On the night of Monday, June 13 community members came together for a #SolidarityIftar with the LGBTQ community following the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, Florida on Sunday Morning. The event was co-organized by Free State Legal | Equality Maryland, the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County, and the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE).
200 members of the LGBTQ and Muslim communities participated in the #SolidarityIftar and listened to the statements of community leaders prior to the breaking of the fast. Over 30 organizations co-sponsored the event, and countless elected officials from across the region were in attendance(lists of both are below).
Community speakers included Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi of WORDE, Patrick Paschall of Free State Legal and Equality Maryland, and myself on behalf of the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County. LGBTQ community leaders who spoke included State Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), who was instrumental in organizing the event, and Delegate Bonnie Cullison (D-19). Both are members of the Montgomery County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, and staunch allies of the Muslim Community.
Imam Tarif Shraim of the Islamic Community Center of Potomac offered an opening prayer from the Holy Quran at the #SolidarityIftar. Reverend Terri Murphy and Rabbi Charles Arian also offered prayers at the beginning of the program.
State Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) spoke passionately at the #SolidarityIftar. Senator Madaleno helped behind the scenes in rallying elected officials to attend the event, and enthusiastically agreed when first approached with the Muslim Community's request for a solidarity event. He lifted us all with words of motivation and hope--before and during the event.
Prince Georges County's Nadia Hasan (Young Leaders Institute) recited the names of those who died during the mass shooting, and Howard County Muslim Council president Shahan Rizvi concluded the official program of the event a powerful tribute of spoke word poetry.
Others who spoke included Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, a strong ally of both the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community, as well as a long-time bridge-builder between both communities, as well as county administrative officials and Reverend Kasey Mansfield, who spoke on behalf of County Executive Ike Leggett.
What came as a surprise to all of the organizers was the massive interest by the media in the #SolidarityIftar. The Washington Post, WTOP Radio, WAMU 88.5 NPR, Salisbury Public Radio, Montgomery County Media, Univision, Patch, Montgomery Sentinel, Reuters, and other news outlets all covered the #SolidarityIftar. Below are a few of the links to published news articles about the event:
Montgomery County Media: http://www.mymcmedia.org/muslim-and-lgbtq-join-in-solidarity-in-montgomery-village-videos-photos/
WTOP News: http://wtop.com/montgomery-county/2016/06/muslim-lgbtq-leaders-unite-montgomery-county/slide/2/
The Montgomery Sentinel: http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/newsx/local/item/3661-county-residents-show-solidarity-after-orlando-shooting-massacre
Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/from-orlando-a-wave-of-grief-washes-over-dc-area/2016/06/13/52db8428-31c0-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html
The Need for Solidarity
Exhausted from being awake together until 2:30 am (the Ramadan fast begins promptly at 4:08am, preceded by a morning meal that usually begins 45 minutes earlier), the officers of the Muslim Demoxratic Club managed to have an emergency conference on Sunday, during which I moved that we ask if the LGBTQ community would join us for a solidarity event. There was no hesitation: Montgomery County's 100,000 Muslims needed to stand shoulder to shoulder against hate and violence; sexual orientation and gender identity did not matter to any of us.
I then contacted Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi of WORDE, one of America's most respected Muslim thought leaders. WORDE agreed to host whatever we had planned. Next, I reached out to the LGBTQ leadership in Montgomery County, starting with Senator Rich Madaleno, Majority Leader Anne Kaiser and Delegate Bonnie Cullison. They in turn, put me in touch with Equality Maryland's executive director, Patrick Paschall. Together, Hedieh, Patrick, Senator Madaleno and the officers of the Muslim Democratic Club worked tirelessly for 36 hours to organize an event for solidarity between our communities. I want to emphasize the following: without Senator Madaleno and Hedieh Mirahmadi's particular leadership and the assistance of their staffs, the #SolidarityIftar would not have been possible. Both of our communities are deeply indebted to their vision and leadership. Thank you.
