Id Al Fitr Khutbah: Towards Intersectional Social Justice: Confronting Homophobia in Our Communities by Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

IMG_8234In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace

 ‘Id al-Fitr Khutbah

Claremont Main Road Masjid

1st Shawwal 1437

ألله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر ولله الحمد

Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

 

All Praise, Thanks & Gratitude belongs to Allah Alone

 

Introduction

 

We have gathered at this `Id al-Fitr service to celebrate our spiritual achievements of the past month of Ramadan. To have experienced the great blessings of the fasting month of Ramadan is to have undergone a spiritual renewal. The spiritual discipline of the month of Ramadan prepares each Muslim to face the challenges of another year with greater determination to live and act in accordance with the guidance of Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice.

 

`Id al-Fitr is truly a day of great joy and celebration, but it is also a day of reflection and introspection.

 

Ramadan 2016 was once again an eventful one at the global level. The month was ushered in by the passing away of Muhammad Ali, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time and arguably the most celebrated sports star of the 20th century. He used his fame to promote and bear witness to a more peaceful and just vision of humanity and Islam.

 

Muhammad Ali’s janazah and Memorial Service, which took place on the 4th and 5th day of Ramadan, corresponding to the 9th and 10th of June 2016, was heralded as a great moment of hope and sanguinity. One local commentator on our masjid’s website has aptly described Muhammad Ali’s funeral as “one of the finest moments for Islam and Muslims in the twenty-first century.” It provided Muslims and indeed the world with much needed optimism and relief from the unrelenting bad news dominating the global media.

 

 

Orlando Massacre

 

Sadly, this inspirational moment was short-lived. Literally hours after Muhammad Ali was laid to rest another dark cloud gathered. In the early hours of Sunday morning 12th June 2016, corresponding to the beginning of the 7th fasting day of Ramadan, an American citizen of Afghan descent, Omar Mateen, went on a shooting rampage at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. This barbaric act resulted in 49 people killed and more than 50 maimed. Mateen reportedly claimed allegiance to the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS).

 

Some Muslims lamented the timing of this latest terror attack, which came so quickly on the heels of the global celebration of the life of Muhammad Ali. One of the most renowned Muslim `alims in America, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, epitomized this sentiment when he said:

 

“The spirit of love that embodied the city of Louisville for two days was overwhelming. Everyone was smiling and hugging. It felt like such a breakthrough for our community … and then, Orlando. We went from the incredible pathos of joy to the pathos of despair. It’s one step forward, two steps back.”

 

Most Muslims, however, did not allow the Orlando tragedy to defile the compassion and serenity that are the hallmarks of the blessed month of Ramadan. They persevered with increased acts of worship, supplication, compassion and generosity. Now, at the conclusion of the blessed month of Ramadan, when we celebrate our modest spiritual achievements it is a good time to re-visit the Orlando tragedy and to distill the critical challenges that this calamity raises for us as a community.

 

In a statement released in response to the Orlando tragedy this past Ramadan, the Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) placed the Orlando tragedy in what I believe is its proper perspective. The CMRM statement argued that the allegation that Omar Mateen had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) served as a distraction from accounts that the gunman had previously shown signs of mental instability and violent intolerance of homosexual people. There are reports that he was himself struggling with his sexuality

 

The evidence suggests that over the years, Mateen’s inner conflict and struggle with his sexual identity seemed to explode again and again — not only towards classmates at school, but also toward co-workers, his first wife and finally toward the 49 strangers he left massacred on the bloody floor of the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.

 

After a careful reading of the deeply troubled life of Mateen, it is indisputable that he was struggling with his own sexual identity. The tragedy of Orlando thus bears all the hallmarks of a hate crime against the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer) community of Florida. But the shooter publicly identified with ISIS as a redemptive cover for his hate crime.

 

 

 

 

Confronting Homophobia

 

Muslims around the world rightly mobilised to disown this mass murderer and distanced Islam from such acts of malicious cruelty. The collective condemnation of this mass murderer is correct and timely but it also presents a challenge for us at this moment to confront homophobia, the irrational hatred, fear and discrimination of LGBTIQ people within our own Muslim communities. Homophobia is not exclusive to any religious or ethnic group. There are homophobic Jews, homophobic Christians, homophobic Hindus, homophobic Muslims, homophobic atheists, homophobic whites and homophobic blacks. So, this is not a Muslim problem, but it would be disingenuous to claim it is not also a Muslim problem.

