يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ ۚ
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kindred… (Quran, 4:135)
In his explanation of this ayah, Timothy Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad) says:
In the above verse, mankind is warned not to deviate from
justice, whether for familial, economic, social, personal or any
In the immediate aftermath of the Pulse massacre, I saw American Muslims once again fail to rise to the occasion. Stand for justice, even against yourself! God says so. But the community leadership, by and large, could not even acknowledge that the victims were, by and large, gay. By not acknowledging this piece of information about them, they, like the Republican politicians tweeting their “thoughts and prayers” contributed to the everyday erasure and dehumanization of LGBT people. Beyond that, of course, a great many of these leaders made the Pulse massacre about… them. There were sarcastic and angry tweets about some looming large scale Islamophobic nightmare (a nightmare that hasn’t really occurred after San Bernadino… 9/11… Ft. Hood…). They helped create an atmosphere wherein a curious onlooker couldn’t even wonder out loud, “Well, how do Muslims feel about homosexuality? What kind of sermons do they preach about it?”
No, they could not stand for justice, and certainly not against themselves. In the hours and days after Orlando, I saw posts and tweets and TV interviews with Muslim leaders repeating the same tired things they repeat every time a Muslim commits mass murder, and I thought to myself, “Hm, these are the same guys who used to preach so confidently, with such anger and righteousness, about the scourge of homosexuality in the West.” While they were all busy telling CNN viewers not to blame Islam, I didn’t hear, see or read any of them saying, “It’s true, I know that back in 2001, I did a video series in which I said things like ‘(gays) are worse than animals,’ but I have had an evolution in my views, and I’d like to apologize for that.” From these brave leaders, there was no acknowledgement that someone like that killer would come of age, not particularly religious, but awash in a Muslim American culture, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, that was virulently homophobic. Maybe he wasn’t a scholar in training, but he went to the masjid and he would have heard the same type of khutbas I did.
Muslims quickly moved on. After all, it was Ramadan, a time for self reflection and evaluation. So there’s no way the community can be asked to reflect on how they have treated LGBT Muslims, or how they have talked about LGBT people at their annual conventions or on a Friday afternoon on the minbar.
Now I know the hypocrisy of Muslim leaders so well that I can’t even be bothered with it most of the time. But the smiling faces of those 49 people and the pain on the faces of their parents, spouses, children and friends stayed with me past the initial news cycle. Something else stayed with me too. The fact that the Muslim leadership could so blatantly ignore it’s own history, as it did regarding the radical preachers and khutbas of the 1980s and 1990s, and no one, except maybe that one group of people who might be termed “far right” was going to try to call attention to it. And who wants the far right to suddenly claim ownership of the grief and loss of LGBT people just so they can score some points against Muslims?