movement and based upon experiences of religious politics in African American Christian churches as well as the Black Muslim drive toward justice.”58 In his recent book, Abdullah writes that he knew about the Nation of Islam from growing up in Detroit and because his brother was a member.59 Yet he does not make the kinds of historical connections Trina argued nonconformists need to start making, and in fact, he quotes the Southern Poverty Law Center in labeling the NOI a hate group.60 Rather than exploring deeper issues like Black history or how Muslims could impact political change, too often, Trina argued, “we were just so happy to find people that let us be gay, right?” She laughed. “We were just so happy to find people [with whom] we can pray in nonsegregated spaces.” Trina, as we saw in chapter 2, did not discount the value in finding people who make nonconformists feel welcome as they are: “That’s great for a while,” she said. But it is not enough. “At some point, we got to step up. At some point, we got to get off the milk and get on the meat,” Trina said, showing her Pentecostalist upbringing with a biblical reference.61 A commitment to humanitarian justice, Trina argued, had to go beyond a concern with personal happiness to also tackle more significant political and social problems. Her argument resonates with research showing that LGBTQ+ inclusion in religious groups (or any group) does not automatically lead to inclusivity of Black members.62 At the same time, Trina’s experience with MPV suggested that the organization had tried to move too quickly from the milk of woman-­led prayer and LGBTQ+ inclusion into the meat of the Black Lives Matter

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movement. “Because of the zeitgeist of the country, the pandemic, the uprising,” Trina said—­referring to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol—­many nonconformist Muslims, like others, became more “woke”—­that is, enlightened about anti-­Blackness63—­only recently. But Trina expressed shock at their ignorance: “Black people have always been dying. What are you talking about? You realized that Black lives finally matter. Black people [have] always been executed in the street. How did you not know?” She scoffed. “How did you not care? ’Cause if you knew, how did you not care?” Turning on their head “racialized space-­time narratives” that position “woke” allies as temporally “ahead” of “backward” racists,64 Trina instead depicted non-­Black Muslims in the United States as ignorant of their country’s racist past and present. Extending those narratives into the future, she proposed that deeper political analysis and “deep reading” would help prevent future failures to know and care. Despite Trina’s relentless multiple critique of MPV, like Shams, she saw hope for nonconformists and other Muslims committed to humanitarian justice. Having failed, she argued, “doesn’t mean that we don’t get other opportunities to do better. We all fail at things, and we can do better. And I think the first thing we have to do is acknowledge that we’re not doing well somewhere in order to attempt to remedy and repair.” Thus, Trina’s decision to leave MPV, her work with other AUM leaders to formally disaffiliate with MPV, and the powerful articulation of their reasons for doing so constituted what Indigenous anthropologist Audra Simpson calls “generative refusal”—­“a rebellion of love, persistence, commitment, and profound caring” that creates “constellations of coresistance, working together toward a radical alternative present,” resistance that leads to freedom.65


Trina’s theorizing about making an organization committed to humanitarian justice more effective resonated with the concerns Shams raised about shared authority. Both women argued that we must hold leaders accountable and encourage more people to take up leadership roles. Those who start or run an organization must be open to receiving constructive criticism. They must continue learning about diversity, equity,

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and inclusion. Members must continuously make leaders aware of their “gaps in knowledge and experience.” At AUM, Trina said, she and the other two leaders constantly worked on how to invite other folks into and orient them to congregational leadership. Although finding members at both AUM and El-­Tawhid to step up was, as Trina put it, “like fucking pulling teeth sometimes,” she insisted that leaders must not “get stingy about leadership”; they must not “get stingy about power.” Trina attributed people’s discomfort with leading prayer, giving sermons, or doing the call to prayer to a “larger Islamic culture that only certain people”—­men—­“have speaking parts in our worship services.” Nonetheless, she insisted, nonconformists’ “egalitarian ethos” was “really meaningful” to them, “part of our grounding principles.” At AUM, in particular, she said, “we are very invested in participatory leadership, participatory budgeting, participatory worship, participatory learning together.” She also mentioned that AUM leaders “do some training of Imams. And we teach people how to officiate weddings and funerals, that kind of stuff,” thus contributing to the possibility of shared authority beyond Atlanta. During the pandemic, Trina said, while many mosques hosted events on Zoom, people’s willingness to take up leadership roles had increased: “I think that it feels a little less intimidating to do it. . . . You can just turn your camera off and not see other people, or you can hide them.” By the time the pandemic was over, she hoped there would be “more people who are giving khutbahs and praying.” Referring to other nonconformist Muslim groups, Trina said, “As a network of communities, we’ll probably always be decentralized, but we’ll probably all always also be a network.” Having such a network provided an additional system of accountability: We need to be a network because what if some shit blows up in Atlanta? We need friends that can come in and help adjudicate for us. Like, if Kelly and I get into it, we need to be able to call Imam Daayiee or call amina wadud or call you—­call people who are in community with us—­so we can say, “We need some help with people who understand what we stand for, who we’re trying to be, and try to hold us accountable.” . . . We can’t be above reproach. . . . “Who are your peers who can hold you accountable for shit?”

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Conclusion: Queer Critiques and Futures When Shams left El-­Tawhid, and when Trina and the other leaders of the Atlanta Unity Mosque disaffiliated from MPV, they moved “beyond critique, to a place of activated disruption,” a move that anthropologist Aisha Beliso-­De Jesús argues emerges from both Black feminist theory and queer theory.66 I end this chapter by exploring the relationship among their critiques, their proposals for the future, and the expansive understanding of queerness that structures this book as well as, I have argued, the groups I document. In critical geographer David Seitz’s ethnography of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, Martine, a bisexual Black woman, “located the possibility of meaningful inclusivity in the future, suggesting that welcome for ‘all people’ would remain a perpetually unfinished project, constantly striven toward but never settled or axiomatically accomplished.” Martine told Seitz that “she preferred such a promise to a confident declaration of welcome because she felt the temporal structure of the former authorized her to contest injustices within and beyond the church.”67 Through analysis of Martine’s (and others’) words, Seitz reveals “people’s capacity to repair a religious institution, to fashion of it a ‘good-­enough’ object.”68 I see a similar move through critique toward activated disruption, generative refusal, and then repair in Shams’s and Trina’s narratives and theory-­building, as well as in some of the other conversations we encountered in this book, such as Salma’s refusal to be misgendered and their and other nonconformists’ critique of Sunni-­normativity. And through it all, too, there is queerness, not (only) as identity, but as a­ lliance—­as (sometimes angry) coalition.69 It was no coincidence that the three examples Trina gave of those AUM leaders might call if they needed adjudication—­Imam Daayiee, amina wadud, and me—­ were all queer Muslims, and two were Black. Shams’s queerness came not from her gender or sexuality but rather from being—­like Stephanie in chapter 4—­“ ‘queer’ in a subjectless sense, positioning [herself] as welcoming a wide range of abjected and pathologized subjects—­people without housing, national status, financial means, or sexual respectability, broadly conceived . . . within and beyond an LGBTQ idiom.”70 As we saw, Shams literally “stood with” Muslim queers at both Pride and in

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hospitals, and envisioned more inclusive futures for them both within and beyond spaces of religious ritual, as did my nonconformist Muslim friends from MPV–­LA at West Hollywood Pride. But Shams’s story, alongside Trina’s more systemic critique, clarifies that including women and LGBTQ+ folks was insufficient to create shared authority and that much more was required of Muslims committed to humanitarian justice. As Shams put it, “If we want people to have a long-­term home for . . . their Islam that isn’t mainstream, we need to . . . not just be these queers and feminists outside in the wilderness.” There was a need for infrastructure and alliance. Just as some LGBTQ-­inclusive churches have resisted being branded a (or the) “gay church,”71 El-­Tawhid resisted the tendency of some to call it “the gay mosque.” It is queerness, not gayness, that creates a space of possibility, openness, and room to address other humanitarian justice concerns and to recognize and include people with other marginalized identities.72 To some extent, beginning with LGBTQ+ inclusion was a matter of temporality or “progress”: nonconformists needed the milk before the meat, as we learned from Trina. But a concern with progress also entailed looking toward the future, as we have seen throughout the conversations and narratives in this book. And as Jose Muñoz argued, “The future is queerness’s domain.”73 Queerness—­in the sense of nonconformity and antinormativity, of new and radically different futures—­ insists on the potentiality of another world, in this case one that would give the same “level of voice” to all those committed to doing the work required to run a mosque and where Muslims move beyond aspirational whiteness to get in community with Black folks. At the end of my Zoom interview with Trina—­as it turned out, the final interview I conducted for this book—­she offered this image of my work and its relationship to the groups I studied: I’m glad that you’re writing about us. And making a historical record of us and our communities. . . . Thirty years from now, we’ll be able to look back and say, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember when we were talking that kind of bullshit. I hope we’re better now; we were so young and idealistic.” It’s another generation; you know, it’ll be a whole ’nother generation, or even almost two generations, of radical and progressive Muslims in this country in thirty or forty years. They will have this record to look

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back on and see themselves as a part of a continuum. I’m grateful that you’re capturing pieces of it and weaving it together. It’s like having a photo album, like a family photo album that we can look back through.

Trina constructed a powerful image of a “future history” for North American nonconformist Muslims, a metaphorical extended family that would be better than its current form, able to look back and see how far they had come. Shams and Trina both offer us a vision of a future community that not only included LGBTQ+ Muslims but also operated through greater shared authority and a stronger commitment to fighting anti-­Blackness. As we have seen, conversation and narratives, whether online or off, alongside embodied action and voice, are powerful tools for creating community. Creating inclusive community, in particular, requires frequent discussion and revision of not only interpretations and chosen translations but also the very goals of the community and the right means of achieving those goals. New, sometimes queer ways of sharing authority, using language, and taking up space together continuously arise, creating new possibilities for the future, opportunities to critique past and current missteps, and precedents to which future generations of nonconformists can look back. Scholars, too, can learn from nonconformists how to make our methods more queer and our research more inclusive; our knowledge of Muslims is richer when we hear from a vibrant array of voices and perspectives. The Atlanta Unity Mosque’s letter to MPV ended with a queer prayer that we may all take to heart: “May Allah (swt) guide [you] successfully towards an anti-­racist future.” Amin. May we all be guided toward more inclusive communities and futures.

Coda This Is the Islam of the Future Poems . . . have the possibility of doing for ethnographic understanding what normative ethnographic writing cannot. —­Laurel Richardson, “Nine Poems,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 23, no. 1 (1994): 12. Islam is what happens tomorrow. —­Michael Muhammad Knight, Why I Am a Salafi (Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press, 2015), 350.

In the metaphorical family album that Trina imagined in our final interview, we have been presented with many different individuals—­some repeatedly and others just once or twice. I hope that the nonconformists who have read this book can see echoes of themselves among them. But, given the space that close analysis of excerpts from conversations, narratives, and sermons takes up in the preceding chapters, I am left with a great deal of other material I collected that I could not explore in detail. I do not want anyone who let me interview them, spoke during an event I audio-­recorded, or consented to my analyzing their posts in Facebook groups to open this family album and wonder where they are. As part of my commitment to representing the tremendous diversity of participants in nonconformist Muslim groups and valuing the time and words of those who took part in my research, I present their voices here in poetic form. If the preceding chapters are a family album, then this coda is a photo collage, each line a “candid photo” or a cutout fragment of a larger image.1 My approach here draws on a long history of experimentation with ethnographic forms and representational practices. Ethnographers and other qualitative researchers have been using found poetry since at least 181

182 | Coda

the early 1990s.2 Found poetry can transform scholarly prose into poetry with the aim of moving playfully away from scientific positivism and notions of falsifiability.3 Some ethnographic poets, such as sociologist Laurel Richardson, document the words of research participants through what educational anthropologist Corrine Glesne calls “poetic transcription,” transforming interviews into “participant-­voiced” poems.4 Others, like cultural anthropologists Casey Golomski and Susan Wardell, mix lines from their own field notes or internal dialogs and the words of those they encountered or overheard in the field.5 My experiment here is similar to Richardson’s; those who participated in my research are the speakers in the poem, and I shaped it using their “words, repetitions, phrases, . . . embedded dialogues, and conversational asides.”6 But rather than presenting a series of lyric poems, each using the words of a different person, I juxtapose the words of many speakers in one poem. My aim is not to create to present a composite character or “ ‘ideal-­typic’ portrait” but rather the opposite.7 By juxtaposing their words—­such as identity labels that would normally be seen as opposites (straight/queer, man/woman, Shi‘a/Sunni, and so on)—­I emphasize my claim that participants in nonconformist Muslim groups are part of a translocal, if not global, community despite their many individual differences. Doing so also, I hope, gives “a sense of many people talking,” sometimes in a collective voice, but more often a motley collection of individuals.8 It goes without saying that the I of the poem is not the same as the I of this paragraph; the we of the poem, however, includes me. There is also a you, and even a You—­that is, God—­bringing every role in this text (subject, interviewee, ethnographer, reader, Allah, society) into conversation. The shifting pronouns here not only capture the various addressees of the talk and texts I collected but also intertextually mimic the practice of iltifat (switching, shifting, or “ ‘turning’ from one thing to another”) in the Qur’an itself, a stylistic device that adds to the complexity of the text.9 Like poetry in early Islam, seen as “a product of the interplay between intellect and the mimetic capacities of the imagination,”10 and the often poetic text of the Qur’an, this poetic coda is both an argument and a way of exploring new ideas. The poem reflects the major themes of the preceding chapters—­normativity and antinormativity, exclusion

