At sunset on Friday evening, Muslims around the world broke their Ramadan fast with a ritual meal, called an iftar. At the same time, Jews around the world sat down for Shabbat dinner, the beginning of the weekly period of rest.
In one Los Angeles community, Muslims and Jews came together to celebrate both rituals and to find common ground as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith and their allies. A kosher meal for about 30 diners had been planned, with dates to break the Ramadan fast and challah bread for Shabbat.
The combined iftar Shabbat was hosted by JQ International, an organization that co-founder Asher Gellis said brings LGBT Jews together to find support and community. It was the second such event the organization has hosted.
Recalling last year's event, Gellis said, “We got to see what the Muslim community does to end Ramadan and to pray. ... Then we did the Jewish blessings over the candle and the wine and the bread and shared what the meaning is behind those things.”
JQ organized the iftar Shabbat with Marium Mohiuddin, who is a Muslim, an LGBT ally and a Texas native.
“When you begin to tear down these walls, you get away from labeling people as the other and get to who they are,” Mohiuddin said.
She was volunteering with NewGround, a Muslim-Jewish advocacy group, when she met Gellis, who was looking to incorporate interfaith work into JQ’s programming. Mohiuddin, who had become passionate about LGBT issues during her college years, jumped at the opportunity and reached out to several of her gay Muslim friends to ask them to speak at the iftar Shabbat.
She had few Jewish friends before last year's event, Mohiuddin said, and knew very little about their faith. “I have such a deeper understanding [now] of who they are, and it helps to let go of so much discrimination and prejudice,” she said.
LGBT Muslims and Jews can find common ground in their shared experience both as religious minorities in the United States and as minorities within their own faith traditions, Gellis said. Several gay and ally Muslims spoke at the first year’s event, and “a lot of our community members could relate to their experiences,” he said.
Gellis noted that LGBT acceptance in many Jewish communities has grown considerably over the years, especially with the emergence of groups like JQ. Similar resources exist for LGBT Muslims, although prejudice remains.
“What I can say from my experience as an LGBT person in the Muslim community is that it is not easy, nor would I really wish for someone to struggle with that,” said Joey Marsh, one of the speakers at the first iftar Shabbat. “It can be incredibly difficult to feel comfortable about yourself when you're with a group of Muslims.”
The iftar Shabbat is one place where Muslims, Jews, LGBT people and allies can all feel welcome, Mohiuddin said. She remembered “hearing my friends’ stories and hearing how ... each story [of coming out] is different, but there’s this internal struggle and that’s universal.” She said it shows “the humanity of a person behind their religion or their ethnicity.”
Gellis noted that participants can also be reminded of what Islam and Judaism, two often polarized faiths, have in common. Muslim guests at last year’s event had wanted to make sure there wasn’t any pork on the menu, he recalled with a chuckle.
“It was really funny 'cause it’s like, I think about that all the time as a Jewish person,” he said.