Founded in late 2016 by Mahdia Lynn, Masjid al-Rabia is a women-centered, LGBTQIA+ community group providing spiritual care for marginalized Muslims. Masjid al-Rabia has no imam or a centralized authority, and is completely community led.
Board members act as custodians of the space and include Lynn, Zaynab Shahar ( theologian, writer and co-founder of Third Coast Queer Muslims ) and three other individuals.
Lynn is a feminist organizer who has worked in trans advocacy for over a decade. She is also the coordinator of the Transgender Muslim Support Network, an annual LGBTQ Muslim Retreat planning committee member leading on trans inclusion ( the number of trans attendees increased threefold since she took on the role ), an addiction recovery support person, a public speaker and a writer.
"Islam saved my life and, so, I dedicate my life to Islam," said Lynn. "I believe in the truth of the Qur'an and so it's my duty to help live out that truth by being of service to others. And then I see people wielding my faith as a weapon to deny others access to a spiritual life because of who they are. I see the spiritual violence that those in power enact upon women, LGBTQIA+ people and other marginalized Muslims. I saw the ways we are denied access to a healthy, fulfilling spiritual life and so I felt: This is how I give back. My place in this world is to help foster community that is safe, accessible and affirming for all Muslims and that's what Masjid al-Rabia does for myself and others."
"I became involved as a board member because of the ways Masjid al-Rabia relates to my doctoral research," said Shahar. "My research not only looks at movements precipitated by women within orthodox Jewish and Muslim American communities to change women's exclusion from fuller participation in communal ritual, but also what that change would actually look like. I think Masjid al-Rabia points to a sort of futurity with respect to the relationship between ritual, leadership and public religious space, one that relies more on communal sourced leadership and knowledge as opposed to hierarchical religious leadership."
The idea for Masjid al-Rabia germinated over a year ago and included organizing and networking, culminating in their first public jummah prayer service on Dec. 2 of last year. They have held prayer services every Friday since then and held an open house on Jan. 20 where newcomers could discover what the group has to offer.
"Before that it was years of inclusive Muslim organizing here in Chicago that laid the groundwork for what would become Masjid al-Rabia," said Lynn. "In 2014, two Chicago-based organizations, Third Coast Queer Muslims and the Transgender Muslim Support Network, began and around that same time a gay Muslim started hosting dinner and communal prayers out of his home every other week and called it ISHA Friday.
"As our communities kept growing and overlappingand increasingly coming across straight and cis people aching for similar community, we started to recognize need for a spiritual space that wasn't rooted in identity but was safe and affirming for all Muslims. We looked to spaces like the el-Tawhid Juma Circle in Toronto, the Women's Mosque of America in LA, the MECCA Institute in D.C. and Al Fatah Pesantren ( a transgender-centered madrassa ) in Yogyakarta for inspiration. But we also set out to create a community that was uniquely ours, uniquely Chicagoan. We ended up with Masjid al-Rabia."
In terms of the group's jummah services, every member has the opportunity to be a leader so, "Every week we start with the question'who would like to lead prayer?' and every week it's a different cast of characters: one person gives the adhan [call to prayer], one gives a khutbah [sermon], another person leads salat [prayer]," said Lynn.
Masjid al-Rabia is mixed-gender and trans-affirming. Group members pray shoulder to shoulder, facing Mecca as equals.
Lynn explained that since women and trans people have been denied leadership roles in the past they make space for those individuals to take on this responsibility. She noted that she's the one who encourages new attendees to lead prayer or give the adhan.
As for the future of Masjid al-Rabia, Lynn explained that they are holding strategy sessions to determine new endeavors. They are also looking at avenues for financial backing so they can secure a permanent location.
"We're coordinating with local groups to support incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims," said Lynn. "We're expanding our education and advocacy work to help make mainstream Muslim spaces safer for LGBTQ people. The dream is to one day have an accessible community center where we can host all five daily prayers, hold classes and other events and really establish ourselves as part of the community. I dream of the future where I can dedicate my life to this work full-time, but that might be some time off. We have to dream big, but stay pragmatic and pay attention to the little things that get us there."
See www.facebook.com/masjidalrabia/, twitter.com/masjidalrabia and the soon to be launched masjidalrabia.org/ for more information. For more on Lynn, visit Thttps://www.facebook.com/mahdialynn.