Coda | 183

and inclusion, language and the body, queerness and allyship, authority and power, denominational pluralism, and expanding understandings of gender and gender modality—­in the voices of participants themselves. Showing how the themes of previous chapters are intertwined, the coda also reveals how nonconformists envisioned possible futures for themselves, other Muslims, and even, for some, a radical humanitarian justice through being in community with others. While there is little “plot” in the words I chose (it is not a narrative poem), there is a kind of metanarrative,11 one suggested in this coda’s title: a movement from the traditions of the past through a nonconformist present and pointing toward a hoped-­for future. These different time frames are also linked. This is the Islam of the future: this moment, these people, these practices and interpretations. The present, as in most manifestos, creates the future.12 In that sense, the poem is also a manifesto in the voices of those who participated in creating this book. It is, as Sara Ahmed describes manifestos, both “grounded in an account of what exists” and in “projects . . . that have yet to be realized,”13 both “real world and fantasy,”14 both for a better present and for a queer Muslim future.15 The Garden We Go Toward Bismillahi rahmani Rahim I am the khatib today so salaam alaikum I’m going to start with the call to prayer the azaan I’m terrible at leading halaqas Here we go Stand if you are able face the eastern direction I’m quoting from the Gospels “Let it be done to me as you say”16 In chapter 49, verse 13, God says, “I created you into different nations and tribes that you may know and learn from each other.” We are also a tribe

184 | Coda

a nation as queer folk Maybe also as feminist folks How do you define your tribe? How do you define your nation? Based on language? Maybe on religion Maybe on your skin color Maybe your chosen values We began in a garden17 Everybody is born part of something I am originally from Egypt India Detroit American-­born, living in Canada A proud Australian Born in Northern Nigeria Singapore Karachi I’m from Black Soil, First Nation I sit with the Loon clan I’m from Egypt, too Born and raised in Canada Syria Southern Illinois America Iraq Atlanta by heterosexual parents I am made of this earth I rise from it I will return to it The garden is within us now I am a Muslim from the United States

Coda | 185

an Arab American proud Persian and American Malaysian Bangladeshi an American ex-­pat based here in Los Angeles I am a US citizen a Canadian citizen now a citizen of this planet I am a brown woman a white convert I’m Black a descendant from stolen people I am of South Asian Arab Saudi descent I am telling you, in the Middle East, we are different I feel very comfortable in my own skin I’ll forever be brown I am a person of color a woman a woman of color the minority I am now an old man l have been a feminist my whole life This is what a Muslim feminist looks like today I’m born Jewish from an Irish Catholic family a Muslim family a big, big religious, you know, Muslim family an African American Muslim family a multiracial family I’m the only Muslim in my family of Baptists

186 | Coda

Methodists Catholics Sikhs I am a Bengali child of immigrants a granddaughter of a sheikh unshackled by any family pressures “I am your next of kin.”18 Dinner with my family is an act of prayer I have a wonderful family and a nice dog I am a native Arabic speaker fluent in Urdu I speak a little bit of Arabic some Hindi Urdu Bengali (not fluent in any) English was my first language I took Hebrew for a year I turn the Arabic duties over to my friend It’s going to be English all the way through I don’t use the Arabic that much these days It’s not like living an Arabic life It’s broken at all levels Prayer in Arabic is like breathing It resonates in my body When I say, “Bismillah” my aperture opens I’m intersex a woman of trans experience actually cishet I don’t use gender pronouns

Coda | 187

There is so much variation in the human body my chronic-­pain-­riddled body If we decide to relax our self-­control wear our natural face move our bodies as they wish to move wear the colors and textures that please us we will seem queer Queerness will be a sign of our integrity Let us pray I am queer enough Muslim enough a gay feminist man a #ProudMuslimQueer a transgender Muslim bisexual (lesbian-­leaning, I’d say) a cisgender female I’ve known I was hetero since the age of eight At times in my life I’ve identified as queer or bi I haven’t quite found a label that feels right I guess queer works as well as anything A lot of us are queer I identify as a nonbinary, gender-­nonconforming person I am gay when I study Islam To be queer is to be faithful Being queer is part of Your plan I’m no longer apologetic of my identity There is no garden to go back to I am married divorced a single mom my own best partner

188 | Coda

My wife is a Muslim my partner Buddhist my husband an honorary dervish I am the other husband I don’t have any children I am very loved I am Muslim a spiritual person a born Muslim I converted when I was fourteen I am a great Muslimah a Muslim through and through I play piano for a church on Sundays I am not a religious person not that strict I was raised atheist believe in Buddha (Someone can be Buddhist, and they can be Muslim) I’m actually Christian I’m someone who has studied Qur’an seven years, memorized it I’m also Agnostic; deal with it I’m still Muslim I didn’t choose Islam Islam chose me embraced me from the moment I was born I am a big-­deal Muslim not self-­praising at all I don’t use many labels to describe myself I am a proud Muslim Sunni normative a Shi‘a Muslim (but for non-­Muslims, I’m just a Muslim) a Sunni Muslim I’m from a Sunni family a Sufi by practice Shi’a

Coda | 189

I am familiar with the mainstream ways I am Santa Abdullah at Christmastime Labels are very limiting God does not have body color gender religion race I am one person not an organization Let us patiently wait for our nature to express itself I am not creating myself Trying to find my identity is like nailing Jell-­O to a tree I am everything you are not I am a progressive Muslim (Progressive is a funny word) I am progressive and open-­minded accepting of all evolving Consciousness is always evolving Humanity is always evolving I am a part of God’s whole plan My doubts drop off like old scales I am enough trying my best I am a middle-­aged schoolteacher with bad knees a freelance journalist a refugee lawyer taking the bar exam this summer I am a student an activist

190 | Coda

a leftist in Philippine politics an assistant professor of religion I am still in that awkward phase trying to find a job the author of a book a doctor an imam I am an imam like it or not I am involved in my mosque but still not fully accepted We’re looking for a mosque where everybody can come everyone is welcome the fullness of the umma embraced inclusive of the Shi‘a accessible to those with disabilities where your body stops being a site of fitna not so much a gay mosque (that sounds exclusive many are queer allies straight folks) Maybe a virtual mosque I would prefer a brick-­and-­mortar masjid more in-­person contact Imagine We will soon have Juma prayers where all are welcome to peacefully participate as they wish regardless of orientation or gender just being a person instead of a body Let us all now thank one another for the joy of worshiping God together

Coda | 191

I am in isolation on Zoom now not a hundred percent alone I have my wonderful cat with me Can you hear us okay? You’re on mute I am thankful for social media pleased to meet you all sitting in front of the camera talking from Geneva I’m in America unmuted now I’m calling from my living room coming at ya from Toronto Tkoronto Island Canada I’m currently in my home We have attendees from all over the world Growing up Islam was a set of rules I am not content to allow you to define the rules I am okay with your disapproval I am not going to tell anyone to put on a scarf (I might tell them to take it off) I am not kind to people who take advantage of our religion I am not afraid of losing my life for my Muslim Queer community I am not here to ask you to accept homosexuality I’m never going to tell anybody else

192 | Coda

how to do what they need to do I’m not the authority on anything not trying to stand in your way I am aware of your religious view I am here to ask you for tolerance It’s a valid question I’m listening I am completely at peace with the way I’m practicing Islam a journey right now entirely observant according to my own interpretation trying to remember what Allah wants a person is an authority on their own experience on their own practice I am doing something radical Let us relax into quiet contemplation I’m an optimistic person hopeful looking at the future I see the need the interest in the building of solidarity The Muslim community needs to set aside its differences accept that we are all in a struggle for liberation together even if we don’t accept each other’s theologies lifestyles partners whatever it is Let us join our voices together

Coda | 193

be antiauthority build coalitions fight for a collective justice be part of that movement in solidarity against occupation colonizations injustice alongside Black folks Filipino folks trans folks the Indigenous people of this land all other minorities really and nonminorities that are part of the white supremacist system that needs to be dismantled I don’t declare myself an LGBT ally I’m just a human being I am not afraid of losing my freedom for them It is imperative we constantly engage in acts of decolonization show up in solidarity I can speak with authority on this: Pride requires extending respect to people who are drastically different from you Forgive me if I’ve missed some words here and there Language is more than just words I’m still waiting for your answer There’s only the garden we go toward



1 Bakhtiar, The Sublime Qur’an. See also Bakhtiar, “The Sublime Quran”; Hammer, “To Work for Change,” 105. 2 Knight, The Taqwacores, 132. See also Zahra, The Taqwacores. 3 Asad, Idea of an Anthropology of Islam. 4 Mas, “Compelling the Muslim Subject.” 5 “margin, n.,” OED Online, December 2020, Oxford University Press, https:// www-oed-com. 6 Anderson, Imagined Communities. 7 Lliteras, “A Preliminary Appraisal of Marginalia.” 8 My thinking here is influenced by the robust anthropological scholarship on “the margins,” marginality, and marginalization. See, for example, Bucholtz, “Why Be Normal?”; Masquelier, Prayer Has Spoiled Everything, 19–­20; Haraway, The Haraway Reader, 74; Gopinath, Impossible Desires, 20–­23; García-­Sánchez, “Language Socialization and Marginalization”; Jackson, Minima Ethnographica, 75–­76, 199. 9 Hind Makki, Side Entrance, accessed May 23, 2018, http:​//­sideentrance​.­tumblr​ .­com. On women’s inferior mosque spaces, see also Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution, 5–­6; 201–­2; Eid, Unmosqued the Movie. On women leading prayer, see Silvers, “Islamic Jurisprudence”; Elewa and Silvers, “ ‘I Am One of the People’ ”; Hammer, American Muslim Women. On hijab, see Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 16–­17. On homophobic sermons, see Yip, “Embracing Allah and Sexuality?,” 297. On Shiʿa marginalization, see Rahemtulla, “Toward a Genuine Congregation,” 36–­37; Rasiah, “Towards Muslim Pluralism,” 136. 10 Miyakawa, Five Percenter Rap, 4; Bagby, “Basic Characteristics,” 3; Rahemtulla, “Toward a Genuine Congregation”; Chan-­Malik, Being Muslim, 45. 11 Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution, 5–­6; Khabeer, “Hip Hop Matters,” 142–­43. 12 See, for example, Bilici, Finding Mecca in America, 53. On Muslim anti-­Blackness, see Khabeer, “Hip Hop Matters.” 13 Al-­Mansoor, “Universal Mosque/Masjid Design.” 14 Habib, We Have Always Been Here. 15 Thompson, “#pluralism: Queer Social Media Activism and Secularism in India.” 16 Khalid, Queer Muslim Futures, 7. 17 Mustafa, “Supernatural, Unnatural, Queer.”


196 | Notes

1. The Opening

1 Asad, Message of the Qurʼan, 16:98. 2 See, e.g., Rosowsky, “Religious Classical Practice,” 321. 3 Hjelm, “Tradition as Legitimation.” 4 Bilici, Finding Mecca in America, 83. 5 Safi, “Introduction,” 6. 6 A few other scholars use the term nonconformist, in passing, to describe Muslims in other contexts who share similarities with the groups I studied. See, for example, Shah, Making of a Gay Muslim, 30; Petersen, “Pop-­Up Mosques,” 181. 7 hooks, “Choosing the Margin,” 149. 8 Wilcox, Queer Nuns, 5. 9 Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment; Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 249. 10 Werbner, The Migration Process, 1. 11 Mahmood, Politics of Piety, 115; Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen, 5. 12 Jackson, “Building Publics,” 231. 13 Curtis, Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims, 339; see, for example, Bunt, Islam in the Digital Age; Bunt, iMuslims. 14 Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen, 12. 15 Asad, Idea of an Anthropology of Islam, 14. 16 E.g., Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism”; Strassfeld, “Transing Religious Studies”; Ali et al., “Full Catastrophe Mentoring”; Fuerst, “Job Ads Don’t Add Up.” 17 Asad, Idea of an Anthropology of Islam, 7. 18 Asad, 14. 19 Abu-­Lughod, “Zones of Theory”; Bowen, Muslims through Discourse; Tapper, “ ‘Islamic Anthropology’ ”; Metcalf, “Introduction”; Haeri, “Form and Ideology”; Soares, “Notes on the Anthropological Study of Islam”; Mahmood, “Feminist Theory”; Deeb, Enchanted Modern; Anjum, “Islam as a Discursive Tradition”; Wilson, “Failure of Nomenclature”; Dressler, “How to Conceptualize Inner-­Islamic Plurality/Difference”; Reese, “Islam in Africa/Africans and Islam”; Ware, Walking Quran; Leichtman, Shiʻi Cosmopolitanisms in Africa; Alhourani, “Aesthetics”; Schielke and Debevec, “Introduction”; Ahmad, Everyday Conversions; Robbins, “On Knowing Faith”; Kaliszewska, “ ‘What Good Are All These Divisions?’ ”; Aarvik, “ ‘Spiritualized Islam.’ ” 20 Mahmood, “Feminist Theory,” 210. 21 Mahmood, Politics of Piety, 115. 22 Leichtman, Shiʻi Cosmopolitanisms in Africa, 202–­3; see also Hobsbawm and Ranger, Invention of Tradition; and Bauman, “Contextualization,” on “traditionalization”; and Hjelm, “Tradition as Legitimation” on the use and invention of tradition in religious contexts. 23 Wilcox, Queer Nuns, 2. 24 Shaikh, Sufi Narratives of Intimacy, 25–­26. 25 “Muslim Abolitionist Futures,” Muslim Abolitionist Futures, 2021, https:​//­www​ .­muslimabolitionistfutures​.­org.

