In Solidarity & Gratitude

(Photo by Misty Lahti)



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.

Welcoming the Women’s Mosque of America

Women's Mosque of America(Photo by Alexa Pilato)

It’s a big day for the American Muslim community. Today marks the inaugural gathering of the Women’s Mosque of America in the Pico Union district of Los Angeles. This noble effort is organized by and for women with the specific goal of “empowering women and girls through more direct access to Islamic scholarship and leadership opportunities.” I for one support this because I value faith and women’s empowerment. The prophetic tradition includes examples of women leading each other in prayer but sadly the haters (men and women) will still hate. Some haters are threatened by strong, independent, empowered women so my response is to speak out and support this work and invest in its success.

I will admit that I was annoyed when first told I could not attend the service. I was particularly annoyed because my wife has the distinct honor of delivering the first sermon. I considered wearing a scarf and covering my face to sneak in, not a good look. I felt excluded because of my gender, I was being denied access for being a man! I couldn’t believe my XY chromosomes were holding me back, then it hit me. It was my first bitter taste of gender segregation. I experienced that cold, unpleasent dish served to so many women for so long at our mosques. Today that reality will finally change because of a group of pioneering women who chose to define their own spiritual experience and shape their own identity. Novel idea.

For decades women were treated like luggage-class travelers at the mosque. Many women felt slighted and discriminated against because prayer spaces often double as storage areas and supply closets. Women are often detached from the “community” experience when they watch sermons in another room via closed circuit TV. It should be no surprise why most Muslim women rarely attend Friday service. I understand it is not a religious obligation for females to attend but they do have the choice and they consistently choose not to attend. Until we address the gender issues in our prayer spaces then a Women’s Mosque is the most pragmatic alternative to disengagement from religious community experience. Our community is not complete without our mothers, sisters and daughters. The Women’s Mosque is about developing and nurturing that female segment instead of continuing to ignore it.

To be fair, the need for women’s empowerment is not limited to American Muslims; it’s just our time to address it. A wise man taught me that we are the architects of our destiny and only we can define our identity. Some identify their faith through violence, we can choose to identify ours by gender equality and the prophetic values of love and compassion. We can talk about identity but action speaks louder and its time to act. Its time to support this effort and to advance a better narrative. In the free marketplace of ideas it’s time that Muslim women have a place to gather, share and discuss faith, untainted by the male ego. Imagine that.

The organizers of this project decided on having one service per month to complement, not compete with other mosques. A noble gesture but I know that a supplement can quickly become a substitute if our mosques don’t learn to embrace our strong, intelligent, pioneering sisters before they leave. Once they leave the mosque ceases to represent the community and becomes irrelevant. We have a dual responsibility to support this Women’s Mosque while ensuring that our sisters have a voice in traditional mosques. For those who object to the Women’s Mosque claiming it “divides” our community, remember we have been divided for as long as women have been marginalized. This blessing is just the logical outcome of a history of oppressive behavior; it’s our silver lining and we should nurture it, and I will to my part.

The Women’s Mosque makes me proud to be an American Muslim. I hope my little girl will visit often and be inspired by her sisters. To all those who contributed to this achievement know that I support you and I pray that your efforts are divinely guided to every success and driven by the purest intentions.