How was Salaam Formed?
Gay Muslim lawyer and community activist El-Farouk Khaki founded Salaam in 1991 in Toronto. Khaki, who was born in Tanzania and had spent his youth and young adulthood in Vancouver, wanted to create a community that gathered around the shared identity of racialized queer Muslim-ness, given his experiences of feeling untethered to identity and community, or of being:
"too queer to be Muslim, and too Muslim to be queer, [and] too white to be Brown, but not white enough to be queer."
In the early 1990s, a safe and healing space for LGBTQ+ Muslims did not exist. While there was a growing number of ethno-specific queer and HIV/AIDS groups, none of these were oriented to Muslim identity and experiences, nor did they have any sizable Muslim populations within them. Furthermore, queers were subject to great forms of intolerance in society at large – including legally and medically, particularly via the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Khaki reached out to several community groups including Khush, a now-defunct collective geared towards queers of the South Asian diaspora. Khush's organizers connected him with their membership base, as there was significant overlap with Salaam’s target population. He also used the services of some of the mainstream queer organizations in Toronto, such as Xtra's! free telephone line and a free mailbox from the 519 Community Centre.
In addition to the labour involved in outreach and organization, there were logistical challenges for Salaam. Notifying people about events by telephone was made difficult because of the familial homophobia that required secrecy of queer affiliation. For every number on the list, there were as many instructions for how to respond depending upon who picked up the phone. This fear of being ‘outed’ created issues beyond outreach. People were scared to attend meetings or events and consequently, were hesitant to commit themselves to volunteering. Put another way, people needed Salaam for the same reason they were unable to maintain its functioning.
Over time, Salaam’s capacity to promote its programming and share resources among those already tapped in and with those who weren't, expanded. Social media also facilitated fruitful connections and partnerships with other community initiatives and organizations.
Salaam has a resource section on its website that, upon closure, will remain up for five years. They also operated an email listserv with information about queer Muslim gatherings, lectures, articles, support groups, and volunteer and employment opportunities that facilitated LGBTQ+ and Muslim/racialized connection and support beyond Salaam itself. Due to Salaam's long-standing international visibility and engagement, these resources and opportunities exposed the Canadian LGBTQ+ Muslim community to opportunities elsewhere.