Notes | 197

26 Mipsterz, “ALHAMDU | Muslim Futurism,” ALHAMDU, 2021, www​ .­muslimfuturism​.­com. 27 Keane, “Language and Religion”; Farnell and Graham, “Discourse-­Centered Methods”; Lempert, “Discourse and Religion”; Hjelm, “Mapping the Discursive Study of Religion.” 28 Fairclough, Critical Discourse Analysis, 135. A notable exception is Khabeer, “Black Arabic.” 29 Grewal, “Destabilizing Orthodoxy,” 48. 30 Mernissi, Beyond the Veil, viii; cf. ix. 31 Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen, 4–­5. 32 Khabeer, “Black Arabic.” 33 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 13, 14. 34 Gopinath, Impossible Desires; Bucholtz, “Sociolinguistic Nostalgia”; Bucholtz and Hall, “Theorizing Identity.” 35 Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism.” 36 Schieffelin and Ochs, Language Socialization across Cultures. 37 Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen; Eckert and McConnell-­Ginet, “Communities of Practice.” 38 Fader, Mitzvah Girls, especially chapter 7; Benor, Becoming Frum. 39 Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place, 6. 40 Goebel, Language and Superdiversity. 41 Roy, Globalized Islam, 230. 42 Hall, Levon, and Milani, “Navigating Normativities,” 483; see also Grewal, “Destabilizing Orthodoxy.” 43 Safi, Progressive Muslims. 44 Safi, “Introduction,” 3, 7–­8; Kugle, “Sexuality, Diversity, and Ethics.” 45 Zwissler, “Sex, Love, and an Old Brick Building,” 1115. 46 Haddad and Lummis, Islamic Values, 8, 170–­7 1. 47 Pew Research Center, “Muslim Americans: No Sign of Growth,” 26; see also Rahman and Hussain, “Muslims and Sexual Diversity in North America,” 261. 48 Zuhur, “The Master, the Pir,” 62–­63. 49 Bagby, “Basic Characteristics,” 2–­3. 50 “Fiqh-­Us-­Sunnah Volume 002, Supererogatory Prayer, Fiqh 2.067,” Hadith Collection, accessed February 9, 2021, www​.­hadithcollection​.­com. 51 Howe, Suburban Islam; Mir, “Everything Has Changed.” 52 wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 245. 53 Khabeer, Muslim Cool, 203. 54 Howe, Suburban Islam, 15, 30. 55 Howe, 217. 56 Three exceptions that I know of are Farid Esack and Muhsin Hendricks, both of whom are from South Africa but attended Islamic schools in Pakistan, and Daayiee Abdullah, an African American imam who sought Islamic knowledge in Saudi Arabia. Interviews with Muhsin and Daayiee are presented in Kugle, Living

198 | Notes

Out Islam, Chapters 1 and 3. I also interviewed Daayiee for this book. My friend Shams, an African American woman who was involved in El-­Tawhid and several of the Facebook groups I studied, was also an exception. 57 See, for example, Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country; Curtis, Call of Bilal; Khabeer, Muslim Cool, 96–­97. 58 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 162. 59 “About PMN,” Progressive Muslims Network, 1999, https:​//­web​.­archive​.­org​/­web​ /­20010311150625​/­http:​//­progressivemuslims​.­8m​.­com. 60 Safi, “What Is Progressive Islam?,” 49. 61 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 222. 62 Kugle, Living Out Islam; Hammer, American Muslim Women; El-­Farouk Khaki, “For the Love of Allah,” NOW Magazine, June 21, 2007, https:​//­nowtoronto​.­com​ /­news​/­for​-­the​-­love​-­of​-­allah. 63 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 163; Rahman and Hussain, “Muslims and Sexual Diversity in North America,” 270. 64 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 164. 65 Minwalla et al., “Identity Experience,” 115; Rahman and Hussain, “Muslims and Sexual Diversity in North America,” 271. 66 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 164; Khaki, “My Story,” 156; Rahman and Hussain, “Muslims and Sexual Diversity in North America,” 270; Khaki, “For the Love of Allah.” 67 Hammer, American Muslim Women. 68 Hammer, 40. 69 Rayside, “Muslim American Communities’ Response,” 122. 70 Safi, “Introduction,” 18; Safi, “Between ‘Ijtihad of the Presupposition,’ ” 80; Shaikh, “Transforming Feminism,” 157; Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country, 321–­22; Omid Safi, “Challenges and Opportunities for the Progressive Muslim in North America,” Sufi News and Sufism World Report, October 10, 2005, http:​//­sufinews​ .­blogspot​.­com​/­2005​/­10​/­challenges​-­and​-­opportunities​-­for​.­html. 71 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 3, 175, 196. 72 Duderija, “Construction of the Religious Self and the Other,” 115; Duderija, “Progressive Muslims,” 132. 73 Hammer, American Muslim Women, 205; Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country, 321–­22; Esack, “Progressive Islam,” 2018. 74 E.g., Ali, “Progressive Muslims and Islamic Jurisprudence”; Ali, Sexual Ethics and Islam; wadud, “American Muslim Identity”; wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad; Shaikh, “Transforming Feminism”; Hussain, “Muslims, Pluralism and Interfaith Dialogue”; Kugle, “Sexuality, Diversity, and Ethics”; Moussalli, “Islamic Democracy and Pluralism”; Safi, “I and Thou”; Safi, “Between ‘Ijtihad of the Presupposition.’ ” 75 Khaki, “For the Love of Allah.” 76 Hadeel Abdel-­Nabi, “This LGBTQ-­Inclusive Mosque in Calgary Receives Threats for Just Existing,” Vice, December 7, 2018, www​.­vice​.­com.

Notes | 199

77 “About Masjid Al-­Rabia,” Masjid al-­Rabia, 2019, https:​//­masjidalrabia​.­org; “Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque,” Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque, accessed August 8, 2018, http:​//­qalbumaryam​.­weebly​.­com​/­; Piela, “  ‘Religion Is Like Tofu.’  ” 78 Provencher, “Ludovic-­Mohamed Zahed’s Performance”; Petersen, “Pop-­Up Mosques”; Piraino and Zambelli, “Queer Muslims in South Africa.” “About Inclusive Mosque Initiative,” Inclusive Mosque Initiative 2016, http:​//­wp​-­updates​ .­netuxosandbox​.­co​.­uk. 79 Wilcox, “Outlaws or In-­Laws?,” 93. 80 Boellstorff, “Gay Language”; Boellstorff, “Between Religion and Desire”; Minwalla et al., “Identity Experience”; Gaudio, Allah Made Us; Kugle, Living Out Islam; Yip, “Embracing Allah and Sexuality?”; Yip, “Negotiating Space”; Yip, “Queering Religious Texts”; Yip, “Changing Religion”; Yip, “Quest for Intimate/Sexual Citizenship”; Siraj, “On Being Homosexual and Muslim”; Siraj, “Islam, Homosexuality and Gay Muslims”; Siraj, “Isolated, Invisible, and in the Closet”; Siraj, “ ‘I Don’t Want to Taint’ ”; Siraj, “British Muslim Lesbians”; Siraj, “Alternative Realities”; Afzal, Lone Star Muslims; Osman and Shaikh, “Islam, Muslims and Politics of Queerness”; Shah, Making of a Gay Muslim; Golriz, “Does Religion Prevent LGBTQ Acceptance?”; Golriz, “ ‘I Am Enough’ ”; Stuhlsatz et al., “Spirituality and Religious Engagement”; Shannahan, “Sexual Ethics”; Kumpasoğlu, Hasdemir, and Canel-­Çınarbaş, “Turkish Religious LGBTs”; Alvi and Zaidi, “ ‘My Existence Is Not Haram.’ ” 81 Kamrudin, “Bringing Queer into Muslim Spaces,” 146. 82 McTighe and Women With A Vision (WWAV), “Theory on the Ground,” 417n18. 83 Following James Baldwin, Noel Ignatiev, and others, I see the self-­ascription of “white” as contributing to white supremacy, so I use it here with reluctance; nonetheless, I recognize that I and others deemed “white” benefit from white privilege in many settings. Baldwin, “On Being White . . . and Other Lies”; Ignatiev and Garvey, Race Traitor; Ignatiev, “The Point Is Not to Interpret Whiteness.” 84 Haddad and Lummis, Islamic Values, 10; see also Abbas, “Muslim-­on-­Muslim Social Research.” 85 Jacobs-­Huey, “The Natives.” 86 Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning. 87 Safi, “Introduction”; Shaikh, “Transforming Feminism”; wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad; Hammer, “Performing Gender Justice.” More recently, Hammer’s position has evolved to make a “theoretical and pragmatic connection between efforts for gender justice and those dedicated to sexual diversity and LGBTQI+ identified humans, in this particular case especially those who also identify as Muslim.” See Hammer, “Queer Love,” 23. 88 Halberstam, Female Masculinity, 13. 89 Bulliet, Islam, 8. Important recent examples of work on the “lived religion” of North American Muslims include Bilici, Finding Mecca in America; Mir, Muslim American Women on Campus; Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country; Afzal, Lone

200 | Notes

Star Muslims; Khabeer, Muslim Cool; Chan-­Malik, Being Muslim; Piela, “Religion Is Like Tofu”; and on the lived religion of gay Muslims in Britain and Malaysia, Shah, Making of a Gay Muslim. 90 Kozinets, Netnography; Boellstorff et al., “Participant Observation in Virtual Worlds”; Fader, Hidden Heretics. 91 Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures. 92 Daaiyee is also profiled in Kugle, Living Out Islam, chapter 3. 93 Provencher, “Ludovic-­Mohamed Zahed’s Performance.” 94 Clifford, Routes. Clifford calls the method “deep hanging out,” a phrase he attributed to oral remarks made by Renato Rosaldo three years earlier. 95 Thompson, “How to Be a Good Muslim Wife”; Thompson, “Zanzibari Women’s Discursive and Sexual Agency”; Thompson, “Discreet Talk.” 96 Shabana Mir, “Everything Has Changed but We Can’t: Muslim Religious Responses to Covid-­19” (Zoom presentation, AVACGIS Webinar Series, George Mason University Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, August 11, 2020); Thompson, “How to Queer Islamic Rituals on Zoom,” November 19, 2021; Thompson, “How to Queer Islamic Rituals on Zoom,” February 20, 2022. 97 Thompson, “How to Queer Islamic Rituals on Zoom,” November 19, 2021; Thompson, “How to Queer Islamic Rituals on Zoom,” February 20, 2022. 98 Boellstorff et al., “Participant Observation in Virtual Worlds,” 66. 99 Killoran, “Good Muslims and ‘Bad Muslims’ ”; Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. 100 Valentine, Imagining Transgender, 247n1. 101 Curtis, Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims, xii; Jackson-­Best, “Black Muslims in Canada,” 4. 102 Howe, Suburban Islam, 3. 103 Williams, Religions of Immigrants, 143; Metcalf, “Introduction”; Schmidt, Islam in Urban America; Howe, Suburban Islam. 104 Werbner, The Migration Process, 1. 105 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 1. 106 On “gender modality,” see Ashley, “ ‘Trans’ Is My Gender Modality.” 107 Bhimji, “ ‘Assalam u Alaikum.’ ” 108 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 30. 109 Faruqi, Toward Islamic English; see also Khabeer, “Black Arabic.” 110 Fabian, Time and the Other, 82; see also Miyahara, “Why Now? Why Then?.” 111 Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism,” 3. 112 Barrett, From Drag Queens to Leathermen. 113 Lewin, Filled with the Spirit, 12. 114 Khabeer, Muslim Cool; McTighe and Women With A Vision (WWAV), “Theory on the Ground”; Wilcox, Queer Nuns, chapter 4; Crasnow, “ ‘I Want to Look Transgender’ ”; Schneider and Bjork-­James, “Whither Whiteness and Religion?”; Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism.” 115 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 24.

Notes | 201

2. Feeling Like a Community

1 Ahmad, Everyday Conversions, 3. 2 Curtis, “African-­American Islamization,” 680. 3 Goodwin, “Participation,” 173. 4 O’Neill, “Beyond Broken.” 5 Poole, “An Excess of Description,” 160; Moors, “Dutch and the Face-­Veil,” 400–­401; Middleton, “Anxious Belongings,” 609, 612; Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen, 10; Barrett, From Drag Queens to Leathermen, 173–­77. 6 Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen, 9. 7 Hammer, “Queer Love,” 32. 8 Mookherjee, “Affective Citizenship,” 36, 37. 9 Fortier, “Proximity by Design?,” 19; see also Middleton, “Anxious Belongings.” 10 Briggs, “From Affiliation to Affirmation,” 317. 11 Molina-­Markham, “Lives That Preach,” 6. 12 Meigs, “Ritual Language.” 13 Seligman, “Narrative Transformation.” 14 Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning; Wenger, Communities of Practice. 15 Mullen, Chance of Salvation, x. 16 Lan, “Agentive Identity Construction,” 390. 17 Curtis, “African-­American Islamization,” 661, 665. 18 Meetup, “Muslims for Progressive Values—­DC Chapter (Washington, DC),” accessed June 2, 2021, https:​//­www​.­meetup​.­com. The quotation is from Omid Safi, “What Is Progressive Islam?,” Nawaat, March 29, 2005, https:​//­nawaat​.­org​.­ 19 GhaneaBassiri, History of Islam in America, 255; D’Alisera, An Imagined Geography, 63. 20 Nikita Stewart, “Muslims Find Room to Grow in D.C.’s Outer Suburbs,” Washington Post, August 1, 2005, www​.­washingtonpost​.­com; “Search Results: Mosques within 30 Miles of DC,” Salatomatic, accessed May 31, 2021, www​.­salatomatic​.­com. 21 Mir, Muslim American Women on Campus, 27. 22 Mir, 161. 23 D’Alisera, An Imagined Geography, 63. 24 Abdullah, “Living Up to My Name,” 75. 25 Fatima Thompson, “Light of Reformation Mosque (Masjid Nur al Isslaah),” Meetup, February 4, 2011, www​.­meetup​.­com; “Female Imams,” Noor Siddiqui, May 12, 2016, https:​//­noorsiddiqui​.­com. 26 Schmidt, Islam in Urban America, 119–­20. 27 Tannen, Conversational Style, 40–­41. 28 Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning, 49. 29 “community, n.,” in OED Online, March 1, 2021, Oxford University Press, https:// www-oed-com. 30 Magnat, “Traveling Ethnography of Voice,” 432. See also Bruner, Acts of Meaning, 79.

