At Muslim LGBTQ retreat, attendees try to reconcile their faith and sexuality

Published: May 30, 2013

There was speed dating, a talent show and a baby naming.

But there was also a locked Facebook page. And a strict rule: Attendees should not disclose the retreat’s exact location.

That’s because the 85 people who gathered in the Pennsylvania woods over Memorial Day weekend had come from 19 states and three countries for a somewhat surprising event: a three-day LGBTQ Muslim and Partners Retreat.

Some wore T-shirts that read, “Muslim + Gay = Fabulous.” They prayed. They attended workshops about pioneering progressive Muslims. Ever heard of Isabelle Eberhardt, a.k.a. Mahmoud Saadi, a convert to Islam who challenged gender norms at the turn of the 20th century?

And they held discussions on struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, and their sexuality with their faith. (Many folks said that they face Islamophobia from inside the mainstream LGBTQ community.)

At the retreat, women and men prayed side by side, rather than in separate quarters as is customary. Some people found potential partners. Others wept in workshops when they talked about their family’s reactions.

Under a blue sky, the final prayer took place on Monday. A woman was allowed to lead both the call to the prayer and the prayer itself.

“At the end of the retreat, many people spoke of feeling like they were finally home, among family,” said Tynan Power, 42, a co-chair of the retreat.

This was the third such retreat, and it was sponsored this year by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, founded in January to address the needs of LGBTQ Muslims. Another sponsor was Muslims for Progressive Values, a Los Angeles-based group formed in 2007 that parallels, to some extent, Unitarian Universalism and Judaism’s reform movement, and which has nine chapters across the country and abroad.

The Washington Post was invited to attend — the first media organization to be given access.

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