It has been reported that the Jewish Defense League has organized a "death march" at Toronto Pride this weekend. They intend to carry fake severed heads, caskets, drums and anti-Islamic signs. They are not official participants.
Meanwhile, at the Toronto Pride parade (and at others this summer in several North American cities), queer Muslims hope to march -- as they do every year -- holding up signs like "Allah Loves Us All - Queer and Straight," as shown here.
For members of our queer Muslim community and Muslim allies, marching at Pride comes with a risk. Sometimes it consists of possible estrangement from family, community or worse. Yet people march regardless, in solidarity with fellow Muslims everywhere who are unsafe coming out, in jail or dead.
This year -- on the holiest of Muslim holidays, Eid -- we are reminded that the risk comes not only from outside the queer community, but can also from within what is supposed to be a safe space by those planning the death march, intending to strike fear into the hearts of all Muslims.
Yes -- do save our queer Muslim community after you target all of us in your bigoted frenzy. After all, what do you risk carrying our fake severed heads?
Perhaps ask instead what it means to stand up for queer Muslims -- as a Muslim.
Because no death march can replace the work carried out by queer Muslims and their allies on the front lines to demand change in Muslim societies, putting themselves -- academics, imams, activists -- virtually all volunteers receiving little or no pay -- at risk. Supported by a community network, there exists an unknown revolution, battling for the soul of Islam, targeted by homophobic extremists.
What does it mean to be a queer Muslim in the Muslim world? It is dangerous.
It's only the tip of the iceberg, but let's start with the thankless labour of love to rejuvenate authentic LGBTQ-affirming interpretations of Islamic scriptures by queer Muslim academics, including professors Dr. Scott Siraj Al Haqq Kugle, Dr. Junaid Jahangir and Dr. Hussein Abdullatif whose body of work call for an end to homophobic interpretations of Islam, with alternative translations, using Islamic tools of ijtihad (critical analysis) and compassion to change minds and hearts and Dr. Samar Habib who reveals an Islamic history filled with sexual diversity.
Then there is the task of attaining the trust of a community, victimized for being both gay and Muslim, propelling openly queer imams to establish or manage LGBTQ-affirming spiritual organizations, creating safe prayer spaces for queer Muslims and their allies in numerous cities.
Will the death march help them? No. Islamophobia means it is harder to safely disclose the location of Muslim gatherings. Meaning it is harder to congregate when you are a target, gay or straight.
Meanwhile, queer Muslims and their Muslim allies have birthed NGOs that promote pro-LGBTQ advocacy and protest homophobic laws in Muslim societies. They openly condemn governments who criminalize homosexuality including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and others. They provide platforms of open discussion for important LGBTQ related issues in the west, such as sex-ed, same sex marriage and transgender rights. Western privilege also means highlighting the plight of fellow activists in Muslim states who are in jail.
Such groups include but are not limited to Salaam Canada, Muslims for Progressive Values (based in the US with global affiliates), Sacred Justice (US), The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (U.S.), The Inner Circle (South Africa), Merhaba vzw (Belgian), Progressiva Muslimer Av Sverige (Sweden), Maruf (Norway/Denmark), Imaan (U.K.), Il Grande Colibra (Italy), Muslims for Secular Democracy in India, Muslumans Progressistes de France, Liberal-Islamischer Bund = LIB (Germany), Sisters in Islam in Malaysia and our non-profit here in Canada, Universalist Muslims -- to name a few.
And what does it mean to be a queer Muslim in the Muslim world? It is dangerous. Yet there exist Muslim activists in the west and in the Muslim world, working for mainstream secular groups using their networks, cultural diversity and bilingualism to help others flee persecution. Meanwhile brave queer Muslim filmmakers, like Parvez Sharma show the obstacles faced by queer Muslim refugees in films like Jihad For Love.
And those obstacles do not alone originate from Muslim governments but include western immigration policies that ban Muslims, making it harder for all Muslims, including queer Muslims to escape persecution. The foreign policy of western nations, who support regimes that persecute gays and that spread homophobia through Islamic scriptures, and simultaneously who impose immigration policies banning Muslims from entering the west, are the greatest danger to queer Muslims in Muslim states today. Try and help a queer Muslim in danger of being killed to get out of Gaza or Saudi Arabia. Good luck.
People who hate us all plan to march proudly to show their contempt, disregarding all we do, all we risk and who we love.
Queer Muslims struggle to escape Muslim states sending messages pleading for help. We endeavor to connect them to underground networks that stretch from Turkey to India, composed of some of the bravest souls alive today. Invisible and hard-working, like angels, they receive no recognition, placing their lives in danger, everyday.
According to the organizer of the death march -- "There's a lot of gays in the Muslim community, they want nothing to do with this, they want nothing to do with making noise about Islam," he said.
What a lie.
Queer Muslims and their allies risk their lives to make the world a better place despite the tyranny of Muslim states, the backward foreign and business policy of the industrialized west and Islamophobia.
Meanwhile, this weekend -- in the most multicultural city in Canada -- people who hate us all plan to march proudly to show their contempt, disregarding all we do, all we risk and who we love -- out of pride.
Happy Pride Toronto. Allah loves us ALL -- queer and straight. Salaamualaikum and Eid Mubarak.
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