The American homosexual imam Daayiee Abdullah recently appeared in Turkish media. Nefise Özkal Lorentzen had already introduced him and other Muslim gays in her film “Gender Me”, in 2008.
Daayiee Abdullah says that; there is nothing said in Islam that homosexuality should be punished. Daayiee Abdullah is the founder of the MECCA Institute, where he works on an inclusive and contemporary interpretation of Islam.
Things that were once veiled are being unveiled gradually. In Medieval ages, left handed people had been condemned as witches or devils. Now they are considered smart.
Maybe it is the consequence of globalization or because the collective fear is disappeared, but today the World is changing faster than before. In the previous century, black people were treated as slaves, now one of them rules a World leading country. Until a short time ago “homosexuality” was a taboo, today there are governors and religious people who openly announced their homosexuality. Actually, the case is not that homosexuality grows. It is only that they speak up, like other once excluded people.
Who is Daayiee Abdullah?
As son of an Afro-American family in Detroit, he was born in 1954 as Sidney Thompson. His parents, who were attached to the Southern Baptist Convention, fought for human rights for black people and Abdullah himself has been activist in the LGBT society since his early age. He discovered his homosexuality at the age of 5 and told this to his family at age 16. The family accepted him as he was.
He was inspired by Chinese Muslim friends at the university in Beijing and converted to Islam at age 30. He then traveled to Egypt, Syria and Jordan to learn Islam and Arabic. Abdullah finished his university education as juris doctor in Washington, D.C. in 1995. He attended later the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences in Virginia , however, was kicked out when the school discovered he was gay. Beginning of 2000, he became popular in LGBT communities by the speeches he gave at debates and then he started to offer consultations to LGBT people by meeting in person or via internet.
One of the reasons he begun to be called Imam, was because he performed funeral rites for a gay Muslim, who died of AIDS. Other imams had denied to perform funeral with the reason that they were homosexual. Abdullah also started to wed same-sex couples and couples of different beliefs, which are also not welcomed in Islam. He is currently the imam and the educational director of Washington’s Light of Reform Mosque, which he established to serve the LGBT congregants, to make them keep their beliefs and practice their religion.
Although he is criticized by many Muslim authorities, he is proud of being the first and only publicly open gay Muslim leader in the USA. In his mosque, men and women kneel and worship together, and the women are allowed to lead the prayers. Daayiee Abdullah publishes his opinions about Islam in his blog “Daayiee’s place of inner peace”.
“I want people to stop focusing on culture and start thinking about the standards of what it means to be a good person. Don’t judge people by their color, gender or orientation. Look at what qualities the person exhibits, when they interact with you and with others.” – Daayiee Abdullah
When a young person, who grew up in a religious environment, discovers that his/her sexuality is different then accepted, he/she gets scared and then hates him/herself. Those people are often forced by their family and society to quit one of their identities, although they consider both as their nature. This psychological journey can even bring them to commit suicide.
In many Islamic countries, homosexuality is punished by dead penalty. In Turkey, where openly homosexual singers, like Bülent Ersoy and Zeki Müren, became idols, the relation of the society to homosexuality is rather schizophrenic. In Turkey, nearly 70 homosexuals, many of them being sex workers, were killed as result of hatred since 2002.
Why do religious institutes only serve people restrictively, although they are financed by common taxes in Turkey? Why are homosexuals not allowed to pray in the mosques with straight people, although they have equal rights? How come a member of a tolerant religion can call homosexuals with ugly words and attempt to kill them? Is tolerance supposed to be applied just to the people who are alike?
Religion or belief is a human need and was not supposed to be a tool to exert dominance on others or to make money. It seems like the reason for a bad reputation of Islam and Islamphobia is that; Islam is being used for those purposes and this is taken for granted by the majority of believers. Qur’an is being interpreted and practiced in many different ways, but Daayiee Abdullah’s way is rather unusual. He claims that Qur’an clearly says that; nobody can tell the other how to behave or what to do.
In Islam, being gay, namely to exhibit feminine behaviors, is condemned more than being lesbian. That can be understood as a reaction towards degrading masculinity, by resembling the secondary gender, femininity. Abdullah thinks that Muslim men use Islam to dominate women and homosexuals and he, as a gay Muslim man, states that he does not ask for tolerance, but acceptance. According to him, Qur’an permits same-sex marriage and a healthy sexual relationship. He also says that; historians have never found any case of the Prophet Muhammad dealing with homosexuality.
“Remain Muslim! You do not have to decide between your religion or sexuality. God created us different. I defy that God punishes the same-sex people who love each other.” – Daayiee Abdullah
Daayiee Abdullah is the founder of the online school MECCA Institute (Muslim Educational Center for Creative Academics), where they will start to teach in September 2015 on contemporary Islamic research for those seeking more expansive and inclusive interpretations of Islamic texts. Teachers of this education center, who believe in the diversity of Muslim voices to interpret their faith, will focus on educating laypersons, Muslim and non-Muslim, about the basics of Islam.
Believing that dialogs in Islamic teachings and its spiritual insight will create harmonic and balanced societies, MECCA Institute is offering the courses under the titles: Early Islamic History, Qur’anic Studies from a Philosophical Perspective, Chronological/Comparative Qur’an, Islamic Mysticism, Human Quran’ic Ethics, Recitation of Qur’an, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Arabic Reading and Arabic Calligraphy.
The Islam Trilogy of Nefise Özkal Lorentzen
“What makes us human is our capability to sympathize. This is your life, your body and your right to love the one you pick. This is the part of the diversity of the Genesis.” – Nefise Özkal Lorentzen
As a child, Nefise Özkal admired Islam, which her grandma introduced her as “a religion of love, justice and unity”, but she later was disappointed by Muslims she met. She realized that; no matter men, women or homosexual, the Muslims are unhappy. After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, she decided to make films to get her Islam back from the fundamentalists.
In her first film about Islam, Gender Me (2008) she introduced us Daayiee Abdullah and other gay men, who wanted to live both Islam and homosexuality. In the second episode, “A Baloon for Allah” (2011), she narrated why women in Islam are unhappy. The last episode, Manislam (2014), is about the Muslim men who suffer in Islam.
Nefise Özkal Lorentzen believes in the necessity of a renewed Islamic perception and makes her films in order to make people question their life and overcome their prejudges. She is currently working on developing a “Gender Activism” course with her Islam Trilogy.
Somebody should speak up loudly
“People who interpret Qur’an should know the society. Adultery is forbidden in Islam, but there is nothing said that the couples should be the opposite sex. Qur’an should bring happiness in every time. The World is changing and Islam should also keep up.” Daayiee Abdullah
Islam and homosexuality are topics everybody wants to say something about. However, hardly anybody is knowledgeable in both. The best way to address the problems that occur between these would be to let the ones speak up, who know and live both Islam and homosexuality.