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LGBT History Month: When the saints go marchin’ in – people who have made the leap of faith 3 Muslims

January 21, 2016

LOFGareth Marshall, who designed the logo for LGBT History Month 2016, said he was inspired by “the phrase “leap of faith”. I chose this phrase because I believe it is a very powerful and personal message. It is about believing and having faith both in one’s religion, and in oneself. It represents a risk we take for a better outcome and future, a push forward in acceptance and tolerance within and towards to LGBT community, and the strength it can take to come out…”

The accompanying booklet talks of: we need to recognise that most people who belong to a faith group have religion to bring peace and understanding to their lives. We also need to acknowledge that there are some who use – or abuse – religion to justify their own prejudices and bigotry. …….each of the Abrahamic religions has something in its scriptures that can be interpreted to suggest that homosexual relations are sinful. We recognise that religious doctrine has brought harm to many in the LGBT community and that at its worst this has led to despair, suicide, murder and statutory murder; both in the past and the present. …..we also recognise that many in the LGBT community will hold prejudices towards people of faith. …..Religious orthodoxies continue to exclude us …….LGBT people of faith have made great strides to makes their own places of worship inclusive ……brave campaigners who stick their heads above the parapet to challenge …”

AbdullahImam Daayiee Abdullah b. 1954

When Abdullah was 15, he graduated from high school early because he had gone to summer school most summers. Along with summer school, he and his family travelled around North America so that he could see what the world was truly like. His parents believed that once a member of the family had graduated high school, he was an adult. Knowing this, Abdullah came out to his parents, and was accepted after assuring his parents that they had “done nothing wrong.” Abdullah has said that he knew he was attracted to men at the age of five. His parents, now both deceased, were a source of inspiration and confidence for him growing up.

Abdullah graduated from the David A. Clarke School of Law in Washington, D.C. in 1995 as a juris doctor. He attended the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences in Ashburn, Virginia from 2000 to 2003, but was kicked out when the school discovered he was gay.

Around 2000, he joined the online Yahoo! group Muslim Gay Men. On this forum, there were many who claimed to be gay, but were intent on telling those who were seeking help that the Qur’an forbids homosexuality. Abdullah attempted to refute these comments by explaining that one is to follow the Qur’an first and the Hadith second. Through this, he began to gain popularity among homosexuals and allies across the online community. One of the reasons he had begun to be called Imam was because he has performed many ceremonies for people in who were considered pariahs in their community due to illnesses or the gender or religion of the person they wished to marry. A few gay Muslims died of AIDS, and no one would do their funerals. Abdullah also performed same-sex marriages for men and women and counseling for all couples—heterosexual and homosexual. Along with performing these ceremonies that others would not, he married mixed couples and religiously differing couples who are from the Abrahamic faith. Because the Abrahamic faiths are sister religions, and because the Qu’ran says that Abrahamic believers can interact with other Abrahamic believers, Abdullah believes that it is plausible to marry between Abrahamic religions.

In 2006, Abdullah was in a long-term relationship of ten years. His partner was Christian, which is one of the reasons he performs these religious ceremonies between Abrahamic religions.

Imam Daayiee Abdullah is the imam and religious director of Masjid An-Nur Al-Isslaah, and the co-director of Muslims for Progressive Values

F AlamFaisal Alam is a gay Pakistani American who founded the Al-Fatiha Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing the cause of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Muslims.

Alam arrived in the United States from Pakistan in 1987, at the age of ten, and resided in the rural middle-class town of Ellington, Connecticut. In 1997, he started an email listserv for LGBT Muslims that led to the founding of Al-Fatiha in 1998. He served as its President from 1998 until stepping down in 2004. In 2011, Alam and other LGBTQ Muslim activists were invited by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to form a Queer Muslim Working Group to evaluate the needs of the LGBTQ Muslim community. Alam was instrumental in bringing together a diverse group of seasoned leaders to undertake this project. In 2013, the Queer Muslim Working Group launched a new organization: the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD).

He is a member of the Advisory Committee of the LGBT Program at Human Rights Watch

The Al-Fatiha Foundation grew out of an internet listserve for questioning Muslims from 25 countries, and by 1998 had developed numerous in-person chapters. At its height, Al-Fatiha had 14 chapters in the United States, as well as offices in England, Canada, Spain, Turkey, and South Africa and was the largest gay rights organization in the world.

The name “Al-Fatiha” means “the Opening.” It is also the name of the first surah of the Qur’an. In the beginning of that surah, Allah is described as compassionate and merciful; the organization’s founders believe that these attributes characterize Islam, rather than hatred and homophobia. Each year, Al-Fatiha hosted an international membership retreat and conference. Early conferences took place in Boston, New York, and London in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and focused on issues such as the reconciliation of religion and sexual orientation. The last Al-Fatiha conference was held in 2005 in Atlanta, Georgia.

After the organization’s founder, Faisal Alam, stepped down, subsequent leaders failed to sustain the organization. It began a process of legal dissolution in 2011.[

Sadiq Sheraze is a Houston-based freelance writer: Al-Fatiha, a Washington DC-based organization that advocates for the rights of LGBT Muslims, is just one of several such groups around the world.

Founder and former director Faisal Alam points out that most traditional scholars of Islam consider same-sex acts to be sinful, and many believe that having a gay or lesbian sexual orientation is unnatural. Yet he shares his story of faith and sexual identity around the world as a way of opening conversations about how Islam and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive.

