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Being Out and Being Muslim



Often, individuals who identify as non-heterosexual are found in the fringes of not only societies, but communities and families as well. They are often over-looked and cast aside as individuals that have a place only in the margins of society, safe in the outer-realms of our comfort zone. When homosexuality enters the sphere of religion they are told that their sexual orientation is a sin and will face serious consequences in the afterlife.

The branding of homosexuality as “evil” has kept many people living a double life: by day they are pious and by night they are pious and homosexual. One of the most challenging spheres for sexual freedom is in Islam.

Enter imam Daayie Abdullah. Imam Abdullah is the only openly gay imam — a Muslim community leader — in North America.

Raised a Southern Baptist, Abdullah was introduced to Islam through his contact with the Uighur population, a portion of Chinese society that has a longstanding Muslim tradition. A student of both Chinese and Arabic, Abdullah attended a prayer service one Friday evening and it made perfect sense to him: Islam was the path he was looking for. He professed his faith upon his return to America a few years later.

Imam Abdullah has spent over the last 10 years trying to bridge a gap between Islam and homosexuality. He has experienced trouble from both conservative Islamic groups and anti-gay groups. His interpretation of Quaranic verses has aided in bridging this gap.

“To be gay and Muslim, at times, people will say that it is an oxymoron. But in actuality, it’s a formulation that shows the diversity within Islam; that people can be a variety of backgrounds. The Quran says to look to the nature of the world. And from that, you can see the diversity and understand that Allah’s understanding of the world and the universe in which he created is full of diversity; but you find the oneness, the tauheed unification of all, through those various diverse aspects.”

Over time he began to embrace this diversity and elected himself as a leader that provides a voice for minority peoples within Islam. This has led Imam Abdullah to perform interfaith marriages — between a Muslim and non-Muslims — as well as interracial marriages. He has even performed the funeral rites for a closeted Muslim man who died of complications from HIV. The young man was unable to have a traditional Islamic funeral based on Sharia law because of his sexual orientation.

Imam Abdullah believes outspoken, openly-gay Muslims within the Muslim community are the only way to raise awareness of the gay minority within the faith.

“It’s not for them to agree with me, or for me to disagree with them. It’s for them to understand that we have a voice, the gay and lesbian community have a voice,” he says.

Imam Abdullah is a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leadership Roundtable, founder of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, and moderator for an openly gay internet message board. He resides with his partner in Washington, D.C.

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This article was first published on MuslimVoices. Rosemary Pennington Program Coordinator for Voices and Visions is a graduate student in the School of Journalism at Indiana University.

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