 

If we are true in our commitment to compassionate justice, then we must recognize that homophobia, like Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism and sectarianism are all systems of oppression based on unjust prejudice and discrimination. Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice proclaims in the Glorious Qur’an in surah al-Nisa’, chapter 4 verse 135:

 

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ

وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ

إِنْ يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَى بِهِمَا

فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَى أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا

وَإِنْ تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا

 

Believers! Be upholders of justice, bearing witness for Allah alone, even if it means testifying against your own selves, or your parents and relatives. Whether it is against the rich or the poor, Allah is nearer to all of them in compassion. Do not follow your own desires lest you distort or decline to do justice. If you twist or turn away, Allah is all-aware of what you do (Q4:135)

 

Furthermore, Islam teaches us that all of our fellow human beings, irrespective of religious, racial, gender, ethnic or sexual differences have an inherent and immeasurable worth and dignity. Here we are guided again by the Glorious Qur’an, in surah al-Isra’, chapter 17 verse 70, in which Allah the Sublime proclaims:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آَدَمَ

 

We have honored (all) the children of Adam

with innate dignity (Q17:70)

 

Based on this Qur’anic verse and core Islamic principle, it is crystal clear that each human life is considered sacred. Our radical equality before God prohibits us from thinking of another human being as lesser merely because they are “different”. Moreover, from this Qur’anic perspective, protecting the dignity of all people should be the primary objective of human rights and social justice advocacy, as well as our efforts to challenge homophobia in our communities, spaces and institutions. The human dignity of someone is violated every time the person is subjected to any form of discrimination, prejudice, exclusion, violence, oppression or injustice. Therefore, such malevolent acts contravene a core principle of Islamic Ethics.

 

If we are truly committed to fighting against all systems of oppression and to striving for justice for all communities who are the victims of violence and persecution in this country and globally, then we have no choice. We are compelled to confront our own complicity in remaining silent about pervasive homophobia in our communities. We cannot fight injustice selectively, standing with some groups, and not with others. We have to embrace what is now called an intersectional struggle for social justice – a struggle that encompasses all forms of oppression. The lens of intersectionality demands that we recognise that all forms of oppression and injustice are inter-connected. It also, more importantly, allows us to see justice as a holistic concept that needs to be applied to all oppressed and persecuted peoples.

 

In light of our ethical commitment to compassionate justice I would like to raise some important yet uncomfortable questions that have emerged in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy. The questions I raise need to be confronted if we as a community are to be true to our commitment to compassionate justice.

 

Asking Uncomfortable Questions

 

If we are truly concerned about the occurrence of such hate crimes and genuine in our struggle for compassionate justice for all persecuted people, then we need to confront the following uncomfortable, yet critical questions:

 

  • Is Omar Mateen’s apparent inner struggle with his sexual identity an isolated phenomenon among Muslims?
  • What happens to other individuals who struggle to reconcile their sexual identities together with their commitment to Islam?
  • How do families cope with loved ones who struggle with their sexual identities?
  • How can we nurture more just and compassionate communities who can support struggling individuals to live with their sexual orientation with integrity, dignity and justice?
  • Last but not least, how can our communities and institutions create safe spaces, free from homophobia?

 

These and many more questions are the proverbial elephant in the room. And I would add the uncomfortable questions in the masjid and in our other Islamic spaces about which we remain silent. Tough conversations about sexuality and difference do not often happen in our communities, but I would argue, we ignore these uncomfortable questions at our own peril.

 

Where Do We Start?

 

I do not have easy or ready-made answers to any of these questions. But, there are some realities that are indisputable, no matter how hard we try to ignore them. First, there are Muslims in our communities who are struggling on their own or in small support groups to reconcile their sexual orientations with their faith in Islam. They remain on the margins of our communities. Like all of us, these individuals sincerely believe that their sexual orientations are innate. They believe it is part of their God given nature, their fitra. They believe that Allah, the Lord of Justice, has created diversity among human beings as a sign of Allah’s Majesty to enable us to get to know each other in all our diversity. This is most beautifully enunciated in the Glorious Qur`an in surah al-Hujurat, chapter 49 verse 13:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَى

وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا

إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

 

O Humankind! We have created you of a male and a female, and fashioned you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other (recognize each other); surely, the most honourable of you with God is the best in conduct.

Lo! God is the All-Knower, Aware of all things (Q49:13)

 

Second, many of these individuals have been ostracized by their families and have been forced to leave their homes.  Some have been so persecuted and traumatised that they have been driven to substance abuse or even to committing suicide. Others have been so conflicted that they often reluctantly abandoned Islam for the lack of safe spaces.

 

Thirdly, we as a faith community have often displayed prejudice and hostility towards individuals who do not mirror our personal beliefs and views of gender roles and sexual norms and in doing so, we completely ignore their humanity. When we have not judged or condemned, then we have simply tolerated. But have we affirmed and acknowledged their full humanity and dignity? We have to ask ourselves to what extent have our actions made us complicit in the marginalization, persecution, discrimination, violence and suffering of people in our communities with different sexual orientations.

