Monday, June 6th, 2011
“When people heard I wanted to study Chinese, they thought, man, this brother has gone off the deep end! This was around the time of Nixon going to China. I use that as a reference point, but the idea came to me through meditation. I was envisioned to study Chinese.
“At the time, I had been working as a sub-contractor for the IRS as a court stenographer. All of trappings of success were there, but I still felt very hollow. While I was working, I was not working towards anything that I could be proud of.
“I traveled throughout the D.C. area in search of a Chinese program. I remember going to George Washington University where they looked at me, not using these words, but implying, ‘Nigger, why do you want to study Chinese?’ I knew that was not the place for me. Then, I went to Georgetown and met the now deceased, Dr. Lee, who encouraged me to study there and helped to get me a full fellowship as a community scholar.
“Nine months later, I was studying Chinese at Beijing University. It was through my interactions with some Uyghurs there that I was introduced to Islam. I knew about the Nation of Islam and Wahhabism out of Saudi Arabia, but they introduced me to an Islam that I could connect with. We went to Masjid together and spent hours talking about the Koran. There I was, a black, gay man from urban Washington, D.C. in China getting introduced to Islam in 1983.
“From China, I went off to study and work in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia and pursued my studies in Islam and Islamic Law. Travelling and speaking other languages is such a powerful experience. Between Arabic, Chinese, and English, I realized that I could talk to 4/5ths of the world’s population. That is an amazing revelation. I wanted to use my studies and ability to communicate with so many to help push the limitations on acceptance in our community. My mentor struggled to bring equality to women in Islam. What he did for women, I am trying to do for the queer community.
“It has been a hard battle, but a good battle. In the beginning, there was a lot of name calling. I never responded to it because by answering, they have you. Rather, I would always challenge their assumptions and presumptions. I want to show people that the Koran is not two dimensional. It is not just ink on a page. If you only read something in a limited way, you limit your possibilities.
“Over the last 12 years, I have worked to pursue the idea that if God speaks, and I believe he does, he speaks to all of us. If you can’t see how women or queer people are equal than you are using a human interpretation of the Koran and not God’s words. A mosque should be a place for everybody. Through my practice, I want people in my community to understand how big and inclusive our world really is.”
Imam Daayiee Abdullah is a scholar, a former public interest lawyer, and a specialist in Shari’ah Sceinces/Quranic Interpretation. He frequently lectures internationally on progressive Muslim concepts, interfaith networking, and the development of inclusive revisions of Islamic theological thought and interpretations of Shari’ah. Daayiee has also long been invovled in actively promoting understanding and awareness of issues of racial, sexual and gender equality both within and beyond Muslim communities. He is Imam of the The Light of Reformation Mosque (Masjid An-Nural Isslaah) that is gender equal, queer friendly, intrafaith welcoming and interfaith active. He is also affiliated with the California-based Muslims for Progressive Values.