Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Rich and Liberal Ideas of the Muslim Faith: We Ought To Show Compassion To Gay Individuals

By Junaid Jahangir, New Age Islam 12 January 2022 Imam Daayiee Abdullah Rejects Patriarchy As A Cultural Construct, For “During The Lifetime Of Prophet Muhammad, Women Gained Significant Freedoms, Including The Right To Choose Their Husbands, The Right To Divorce, And Inheritance Rights” Main Points: 1. Progressive Islam is concise, written simply to be accessible, and reasonably priced to be affordable for a wider audience. 2. Rampant homophobia among Muslim scholars, let alone the masses, would not allow a dispassionate look at the subject. 3. In telling his story and his understanding of Islam, the Qur’an, and the Prophet, he allows us a glimpse of his inner world. ------- Progressive Islam by Imam Daayiee Abdullah Abdullah, Daayiee. (2021). Progressive Islam: The Rich Liberal Ideas of the Muslim Faith. MECCA Institute Publishing. 186 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0578851372, paperback $5.23 ---- Introduction Imam Daayiee Abdullah, the world’s first openly gay black Imam and founder of the MECCA Institute, published his book Progressive Islam last year. It is concise, written simply to be accessible, and reasonably priced to be affordable for a wider audience. Often books on progressive Islam are written for the academic market and are exorbitantly priced, which push them beyond the reach of everyday Muslims. Therefore, his book is a much-needed welcome addition in the Muslim market. I came to know of Daayiee in 2004 when I had begun to read about the position of gay Muslims in Islam. This was a year before same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005 and a decade before the same in the U.S. in 2015. It was long before the Orlando gay bar shooting of 2016, which incentivized western Muslim leaders to condemn homophobic violence if only to protect their own vested interests. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: Why Accommodating Gay Rights within Islam is a Challenge? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Back then, I was affiliated with Qur’anic studies scholar, Dr. Shehzad Saleem, as his research assistant for the Renaissance monthly magazine. He was quite gracious to publish my article, where I argued that while homosexuality was a sin, we ought to show compassion to gay individuals. While this position of tolerance is mainstream in Muslim cultures today, at least in western countries, back then my article was met with intense scorn. It informed me that rampant homophobia among Muslim scholars, let alone the masses, would not allow a dispassionate look at the subject. Imam Daayiee Abdullah, the world’s first openly gay black Imam ---- To date, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, the chief scholar who influenced many of my teachers including Dr. Shehzad Saleem and Dr. Khalid Zaheer, maintains the erroneous view that homosexuality is a result of childhood incidents (alluding to sexual abuse), in contrast to the mainstream position of professional bodies of psychologists, psychiatrists, paediatricians and medical doctors. Though, at least the topic is talked about today for the issue was a taboo back in 2004. This is why it was amazing to find out that there was an Imam, who did not preach that homosexuality is an Azmaish (test) but rather blessed Muslim same-sex unions. Unlike Sufi masters and Muslim celebrity speakers with YouTube channels, Daayiee does not make supernatural claims or puts himself on a pedestal with a large following of minions. Additionally, he seems more interested in offering his perspective on progressive Islam than engaging in counterproductive Munazaras (debates) that have come to define the religious sphere in the Indian subcontinent. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: ‘Gay Rights’ Versus The ‘Human Rights Of Gays’ – A Fresh Insight Into The Broader Message Of The Qur’an ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Indeed, from what I know of him for more than a decade, he is a simple, kind, and sensitive human being despite his larger-than-life physical appearance. While I have my own outlook on Islam, I honour him for his humanity and for being a beacon of hope where many others succumb to societal prejudice. In this spirit of honouring him, I highlight a few salient ideas below that emerged from my reading of his book. The Black Gay Imam The book is a blend of how Daayiee embraced Islam, his relationship with the Qur’an and how it informs his worldview, and his lived experience as a black gay Muslim. In telling his story and his understanding of Islam, the Qur’an, and the Prophet, he allows us a glimpse of his inner world. This honesty is refreshing because so many Muslim scholars, academics, and celebrity cult speakers hide their insecurities behind their titles and positions of privilege. But Daayiee speaks to his audience as a peer instead of speaking down from a pedestal. Sometimes, I wonder what reception he would have received from the larger Muslim