 

For example, more than a decade ago CMRM was confronted by this challenge when one of its madrasa teachers publicly declared he was gay. We were ill equiped to deal with the outcry that came from the community and the pressure on CMRM to dismiss this teacher – for no reason other than his sexual orientation. The teacher graciously opted to leave in order to spare CMRM from being targeted by irate parents and community members. We recognise that an injustice was done unto him when he left under those circumstances. A key lesson that we learnt from that experience, brings me to where I think we have to start in our endeavour to combat homophobia in our communities.

 

The starting point has to be for us to re-affirm the humanity of all people, no matter our own personal beliefs and views about sexual identities and orientations. We have to restore the human dignity of all people who are subjected to unjust prejudice, discrimination and violence based on their sexual orientation.

 

As a faith community we have to strive to build communities and spaces where there is no place for hatred, victimization, discrimination or brutalization of people simply because they are ‘different’ either in sexual orientation, or skin colour, or ethnicity or gender or religion.

At the same time, while we are building these inclusive and ethical spaces, we need to examine the root causes of homophobia in our communities.

 

Critical Feedback

 

A number of controversial issues and difficult questions have been raised in this khutbah. As part of our ongoing self-education and efforts to fully engage our members in the affairs of the masjid, we would like to invite you to share your critical and constructive feedback with regard to the issues raised in this `Id khutbah at a special meeting on Friday evening 8 July 2016 at CMRM immediately after the `Isha’ salah. I urge you to join us at CMRM in the next few months as we host a series of workshops that will focus on advancing our understanding and praxis of intersectional justice.

 

Conclusion

 

I would like to conclude by reiterating the concluding part of our CMRM statement in response to the Orlando killings:

 

“Our unequivocal commitment to positive peace and compassionate justice behoves us to defend the rights of all human beings, regardless of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation, to live life in peace and with dignity. While racism unjustly discriminates against people on the basis of their skin colour, homophobia unjustly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. In exactly the same way that racism and violent extremism has no place in Islam, so too does homophobia.”

 

Let us take forward the great levels of perseverance, tranquillity, devotion, self-discipline and inner rejuvenation fostered during the month of Ramadan and let us try to sustain these beautiful characteristics throughout the coming year.

 

On this celebratory day of `Id al-Fitr we pray that Allah, the Lord of Compassion, guides us through this time of despair, creates in us hearts of courage, and graces us with the ability to stand against the violence of our day.

 

We pray that Allah, the Lord of Compassion, pardons and forgives Muhammad Ali, has mercy on his soul and grants him salvation in the Hereafter.

 

We pray for all persecuted communities and ask Allah to create openings for their relief, safety and comfort.

 

We pray that Allah, the Lord of Infinite Mercy, opens our hearts and helps us to heal our homes, our neighbourhoods and our communities from the irrational hatred of others based on difference.

 

May Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, remove from our hearts all forms of self-righteousness and fear, and instead empower us to reach out to all people with love, care and justice.

 

On this great day of ‘Id, which is also a day for celebrating the family, we need to heal those relationships which have been impaired.

 

In his hadith collection Imam Bukhari reports on the authority of the companion ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr al-ʿAs (may Allah be pleased with him) that the messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

 (( ليس الواصل بالمكافئ،

 ولكن الواصل الذي إذا قَطَعَتْ رَحِمُه وَصَلَهَا ))

 

One who recompenses the good done to him by someone (relative) is not the one who upholds the ties of relationship. It is the one who keeps good relations with those relatives who cut asunder the bond of kinship with him. (Sahih al-Bukhari)

 

In response to the above advice of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) let us on this day of joyous celebration open our hearts and in a spirit of magnanimity embrace those of our close or even distant relatives with whom we have severed very important bonds of kinship (silat al rahim).

 

`Id-al-Fitr is also a day on which we remember our family and friends who are no longer with us and have passed on to the hereafter. Many of us here at CMRM have lost loved ones over the past year. Today they are no longer with us physically but their memories live with us forever.

 

We can remember our deceased loved ones by visiting their graves and saying a prayer/du`a on their departed souls.

اَللّٰهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَرْحَمْهُمْ وَسَكِّنْهُمْ فَي الْجَنَّةِ

 

O Allah Pardon and Forgive them,

have Mercy on their Souls,

and Grant them the Abode of Paradise.

 

We can honour the memory of the deceased by visiting and paying respects to some of their closest relatives and dearest friends.

 

Let us also at this time, spare a thought for those who are suffering the consequences of war and grave injustices across the world in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Palestine, and elsewhere in the world, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim.

 

May you all have a festive ‘Id and may you live well and in the Grace and Mercy of the Lord of Compassionate Justice.

ألله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر ولله الحمد

Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

 

All Praise, Thanks & Gratitude belongs to Allah Alone

On behalf of the Board of Governors we wish you and your family a blessed and joyous ‘Id al-Fitr.

 ‘Id Sa’id Wa Mubarak’

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of a number of CMRM congregants who provided constructive feedback on earlier drafts of this khutbah.

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