202 | Notes

31 32 33 34

McCarthy, “Good Listenership.” Smoski and Bachorowski, “Antiphonal Laughter,” 327. Siegfried, “Feeling Collective,” 22. “Community,” Al-­Farooq Masjid, accessed May 27, 2021, https:​//­alfarooqmasjid​ .­org; “Mosques and Islamic Schools in Atlanta Metro, Georgia,” Salatomatic, accessed May 27, 2021, www​.­salatomatic​.­com. 35 Jamillah Karim, “Negotiating Gender Lines: Women’s Movement across Atlanta Mosques,” Southern Spaces, May 31, 2010, https:​//­southernspaces​.­org. 36 Peretz, “Why Atlanta?” 37 Karim, American Muslim Women, 165; Peretz, “Why Atlanta?” 38 Petersen, “Pop-­Up Mosques”; Karim, American Muslim Women, 173. 39 Cf. Shah, Making of a Gay Muslim, 217. 40 Karim, American Muslim Women, 163. 41 Karim, 171. 42 Karim, 172. 43 Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning, 80. 44 Excerpts from and analysis of this conversation appear in an earlier form in Thompson, “Becoming Muslims with a ‘Queer Voice.’ ” 45 Meigs, “Ritual Language,” 94. 46 Bamberg, “Identity and Narration,” 139; Meigs, “Ritual Language”; Hill, “Unsettling the Self.” 47 Puar, Terrorist Assemblages; Abraham, “ ‘Out to Get Us’ ”; McKeown et al., “Disclosure, Discrimination, and Desire”; Mitha, Ali, and Koc, “Challenges to Identity Integration.” These offer many examples and discussion of racism and antireligiosity in mainstream queer communities. 48 Rahemtulla, “Toward a Genuine Congregation,” 39. 49 Bergmann, Discreet Indiscretions, 111. 50 McCarthy, “Good Listenership,” 55. 51 On affective alignment, see Du Bois and Kärkkäinen, “Taking a Stance on Emotion,” 440. 52 O’Neill, “Beyond Broken,” 1104. 53 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 119–­20. 54 On “we-­ness” see Skoggard and Waterston, “Introduction,” 110; cf. Stewart, Ordinary Affects, 28. 55 Cf. Ochs, “Stories That Step into the Future.” 56 Pritzker and Perrino, “Culture Inside,” 372–­73. 57 Safi, Progressive Muslims. 58 “MPV Principles,” Muslims for Progressive Values, 2012, www​.­mpvusa​.­org. 59 Pritzker and Perrino, “Culture Inside.” 60 Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning, 109. 61 Elizabeth Eads, “Closer Look: Responses To Orlando’s Mass Shooting; And More,” accessed May 26, 2021, http:​//­cp​.­wabe​.­org. 62 Geissler, “Ethnography as Enactment.”

Notes | 203

63 Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning, 109. 64 Ochs, “Stories That Step into the Future,” 106–­7. 65 Chan-­Malik, Being Muslim, 15.

3. A Prayer for Every Body

1 Safi, Progressive Muslims. 2 Z. Nicolazzo, Rachel Wagner, and Susan Marine, “Gender-­Expansive Campuses: Building Paths to Success for Trans* Students,” Leadership Exchange, fall 2017, www​.­leadershipexchange​-­digital​.­com. 3 Baquedano-­Lopez, “Prayer,” 194. 4 Luhrmann, Persuasions, 12, 312, 313. 5 Wolputte, “Hang On to Your Self ”; Weiss, Body Images; Streeck, “Embodiment in Human Communication”; Meyer, Streeck, and Jordan, Intercorporeality. 6 Hammer, American Muslim Women; wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad; Silvers, “Islamic Jurisprudence’ ”; Elewa and Silvers, “ ‘I Am One of the People’ ”; Knight, “Building and Destroying.” 7 Rahemtulla, “Toward a Genuine Congregation,” 33. 8 Rahemtulla, 33. 9 Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen. 10 Liu and Shange, “Toward Thick Solidarity.” 11 Bowen, A New Anthropology of Islam; Masquelier, “Prayer, Piety and Pleasure.” 12 Ware, Walking Quran, 4. 13 Cf. Corwin, “Changing God, Changing Bodies”; Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen, chapter 1. 14 Lester, Jesus in Our Wombs, 174. 15 Goodwin and Cekaite, Embodied Family Choreography. 16 Meyer, Streeck, and Jordan, Intercorporeality, xvi. 17 Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism.” 18 Just and Remke, “Nurturing Bodies,” 47. See also Ahmed, On Being Included; Fotaki and Pullen, “Introducing Affective Embodiment and Diversity.” 19 Bagby, “Basic Characteristics,” 14. 20 Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution. 21 E.g., Ahmad, Everyday Conversions. 22 Hammer, American Muslim Women. 23 Bagby, “Basic Characteristics.” 24 E.g., Masquelier, “Prayer, Piety and Pleasure.” 25 Shakir, “Examination of the Issue of Female Prayer Leadership”; Silvers, “Islamic Jurisprudence”; Elewa and Silvers, “ ‘I Am One of the People’ ”; Hammer, American Muslim Women; Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country, 314–­24. 26 Hammer, American Muslim Women, 30. 27 Hammer, 57. 28 Mahmood, Politics of Piety, xi. 29 Hammer, American Muslim Women, 56.

204 | Notes

30 Mahmood, Politics of Piety, xi; Henkel, “ ‘Between Belief and Unbelief.’ ” See also Asad, “Agency and Pain” on the relationship between bodily action, cultivated virtue, and intention. 31 Cf. Capps and Ochs, “Cultivating Prayer.” 32 Masquelier, “Prayer, Piety and Pleasure,” 292. On prayer as a ritual that constructs gender, see Geissinger, “ ‘Umm Al-­Dardā’ ”; Laury Silvers, “Muslim Ritual Prayer, Social Submission, and Embodied Dissonance,” October 14, 2013, https:​ //­feminismandreligion​.­com. 33 Williams, Religions of Immigrants, 263. 34 Khaki, “My Story,” 157; Khaki, “Expanding the Gender Jihad,” 169. 35 amina wadud, Friends along the Way with El-­Farouk Khaki—­The Queer Muslim Identity, Friends along the Way, 2021, https:​//­www​.­youtube​.­com​/­watch​?­v​ =­95YaIFEO5xE; Khaki, “Expanding the Gender Jihad,” 169. 36 Khaki, 170. 37 Ugurlu and Yalman, “Introduction,” 3. 38 Williams, Religions of Immigrants, 223. 39 Abdullah, “Getting to Know [a]mina [w]adud,” 188. 40 “Mosques and Islamic Schools in Greater Toronto Area,” Salatomatic, accessed March 4, 2021, www​.­salatomatic​.­com; Statistics Canada, “Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada,” 22; Hogben, Minarets on the Horizon, 5. 41 Jackson-­Best, “Black Muslims in Canada,” 4. 42 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 23. 43 Muslim Womxn at Ryerson, “Muslim Womxn at Ryerson, a Year since Ratification: A Reflection,” Ryerson University Student Life, March 4, 2019, https:​ //­studentlife​.­ryerson​.­ca; “Canadian Council of Muslim Women,” Canadian Council of Muslim Women, accessed March 2, 2021, www​.­ccmw​.­com; “Programs,” Salaam Canada, accessed August 5, 2020, www​.­salaamcanada​.­info; “Noor Cultural Centre,” Noor Cultural Centre, accessed March 2, 2021, https:​//­noorculturalcentre​ .­ca​/­; Canadian Institute of Sufi Studies, “Home,” accessed March 2, 2021, www​ .­cisssufi​.­org. 44 Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 1. 45 Hanks, Language and Communicative Practices; Wolputte, “Hang On to Your Self.” 46 Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 177. 47 Ahmed, 16. 48 Echchaibi, “Alt-­Muslim.” 49 Petersen, “Pop-­Up Mosques.” 50 Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution; Hammer, American Muslim Women; Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country. 51 See, for example, Hind Makki, Side Entrance, accessed May 23, 2018, http:​ //­sideentrance​.­tumblr​.­com. 52 Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution. 53 Schmidt, Islam in Urban America, 171; Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution, 247; Hammer, American Muslim Women, 128; Cesari, “Islamic Organizations in the United

Notes | 205

States,” 68; Haddad and Smith, “Muslim Minority Groups,” 148; Nyhagen, “Mosques as Gendered Spaces.” 54 Goodwin, “Haptic Sociality.” 55 wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 173. 56 Akkach, Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam, 69. 57 Rahemtulla, “Toward a Genuine Congregation,” 33. 58 Reinhart, “Impurity/No Danger.” 59 Crasnow, “ ‘I Want to Look Transgender,’ ” 1041. 60 Torab, “Piety as Gendered Agency”; Asad, “Agency and Pain”; Stiles, “When Is a Divorce a Divorce?” 61 Cf. Hoffman, “Islamic Perceptions on the Human Body,” 40. 62 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 226. 63 Butler, Undoing Gender, 172. 64 Jamal, “Mosques, Collective Identity, and Gender Differences.” 65 Lester, Jesus in Our Wombs; Magnat, “Traveling Ethnography of Voice.” 66 Hoel, “Sexualising the Sacred,” 13. 67 Hoel, 32. 68 Meyer, Streeck, and Jordan, Intercorporeality; Goodwin and Cekaite, Embodied Family Choreography. 69 E.g., Mahmood, Politics of Piety; Galman, “Un/Covering.” 70 On Islamic discourses on the gaze, see Aryanti, “Vision and Gendered Space,” 304; On authentication and authorization as tactics of intersubjectivity, see Bucholtz and Hall, “Theorizing Identity.” 71 Hahn and Jordan, “Sensible Objects,” 269. 72 Capps and Ochs, “Cultivating Prayer,” 43. 73 Douglas, Purity and Danger, 36, 165. 74 “phenomenal, adj. and n.,” OED Online, June 2020, Oxford University Press, https:​//­www​-­oed​-­com​.­ezproxy​.­library​.­wisc​.­edu​/­view​/­Entry​/­142340. 75 Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen. 76 Elewa and Silvers, “ ‘I Am One of the People.’ ” 77 Agha, Language and Social Relations, 275. 78 Curtis, Call of Bilal, 68. 79 Campt, Listening to Images, 17.

4. Queer Muslim Talk

1 Shams used Yusuf Ali’s translation. Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an. 2 Kugle, “Sexuality, Diversity, and Ethics”; Kugle, “Sexual Diversity in Islam”; Kugle, Homosexuality in Islam; Kugle, Living Out Islam. 3 Barrett, From Drag Queens to Leathermen. 4 Capps and Ochs, “Cultivating Prayer,” 51. 5 Ashley, “ ‘Trans’ Is My Gender Modality.” 6 Puar, Terrorist Assemblages; Abraham, “ ‘Out to Get Us’ ”; Hendricks and Hendricks, Hijab; El-­Tayeb, “ ‘Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay’ ”; Rahman, “Queer

206 | Notes

Rights”; Mahomed, “Queer Muslims”; Habib, We Have Always Been Here; Piraino and Zambelli, “Queer Muslims in South Africa.” 7 Wiegman and Wilson, “Introduction”; Ali, “Destabilizing Gender”; Hall, Levon, and Milani, “Navigating Normativities”; Biruk, “Normative Anti-­ Antinormativity?”; Kasmani, Queer Companions. 8 Yip, “Embracing Allah and Sexuality?”; Yip, “Negotiating Space”; Yip, “Queering Religious Texts”; Yip, “Changing Religion”; Yip, “Quest for Intimate/Sexual Citizenship”; Siraj, “On Being Homosexual and Muslim”; Siraj, “Isolated, Invisible, and in the Closet”; Siraj, “ ‘I Don’t Want to Taint’ ”; Siraj, “Islam, Homosexuality and Gay Muslims”; Siraj, “British Muslim Lesbians”; Siraj, “Alternative Realities”; Kugle, Living Out Islam; Alvi and Zaidi, “ ‘My Existence Is Not Haram.’ ” For a rare exception that does include more sexual diversity and one trans Muslim, see Kumpasoğlu, Hasdemir, and Canel-­Çınarbaş, “Between Two Worlds.” 9 Osman and Shaikh, “Islam, Muslims and Politics of Queerness”; Kamrudin, “Bringing Queer into Muslim Spaces”; Piraino and Zambelli, “Queer Muslims in South Africa.” 10 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 24; see also Lewin, Filled with the Spirit; Shokeid, A Gay Synagogue in New York; Zwissler, “Sex, Love, and an Old Brick Building.” 11 Jones et al., “Fifty Years After Stonewall,” 9, 21; cf. Pew Research Center, “U.S. Muslims Concerned,” 26; Environics Institute for Survey Research, “Survey of Muslims in Canada 2016,” 33. 12 Boellstorff, “Between Religion and Desire”; Siraj, “On Being Homosexual and Muslim,” 202; Kamrudin, “Bringing Queer into Muslim Spaces,” 143. 13 Halstead and Lewicka, “Should Homosexuality Be Taught?”; Jamal, “The Story of Lot”; Boellstorff, “Between Religion and Desire,” 579; Kamrudin, “Bringing Queer into Muslim Spaces,” 144; Alvi and Zaidi, “ ‘My Existence Is Not Haram’ ”; Kumpasoğlu, Hasdemir, and Canel-­Çınarbaş, “Between Two Worlds.” 14 Halstead and Lewicka, “Should Homosexuality Be Taught?”; Wilcox, “Outlaws or In-­Laws?” 15 Javaid, “The Haunting of Shame”; Kugle, Living Out Islam, 215. 16 Habib, We Have Always Been Here, 173. 17 Irvine and Gal, “Language Ideology and Linguistic Differentiation,” 38. 18 Murray and Roscoe, “Introduction,” 4; see also Mahomed, “Queer Muslims.” 19 Luhrmann, Persuasions, 12. 20 Bradford, “Upspeak in British English,” 34. 21 Jones, “If a Muslim Says ‘Homo,’ ” 130. 22 Wilcox, Queer Nuns, 216. 23 Jones, “If a Muslim Says ‘Homo,’ ” 126; see also El-­Tayeb, “ ‘Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay’ ”; Puar, Terrorist Assemblages. 24 Javaid, “The Haunting of Shame,” 88. 25 Piraino and Zambelli, “Queer Muslims in South Africa,” 125; Yip, “Changing Religion”; Barrett, From Drag Queens to Leathermen; Biruk, “Normative Anti-­ Antinormativity?”; Alvi and Zaidi, “ ‘My Existence Is Not Haram,’ ” 4. In “Between

