In Solidarity & Gratitude

(Photo by Misty Lahti)

IICSC Vigil

 

Ramadan is a time of reflection and over the last two weeks there has certainly been much to reflect on. Everything happens for a reason and I believe that in everything there is a sign, even if we don’t choose to see it. Some signs are subtle, others are more obvious and easier to read. One such undeniable sign in particular appeared recently in Orlando and was transmitted across the globe. There are no words to adequately express the tragedy and sense of loss from that incident. There is no denying the weight of this disaster and there is no way to undo the harm. Based on numbers alone this is the worst such incident in American history so I feel like I should be paying particularly close attention to this one.

Since the shooting I’ve attended several local vigils and engaged many on issues of violence, faith, homophobia and their intersections in this particular case. The conversations are difficult and what makes them even worse is the added layer of disgust knowing that someone who subscribed to Islam carried out the massacre. Clearly he was not much of a student of the Prophetic traditions but the truth is that other individuals in his and other communities share some of his warped ideology. His ideas transcend faith. Homophobia is still a global epidemic that exists in every corner of the globe with roots in many different cultures and faith traditions. In times like these if we do not act to address the problem then we become complicit in our complacency. While we may stand at vigils and hug each other we only really honor the victims when we tackle the injustice by acting or speaking out wherever we find it. We don’t have to be martyrs, just advocates. The same way theLGBT community advocates for us and stands shoulder to shoulder on the mosque steps every time there is a crisis. They supported us through some of our toughest times including 9/11, San Bernardino, Paris and now Orlando. The hypocrisy becomes palpable when their unequivocal support is not reciprocated, or when we place certain caveats or limitations on our support when they need it.

Last Sunday following the shooting I was present at the local Islamic Center where our LGBT allies stood by us again on the steps of the mosque during a vigil in Downtown LA. They spoke about understanding what it means to be victims of discrimination, hate, marginalization and abuse. Once again they pledged their support to be vigilant against the anticipated backlash of Islamophobia and they committed to being staunch allies for us. They understand that hate is the same, even if the victims appear to be different. Their example is a lesson in solidarity and perseverance. It’s a lesson in our own prophetic teaching of loving thy neighbor, even when they may spite you, because there are still American Muslims who hold animosity and distrust towards the LGBT community. Their community speaks truth and advocates justice for all people because their own struggles taught them that all people are created equal and that marginalization of any group is a marginalization of all people. My own faith teaches me the same. While some may not share my interpretation, many others do. I whole heartedly cling to that understanding of my faith because it sits right within my heart and is consistent with my interpretation of scripture and prophetic tradition of love without judgment. I’m not alone in my understanding of Islam and now is the time to unite with like minded allies of the LGBT community and it’s time we act like allies and advocates. Allies from all faiths or no faith need to unite and make our voices heard to counteract the prevailing homophobic narrative and create healthy dialogue that leads to growth, progress, justice and human equality.

I am not apologizing for Islam and Muslims because at the core, this issue and the resulting violent tragedy rooted in homophobia is a challenge that faces humanity and it is not unique to any faith. I was taught that before we learn how to be a good Christian, Muslim or Jew we have to learn to be good human beings who can peacefully coexist with others and express empathy and love in times of hardship and disagreement. A hateful, violent person is not remedied by their faith. A person who was never taught fundamental human values such as empathy, patience, mercy or forgiveness will not suddenly embody those characteristics because they entered a religion. Parents and society are responsible for raising good kids first in order for them to be enriched by their faith. While this work extends far beyond our own backyards, we need to start by cleaning up our own backyards.

With every crisis there is an opportunity. This is our chance to funnel all of the sorrow and anguish into motivation and action. This is our impetus to create real change that penetrates hearts and minds and eradicates discrimination so injustice against LGBT folks becomes outdated and universally unacceptable. The best way I can honor the victims of Orlando is to pledge myself as an ally and advocate whenever I see hate rear it’s ugly head, because it will. We have a role and responsibility to respond to hate with something better. Our LGBT allies have consistently been a tremendous example of solidarity and communal struggle. It’s time we internalized their prophetic lesson so we can selflessly champion justice the way they taught us to do, in a way that is consistent with my faith, the way that it must be done if we hope to leave a more just world for our children.

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100 Year Old Lessons

Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial, Memorial Park, Pasadena

Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial, Memorial Park, Pasadena

Today I honor all Armenians lives taken and victimized by the genocide a century ago. I pray that we learn from history and teach our children by example that all lives matter.

A century ago Turks began a campaign against the local Armenian population. After 100 years of grieving, victims still wait for an adequate government response or even some acceptance of responsibility. For a century the official response has been more denial than remorse. Sadly this story is not unique. Those behind genocide almost always deny wrongdoing and respond with arguments and justification instead of justice. Our own American history is one such example. This nation was founded on the displacement and murder of the indigenous population and then the oppression of a African population. We have failed as a nation to adequately address the atrocities to this day. How does this pattern keep recurring throughout history? The one common thread in all such stories is that ugly thread of racism and superiority. Whether based on ethnicity, faith or gender the stories always paint one group as inferior by spreading lies and ignorance about them. In our own example the “inferior” is dehumanized to the point that peace officers entrusted with their safety continue killing them and justifying their murders. This racist oppression happens in Baltimore and Charleston and Ferguson and NYC. This happened in Bosnia and it happens in Gaza. It happened to Jews more to Armenians. We have so many sad lessons that stand as testaments to humanity’s inability to learn and improve from our mistakes.

On this centennial anniversary we must honor the lives lost by working to eradicate the discrimination and hate that make genocide possible. We have opportunities accross this country to fight discrimination. There are still neighborhoods in America where the state invests heavily in incarceration and where the path to prison is much wider and more accessible than the narrow path to college. There are still communities that are routinely victimized by local law enforcement. Today not all American lives matter. They do on paper but not in truth. At some point we have to be the change.

To stop this each of us must play a role. We have to teach our children, parents and neighbors the lessons of history whenever we see hate rear its ugly head. My local effort to combat hate is to engage my own local community and dispel ignorance around Islam and Muslims. I engage local communities and government to make sure I provide them a point of reference to counter the anti-Muslim narrative. I’ve taken an active role with our Mayor’s Annual Prayer Breakfast benefit for a local Pasadena food bank & women’s shelter. My wife will deliver the Muslim prayer at the event in solidarity with other local faith leaders. (Prayer Breakfast Tickets & info). I know that these personal interactions are the most effective way to combat ignorance and prevent stereotypes from filling a void. I work to fill the Arab/Muslim/Egyptian/North African-American knowledge void by speaking my mind as honestly as I can and by proudly representing myself. I also advocate for minorities in my own community around issues of police misconduct, violence and injustice in the courts.

These are just one side of the solution, we also need responsible media and government to prevent the spread of lies and propaganda. A wealthy propaganda machine and ignorant leadership can easily overpower minority voices as we’ve seen in Germany and Turkey before. We must always check that propaganda at the door and resist the temptation of lazy stereotypes. This tired pattern of violence against minorities is like series of wounds that leave deep, thick scars on the face of humanity making it nearly unrecognizable. This cycle can only stop when we teach all children and neighbors by example that all lives matter equally. This effort to combat ignorance is how we honor all of our victims until there are no more.