This past Sunday, I had the honour of marching as a member of our local Muslim contingent at Ottawa's Capital Pride parade. Our diverse group included Muslims of all genders, orientations and from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Among us were Canadians of South Asian, Somali, Algerian, Turkish, African and Caribbean descent. Also marching alongside were a First Nations Muslim convert, a Muslim American convert and a Canadian female rabbi.
Our diversity did not end there. We all have families, and so we were also a group composed of sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts and, of course, one strong, determined grandmother.
For members of a Muslim community where the traditional ulema, or religious leadership, still frowns upon homosexuality, marching at Pride as queer Muslims and their allies have been doing in Ottawa for several years now (and as queer Muslims and their allies have done in other Canadian cities, in the U.K., France, Italy, the U.S. and elsewhere) is an act of religious and political rebellion.
But the bravest hero in our group was largely unknown and, for the most part, marched unnoticed for his courage. He was our youngest member, the guest of honour. His name is Ahmed Alaa.
Last year, 22-year-old Alaa was imprisoned by Egyptian authorities for unfurling the rainbow flag at a music concert. Only two years older than my oldest son, now he marched with us like any other 20-something in jeans and a T-shirt, waving his rainbow flag proudly and safely, here in Canada. As I gazed at Alaa, I thought about his mom in Egypt. My heart went out to her. His bravery came with a price, because now she may never see him again.
No one would ever have imagined that Alaa would be marching with us at Pride.
Back in October of last year, he was in jail along with another young fellow activist, Sarah Hejazy, as well as dozens of others. Soon after their arrests, our organization was contacted by LGBTQ activists from Egypt who also connected with other organizations all over the world, seeking public awareness and requesting we demand the Egyptian government free them.
While Nabila Kaci of our organization led the Ottawa protest and spoke in front of the Egyptian embassy in Canada, along with the support of Amnesty International, similar protests took place at Egyptian embassies all over the world and in other Canadian cities.
Now Alaa and Hejazy find themselves here in Canada, hoping that as asylum seekers Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board will understand the danger they face if forced to return to their home country and that it shall allow them to remain.
We marched because we believe Allah loves us all — queer and straight, cis and trans.
And it is for Alaa, Hejazy and millions like them that we marched.
We marched for those who cannot, those from countries where homosexuality is criminalized. We marched for those who have fled and sought asylum. We marched for those who are forced into marriage and whose sexuality is regarded as an affliction.
We marched for those at home and abroad who are targets and victims of homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-Black Islamophobia, misogyny, racism and violence.
We marched because we believe Allah loves us all — queer and straight, cis and trans; because we believe trans and queer Muslims enriched Islamic history for centuries; because we believe in an Islam that demands real justice, and that Muhammad our Prophet never penalized anyone for being gay. We marched to send a message to others to not lose hope, and so that one day they may join us.
Recently, the CRA revoked the charitable status of the Assalam Mosque and Ottawa Islamic Centre, claiming it had invited speakers like Hakeem Quick and Bilal Philips, both of whom had made homophobic statements publicly in the past to Muslim audiences. (Quick indicates he has changed.)
While some, like the Canadian Muslim civil liberties group the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), demand that we not judge the Assalam Mosque and Ottawa Islamic Centre "in the court of public opinion," it is our hope that our traditional Muslim communities and groups like NCCM do more to eradicate homophobia and transphobia in Muslim spaces, and that mosques be encouraged to invite speakers who provide a safe and respectful place for LGBTQ Muslim community members.
After all, queer and trans Muslims have much to offer their own communities.
As we marched in the Pride parade on Sunday, holding a banner that said "Allah Loves LGBTQ," Ottawans cheered. Folks smiled, clapped and some, pointing at our signs exclaimed — "YES!"
I overheard a man proudly say, "We even got Muslims!"
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In this era, where else do we Muslims hear crowds cheering because we are Muslim? Pride!
As we turned a corner, we found the local Unitarian Universalists in the crowd, holding their banner, cheering loudly and waving at us. We Muslims happily waved back.
And after we reached the finish line, while we stood in the crowd, we saw our Jewish friends in the parade. Still holding our rainbow sign with the words "Allah Loves Equality," we caught their attention and yelled "Shalom!" As they waved back and smiled, they replied with a hearty "Shalom!" of their own in response.
It was truly the most interfaith gathering in existence. It was a reflection of what we want the world to be.
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