Notes | 207

Two Worlds,” Kumpasoğlu, Hasdemir, and Canel-­Çınarbaş suggest that similar biases against religion exist in the LGBT community in Turkey. 26 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 209. 27 Hymes, Ethnography, Linguistics, Narrative Inequality; Johnstone, “The Individual Voice in Language”; Weidman, “Anthropology and Voice”; Manning, “Spiritualist Signal and Theosophical Noise.” 28 Weidman, “Anthropology and Voice,” 38. 29 Curtis, Islam in Black America, 114. 30 Silvers, The Lover; Silvers, The Jealous. 31 Gal, “Language, Gender, and Power,” 174. 32 Barrett, From Drag Queens to Leathermen; see also Calder, “From Sissy to Sickening.” 33 Hepburn, “Figuring Gender,” 262. 34 Bucholtz and Hall, “Theorizing Identity,” 478. 35 On indexical congruity, see Agha, Language and Social Relations, 24; on orders of indexicality, see Blommaert, Discourse. 36 Aboulela, The Translator. 37 Barrett, From Drag Queens to Leathermen, 198. 38 Shannahan, “Sexual Ethics,” 72. 39 Mahomed, “Queer Muslims,” 59. 40 Kidwai, “Translating the Untranslatable”; Kroskrity, “Identity”; Bhimji, “ ‘Assalam u Alaikum,’ ” 208; Khabeer, “Black Arabic.” 41 On the prestige value of Arabic among non-­Arab Muslims, see Gaudio, “White Men Do It Too”; Gaudio, Allah Made Us; Khabeer, “Black Arabic”; McIntosh, Edge of Islam. 42 Boellstorff, “Between Religion and Desire”; Gaudio, Allah Made Us. 43 One apparent exception, though not one of my fieldsites, is the Inner Circle in South Africa, which, according to Piraino and Zambelli, runs a “weekly Madrassah (Islamic school) class for converts and for ‘Muslims estranged from Islam due to discrimination or rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.’ ” “Queer Muslims in South Africa,” 134. 44 Stadlbauer, “A Journey to a ‘Pure Islam,’ ” 349; see also Khabeer, “Black Arabic,” 172–­73. 45 Shakir, “Examination of the Issue of Female Prayer Leadership,” 167; Khabeer, “Black Arabic,” 172. 46 For important studies of language socialization in other religious communities, see Baquedano-­López, “Prayer”; Baquedano-­López, “Pragmatics of Reading Prayers”; Baquedano-­López, “Socialization into Religious Sensation”; Fader, Mitzvah Girls; Benor, Becoming Frum; Avineri, “Yiddish Language Socialization”; Pérez, Religion in the Kitchen. 47 Leap, “Learning Gay Culture”; Leap, Word’s Out; Leap, “Language, Speech and Silence”; Nicholas, “Gaydar.” 48 For a more extensive review of queer language socialization addressed (in passing) in other work, see Thompson, “Queering Language Socialization.”

208 | Notes

49 Patricia A. Duff, “Response to Panel, ‘New Approaches to Adult Language Socialization,” remarks at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Vancouver, November 22, 2019; see also García-­Sánchez, “Language Socialization and Marginalization.” 50 Grewal, “Destabilizing Orthodoxy,” 45. 51 Meiu, “ ‘Beach-­Boy Elders,’ ” 474. 52 Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 179. 53 Zwissler, “Sex, Love, and an Old Brick Building,” 1115. 54 Wilcox, “Outlaws or In-­Laws?,” 74; Seitz, A House of Prayer, 3–­4. 55 Zwissler, “Sex, Love, and an Old Brick Building,” 1115–­16. 56 Kulick, “Queer Linguistics?,” 66. 57 Boellstorff, “Queer Techne,” 229. 58 Boellstorff, 229. 59 Barrett, “Is Queer Theory Important?,” 27. See also Coates, “The Discursive Production of Everyday Heterosexualities.” 60 Kamrudin, “Bringing Queer into Muslim Spaces,” 145. 61 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 24.

5. No Longer Just Muslim

1 Campo, “Mecca.” 2 Hidayatullah, Feminist Edges of the Qur’an, 5; see also Afzal, Lone Star Muslims, 8, who offers a similar critique. 3 See also Hirra Khan Adeogun, “Diversity in Islam: Sunni Normativity & the ‘One Size Fits All’ Muslim Blueprint,” Amaliah, May 23, 2019, https:​//­www​.­amaliah​ .­com; Shahar, “Methodological Musings.” 4 Wang, Between Islam and the American Dream, 64. 5 Hasson, “Contemporary Polemics”; Steinberg, “Jihadi-­Sufism and the Shi‘is”; Puelings, Fearing a “Shiite Octopus”; Brunner, “Sunnites and Shiites in Modern Islam.” 6 Pew Research Center, “Mapping the Global Muslim Population,” 9; Williams, Religions of Immigrants, 98. 7 Takim, Shi’sm in America, 97. 8 Curtis, Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims, 106. 9 Takim, Shi’sm in America, 99. 10 Takim, 98. 11 Takim, 99–­100, 114. 12 Williams, Religions of Immigrants, 102. 13 Takim, Shi’sm in America, 115. 14 Takim, 116. 15 Takim, 123, 129. 16 Takim, 125, 126. 17 Rahemtulla, “Toward a Genuine Congregation,” 36–­37. 18 Rahemtulla, “Toward a Genuine Congregation.”

Notes | 209

19 CAIR Research Center, “American Muslim Voters,” 1; Pew Research Center, “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream,” 22, 97. 20 Haji, Cila, and Lalonde, “Beyond Sectarian Boundaries,” 4. 21 Pew Research Center, “The World’s Muslims,” 9. 22 Rane et al., “Islam in Australia.” 23 CAIR Research Center, “American Muslim Voters,” 9. 24 Burns, Christianity, Islam, and the West, 48. 25 Pew Research Center, “The World’s Muslims,” 20. 26 CAIR Research Center, “American Muslim Voters,” 1. 27 Pew Research Center, “Mapping the Global Muslim Population.” 28 Mohamed, “Implications of Religious Identity for American Muslims,” 102. 29 Haji, Cila, and Lalonde, “Beyond Sectarian Boundaries,” 2. 30 Hoda Katebi, “Understanding Structural Anti-­Shī‘ism in Sunnī Diaspora Spaces,” December 18, 2019, https:​//­hodakatebi​.­com; Hoda Katebi, “Acknowledging S­tructural Anti-­Shi’ism in Sunnī Dominant Spaces,” Amaliah, May 18, 2020, www​.­amaliah​.­com. 31 Kaliszewska, “ ‘What Good Are All These Divisions?,’ ” 169. 32 Katebi also makes this point in “Understanding Structural Anti-­Shī‘ism in Sunnī Diaspora Spaces.” 33 E.g. Al-­Jamil, “Review of Transnational Muslims In American Society,” 505; Dickson, Living Sufism in North America, 44. 34 Hendrick, “Review of The Reckoning of Pluralism,” 172; Nuhrat, “Policed Bodies and Subjectivities,” 123; Nozimova and Epkenhans, “The Transformation of Tajikistan’s Religious Field.” 35 Takim, Shi’sm in America, 142. 36 Adeogun, “Diversity in Islam: Sunni Normativity & the ‘One Size Fits All’ Muslim Blueprint”; Chowdhry, “Understanding the Leadership Enigma,” 13n14; Shahar, “Methodological Musings,” 33n5. 37 Katebi, “Understanding Structural Anti-­Shī‘ism in Sunnī Diaspora Spaces.” 38 Warner, Fear of a Queer Planet; Bauer et al., “ ‘I Don’t Think This Is Theoretical,’ ” 356. 39 Pew Research Center, “Future of the Global Muslim Population,” 21, 154. 40 Du Bois, “The Stance Triangle.” On epistemic stance, see Barrett, From Drag Queens to Leathermen, especially chapter 6. 41 Nasr, The Shia Revival. 42 Takim, Shi’sm in America. 43 See also Khaki, “My Story”; Kugle, Living Out Islam, chapter 5; Chung, Accidental Activist. 44 Katebi, “Understanding Structural Anti-­Shī‘ism in Sunnī Diaspora Spaces”; Katebi, “Acknowledging Structural Anti-­Shi’ism in Sunnī Dominant Spaces.” 45 On Qur’anists or “Qur’an-­only Muslims,” see Haddad and Smith, “Muslim Minority Groups.”

210 | Notes

46 Steigerwald, “Ismai’ili Ta’wil”; Szanto, “Shia Islam in Practice”; Amir-­Moezzi, “Shiʿite Doctrine,” in Encyclopædia Iranica, 2005. https:​//­iranicaonline​.­org. 47 Masjid-­al-­Rabia has since moved and is, to my knowledge, the only LGBTQI-­ inclusive mosque in North America that has its own space. 48 Schourup, Common Discourse Particles; Schiffrin, Discourse Markers. 49 Ware, Walking Quran, 55. 50 Cf. Haddad and Smith, “Muslim Minority Groups.” 51 Gal and Irvine, “Boundaries of Languages and Disciplines”; Gal and Irvine, Signs of Difference. 52 Takim, Shi’sm in America, 237n2. 53 Similarly, in his ethnography of the British LGBTQ-­Muslim support group Imaan, Shah found that group leaders “encouraged Sunnis and Shi‘ahs to pray together, forging a non-­sectarian ethos within the organisation.” Shah, Making of a Gay Muslim, 218. 54 Mike Ghouse, “Ramadan Day 17 Shia Momin Center,” Ramadan Exclusive (blog), August 5, 2012, https:​//­ramadanexclusive​.­blogspot​.­com. 55 I regret that I used pronouns for David in an earlier publication. 56 Lewin, Filled with the Spirit; Langer and VanSlyke, “Interreligious Prayer.” 57 Gaudio, “Acting Like Women,” 186–­87. 58 Elewa and Silvers, “ ‘I Am One of the People.’ ” 59 Corwin, “Lord, Hear Our Prayer,” 175. 60 Lewin, Filled with the Spirit.

6. Skin in the Game

1 Lewin, Filled with the Spirit, 16. 2 E.g., Huang, Charisma and Compassion; Elisha, Moral Ambition; Burton, Koning, and Muers, “Organizational Ethnography and Religious Organizations”; McLaughlin et al., “Why Scholars of Religion.” 3 Rana, “Muslims in the Global City”; Curtis, Call of Bilal; Beydoun, American Islamophobia; Kashani, “Habib in the Hood”; Crasnow, “ ‘I Want to Look Transgender’ ”; Durrani, “#BlackOutEid”; Pérez, “ ‘You Were Gonna Leave Them Out?’ ”; Khan and Mulé, “Voices of Resistance and Agency.” 4 McTighe and Women With A Vision (WWAV), “Theory on the Ground”; Spears, “White Supremacy”; Khabeer, Muslim Cool; Wilcox, Queer Nuns, chapter 4; Crasnow, “ ‘I Want to Look Transgender’ ”; Schneider and Bjork-­James, “Whither Whiteness and Religion?”; Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism.” 5 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 24. 6 Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente and Eren Cervantes-­Altamirano, “Progressive Islam: A Critical View from Latin Muslim Feminists,” Feminism and Religion, September 2, 2016, https:​//­feminismandreligion​.­com. 7 Abdelghany, “Making Space,” 117. 8 Abdelghany, 13.

Notes | 211

9 Michael Muhammad Knight, “Islam for Xenophobes,” Vice, September 4, 2012, www​.­vice​.­com. 10 McTighe and Women With A Vision (WWAV), “Theory on the Ground,” 411; Spears, “White Supremacy,” 157. 11 Spears, “White Supremacy,” 157. 12 Pérez, “ ‘You Were Gonna Leave Them Out?,’ ” 106. 13 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 7. 14 Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 178. 15 Cf. Bonilla, Non-­Sovereign Futures, xvi–­xvii; Rosa and Díaz, “Raciontologies,” 128. 16 Buckley, “Dialogue And Shared Authority”; Riese, “Ethnographic Authority and the Construction of Alterity”; Weiss, “The Interlocutor Slot.” 17 Khaki, “Expanding the Gender Jihad,” 170. 18 Worthington, “Progressive Islam and Women’s Religious Leadership,” 169. 19 Worthington, “Working towards Gender Equality,” 6, 20. 20 Worthington, 21. 21 Duderija and Zonneveld, “Transnational Progressive Islam,” 1200. 22 Khaki, “Expanding the Gender Jihad,” 170; Worthington, “Progressive Islam and Women’s Religious Leadership,” 170; Junaid Jahangir, “I’m Grateful for These Unsung Straight Allies of LGBTQ Muslims,” HuffPost Canada, May 1, 2017, www​.­huffingtonpost​.­ca. 23 Nakia Jackson, personal communication, September 8, 2021. 24 Lewin, Filled with the Spirit, 16. 25 “Noor Cultural Centre,” accessed March 2, 2021, noorculturalcentre​.­ca​/.­ 26 cooke, “Multiple Critique,” 100. 27 Safi, “Introduction,” 2. 28 Worthington, “Working towards Gender Equality,” 20. 29 Khaki, “Expanding the Gender Jihad,” 170. 30 Although Zonneveld is often referred to as MPV’s founder, and refers to herself as such, multiple sources suggest the organization was cofounded by Pamela Taylor. See, for example, Rayside, “Muslim American Communities’ Response”; Mohibullah, “Where Are the Moderate Muslims,” 17; Abdelghany, “Making Space,” 13; Abdullah, Progressive Islam, 29. 31 Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning. 32 “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” National Book Foundation, accessed September 29, 2021, https:​//­www​ .­nationalbook​.­org. 33 DiAngelo, White Fragility. 34 Cf. DiAngelo, 118. 35 Cf. DiAngelo, 42. 36 “Request a Training,” Muslim Anti-­Racism Collaborative, 2018, www​.­muslimarc​ .­org; Islam, “Soft Islamophobia.” 37 Saldaña-­Portillo, “How Many Mexicans?,” 814.