community had he been a straight, blue eyed, white skinned convert. For I often ponder how white converts assume positions of privilege and power based on the internalized racism of brown skinned Muslims of Middle Eastern and South Asian origins. I think had he not been black or gay, Daayiee’s story of conversion would have been universally spread across Muslim communities. He writes that despite being baptized in the Southern Baptist denomination and expected to see Jesus as a saviour or God, he never did (p. 31). He mentions how his connection to the Qur’an allows him to grow spiritually and writes about his conversion that “I eventually had my Iqra moment … I felt my breath taken away. I was in such a state that there was no time or physical presence; I felt in the fullness of my soul that I had connected with my Creator and was at total inner peace” (p. 46). Growing up in the pre-civil rights era, he writes about how “people were afraid of integrated education, integrated neighbourhoods, and any form of equality between whites and blacks” (p. 72). I found his description of that time quite moving of how “blacks were brutally attacked by individuals, mobs, the police forces with dogs and guns” and how “the state and federal government turned a deaf ear” (p. 72). It is important to remember this history, as it made black people “rethink the idea of a common Saviour” after both Malcolm X and Dr. King were murdered, and as history repeats itself where black people are blamed for “the burning of ransacked shops and businesses” even as “it was probably white police provocateurs inciting the riots” (p. 72). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: The Holy Quran: Why Were The Verses On The People Of Lut Revealed? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Daayiee’s words made me think of how people are oppressed and then blamed for their own oppression. This victim blaming the black people also holds true for poor people who are blamed for their poverty. It also holds for gay people, whose legitimate human need for intimacy, affection, and companionship are first rejected and who are then judged as sinners and accused of bringing misery upon themselves. Daayiee’s experience of racism was only compounded by homophobia. He writes about his lover who committed suicide that “he was a black gay boy in a world that did not want him to be either of those things; the non-blacks rejected his blackness, and the blacks rejected his gayness” (p. 114). And this homophobia followed Daayiee when he converted to Islam. He didn’t chase the title of an Imam, but it came to him as he was “pushed to become an imam … when a gay Muslim was denied their last rites” (p. 115). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: To Sustain an LGBTQ Affirming Islamic Discourse, Lateral Violence Must End ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In essence, regardless of the reaction of the larger Muslim community, I think Daayiee’s story of a black gay man who was born before the Civil Rights act of 1964, his conversion to Islam and subsequent stepping into the role of an Imam who offered compassion when none was shown, deserves a documentary of its own. Dispelling Casual Islamophobia Daayiee’s simple and concise book is useful against casual Islamophobia where, ignoring the socio-economic and political conditions, Islam is simplistically reduced as the factor responsible for the problems in Muslim countries. He writes that Muslim communities suffer from “theocratic dynasties, monarchies, colonialism, despots, and extremists”, and from “cultural conflicts” and “political wounds” that “date back to Prophet Muhammad's death”, which “were further strengthened through European colonialism and modern dictatorships” (p. 12, 113-114). Daayiee does not delve into topics like the age of Aisha and the massacre of the Banu Qurayza, issues that have been addressed ad nauseum, and which take away time and effort from the pressing concerns of economic inequality, automation, climate change, and weakening democratic norms. He spends less time on apologetics and more on building an affirmative narrative. He alludes to how the Prophet’s “new religion challenged the very foundation of Mecca’s pilgrimage economy”, which rested on “trading in human slavery, including sex slavery … blood feuding between the tribal groups, female infanticide, … the rich taking advantage of the poor through usury and other forms of oppression” (pp. 34-35). He rejects patriarchy as a cultural construct, for “during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, women gained significant freedoms, including the right to choose their husbands, the right to divorce, and inheritance rights”, whereas “in the United States, it was not until the mid-1800s that women were allowed to sue for divorce” (p. 86). Similarly, he contrasts the Prophet’ saying that “the best women who ride camels are the women of Quraysh” with modern Saudi Arabia, which was able to prevent women from driving cars (p. 86). He upholds a significant insight that it is not about Islam but about how “leaders use Islam to promote or minimize concepts that may intersect with political interests (p. 114). He states that where the Qur’an is “used as a calling card to bring about change in the disenfranchised lives” it is also “used by the ruling classes to maintain their hegemony” (p. 63). What this means is that where Islam is diverse, it is its practitioners who wield it to support capitalism or socialism, dictatorship or democracy, homophobia or affirmation, and patriarchy or liberation. