In 2004, shortly after I had submitted an amicus brief in support of the Canadian civil marriage law in response to the Canadian ICNA and ISNA organizations’ support for an anti-gay marriage law, if my memory serves me correctly, a gay man had been attacked and killed around the same time. I had a conversation with Metropolitan Community Churches’ Elder Troy Perry, and one of the subjects we discussed was my capacity as an inclusive Imam.
Elder Perry told me how he started MCC in his Los Angeles living room in 1968. He further explained that during the buildup of MCC, from small study groups holding religious services in their homes and to eventually opening MCCs across the United States, from time to time a person attending one of these groups would get killed. Elder Perry said to me that people have to continue to push forward until they obtain their goals.
That conversation has stuck with me ever since. What he said has helped me put such violent acts of murder against LGBTQI people into perspective – not only an aversion to the individual or individuals that suffer to the violence – but also in terms of continuing towards the greater goals of human dignity, acceptance and respect.
Our community in the United States has come along way since the early days of MCC. We now have the legal right for protection, and have since gained momentous equalities such as the right to embark on same-sex marriage, something we didn’t have when I had that conversation with Elder Perry just twelve years ago. Though some are experiencing significant legal attacks on their freedoms in the South, people are sticking together and moving forward towards their goals. Justice will prevail.
When I came across the news of the brutal murder of our brother Xulhaz Mannan in Bangladesh, after a prayer for him and his family, I was immediately taken back to that conversation with Elder Perry. The bravery shown by the work of Xulhaz, a man who had access to Western support and could have migrated but who decided to work in his home country, is the kind of dedication that leads to change. The violence against us is a way to instill fear and is meant to stop our progress. Our lives matter. Every single one of us is important. Yet, we must always move forward, continuing our movement with the understanding that such violence might occur. The story of MCC is an important story for LGBTQI Muslims. It gives us the hope that in Muslim societies one day things will get better, too.
In all of the forty-five years of activism that I have had the privilege to be part of, and the trials and tribulations of LGBTQI rights leaders from Stonewall to today, what I continuously hold on to is the ever changing experience of the human story. We are still in process – the process of becoming more fully human with dignity, acceptance and respect – and we must remember that when good people do nothing the worst of atrocities can occur. Therefore we must stand up for ourselves, no matter who opposes us, no matter what weapon – be it their tongue or a deadly tool of bodily destruction – we cannot give in to fear or all of our souls are lost. We shall continue to honor the highest principles of our faith to seek justice, compassion and mercy for ourselves and others.
Daayiee Abdullah is the Executive Director of MECCA Institute and the author of the forthcoming book A Dialogue With the Muslim Youth. He lives in Washington, DC.