212 | Notes

38 Beydoun, American Islamophobia, 164; Beydoun, “Faith in Whiteness.” 39 Spears, “White Supremacy,” 169. 40 GhaneaBassiri, History of Islam in America, 171. 41 Jantzen, “Neither Ally, nor Accomplice,” 275. 42 Hulsether, “Grammar of Racism,” 2. 43 Daum, “Social Equity.” 44 Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim; Hammer, “Performing Gender Justice”; Hammer, American Muslim Women, 5; Piela, “ ‘Religion Is Like Tofu.’ ” 45 Cf. Islam, “Soft Islamophobia,” 4, 280, for a similar claim regarding “good immigrant, bad immigrant” rhetoric. 46 Abdelghany, “Making Space,” 117. See also Knight, “Islam for Xenophobes.” 47 Delfino, “White Allies and the Semiotics of Wokeness,” 247. 48 GhaneaBassiri, History of Islam in America, 347; Rana, “Muslims in the Global City,” 229; Donna Auston, “Mapping the Intersections of Islamophobia & #BlackLivesMatter: Unearthing Black Muslim Life & Activism in the Policing Crisis,” Sapelo Square, May 19, 2015, https:​//­sapelosquare​.­com. 49 On exclusivity, classism, and elitism in some nonconformist groups, see Mohibullah, “Where Are the Moderate Muslims,” 119–­20; Rivera de la Fuente and Cervantes-­Altamirano, “Progressive Islam.” 50 See, for example, Safi, Progressive Muslims; wadud, Qur’an and Woman; wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad. 51 Cf. McTighe and Women With A Vision (WWAV), “Theory on the Ground.” 52 Cf. McTighe and Women With A Vision (WWAV). 53 Grewal, “Destabilizing Orthodoxy,” 50; Curtis, Call of Bilal, 112; Chan-­Malik, Being Muslim, 215; Islam, “Soft Islamophobia”; Edward E. Curtis VI, “Black History, Islam, and the Future of the Humanities beyond White Supremacy,” Franklin Humanities Institute, October 14, 2016, https:​//­humanitiesfutures​.­org. 54 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 165. 55 King, “Multiple Jeopardy,” 45, 47. 56 GhaneaBassiri, Competing Visions of Islam in the United States, 7; Curtis, Call of Bilal, 146. 57 Curtis, Islam in Black America, 114. 58 Kugle, Living Out Islam, 98. 59 Abdullah, Progressive Islam, 19, 31. 60 Abdullah, 34. 61 1 Corinthians 3:2 (KJV), BibleHub, biblehub​.­com. 62 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 1; Khan and Mulé, “Voices of Resistance and Agency.” 63 Delfino, “White Allies and the Semiotics of Wokeness.” 64 Delfino, 240. 65 Simpson, As We Have Always Done, 9. 66 Beliso-­De Jesús, “Confounded Identities.” 67 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 2. 68 Seitz, 4.

Notes | 213

69 Butler, Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly; Milani, “Fuck Off! Recasting Queer Anger.” 70 Seitz, A House of Prayer, 24. 71 Seitz, 24; Lewin, Filled with the Spirit, 10. 72 Seitz, A House of Prayer; Muñoz, Cruising Utopia. 73 Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 1.


1 Richardson, “Nine Poems,” 9. 2 For a helpful review, see Butler-­Kisber, “Artful Portrayals in Qualitative Inquiry.” 3 Ridington, “On the Language of Benjamin Lee Whorf ”; Wardell, “Fingeryeyes; Social Scripts; Flow.” 4 Glesne, “That Rare Feeling”; Thomas, “Poetic Juxtaposition,” 627. For examples, see Richardson, “The Consequences of Poetic Representation”; Richardson, “Poetics, Dramatics, and Transgressive Validity”; Richardson, “Nine Poems”; Bhattacharya, “Voices Lost and Found.” 5 Golomski, “Poetry First Prize”; Wardell, “Fingeryeyes; Social Scripts; Flow.” 6 Richardson, “Poetics, Dramatics, and Transgressive Validity,” 696. 7 Richardson, “Nine Poems,” 10. 8 Lahman and Richard, “Appropriated Poetry,” 347. 9 Haleem, “Introduction,” xx. 10 O’Donnell, “Poetry and Islam.” 11 Richardson, “Nine Poems,” 8. 12 Hanna, The Manifesto Handbook, 62. 13 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 249, 251. 14 Hanna, The Manifesto Handbook, 4. 15 Cf. Simpson, As We Have Always Done, 246. 16 Luke 1:38. 17 The lines that reference a “garden” are from Timothy Giannotti’s sermon during an online Eid event cohosted by Muslims for Progressive Values and the El-­ Tawhid Juma Circle. 18 Zan, “Islam.”


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Abdelghany, Sara, 150–­51 Abdullah, Daayiee, 26, 44, 78, 156, 175, 197n56 Aboulela, Leila, 108 accountability, 176–­77 affect: affective closeness, 58; affective community, 35, 40–­41, 51–­57, 62, 65–­66; affective connections, 12; affective embodiment, 74, 77; affective experiences, 34, 39, 45, 60; affective stance, 40, 49–­50, 61; affective ties, 64–­65, 67; positive, 172 African American Muslims: community with, 172–­76; discrimination against, xviii; history of, 107; identity of, 5–­6, 30, 43–­44, 79–­80, 121, 151, 169; inclusivity of, 151, 169–­72; LGBTQ+ Muslims and, 175–­76, 178–­79; Masjid Al-­Islam mosque for, 103 agnosticism, 63–­64 Ahmadiyya Muslims, 52–­53, 75 Ahmed, Leila, 84 Ahmed, Sara, 7, 61, 82, 152, 183 AIF. See American Islamic Fellowship Alam, Faisal, 18, 174–­75 American Islamic Fellowship (AIF), 51–­55, 59, 63–­66. See also Atlanta Unity Mosque American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism (Hammer), 18, 75–­76 anthropology, 8–­10, 33, 152, 195n8, 208n49 anti-­Blackness: accountability in, 176–­77; aspirational whiteness and, 168–­72; to AUM, 165–­74; homophobia and, 65; MPV, 36; multiple critique of, 168; in Muslim communities, 166–­68; nonconformists in, 165–­66; oppression and, 10; politics of, 173–­76; in religion, 149; Trina on, 150–­52, 165–­66

antireligiosity, 105, 202n47 anti-­Shi‘ism, 125–­27, 134–­35 Anwar, Ghazala, 77 Arabic, xvi–­xvii, 32–­34, 110–­11, 115–­16, 133, 143 Asad, Muhummad, 1, 8–­10 Asian Muslims, 169 assimilation, 168–­69 Atlanta Unity Mosque (AUM): anti-­ Blackness to, 165–­74; aspirational whiteness at, 168–­72; community at, 38, 51–­55, 61–­62, 64–­67, 136–­37, 172–­73; diversity at, 20, 57–­59; leadership of, xv–­xvi, 106–­7, 176–­80; MPV and, 79; nonconformity at, 27, 41, 50–­55, 93; race at, 165–­68, 172–­77; Ramadan retreat at, 38–­39, 120; reputation of, 79; Trina on, 53–­62 authority, 156–­65, 205n70. See also shared authority ‘awrah (nakedness), 90–­92 Azeem, 6, 17, 85, 91, 107 Bakhtiar, Laleh, xvi Baldwin, James, 199n83 Bamberg, Michael, 57 Bangladesh, 54, 131 Baquedano-­Lopez, Patricia, 70 Barrett, Rusty, 100, 108 beliefs, 39 Beliso-­De Jesús, Aisha, 178 Benor, Sarah, 12 Beydoun, Khaled, 169 bigotry, 151 Black community, 157 Black Lives Matter movement, 54, 168, 175–­76 Black Muslims. See African American Muslims 239

240 | Index

Black Panthers, 174 bodies: bodily action, 204n30; bodily proximity, 93–­95; gender and, 82; ­intercorporeality, 71, 73–­77; intercorporeal shifts, 88–­95; of nonconformists, 96–­97; nonconformity and, 70–­7 1; performativity and, 75–­77; speaking bodies, 89–­91 building community, 62–­64, 155, 171–­73 CAIR. See Council on American-­Islamic Relations Callaci, Emily, xx Canada. See specific topics Canadian Council of Muslim Women, 80 Catholicism, 74 censorship, xviii–­xix Cervantes-­Altamirano, Eren, 150 Chan-­Malik, Sylvia, 67 children, 114 China, 72 Christianity, 14, 41–­42, 60, 80, 93, 102 circles, in mosques, 86–­87 cishet Muslims, 23–­24, 101, 106, 109–­14, 119–­20 classism, 212n49 clothing, xvii, 23, 48, 98, 111, 116–­18, 123, 157 community: affective, 35, 40–­41, 51–­57, 62, 65–­66; for African American Muslims, 172–­76; in anti-­Blackness, 172–­73; at AUM, 38, 51–­55, 61–­62, 64–­67, 136–­37, 172–­73; Black, 157; building, 62–­64; in Christianity, 14, 102; for cishet Muslims, 106; communal prayer, 82; cybercommunity, 7; for diversity, 6–­7; at El-­Tawhid, 27–­28, 85–­94, 98–­99, 104, 177–­79; at ETJC, 21, 55, 112, 153–­58, 162–­63; on Facebook, 17, 25–­29, 54–­55, 59, 79, 85, 145, 153–­57; finding, 64–­65; globalization of, 125–­26; in halaqas, 45–­47; inclusivity in, 13; intersubjectivity in, 76–­77; in Islam, 34–­35, 38–­39, 56–­57, 65–­67; at Juma, 53–­57, 136–­38, 141; Kelly on, 52–­59, 62–­66; Khaki on, 80–­81, 107, 117; LGBTQI+, 40, 105, 154, 199n87, 210n47; for LGBTQ+ Muslims, 102–­4, 106–­8; marginalization in,

60–­62; in MPV, 47–­49, 59–­60, 63–­64; in MPV-­DC, 42–­44; narration and, 49–­51, 57–­59; for nonconformists, 12–­13, 16–­17, 39–­41, 57, 64, 78–­81; nonconformity in, 11–­12; oppression from, 148; PMN, 17–­18; progressiveness in, 179–­80; queer, 37; queers and, xviii–­xix, 99–­103, 178–­79; religion and, 206n25; shared values in, 3–­4; on social media, 1–­2, 17–­18; storytelling in, 55–­56; Trina on, 64–­66, 172–­73; voice in, 106–­8 conversion, 62–­64, 112–­13, 133–­34, 136–­37, 207n43 Council on American-­Islamic Relations (CAIR), 15, 74–­75, 128 COVID-­19, 28, 44, 53, 153, 165, 167 Crasnow, S. J., 87 cultivated virtue, 204n30 culture: of GTA, 127–­28; heterogeneity in, 30–­31; in identity, 56; Islamophobia in, 150–­51; religion and, 126; of US, 63, 67 Curtis, Edward, 7, 42 cybercommunity, 7 D’Alisera, JoAnn, 43 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 170 DiAngelo, Robin, 167 discourse-­centered ethnography, 10–­13 discrimination, xviii, 138, 207n43 discursive futurism, 7–­10, 34, 36–­37, 40–­41, 70–­7 1, 100 diversity: at AUM, 20, 57–­59; community for, 6–­7; at El-­Tawhid, 15–­17, 21, 23–­24, 107–­8, 114–­18; at ETJC, 23–­25, 79–­80; on Facebook, 181, 197n56; FITNA, 4, 20–­21, 24, 55, 113, 150–­51, 156; gender, 99–­100, 114–­15; genealogy of, 16–­20; globalization of, 18; inclusivity and, 74; in Islam, 31–­32, 37, 52–­53, 74–­75; Juma and, 70, 80–­84, 101, 106, 125, 143–­48, 160, 190–­91; to Kelly, 27, 29, 79, 120; of khatibs, 154–­55; in khutbahs, 16, 77, 136–­37, 141, 145–­46; language of, 64–­65; for ­LGBTQ+ Muslims, xix; at Masjid-­al-­ Rabia, 15, 21, 95, 136–­38, 210n47; of nonconformists, 29–­32; progressiveness and, 47–­48; to queers, 2, 67; sexual,

Index | 241

102–­3, 199n87; Shams on, 98–­100, 106, 108–­9, 114, 163–­66; Silvers on, xix, 102–­3 DOMA. See Defense of Marriage Act dry ablution (tayammum), 87–­90 Duderija, Adis, 19 egalitarian ethos, 177 elitism, 212n49 embodiment, 29, 74–­77, 96 epistemic stance, 49–­50, 57, 131–­32 Esack, Farid, 197n56 ethnography: anthropology and, 33; of Catholicism, 74; of Daghestan, 129; discourse-­centered, 10–­13; embodiment and, 29; forms of, 181–­82; of LGBTQ+ Muslims, 31, 210n53; queer ethnographic methods, 22–­28 etiquette guidelines, 89–­91, 117–­18, 140–­42 ETJC. See El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque in Toronto Eventbrite, 20 exclusivity, 212n49 Fabian, Johannes, 33 Facebook, xv; community on, 17, 25–­29, 54–­55, 59, 79, 85, 145, 153–­57; diversity on, 181, 197n56; ETJC on, xv, xix; FITNA on, 113; MPV on, 5–­6, 20–­21, 52, 72, 94–­95, 104, 111–­12, 129, 134–­36, 147; nonconformity on, 162, 164–­65, 168; policy, 24; stereotypes on, 151 Fader, Adele, 12 Fair, Jo Ellen, xx family, 56–­59, 62, 83 Al-­Fatiha, 18, 77 feminist anthropology, 152 Feminist Islamic Thinkers of North America (FITNA), 4–­5, 20–­21, 24–­26, 55, 113, 150–­51, 156 fitna (social disorder), 113, 190 Floyd, George, 168 Friday Prayers. See Juma From Drag Queens to Leathermen (Barrett), 108 “Fuck Off!” (Milani), 149 fundamentalist Christianity, 41–­42 future history, 180

the gaze, 91–­93 gender: apartheid, 87–­88; bodies and, 82; cisgender identity, 100; clothing and, 116–­18; diversity, 99–­100, 114–­15; heterogeneity, 30–­31; identity, 77–­78, 207n43; of imams, 159–­65; intercorporeality and, 71; khatibs and, 54–­55; marriage and, 56–­57; to men, 91, 94–­95; mixed-­gender prayer, 75–­77; modality, 14, 25, 35–­37, 100, 183; in mosques, 72–­73, 83–­84; nonbinary individuals, 72–­73, 148; prayers and, 69–­70; at queer(ed) gatherings, 84–­87; scholarship on, 23–­24; to Shi‘a Muslims, xvii–­x viii; variance, 102–­3. See also specific topics genealogy, of diversity, 16–­20 GhaneaBassiri, Kambiz, 43, 169 Ghouse, Mike, 138–­40 Giannotti, Timothy, 213n17 The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (Kahf), 68 Glesne, Corrine, 182 globalization, xvi–­xvii, 13, 16–­17, 18, 120, 125–­26, 127 Golomski, Casey, 182 Goodwin, Marjorie, 39–­40 gratitude (shukran), xix–­xxi Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 79–­81, 104, 124, 127–­28. See also El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque in Toronto Grewal, Zareena, 10–­11, 114 group solidarity, 76–­77 GTA. See Greater Toronto Area Habib, Samra, xviii–­xix, 102, 122 Haddad, Yvonne, 14, 23 “Hafez” (Zan), 1 halaqa (study circles), 26, 41–­47 Halberstam, Jack, 24 Hammer, Julianne, 18, 75–­76, 199n87 haptic sociality, 85 hegemony, xvi–­xvii Hendricks, Muhsin, 22, 33, 197n56 heterogeneity, 30–­31 heteronormativity, 22 Hidayatullah, Aysha, 124 Hill, Graham, 57