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: Why Gay Muslims Are Upheld To Standards That Not Even Prophets Fulfil? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Daayiee also captures the increased conservatism of Muslims, as they immigrate to western countries. Based on his travels to Muslim countries, he writes that, “I realized the immigrants were not as diverse as those living in their native countries. I suppose this happens to diverse communities of any faith, as we all want to "unite" in foreign countries” (p. 18). This is perhaps what lies behind the increased “black and white” positions of some Muslim youth who grew up in the west, as they rail against the women and LGBTQ empowering norms. In essence, Daayiee’s book helps dispel casual Islamophobia by offering the insight that ignoring socio-economic and political considerations, patriarchal and homophobic norms that run much deeper than religion, and simplistically blaming all problems on a caricatured Islam is reductionist and unwarranted. Additionally, he creates a narrative that draws our attention away from never ending debates on dead-end issues that add no meaning to our lives and towards economic and systemic oppression, which matter. Addressing Muslim Homophobia And Internal Divisiveness Just as racist Islamophobes defend themselves against being called out as racists, so too Muslim homophobes claim that they are not homophobic. Yet, the litmus test of someone being racist or homophobic is simple enough, for many such people are starkly absent when it comes to anti-racism and anti-homophobia initiatives. It is not uncommon to find Muslim leaders, who raise their voices against Islamophobia but who are deafeningly silent when it comes to their own complicity in the oppression of minorities like Ahmadis or LGBTQ Muslims. Daayiee narrates a moving story of the institutionalized homophobia he experienced in the American Muslim community. He glowingly talks about how the late Dr. Taha Jabir al-Alwani (d. 2016) encouraged him to pursue “Islamic Studies, specializing in Qur'anic interpretation” (p. 21). Yet, despite fulfilling the requirements for graduation at the “Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences, which eventually evolved into Cordoba University”, he was informed that he would not graduate because he was gay (p. 20-22). While Dr. Taha informed him “that he was against the administration's decision”, Daayiee “heard from the school that they were considering issuing” his certificate but would not maintain his records at the school (p. 23). This is unthinkable in this day and age when institutions support equal opportunities for minorities. Yet, just two decades ago, Daayiee could not get his certificate because “it was a Saudi funded school”, which “could negatively affect their future funding” (p. 23). Moreover, even though many Muslims like to claim they are not homophobic, Daayiee was refused internship at a mosque, as the Imam did not want him there just because he was gay (p. 22). Such issues are not unique to the Muslim community. I am reminded of a Christian case where Delwin Vriend was fired from the King’s College, which is now the King’s University, a private Christian institution in Edmonton, Alberta. Today, the same institution proudly supports its LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty. Unfortunately, such is still not the case with Muslim institutions across North America. I think part of the reason is the constant infighting and divisiveness within progressive Muslim communities. Daayiee writes that the “Progressive Muslim Union of North America or PMUNA ... was an impressive group” that supported progressive thinking and LGBTQ Muslim rights, but “there began schisms within the membership, and eventually, the infighting tore the group apart in 2006” (pp. 24-25). He reiterates generally that “progressive organizations disbanded one after the other because the members had disagreements on certain topics” (p. 107). I have noticed this even within the marginalized LGBTQ Muslim community where lateral violence and scathing criticisms burn individuals out. In the end, it is not only conservative Muslims but rather the progressives who, by chewing each other out, impede effective change in Muslim communities. Addressing this concern on divisiveness, Daayiee recognizes that “a significant number in the community” are “still dealing with multiple levels of internalized trauma”, which is “linked to the complex nature of reconciling ancient cultures with modern realities” (p. 115). He argues that we will have to create and highlight values to “overcome division” and to remind people that “commitment to the group’s values” does not lessen “their individual growth” (p. 107). In essence, Daayiee’s story reminds us that a lot remains to be done in the Muslim community that rightfully challenges Islamophobia but casually ignores the entrenched homophobia within its own institutions. To this end, his book informs us that LGBTQ and progressive Muslims would first have to overcome division among themselves and commit to cooperation if they hope to change the status quo. