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Flickr image by Tim Evanson

“LGBTQ people are vital members of every faith and system of life”

Guest column by Adrian Adams Pauw

At 3:30 yesterday morning, I had just finished Fajr, the dawn prayer. I opened my phone reflexively to check social media and a world of grief poured in. Dozens dead at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, hundreds terrorized. Immediately, I was taken by a visceral anger. My hands began to shake, fire bursting to life under my skin. I’m heartbroken and furiously weeping for a community so dear to me. I don’t want to write. I will admit that in this political climate, I have been too scared to write. I’m still scared, but silence is not an option any longer.

Homophobia and transphobia are normalized in our culture, and constitute some of the most despicable of American “values.” These values thrive in our soup of toxic masculinity and fragile patriarchy. There are too many examples of the bigotry LGBTQ people are forced to endure from their fellow Americans. This week, there were hate preachers in front of Lewis and Clark High School (my alma mater), spewing their vileness at LGBTQ students in the name of Christianity. Violence against people who are visibly trans or gender non-conforming is rising, with bigots from all faiths and walks of life empowered by hateful political rhetoric. I wear an #IllGoWithYou button every day for a reason.

If you are a person who holds bias against LGBTQ people, and if you also happen to be a person of faith, you’re probably already using your religion to justify your contempt. This includes those “hate the sin” folks who try in vain to distance themselves from the vile bigotry they continue to drag into their own faith.

The shooter was Muslim. I won’t say he wasn’t, because the practice of takfir (excommunication) is also a source of violence, especially for LGBTQ Muslims. Takfir is what Daesh terrorists do: declare Muslims they don’t like to be non-Muslim, so they can justify dehumanizing and murdering them. If this murderer believed himself to be Muslim, so be it. But he was not my brother. My brothers, sisters, and siblings are the ones who were gunned down last night. The ones who now fight for their lives. The ones who must helplessly watch their friends and loved ones suffer. The ones in mourning. I am mourning with you.

I don’t see this terrorist’s brand of Islam in the Qur’an. Neither does the leadership at the mosque he prayed at since childhood. In the Qur’an, I only see words that condemn his violence and hate and bigotry. I only see words that should have stopped him, that should have chilled him to the bone:

“Do not let your hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And observe your duty to God. Indeed, God is acquainted with what you do.” (5:8)

“…if anyone killed one person…it is as if he killed all of humanity. And if anyone saved one person, it would be as if he saved all of humanity.” (5:32)

We are not separate communities. LGBTQ people are vital members of every faith and system of life. Though often marginalized, ridiculed, and subjected to violence, LGBTQ Muslims are not Muslim in spite of their gender or sexuality. Many voices have articulated robust anti-patriarchal interpretations of the Qur’an, and current LGBTQ Islamic scholarship is flourishing. There are many scholars, spiritual leaders, and activists producing integral work and revealing expressions of Islam unhindered by misogyny and homophobia, including Dr. Amina Wadud, Dr. Asma Barlas, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, Dr. Samar Habib, Afdhere Jama, Dr. Omid Safi, Dr. Stephen O. Murray, Dr. Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, Imam Daaiyee Abdullah, Mahdia Lynn, and Shaykha Reima Yosif (to name only a few). Groups like the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the Safra Project, Muslims for Progressive Values, Al-Rawiya Foundation, MECCA Institute, and the Transgender Muslim Support Network organize for equality and advocate for justice. There are many ways to contribute to dismantling homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny in interpretations of Islam. These intersecting identities need not be in conflict.