242 | Index

history: of African American Muslims, 107; of anti-­Shi‘ism, 125–­27; of ETJC, 77–­81; future, 180; of marginalization, 174–­75; of progressive Muslims, 16–­19; of racism, 166–­67; of social justice, 173–­76 homophobia, 65, 118–­20 Homosexuality in Islam (Kugle), 98 Howe, Justine, 16 identity: beliefs and, 39; of converts, 133–­34; culture in, 56; gender, 77–­78, 207n43; in Islam, 60–­62; of just Muslims, 127–­30, 140; language and, 11–­12; of LGBTQ+ Muslims, 199n87; marginalization in, 60–­61; narration and, 41–­51; of nonconformists, 133–­34; politics, 102; of progressive Muslims, 68–­69; race and, 85; scholarship on, 128–­29; in storytelling, 42, 66–­67 Ignatiev, Noel, 199n83 imams, xviii, 20, 22, 26, 32, 44, 54, 59, 78, 82, 84, 93–­94, 97, 103, 126–­27, 132–­33, 135, 138, 139, 142–­45, 154–­55, 159–­65, 197n56 inclusivity: of African American Muslims, 151, 169–­72; of cishet Muslims, 23–­24, 119–­20; in community, 13; with conversion, 207n43; diversity and, 74; of LGBTQ+ Muslims, 6, 13–­14, 23–­24, 35, 44, 50, 79–­80, 150; in mosques, 85, 210n47; for nonconformists, 150–­51; queer, 108–­9, 134–­35; radical, 141, 155–­56; in scholarship, 19–­20; in socialization, 140 indexical disjuncture, 100, 108–­9 Indonesia, 83–­84 Inner Circle mosque, 101–­2, 207n43 Inside the Gender Jihad (wadud), 85–­86 intention (niyya), 87, 204n30 intercorporeality, 71, 73–­77 intercorporeal shifts, 88–­95 interpretive drift, 103 intersubjectivity, 76–­77, 205n70 Iraq, 31, 107 Islam: anthropology of, 8–­10; anti-­Blackness in, 166–­68; Arabic and, 32–­34, 133; censorship in, xviii–­xix; Christianity and, 93; community in, 34–­35, 38–­39, 56–­57, 65–­67; conversion to, 62–­64, 112–­13,

133–­34; discrimination in, 138; discursive futurism in, 7–­10, 34, 36–­37, 40–­41, 70–­71, 100; diversity in, 31–­32, 37, 52–­53, 74–­75; FITNA, 4–­5, 20–­21, 24–­26, 55, 113, 150–­51, 156; future of, 181–­83; globalization of, 13, 127; group solidarity in, 76–­77; in GTA, 79–­81; halaqa in, 26, 41–­47; identity in, 60–­62; in Indonesia, 83–­84; interpretations of, xvi–­xvii; Islamic lunar calendar, 175; Islamic Studies, 9–­10; Islamophobia, 10, 23, 30–­31, 65, 105, 150–­51, 171, 174; just Muslims, 127–­30, 140, 148; khatibs in, 15–­16, 32–­33; khutbahs in, 2, 32–­33; LGBTQ+ Muslims in, 66; lived marginalization in, xvii–­xix; mainstream, 109–­10; marginalization in, 120–­21; Mecca, 75, 81–­82, 123–­27, 139, 148; men in, 85–­86; modesty in, 91–­93, 119–­20; mosques in, 77–­78; nonconformists in, 51, 67; nonconformity in, 5–­8; oppression in, 132; parties, 53; patriarchy in, 40; poem on, 183–­93; prayers in, 70–­73, 94–­97, 122–­23; prejudice in, 135; scholarship on, xix–­xx, 8, 125; sexism in, 71; socialization and, xv–­xvi; social justice in, 42–­43; on social media, 64; stereotypes of, 128, 157–­58; Sunni-­normativity in, 35–­36, 124–­25, 129–­40, 142, 145, 147–­49; in third spaces, 15–­16; translation in, 1–­5; in US, 125–­26, 170–­71 Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), 126 Isma’ili organizations, 75 Ismaili Shi‘a, 52–­53 ISNA. See Islamic Society of North America Jackson, Nakia, 155–­56 Jackson, Troy, xx, 1–­2, 77–­78, 153–­54 Jafari Shi‘a, 52–­53 Jamal, Amaney, 90 Javaid, Aliraza, 105 Judaism, 12, 24, 53, 80, 87, 102, 141 Juma (Friday prayers): community at, 53–­57, 136–­38, 141; diversity and, 70, 80–­84, 101, 106, 125, 143–­48, 160, 190–­91; etiquette guidelines for, 89–­91;

Index | 243

etymology of, 15, 78; intercorporeal shifts and, 88–­89; nonconformity at, 86–­87, 91–­97; participation in, 32–­33, 39; purity and, 87–­88; on social media, 79, 153–­55, 162–­63 just Muslims, 127–­30, 140, 148 Kahf, Mohja, 68 Kaliszewska Iwona, 129 Kamrudin, Afshan, 22 Karim, Jamillah, 52 Katebi, Hoda, 129–­30, 132, 134–­35 Kelly: on community, 52–­59, 62–­66; diversity to, 27, 29, 79, 120; leadership of, xv–­xvii, 106, 165–­68, 177 Kendi, Ibram X., 166–­67 Khabeer, Su’ad Abdul, 15 Khaki, El-­Farouk: on community, 80–­81, 107, 117; El-­Tawhid and, 1–­2, 27–­28; ETJC and, 20; friendship with, 85; on gender apartheid, 87–­88; leadership of, 89–­91, 93–­94, 141–­47; migration of, 17; nonconformity to, 132–­35; reputation of, 32, 77–­78; shared authority to, 153–­56 Khan, Zahra, 21 khatibs (sermon-­givers): access to, 84; diversity of, 154–­55; formal, 58; gender and, 54–­55; in Islam, 15–­16, 32–­33; leadership of, 160–­61; policy for, 1–­3, 90–­91, 162–­63; volunteer, 141 khutbahs (sermons): diversity in, 16, 77, 136–­37, 141, 145–­46; in Islam, 2, 32–­33; leadership of, 4, 106–­7, 115, 154–­55, 157–­58, 160; policy for, 103, 162–­63 King, Deborah, 174 King Fahd mosque, 68–­69 Knight, Michael Muhammad, xv, xv–­xvi, 129, 134–­35, 151, 181 Kugle, Scott, 14, 17–­19, 33, 88–­89, 98–­100, 106, 174–­75 language: Arabic, 110–­11, 115; discourse-­ centered ethnography, 10–­13; of diversity, 64–­65; identity and, 11–­12; to nonconformists, 10–­11; in Qur’an, 100, 109–­11; socialization, 12; sociolinguistics, 119

legitimacy, 137–­38, 142–­43 Leichtman, Mara, 9 Lester, Rebecca, 74 Lewin, Ellen, 36, 155–­56 LGBTQI+ community, 40, 105, 154, 199n87, 210n47 LGBTQ+ Muslims: African American Muslims and, 175–­76, 178–­79; community for, 102–­4, 106–­8; diversity for, xix; ethnography of, 31, 210n53; FITNA for, 4–­5, 20–­21, 24–­26, 55, 113, 150–­51, 156; homophobia, 65, 118–­20; identity of, 199n87; identity politics of, 102; inclusivity of, 6, 13–­14, 23–­24, 35, 44, 50, 79–­80, 150; in Islam, 66; leadership, 26; marriage to, 169–­70; mosques for, 91, 104–­6; in North America, 174–­75; progressive Muslims and, 170–­71; progressiveness and, 47–­48; retreats for, 18; scholarship on, 17–­18, 22–­24; stereotypes of, 36; in third space, 16; in Toronto Pride, 27, 98, 145; trans Muslims and, xviii, 101–­2; in Turkey, 206n25. See also specific groups liberal progressive politics, 68 linear narration, 61 lived experience, 152 lived marginalization, xvii–­xix lived religion, 199n89 Living Out Islam (Kugle), 17–­18, 88–­89 Luhrmann, Tanya, 70–­7 1, 103 Lummis, Adair, 14, 23 Lynn, Mahdia, 28 Mahmood, Saba, 8–­9, 76 mainstream Islam, 109–­10 Majid, Anouar, 149 Makki, Hind, xvii–­xviii male gaze, 95 marginalization: in community, 60–­62; globalization of, 16–­17; history of, 174–­75; in identity, 60–­61; in Islam, 120–­21; lived, xvii–­xix; of nonconformists, 107; from religion, 105–­6; on social media, 6. See also specific topics marriage, 56–­57, 146, 169–­70 masculinity, 144–­45 Masjid Al-­Islam mosque, 78, 103

244 | Index

Masjid-­al-­Rabia mosque, 15, 21, 95, 136–­38, 154, 210n47 McCarthy, Michael, 58 MCCT. See Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto McTighe, Laura, 22 Mecca, 75, 81–­82, 123–­27, 139, 148 Meetup, 20, 42–­44, 49 Meigs, Anna, 41–­42, 55–­57 men, 85–­86, 91, 95, 116–­18, 144–­45 Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCCT), 80, 178 Mexico, 74 Middle East, xvi–­xvii, 38, 93, 123–­24, 158, 197n56 Milani, Tommaso M., 149 Mipsterz, 9–­10 misfits, 5–­8 mixed-­gender prayer, 75–­77 Moallemian, Pedram, 17–­18 modesty, 91–­93, 115–­20 Molina-­Markham, Elizabeth, 41–­42 Moorish Science Temple, 75 mosques: circles in, 86–­87; gender in, 72–­73, 83–­84; inclusivity in, 85, 210n47; in Islam, 77–­78; for LGBTQ+ Muslims, 91, 104–­6; for nonconformists, 58; nonconformity in, 31, 88–­95; pop-­up, 83; on social media, 106–­7; women in, xvii–­xviii. See also specific mosques MPV. See Muslims for Progressive Values MSA. See Muslim Students Association Muhammad (Prophet), 15 Mullen, Lincoln, 42 multiple critique narration, 158, 168 Muslim Abolitionist Futures, 9 Muslim Anti-­Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), 167 Muslim Futurism, 9–­10 Muslims. See specific topics Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), xv–­xvi; anti-­Blackness in, 36; AUM and, 79; community in, 47–­49, 59–­60, 63–­64; on Facebook, 5–­6, 20–­21, 52, 72, 94–­95, 104, 111–­12, 129, 134–­36, 147; membership in, 24–­25; MPV-­Atlanta, 21, 29, 51, 65; MPV-­Boston, 21; MPV-­Canada, 21;

MPV-­Chicago, 21, 26; MPV-­Columbus, 19, 21, 26, 100–­101, 104, 154; MPV Columbus Unity Mosque, 78–­79; MPV-­DC, 21, 26, 41–­46, 49–­51, 65–­66; MPV-­Florida, 21; MPV-­LA, 19, 21, 23, 26, 68, 70, 83–­85, 179; MPV-­New York, 21, 94–­95, 130–­32; MPV-­San Francisco, 21, 26, 28, 135–­36; MPV-­South Africa, 21; National, 26–­27, 29, 55, 62–­63, 165–­68, 172–­80, 211n30; on social media, 47; El-­Tawhid and, 213n17 Muslim Students Association (MSA), 43, 45, 84–­85, 124, 126–­27 Muslim Wakeup! (website), 62 nakedness (‘awrah), 90–­92 named roles, in authority, 159–­61 narration: community and, 49–­51, 57–­59; function of, 64–­65; identity and, 41–­51; linear, 61; multiple critique, 158, 168; skills, 66; storytelling and, 39–­40 Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza, 132 Nation of Islam, 75, 107, 174–­75 9/11, 170–­7 1 “Nine Poems” (Richardson), 181 niyya (intention), 87, 204n30 nonbinary individuals, 72–­73, 148 nonconformists: assimilation among, 168–­69; bodies of, 96–­97; cishet Muslims as, 101, 114; community for, 12–­13, 16–­17, 39–­41, 57, 64, 78–­81; contemporary, 20–­21, 174; definitions of, 13–­16; diversity of, 29–­32; egalitarian ethos of, 177; identity of, 133–­34; inclusivity for, 150–­51; in Islam, 51, 67; language to, 10–­11; lesbians as, 163–­64; lived experience of, 152; marginalization of, 107; Mipsterz as, 9–­10; mosques for, 58; oppression of, 119–­20; prayers and, 73, 143–­44; progressive Muslims as, 5–­6, 16–­20; queer critiques by, 178–­80; scholarship on, 8–­9; shared authority of, 153–­56; social justice for, 18–­19, 149–­50, 156–­65; on social media, 20–­21; tolerance of, 135; tradition to, 88–­89; voice of, 102–­6; Zonneveld as, 36, 154 nonconformity: at AUM, 27, 41, 50–­55, 93; bodies and, 70–­7 1; in community, 11–­12; on Facebook, 162, 164–­65, 168;

