Hannah Fidler – a Chicago-based musician, teacher, activist and organizer – spends time writing letters to incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims across the United States every week, as part of Masjid al-Rabia’s prison outreach program based in Chicago.
She writes to them about their favorite cowhelors, commiserates on the tendency of many Muslim communities to reject those who identify as queer, and discusses their personal hajj pilgrimages. Fidler also tells them about current initiatives run by Masjid al-Rabia, Chicago’s first LGBTQ affirming mosque.
“There are a lot of people who have expressed that the letter writing program with Masjid al-Rabia reflects the first time in their entire lives that someone was willing to hold space for both their queerness and their Muslim-ness,” Fidler said in an interview.
“Whenever someone says something like that, it makes it all worth it.” Besides having to reach out through the prison bureaucracy, Fidler added that striking a balance between opening her heart to give the incarcerated compassionate responses while not taking on too much, is a challenge.
“It’s a really involved balance of keeping your heart open to whatever people need to say but also realizing that you can’t take on everything that people are carrying,” she said. “We can offer them a spiritual service and friendship, but not solve all their problems.”
The biggest program run by the mosque is its prison ministry, where the organization serves more than 500 incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims in jails and detention centers across the United States. It has attracted more than 400 volunteers from the “free world,” and remains the only prison outreach program in the U.S. that caters specifically to incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims. Other non-profit organizations such as Link Outside host similar initiatives connecting incarcerated Muslims with those outside, but without a focus on incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims.
Masjid al-Rabia’s Black and Pink Crescent, which is a part of its prison outreach initiative, is a pen pal program that connects incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims with their supporters across the free world, an all-inclusive group including LGBTQ Muslims. The program was formed as a partnership with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project and Black and Pink. Besides exchanging letters, Masjid al-Rabia also sends resources such as prayer mats and Qurans to incarcerated Muslims who request them.