Community Highlights: Salaam Canada

5 min read
Thomas Trombetta
Rahim Thawer

Freddie had the pleasure of interviewing Rahim Thawer, Core Team Member of Salaam Canada! Salaam is a volunteer-run national organization dedicated to creating space for people who identify as both Muslim and queer and trans. Check out our interview below!

Salaam: a space for Muslim queer and trans folks

Hi Rahim, thank you for chatting with us today! To start things off, can you tell us a bit more about yourself? How has your queer journey led you to where you are now?

Let’s see if I can summarize my queer journey: I was in the throws of ongoing internal conflict about my identity and self-acceptance from age 15 to 20; the post-secondary experience provided some separation from my hometown communities which helped me appreciate multiple ways to be in the world; in my 5th year of undergrad (2007/2008), I became the Service Coordinator for the queer/trans group on my university campus; I then began working at an ethnospecific HIV/AIDS organization in Toronto while also co-founding Ismaili Queers (a queer Muslim group for a specific sect of Islam). 

I completed my MSW in 2011 and have pretty much worked in HIV and LGBTQ health settings since then as a mental health provider. In 2014, I began a small private practice and not long after that, I committed more time and energy volunteering with Salaam Canada as part of its Core Team.

When it comes to LGBTQ+ Muslim Canadians and healthcare, what would you say are the main barriers these communities face?

Well, our communities are quite diverse. For folks who are newcomers to Canada, and particularly those who arrive as refugee claimants, navigating health care is challenging. There can often be a distrust of healthcare professionals and fear of sharing personal health information. 

This often stems from a history of being surveilled and persecuted. Talking about migration history is often riddled with loss, grief, and trauma and the claim process demands this of people. 

Being new to a country also means working with multiple understandings of physical, sexual and mental health--often paired with an unfortunate misconception that Canada is an all-accepting place. The prevalence of HIV in Canada can be presumed to be much lower than it actually is and the nuances of sexual communication that are normalized in our contexts present new learning curves for newcomers. 

While all Muslims--or folks perceived to be Muslim--experience Islamophobia to varying degrees, Black LGBTQ Muslims additionally experience anti-Black racism. In the context of healthcare and social services, this can range from poor treatment by professionals to program development that assumes Muslim populations are limited to Arab communities.

Now, we would love to know more about how Salaam came about. What led you and the other organizers to start off the organization? 

Salaam Canada was founded in 1990. That’s right, the group has been around forever! El-Farouk Khaki, who is an immigration lawyer in Toronto, was one of the founding members. 

The focus and needs of the community have shifted over time and continue to be multi-layered. 

For example, some people who attend our support spaces are looking for a safe place to explore queerness in Islam or what it means to be queer and Muslim in a complex world. Others are looking for opportunities to socialize and simply be part of a community of resilience and a rich history.

Unfortunately we’ve been seeing a rise in racist, homophobic, and transphobic rhetoric across world stages; how have you seen Muslim LGBTQ+ Canadians respond and resist?

This may have begun to sound cliche, but: existence is resistance. In times of political conflict and dogmatic violence, each layer of our identity is pitted against the other and as a result, our grief is disenfranchised and our existence, as people living on the intersections, is threatened by erasure. So, we continue to be visible, seek support from one another, and build community.

How can we support Salaam? Most importantly, how can allies support LGBTQ+ Muslim Canadians in 2021?

A donation made to Salaam Canada supports our work and helps improve lives. If you’re able, please give generously today.

For people wanting to volunteer their skills, we can use help in the following domains:

  • Facilitation of strategic planning sessions
  • Consulting on and carrying out a nonprofit incorporation/registration process
  • Creating a sustainable infrastructure that supports the coordination of future volunteers
  • Offering guest workshops and webinars

Freddie is happy to offer a $500 donation to Salaam to support their ongoing meetings, and educational efforts.

Thank you so much for your time!

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