Recently, the Al Rashid Mosque agreed to have a respectful dialogue with former Wolves of Odin members, who had earlier caused fear by visiting the mosque. The mosque also opened its doors to offer shelter to the homeless for the extreme cold weather spell.
These initiatives arrive in a time of rising Islamophobia in a city that I thought would remain safe from the problems that affect larger cities like Toronto. But Edmonton is not the same as it was 19 years ago, when I first arrived.
For example, another mosque, Markaz ul Islam, received a threatening letter to close down and to accept Jesus as the “one true God.”
The rise of extremism comes in many forms. A few years ago, there were Muslim youth from Calgary who had gone overseas to join ISIS to create an “Islamic” utopia. Now, white supremacist groups are rising in the name of cultural purity, and chasing a similar objective.
Times like these allow us the opportunity to draw communities together. As such, associate pastor Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum of the Holy Spirit Lutheran Church started an anti-hate campaign with letters of love. They asserted that it was on the Christian community to love their Muslim neighbours.
Indeed, it is for hegemonic groups to reach out to vulnerable people and to stand by them in their hour of need. I too had begun similar initiatives since before the Orlando gay bar shooting in 2016.
Back then, I wanted the Sexual and Gender Minorities Liaison Committee (SGMLC) with the Edmonton Police to have a joint meeting with the Muslim Communities Liaison Committee (MCLC). As someone on the intersections of faith and sexuality, I wanted to bridge the gap between the two by meeting on common ground to issue a joint statement against Islamophobia and homophobia/transphobia.
After one year of relentlessly trying, I resigned from the SGMLC. There was simply no initiative on the part of the MCLC to take my outstretched hand.
I tried again with the 2017 Conference on LGBTQ Muslims and Islam by inviting a whole array of Muslim organizations twice to the event at MacEwan but to no avail. The only group that answered my call was the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. But I really need institutional Muslim support to help me out with the cases of LGBTQ2S+ Muslims I have been receiving.
Last year, on Sept. 24, I tried another tactic. I composed a letter inviting Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC) leaders to meet veteran members of the LGBTQ2S+ community for a joint statement against hatred and to start initiatives for LGBTQ2S+ Muslims.
That letter was signed by none other than Michael Phair—the first openly gay politician in Alberta who served as Edmonton’s mayor for a time—along with a whole array of LGBTQ2S+ leaders, including Jorgensen-Skakum. It was by and large ignored. It seemed that as in the case of the MCLC, AMPAC simply had no capacity to meet us.
To be fair, their VP External, who was on a sabbatical, responded to me that she would look into the matter once she returned in February 2019. February has come and gone. I don’t have many hopes from AMPAC, as they also ignored our calls to the 2017 Conference on LGBTQ Muslims and Islam at MacEwan.
In February, when I heard that Al Rashid would talk to the former Wolves of Odin members, I felt that perhaps things would be different here. On Feb. 5, I immediately rehashed the AMPAC letter and emailed Al Rashid. After all, if they could meet the Wolves of Odin, they could surely meet me as their fellow Muslim.
However, as I still await a formal response from Al Rashid, I am reminded of how Orthodox Jews are more receptive to secular people than to Reform Jews.
The compassion of Pastor Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum is missing here. Instead of the Muslim community reaching out to me on the concerns of the most vulnerable LGBTQ2S+ Muslims, it is I who have been trying again and again without much result.
But I must continue to push. Lives are at stake. Since last year, half a dozen LGBTQ2S+ Muslims reached out to me. These people are of various ethnicities, including youth of European, Middle Eastern, African and South Asian descent.
One youth has been outed to their parents without their consent. They face incredible pressure from their own family and experience tremendous guilt for putting their family in such a situation. Another youth has sought refuge and has been hosted by a friend who themselves have faced immense family pressures. Still another has escaped family violence in Europe. There are also parents in Edmonton who are caught between an openly out offspring and the forbidding cultural mores of their communities.
With so much at stake, I shall continue to ask, when will Muslim leaders answer our call for a joint LGBTQ2S+ Muslim meeting?
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