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: The Quran on Homosexual Relations ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Qur’anically Inspired Vision For Change Daayiee does not allow himself to be bogged down by the division within progressive Muslim communities for his anchor is the Qur’an and his direct relationship with Allah that countenances no intermediaries. He writes that “in building my personal relationship with my Creator, I am not so easily swayed to believe that I must mimic Prophet Muhammad’s practices of the 7th century” (p. 32). In support of his position, he quotes “Ibn Khaldun, who said, “[Deliberately] following ancient customs and traditions [of a faith] does not mean that the dead are living, but that the living are dead” (p. 32). He remains rooted in his personal connection with the Qur’an and gives it precedence over the secondary sources of Islamic knowledge including the Hadith and Tafsir (commentary). Alluding to the late Gamal al-Banna (d. 2013), he writes that “he is well known for removing some 600 Hadiths from Bukhari alone, saying they were fabricated and unsuitable for keeping in the book” (p. 39). Similarly, he writes about Tafsir that it “tends to be a domain of male academic theologians and a relatively conservative field” (p. 69). Daayiee is clear in his approach that while “the Holy Qur'an represents the divine message from our Creator, it is the human interpretation that makes it what it is in the Muslim communities” (p. 51). He writes that “the personal relationship with the Qur'an is what also makes it a fundamental tool for change ... there is a call for unity through the concept of human diversity leading back to the same historical ancestor. Concepts like this have the power to eliminate ugly aspects of human history such as racism, xenophobia, and imperialism (p. 111-112). He set outs a Qur’anically inspired vision for change, as he writes that “some of these Qur'anic messages include that there is no compulsion in religion, to care for members of society, honor one’s commitments, honesty and fairness through dealings, not kill unjustly” (p. 75). He continues that “these ethics are not limited but can also include much larger societal issues such as environmentalism, religious pluralism, freedom of expression, politics, animal welfare, peace and justice, human welfare, military ethics, as well as various medical ethics” (p. 75). Daayiee shows how the wisdom from the ancient text manifests in contemporary times. He writes that “the code of human rights we find in the United Nations is as Islamic as anything else” and reiterates that “the Qur'an, in verse 21:92, commands us to acknowledge our unity and God. In the 20th century, by creating the United Nations, it seems that humans attempted to fulfil this commandment” (p. 75-76, 104). In essence, Muslim readers gather that if God has not spoken to human beings since the Prophet, he has also not abandoned them, for the Qur’anically inspired vision for change manifests itself through the United Nations and therefore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Conclusion In conclusion, Daayiee has written a book that showcases the story of a black gay Muslim who was thrust into the role of an Imam because others were too homophobic to show any compassion. It shows how Islamophobia is dispelled less by engaging in apologetics and more by offering a liberating narrative that draws Muslims away from incessant dead-end debates and focuses their attention on the pressing issues of our times. It shows that internal division would have to be overcome through values for a progressive vision of Islam to thrive. Finally, it shows that a Qur’anically inspired vision for change manifests in contemporary times through the United Nations and therefore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One hopes that his message receives the wide readership that it deserves, for where pessimistic Muslims are consumed by the fear of calamities, pandemics, and the end of the world, Daayiee’s optimistic approach reminds us of the Hadith to plant a tree even if the world comes to an end. ------ Junaid Jahangir is an Assistant Professor of Economics at MacEwan University. He is the co-author of Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions. With Dr. Hussein Abdullatif, a paediatric endocrinologist in Alabama, he has co-authored several academic papers on the issue of same-sex unions in Islam. He contributed this article to URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

No comments:

Post a Comment