I write this at the end of the seventh day of Ramadan, the generous lunar month when Muslims extend ourselves in doing good works and devoting ourselves more completely to God, the Most Gracious and Most Compassionate. All of this begins with conscientious intention; a recommitment to God at every sunrise. Many fast from food and drink, but it’s the fast of the heart that is most important. We refrain from harsh words, give each other more grace, and abstain from anger. But I am keeping company with my anger today. I pray that God will help me maintain my intention and transform my anger into words of benefit. Oh God, don’t let me cling to my despair, and give up my agency to it. Oh God, remove the barriers in all our hearts that keep us from loving one another as we love ourselves. Allow us a glimpse of your Whole love, and let us come awake to our universal siblinghood with each dawn. Oh God, let us listen to others with soft hearts, and amplify the voices of those who are oppressed. Now is the time to uplift LGBTQ voices. Now is the time to protect our LGBTQ siblings, and to stand as a shield between them and embodied hate. Muslims, now is the time to live up to this verse:

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not personal inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then indeed God is ever acquainted with what you do.” (4:135)

About Adrian Adams Pauw

Adrian Adams Pauw is a Muslim who grew up in Spokane and who is passionate about social justice. Before becoming disabled due to chronic illness, she worked as an academic librarian and professor, specializing in electronic resources and public services. Now, she dedicates her energy to raising anti-racist, feminist, environmentally-conscientious children. She serves on the Spokane NAACP Education Committee, and is an unabashed Spokane Interfaith Council groupie.

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20 comments

  1. Adrian, thank you for writing this and for sharing resources at the end for those who may be looking for somewhere to turn

    • Thank you, Tracy! Peace and blessings to you and yours 🙂

      • Dri, This is an excellent article, written from the heart with as Tracy wrote, many excellent resources which I will now be reading. Thank you so much! We need to know so much more about the voices you mentioned. One of the most important things we can all do is read and discuss and spread the word. Thank you for building peace in our community. Thank you for shining your light. <3

  2. I welcome the article to the public response to such a tragedy, just wish it didn’t feel like an off hand polemic against Christianity in its opening response. We need not malign in our mourning.

    I find this angle creates less bridge building and more barriers in the effort to focus on the fight instead of the faith.

    I hope people will reach out to their Muslim friends, listen, talk and resist the public and private demonization, political rhetoric and antagonizing apologetics that’s hurtful instead of helpful.

    My first personal response was to write out my pain in prayer:

    Peace Prayer:

    Father,
    We bow our hearts in prayer for those:
    who have been murdered in Florida,
    who have lost loved ones,
    who rescued, fought and saved others,
    and those who are caring for the critically injured,
    and the killer and his family.

    Jesus,
    We pray for peace…
    in our hearts,
    in our homes,
    in our churches,
    in our schools
    in our communities,
    in our nation.

    Holy Spirit,
    Bring your comfort and counsel:
    to a nation divided,
    to an ugly and divisive political season,
    to a people struggling with who we are,
    what we believe and how we will treat others.

    Forgive us for our hate and fear…instead of love,
    Forgive us for trusting in power and people…instead of God,
    Forgive us for building walls…instead of bridges,
    Forgive us for seeking pleasure, prosperity and protection…instead of your Will and Ways.

    May your Kingdom Come and Your will be done,
    in Jesus name we pray,
    Amen

    My next response will be having lunch with my Afghani, Muslim friend in the spirit of solidarity.

    • I don’t see it, Eric. Adrian clarified, “from all faiths and walks of life” and words DO cause harm. You ask for respect in discourse, yet you feel you must respond in writing to the rare offerings of a Muslim voice with Christian Prayer? I would say we all have much yet to learn at this table.

      • Everyone’s free to share their opinions, I did so respectively and honestly.

        • And, I would say that’s exactly why these conversations do not grow. Obviously, we each have different definitions of what it means to be “respectful” in such territory. Eric, I’m NOT attacking you. NONE of us are masters in growing such exceptionally RARE, yet more and more VITAL dialogue. After generations of being raised NOT to discuss sensitive topics in public circles, am I not correct to say we’re ALL newbies here? I am simply imagining what effort it might take for a GUEST MUSLIM writer to muster the courage to speak out in these painful circumstances compared to how relatively easy it is for seasoned, staff CHRISTIAN writer to respond. From where I sit, your words seem DEFENSIVE of the Christian Faith. As a Christian, myself, I read your response as one coming more from fear than solid faith. Again, this is not criticism. There IS much happening these days through which we can easily feel and react from fear. We’re human. I simply ask for reconsideration. Thanks, Eric. You are still my hero.