With more than 1.5 billion followers, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. An estimated six to eight million Americans call themselves Muslim, and Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States. It’s impossible to estimate how many of them are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Alam’s presentation “Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims” has been featured at more than 125 universities and colleges across the country since 2003. While highlighting the diversity of Islam around the world and in the United States, “Hidden Voices” explores the legacy of colonialism and sodomy laws within the Muslim world, and the suppression of LGBT rights around the world under the guise of the so-called war on terror.

Alam has been profiled in numerous national publications, has received many recognitions and awards for his activism on behalf of queer Muslims, one of thirty “Young Visionaries Under 30” by the Utne Reader. In 2005 the Equality Forum honored Alam as one of “40 Heroes” who have “made a defining difference in LGBT civil rights over the last forty years.”

In 2011 he was invited to the White House to attend President Obama’s annual White House Iftar Dinner, the traditional breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan.

The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) was launched in January 2013. The organization was formed by members of the Queer Muslim Working Group, with the support of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Several initial MASGD members previously had been involved with the Al-Fatiha Foundation, including Faisal Alam and Imam Daayiee Abdullah.

The mission statement of MASGD states: “The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity works to support, empower and connect LGBTQ Muslims. We seek to challenge root causes of oppression, including misogyny and xenophobia. We aim to increase the acceptance of gender and sexual diversity within Muslim communities, and to promote a progressive understanding of Islam that is centered on inclusion, justice, and equality.”

The first project of MASGD was an LGBT Muslim Retreat. The first Retreat was held in 2011, under the auspices of the Queer Muslim Working Group. Since then, the Retreat has been held each May. In 2013, the Retreat welcomed a total of 85 adults, including both LGBTQ Muslims and their partners.

Faisal Alam presents ‘Hidden Voices: Lives of LGBT Muslims.’
by Sadiq Ali Sheraze: “I wasn’t intending to start an organization,” says Faisal Alam, a queer-identified Muslim activist. “I struggled with trying to reconcile my sexuality with my faith. I didn’t know how that was going to happen. I thought I was the only one who was dealing with these issues.”

This was all before 1998 when, at the young age of nineteen, Alam used an international email Listserv to create Al-Fatiha, which was once one of the largest Muslim LGBT organizations in the nation.

Since then, Alam has been selected as an “Innovator” by Advocate magazine and has been recognized by Genre magazine as a “Founding Father.” He has received several awards and recognitions for his activism, and has been touring the country presenting his lecture “Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims.”

In this presentation, Alam shares LGBT stories (including his own) about growing up in Islam—stories that reveal some of the issues that LGBT Muslims face. Despite the criticism he has received, he has found a platform where he can speak about issues that, according to Alam, “most people do not often think about. People do not think about LGBT Muslims, and if they do, they think that people are being killed because of it, or that there is really no way to reconcile [their sexuality and their faith].”

Among the many Muslim organizations developing in the U.S., the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) is one that Alam and several other organizers created this year. Many of these groups are working to debunk the myth that LGBT Muslims do not exist and that all Muslims are homophobic.

“We have really come a long way with the exposure [that LGBT Muslims] have received and the work we have done to make our presence known, both within the mainstream LGBT community and the mainstream Muslim community. That also has a lot to do with the progressive vision of Islam that many of us are pushing,” Alam says of the strides MASGD and similar organizations are making on behalf of LGBT Muslims globally.

Organizations such as MASGD and Muslims for Progressive Values, a similar group that promotes LGBT and women’s equality and other progressive causes, are all pushing to create an environment where Islam can be more inclusive and accepting on issues such as gender and sexuality. Alam believes that things are quickly changing for both the LGBT Muslim community and the mainstream Muslim population.

Alam explains this evolution in thinking: “The rhetoric was always ‘Our religion condemns homosexuality, there is no place for homosexuals within our faith, the Quran says that homosexuality is forbidden, and that is the end of the story.’ [But then the thing that really changed] the conversation we were having with mainstream Muslims was 9/11. September 11 really changed a lot of different things, because now mainstream Muslims [have much bigger issues than simply worrying] about what is going on with queer Muslims.”

“All of a sudden, American Muslims are dealing with Islamophobia and hate crimes and this real, visceral backlash that also affected LGBT Muslims in a different way,” he adds.

According to Alam, for many American LGBT Muslims, “Islamophobia is seemingly a bigger issue than homophobia, and much more visible to people in regards to our skin color and our names. The sexuality becomes secondary to people. Many more LGBT Muslims are taking on a political identity—being Muslim and asserting a cultural identity.”

Alam also believes the atmosphere is changing for LGBT Muslims because of congressmen such as Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and Andre Carson (D-Indiana). These men are the only two Muslims in Congress and, according to Alam, “Both of them are very supportive of LGBT issues.”

“They have also become bridge builders for bringing these issues to light.” Alam explains the similarities between the LGBT community and the larger Muslim community: “They are oftentimes facing the same struggles. They are both ostracized, and they are both viewed as minorities. The same religious figures and the same political figures [often speak out] against both communities.”

For many individuals, there is this seemingly vast difference in ideologies between the Muslim communities and the LGBT communities; however, regardless of the differences, there is a similar prejudice that both groups are facing in America today.

The progressive Muslim groups like MASGD, and individuals like Alam, are working diligently to reduce prejudices held by both Muslim and non-Muslim individuals.

Alam believes that Muslim youth are changing as well. “There is a second generation and now a third generation of Muslims that are growing up in the United States that have been exposed to issues of sexuality, and are much more open to conversations and dialogue around issues of gender and sexuality,” Alam adds.

God willing, these conversations will remain open and individuals like Alam will continue to make progress toward acceptance and tolerance.

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