The Steep Path: How Muslim Allies Can Resist Islamophobia

Originally published in December 2015, this post has particular resonance this week following President Donald Trump's Executive Order to restrict immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This bans stigmatizes and harms immigrants, refugees, and Muslims, and it is an assault on the values we hold dear, including religious freedom and Christian love.

“What will explain to you what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, to feed in a time of hunger an orphaned relative or a person in distress, and to be one of those who believe and urge one another to steadfastness and compassion.” ~ Surah al-Balad (The City), 90:12-17

The image of a steep path, a path that requires significant energy and commitment to climb, is one that may resonate with many LGBTQ people of faith. The journey of an LGBTQ person of faith often involves deciding to take risk—to risk a painful or dangerous fall if you lose your balance (usually after someone comes along and tries to knock you down). I know my own path as an LGBTQ Muslim was a steep and winding one involving many tumbles and falls on some rather sharp rocks that cast serious doubt on my childhood faith.

But the value of patient perseverance in my climb was made abundantly clear to me when I was in seminary.

During seminary, I had all but given up on finding space for my identity in the Muslim faith I had known since I was a child. I was surrounded by liberationist and LGBTQ Christians who showed me that it was possible to take traditions that excluded or vilified you and reshape them into ones that not only included you, but actually celebrated you.

In this environment, surrounded by possibilities in Christianity, I realized that the same possibilities must also exist in the Islamic traditions. 

I remember the first time I prayed as an openly queer Muslim among a group of other LGBTQ Muslims and allies. It had been years since I had gone through the prostrations; it had been years since I had felt the still-etched-on-my-heart words float off of my tongue. It was nerve-wracking and yet exhilarating. 

For the first time in years, I felt like I had found a home in Islam. 

I felt like I had found the safety and welcome for which my spirit had so long yearned. After years of experiencing sadness around my Muslim faith, it now filled me with a feeling of joy that revitalized my sense of self and my call to ministry.

But these days, I am not sure how much longer I will be allowed to hold onto that joy. As stories of vitriolic hate and xenophobia towards the Islamic traditions continue to take over headlines; as people with nothing short of terrifyingly fascist attitudes regarding Muslims gain popularity in election polls; as attacks against Muslims become more frequent and violent, I cannot help but wonder if the celebration of my Muslim faith will soon be met with hostility. 

I cannot help but wonder if we are nearing a time when the act of claiming one’s joy as a follower of the Islamic traditions will be dangerous, even life-threatening. I cannot help but be scared for the safety of my family here in the United States–will my mother still wear hijab when she goes to work?

I cannot help but be concerned for the LGBTQ Muslims whose presence and love have helped me to reclaim my childhood faith.

I cannot help but worry about the safety of the public leaders, scholars, and activists who are making such a tremendous difference in the world because of their Muslim faith and who, for that very reason, are now in (further) danger of being attacked or criminalized. I cannot help but be scared for the safety of every individual who “looks” or “sounds” like a Muslim who could become the next victim of a racially or religiously motivated hate crime.

I cannot help but feel like we are climbing a steep path to defend our own legitimacy and humanity, a path that we know has been imposed upon others throughout our history.

These are steep paths that nobody should have to climb. But the surah quoted above speaks of another steep path, one that calls to all those with a faithful commitment to justice. In today’s atmosphere of growing Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia, this surah speaks not only of the need to say “no” to such hate—it urges us to commit to saying “yes” to different narratives.

This surah tells us to engage in fierce resistance.

Many allies who work to challenge Islamaphobic narratives are doing the work of resistance–of saying “no” to the fear and discrimination that dehumanizes and endangers lives. But we can and must do more if we ever hope to make a lasting change in how Muslims are seen and treated.

We can and must engage in actions of fierce resistance–actions that are not based in just saying “no.” These actions say “yes” to building and maintaining lasting connections so these relationships are not forgotten until the next xenophobic surge.

Resistance is responding with petitions, letters, and demonstrations decrying the latest statements made or political actions pursued by public figures. Fierce resistance is having the courage to see the present instances of hate as symptoms of older and larger attitudes with roots in white supremacy and Christian extremism–and being willing to share that truth. Fierce resistance is engaging in the unapologetic joy of being Muslim.

For Muslim allies, fierce resistance means creating space to affirm and be changed by the stories we choose to share.

Resistance is saying no to exclusion or dehumanization only when the occasion calls for it; fierce resistance is the learning, relationship, and inclusion that accomplices and friends can strive for in any political climate.

Traveling this steep path to end Islamophobia, I find comfort in the support of accomplices and friends who are making it known that hate will not be tolerated. 

I find joy in the resistance and resilience of other Muslims who refuse to let bigots determine their narrative. I find hope in the possibility of national conversations that can move people from disinterest or apathy to positive engagement with Muslims and the Islamic traditions. And I find strength to patiently persevere on this journey in the knowledge that there are so many people fighting and loving fiercely alongside those of us who have no choice but to resist.

Photo via flickr user Dylan Payne

Comments (2)

Beautiful and helpful. Thank you.

We are stronger together.

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