          • That’s fair, I hear you and I edited my comments in light of the very issues you bring up before I published my thoughts.

            I do fear and I’m not ashamed to admit that. ISIS praised and claimed this ‘Lone wolf’ as part of their ‘American caliphate’ presence.

            We are at war that’s a fearful reality that extends beyond the debate of guns, refugees, religion and sexuality.

            I’d be afraid of all hyper fundamentalists if I was Gay or a Muslim this is a world with the fuse lit in extremism: political, religious, economic, etc etc ect.

            One can be afraid of terrorists and not terrorize others.

          • So Eric, if you are open to requests, you are both a pastor and writer on this site (I am neither), would you consider writing a column about how Christianity, and most specifically, our Way Shower, Jesus Christ, teaches us to handle our fears? I would do my best to continue these ideas in dialogue under any such offering. More than anything else today I believe this is the guidance we are all most searching for in our daily lives. THX.

    • Peace and blessings, Eric, and thank you for sharing your beautiful prayer. I was careful in my choice of words. I did not say the hate preachers in front of LC were preaching Christianity, because they were not. They were preaching hate in the name of Jesus, and in doing so, were conflating their personal hate with Christ’s love. This offends me as surely as if they were Muslims preaching LGBTQ hate in Jesus’ name. Any “polemic” was specifically against those hate preachers and all who hijack Christianity and other faiths to serve their own bigotry. Those who speak violence and hate in place of love and compassion only sully the mercy that thrives in our religious traditions.

    • Eric, I know how tempting it can be to claim the mantel of victimhood, of persecution. It exempts one from self-criticism and insulates one from the moral consequences of one’s actions. So it does not surprise me that you spun the passing mention of a small handful who deliberately pervert Christianity out of ~950 words to cast the whole document as a “polemic against Christianity.”

      But let’s check the facts here. Christianity isn’t the victim. Hell, self-important bigots who wrap their hatred in the language of Christendom aren’t even the victims here, though they damn well ought to be. 49 people are dead. Another 53 are severely injured. And countless more nearly shared that fate in L.A., but for an anonymous report to the police. And here in Spokane, where thousands gathered Saturday to celebrate the gains we’ve made, hundreds more gathered Sunday to mourn the fact that those gains are constantly under attack, most often and most viciously by those who exploit the silence of God to claim divine sanction for human evil. They are the victims. WE are the victims.

      So please, stop trying to co-opt this horrific tragedy for your personal ends. Please stop trying to subvert every evil in the world to support your wholly unfounded narrative of Christian “persecution.” Please stop trying to make this and everything else about how bad you have it as a representative of the dominant religion, the dominant race, the dominant sexuality, the dominant gender. Take a lesson from Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar–dwell with us in our mourning. Stop trying to make it about you.

  3. THANK YOU, Adrian. Great respect.

  4. Kyle A. Franklin

    I am thankful for the eloquence of your words and the beauty of your heart for various and over-lapping communities. Thank you, Adrian.

  5. Thank you for sharing your Adrian! Your column is so well written and thoughtful. We need more American Muslim voices, especially when it comes to modern social justice/human rights issues.

    • Thank you, Admir! I agree, this conversation needs more voices. And thank you for your work. My path to writing this article was made easier because of your presence in this amazing writing community. I hope more local Muslims will follow your good example and speak up.

  6. We’d like to remind everyone that emotions are running high right now, and we understand that, but please assume the best in one another, be respectful of each other and treat others as you would like to be treated when commenting OK?

  7. Nice! Adrian you succeeded in creating a very balanced, sincere and informative message. Thank you. Many times that is one of the most difficult things for all of us to do. (the whole imperfect thing) You seemed to have had no problem though 🙂 When our messages begin from a place of unity and understanding inside our hearts and minds, then we nurture and encourage unity in our messages. Plus, we create beautiful articles.

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