Words fail to describe the horrific sense of emotion and outrage I personally felt when Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County Vice President Nadia Syahmalina broke the news to me and others that a mass shooting had occurred in Orlando the very same night (or early morning after) the Muslim community held its first annual iftar with County leaders and elected officials. At that event, all of us had taken pride in knowing that we had shattered a barrier by ensuring members of the LGBTQ community were invited and included to participate in the iftar dinner. Only hours later, our work to be inclusive, progressive, and true Americans would be undone by the senseless slaughter perpetrated by Omar Mateen. The bitter taste of heartbreak has a physical dimension for me: metallic, as if blood has suddenly gushed into my mouth. Yet again, evil had found a way to rip at the soul of our nation.
But there is hope: it's called Montgomery County.
Growing up in Montgomery County, I have a good number of friends, past teachers and mentors who happen to be gay. While I am an observant Muslim, and come from a religious family, the idea that I should be repelled by someone due to their sexual orientation or gender identity has always been beyond the pale. We don't have to agree on anything--politics, religion, whom we love or hate--to be kind to one another. My personal lifestory proves that to me more than anything.
When I was in high school, several teachers who happened to be gay looked out for me and offered me guidance following 9/11, and later the invasion of Iraq. The internet was in its adolescence then, and there were few to no ways for Muslim American teenage activists from across America to find each other and seek comfort in one another's personal sagas as young people with an identity crisis. More than one of my teachers understood that, and looked out for me in ways that still surprise me to this day. This amazing sense of "live and let live" and "I beg to differ, but more importantly beg to break bread with you first" became a living mantra that guided by life and intellectual curiosity. Yes, like all males in our privileged society, I would rear my head and stubbornly insist on my own way many times growing up. But if it hadn't been for more than one mentor in school, politics, and for more than one friend in personal life who happened to be Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Transgender, Questioning, Bisexual, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Palestinian, Yemeni, Persian, Ghanaian, Peruvian-Japanese--I would not be who I am today. Thank you to each and every one of you--and especially to those of you who were my high school teachers at Winston Churchill High School.
We live in one of the most diverse of places to live in the world. That diversity exposed me to the Uzbek language before I knew where Uzbekistan was on a map, and taught me French and Arabic poetry all I while I struggled to use that poetry to get girls to go out with me in high school. It also taught me the important value of coalition-building and extensive outreach. If we plan to live together in one society for the long haul, then we are going to need to build bridges between various communities within our greater whole.
I hope and pray that the coalition of 30-plus community groups that came together after the tragic murders in Orlando remains in place. Together, we can and will halt the forces that seek to divide us, insha'Allah.
Public Officials in Attendance
- Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal,
- Montgomery County Councilmember Sidney Katz
- Montgomery Councilmember Nancy Navarro
- James Stowe, Director of Human Rights
- Uma Ahluwalia, Director of Dept. of Health and Homeland Security (DHHS)
- Luis Cardona, Administrator, Positive Youth Development Initiative, DHHS
- MD Senator Richard Madaleno,
- MD Senator Nancy J. King
- MD Senator Roger Manno
- MD Delegate Kumar Barve
- MD Delegate Bonnie Cullison
- MD Delegate Jim Gilchrist
- MD Delegate David Moon
- MD Delegate Aruna Miller
- MD Delegate Will Smith
- MD Delegate Kirill Reznik
- MD Delegate Shane Robinson
- City of Gaithersburg Councilmember Robert Wu
- Representative from the office of US Senator Benjamin Cardin
- Representative from the office of US Representative Chris Van Hollen
- Representative from the office of US Representative John Delaney
- Representative from the office of Chief J. Thomas Manger, MC Police Department
American Muslim Peace Initiative
American Muslim Women's Empowerment Council
Ansar ud Deen Society Metro Area
Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Foundation
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring
Episcopal Diocese of Washington
Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative
Greater Gaithersburg Interfaith Alliance
Howard County Muslim Council
Inayat Begum Foundation
Indonesian American Association (IAA)
Indonesian Muslim Association in America (IMAAM)
Islamic Center of Northern Virginia
Islamic Center of Virginia
Islamic Education Center (IEC)
Islamic Society of Germantown
Montgomery County Young Democrats
Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County
Muslim Women's Coalition (MWC)
Muslims for Progressive Values
National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Nigerians in Diaspora Organization-America (NIDO-A)
Parent, Family & Friends of Lesbians & Gays in Washington Metropolitan Area (PFLAG)-DC Chapter
St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Damascus
Take Charge Program
Universal Muslims Association in America (UMAA)
West African Muslim Association
Young Leaders Institute