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in Islam, 5–­8; at Juma, 86–­87, 91–­97; to Khaki, 132–­35; in mosques, 31, 88–­95; in prayers, 35, 81–­88; at queer(ed) gatherings, 81–­82; to queers, xvi, xviii, 5–­8; Shams on, 144–­45, 150–­51, 197n56; to Shi‘a Muslims, 122–­25, 135–­38, 148; Tashaun on, 3; at El-­Tawhid, 53, 77–­82, 123–­25, 147; tradition and, 114; to Trina, xvii, 36, 173–­76, 181; of women, 143–­44 non-­sectarian ethos, 210n53 Noor Center, 80 Ochs, Elinor, 66 oppression: anti-­Blackness and, 10; from community, 148; from heteronormativity, 22; in Islam, 132; masculinity as, 144–­45; of nonconformists, 119–­20; of progressive Muslims, 150–­51; of queers, 52–­53, 105–­6, 109–­14, 118–­21 parties, 53 patriarchy, 40 People’s Mosque (Cape Town), 120 Peretz, Tal, 52 Pérez, Elizabeth, 8, 11, 40, 152 performativity, 73–­77, 96, 108 PMN. See Progressive Muslims Network poetry, 181–­83 policy, 1–­3, 90–­91, 103, 159–­65 politics: of anti-­Blackness, 173–­76; of assimilation, 168–­69; of authority, 156–­65; LGBTQ identity, 102; liberal progressive, 68; in prayers, 89–­90; spirituality and, xviii; white liberalism, 169–­70 polygamy, 146–­47 pop-­up mosques, 83 positionality, 30 prayers: gender and, 69–­70; in Islam, 70–­73, 94–­97, 122–­23; leadership in, 161–­63; legitimacy and, 142–­43; mixed-­ gender, 75–­77; modesty in, 115; from nonbinary individuals, 148; nonconformists and, 73, 143–­44; nonconformity in, 35, 81–­88; politics in, 89–­90; from Qur’an, 145; in religion, xvii, 100; Shi‘a Muslims in, 138–­40; standing, 139–­40; women and, 54–­55, 74–­75, 90–­91

prejudice, 135 privilege, 113 progressive Muslims, 5–­6, 16–­20, 68–­69, 137–­38, 150–­51, 170–­7 1 Progressive Muslims (Safi), 19, 62–­63, 68–­69 Progressive Muslims Network (PMN), 17–­18 Progressive Muslim Union, 62–­63 progressiveness: in community, 179–­80; definitions of, 156–­57; diversity and, 47–­48; in globalization, 120; Kugle, 175; liberal progressive politics, 68; in Qur’an, 66; on social media, 49–­50; values of, 162 propaganda, xvii–­xviii public interactions, 88 purity, 87–­88 Qual’bu Maryam Mosque, 21 queer: community, 37; critiques, 178–­80; ethnographic methods, 22–­28; family and, 58–­59; inclusivity, 108–­9, 134–­35; Juma, 101; modesty, 116–­18; Muslims, 35, 98–­102, 116, 118–­21; Muslim talk, 100; norms, 113–­15; process, 71; queerness in, 99–­100; scholarship on, 21–­22; as verb, 35, 100–­102, 146–­47 queer(ed) gatherings: finding, 83–­84; gender at, 84–­87; nonconformity at, 81–­82; purity at, 87–­88 queers: in Arabic, 116; cishet Muslim queerness, 111–­13; community and, xviii–­xix, 99–­103, 178–­79; diversity to, 2, 67; etiquette guidelines for, 117–­18; homophobia of, 102–­4; nonconformity to, xvi, xviii, 5–­8; oppression of, 52–­53, 105–­6, 109–­14, 118–­21; social justice for, 13–­14; stereotypes of, 21–­22 Qur’an: chapter 16, verse 98 of, 1–­3; concepts from, 136; homosexuality in, 98–­99; language in, 100, 109–­11; memorization of, 154; modesty in, 92; Muslims in, xvi–­x vii; polygamy in, 146–­47; prayers from, 145; progressiveness in, 66; queerness in, 99–­100; scholarship on, 75–­76; study of, 45; stylistic device in, 182–­83; women and, 91; writing in, xv–­x vi

246 | Index

race: aspirational whiteness, 168–­72; at AUM, 165–­68, 172–­77; identity and, 85; MuslimARC, 167; racism, 166–­67, 174–­75, 202n47; racists, 176; religion and, 129–­30; to Shi‘a Muslims, 121; white supremacy, 168–­69, 199n83. See also specific topics racialized Muslims, 67 racial Others, 34 radical inclusivity, 141, 155–­56 Rahemtulla, Shadaab, 58, 71, 126–­27 rebels, 5–­8 religion: agnosticism in, 63–­64; anti-­ Blackness in, 149; antireligiosity, 202n47; authority in, 90–­91; Black trans people in, 152; Black women in, 152; Catholicism, 74; Christianity, 14, 41–­42, 60, 80, 93, 102; community and, 206n25; conversion to, 136–­37; culture and, 126; in GTA, 79–­81; Judaism, 12, 24, 53, 80, 87, 102, 141; leadership in, 159–­61; legitimacy in, 137–­38; lived, 199n89; marginalization from, 105–­6; prayers in, xvii, 100; race and, 129–­30; rituals in, 113–­14; scholarship on, 118–­19; socialization in, 147; social justice in, 150–­51; white supremacy in, 168–­69. See also Islam Richardson, Laurel, 181–­82 the Rifai dergah, 80 Rivera de la Fuente, Vanessa, 150 Roy, Olivier, 13 Rumi, 103 Safi, Omid, 14, 19, 42–­43, 62–­63 Salaam/Al-­Fatiha International conference, 77 Salafis, 52–­53, 129 Saldaña-­Portillo, María Josefina, 169 Saudi Arabia, 38, 93, 123–­24, 197n56 Seitz, David, 31, 80, 120–­21, 178 Seligman, Rebecca, 42 sermon-­givers. See khatibs sermons. See khutbahs sexism, 71 sexual diversity, 102–­3, 199n87 sexual orientation, 207n43

Shaikh, Sa’diyya, 9 Shams: on diversity, 98–­100, 106, 108–­9, 114, 163–­66; on nonconformity, 144–­45, 150–­51, 197n56; in shared authority, 36, 152–­54, 156–­63, 176–­80 shared authority: at El-­Tawhid, 36, 150, 153–­54, 156–­60, 164, 166; to Khaki, 153–­56; of nonconformists, 153–­56; Shams in, 36, 152–­54, 156–­63, 176–­80 shared values, 3–­4 Shi‘a Muslims: anti-­Shi‘ism, 125–­27, 134–­35; beliefs of, 132–­34; gender to, xvii–­xviii; Ismaili Shi‘a, 52–­53; Jafari Shi‘a, 52–­53; nonconformity to, 122–­25, 135–­38, 148; in prayers, 138–­40; race to, 121; stereotypes of, 132; Sunni Muslims and, 35–­36, 130–­32, 140–­47, 210n53. See also Islam The Shia Revival (Nasr), 132 shukran (gratitude), xix–­xxi Siegfried, Kate, 51 Silvers, Laury, xix, 1–­2, 20, 77–­78, 102–­3, 153–­54 Simpson, Audra, 176 socialization: during COVID-­19, 28, 44, 53, 153, 165, 167; haptic sociality, 85; inclusivity in, 140; Islam and, xv–­xvi; language, 12; public interactions, 88; into queer norms, 113–­15; in religion, 147; on social media, 79, 147; social projects, 7; social relations, 11 social justice: history of, 173–­76; in Islam, 42–­43; for nonconformists, 18–­19, 149–­50, 156–­65; for queers, 13–­14; in religion, 150–­51; theory, 152 social media: community on, 1–­2, 17–­18; during COVID-­19, 153; Eventbrite, 20; Islam on, 64; Juma on, 79, 153–­55, 162–­63; Kaila on, 2–­4; marginalization on, 6; Meetup, 20, 42–­44, 49; mosques on, 106–­7; MPV on, 47; Muslim Wakeup!, 62; nonconformists on, 20–­21; progressiveness on, 49–­50; socialization on, 79, 147. See also specific topics social values, 82 sociolinguistics, 119 South Africa, 101–­2, 120, 197n56, 207n43 Southern Poverty Law Center, 175

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speaking bodies, 89–­91 Spears, Arthur, 152 spirituality, xviii Stamped from the Beginning (Kendi), 166–­67 stereotypes: on Facebook, 151; of Islam, 128, 157–­58; labeling, 32, 69; of LGBTQ+ Muslims, 36; after 9/11, 170–­7 1; of progressive Muslims, 137–­38; of queers, 21–­22; of Shi‘a Muslims, 132; in US, 174 storytelling, 39–­40, 42, 55–­56, 66–­67 structure, for authority, 159, 161–­63 study circles (halaqas), 26, 41–­47 Sufis, xvi, xviii, 14–­15, 77 Sunni Muslims: in GTA, 104, 124; as just Muslims, 127–­30, 140, 148; in MSA, 43; propaganda from, xvii–­xviii; Shi‘a Muslims and, 35–­36, 130–­32, 140–­47, 210n53; Sunni-­normativity, 35–­36, 124–­25, 129–­40, 142, 145, 147–­49; Sunni Orthodox, 52. See also Islam systems, of authority, 159 Takim, Liyakat, 126 The Taqwacores (Knight), xv–­xvi, 129, 151 tawhid (unity), 110–­11, 113 El-­Tawhid Juma Circle in Toronto (El-­ Tawhid): affiliations with, 44, 51; community at, 27–­28, 85–­94, 98–­99, 104, 177–­79; diversity at, 15–­17, 21, 23–­24, 107–­8, 114–­18; etiquette guidelines at, 140–­42; goals of, 4–­5; Khaki and, 1–­2, 27–­28; MPV and, 213n17; nonconformity at, 53, 77–­82, 123–­25, 147; shared authority at, 36, 150, 153–­54, 156–­60, 164, 166 El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque in Toronto (ETJC) on Facebook: chapters of, 28; community at, 21, 55, 112, 153–­58, 162–­63; diversity at, 23–­25, 79–­80; on Facebook, xv, xix; history of, 77–­81; intercorporeal shifts at, 88–­95; Khaki, El-­Farouk and, 20; queer(ed) gatherings at, 81–­88; Silvers and, 20 tayammum (dry ablution), 87–­90 Taylor, Pamela, 151, 211n30 terrorism, 170–­7 1

third spaces, 15–­16 Thompson, Fatima, 151 tolerance, xviii–­xix, 135 Toronto, Canada. See El-­Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosque in Toronto Toronto Pride, 27, 98, 145 tradition, 56–­57, 114 translation, xvi, 1–­5, 143 The Translator (Aboulela), 108 trans Muslims, xviii, 101–­2 Trina: on accountability, 176–­77; on anti-­ Blackness, 150–­52, 165–­66; on AUM, 53–­62; on community, 64–­66, 172–­73; leadership of, 27; nonconformity to, xvii, 36, 173–­76, 181; in struggle, 166–­68, 178–­80; whiteness to, 168–­72 Turkey, 206n25 umma. See nonconformists United States (US): Bangladesh and, 131; Black Lives Matter movement in, 54; Capitol attacks, 176; Christianity in, 60; culture of, 63, 67; Islam in, 125–­26, 170–­7 1; Judaism in, 12; stereotypes in, 174; white liberalism in, 169–­70 unity (tawhid), 110–­11, 113 Unveiling Traditions (Majid), 149 US. See United States voice: in community, 106–­8; indexical disjuncture and, 100, 108–­9; of nonconformists, 102–­6; queer, 101, 113–­14, 140, 150; of queer Muslims, 98–­102, 116, 118–­21 wadud, amina, 15, 18, 83, 85–­86, 177 Wardell, Susan, 182 Ware, Rudolph, 73–­74 Webb Foundation, 16 We Have Always Been Here (Habib), xviii–­xix, 122 Werbner, Pakistanis, 31 Werbner, Pnina, 7 wet ablution (wudu), 87 White Fragility (DiAngelo), 167 white liberalism, 169–­70 white supremacy, 168–­69, 199n83 Why I Am a Salafi (Knight), 181

248 | Index

Wilcox, Melissa, 7, 9, 21–­22 Williams, Raymond, 77, 126 women: African American, 53–­54, 59, 98, 156; FITNA, 4–­5, 20–­21, 24–­26, 55, 113, 150–­51, 156; in leadership, 16; lesbians, 109–­10, 163–­64; in marriage, 146; masculinity to, 144–­45; men and, 116–­18; in mosques, xvii–­xviii; nonconformity of, 143–­44; prayers and, 54–­55, 74–­75, 90–­91; Qur’an and, 91; scholarship on, 18; sexism, 71; stereotypes of, 142

Worthington, Lisa, 153–­54 writing, xv–­xvi wudu (wet ablution), 87 Zahed, Ludovic-­Mohamed, 26 Zan, Bänoo, 1 Zonneveld, Ani, xx; leadership of, 18–­19, 25–­26, 211n30; as nonconformist, 36, 154; reputation of, 62–­63, 150–­51, 171 Zuhur, Sherifa, 14–­15 Zwissler, Laurel, 14, 119

About the Author

K at ri na Da ly Th o m p s o n is Evjue-­B ascom Professor of the Humanities and Professor of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin–­Madison and author of Popobawa: Tanzanian Talk, Global Misreadings.