Eid: Being LGBT and Muslim

Eid in Arabic means feast or festivity. Muslims celebrate two religious Eids: Eid ul-Fitri is the celebration at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It is the more festive celebration after a month of abstinence and self-control; children receive money (Eidi) or presents and new clothes, so do some adults. Everyone will wear his or her finery.

The Eid that we are celebrating now is the more somber festival and has multiple names including Eid al-Adha or Eid e-Qurban (both meaning Festival of Sacrifice) and Eid ul-Hajj (Festival of Hajj).

It celebrates the end of the Hajj or the pilgrimage to Mecca during which Muslims around the world celebrate along with the almost 3 million pilgrims in Mecca.

The story of Eid ul-Adha is mostly narrated as the story of the miracle of God replacing Abraham's son with a ram at the moment of intended sacrifice by Abraham of his son Ismail. The miracle is celebrated with the sacrifice of an animal and the distribution of the meat to family, community and the poor. It is a grand tale of patriarchy and submission.

What is often glossed over or even forgotten is the role of an African woman in that story and its remembrance in one of the five pillars of Islamic practice, the Hajj.

The Kaaba or the black cube structure in Mecca was built by Abraham and his son Ismail. Many years earlier, Abraham had been commanded to leave Hagar and Ismail in the desert. When Hagar ran out of food and water, she ran in desperation and in search between the hills of Safa and Marwa. In answer to her prayers, the angel Gabriel opened the spring of Zamzam which continues to flow today. Its source is unknown. It is this spring that is the historical antecedent for the establishment of the city of Mecca. Today in Mecca on the last day of the Hajj, millions of Muslims, female and male, LGBT and straight, will run and walk in Hagar's footsteps as they have everyday over the last 1,400+ years.

It is Hagar's courage and determination and Ismail's certainty of faith as a young boy that God would not extol a sacrifice for the sake of a sacrifice, that I held to my heart as I did tawwaff (circumambulation) around the Kaaba with my parents, aunt, cousin and partner earlier this year as we performed the Umrah (lesser hajj), surrounded by women and men of all colors, ages, national and linguistic backgrounds, and all orientations and gender identities. As my partner Troy said to friends, "I was there praying with 700,000 people, and I was praying for peace, justice and for my queer and non-queer brothers and sisters around the world to find freedom and joy."

The story of Hagar is a story of a defiant, non-conformist outcast woman of colour who survived and excelled despite the odds to provide for herself and her child. In celebrating the courage of women in the face of oppression, marginalization and expendability, this Eid celebrates mothers and in particular, my relationship with my mother.

One of my earliest memories of Eid is of an Eid ul-Fitri when I was invited to go with kids from my street to visit their relatives. At all the homes we visited, my friends all got presents but I did not get even a shilling. When I got home, my mum saw I was sad and asked me what was wrong. I never could keep anything from her so I told her no one gave me "Eidi." I can't remember what she gave me, it might have been a five shilling coin, but it meant the world to me. It was from my mother. My constant. My protector. She made me feel loved. She made me smile.

A smile, the Prophet is reported to have said, can be a charity. Charity is always good, especially on Eid. It is a time to visit family, share food, pray together and embrace one another. But for many LGBT Muslims, Eid is a time of sadness, guilt and isolation when they must either hide their orientation, or face rejection, condemnation and isolation from family, faith and community.

I have been lucky in that I have not experienced the rejection from my family or the Muslims that I have been in community with. Islam is not a monolith and neither are Muslims.

And it is with freedom and joy that I celebrated Eid, knowing that I am privileged. On Friday, I attended jumu'ah (Friday congregational prayers) at Masjid el-Tawhid (Toronto Unity Mosque). Founded by myself, with Troy and dear friend Dr. Laury Silvers (founder of Progressiveislam.com), Toronto Unity Mosque has been holding Friday congregational services continuously since May 2009 that are gender-equal, LGBT inclusive, and religiously non-discriminatory. We now have two sister communities in DC and Atlanta and are hoping for more.

On Sunday morning, we joined our friends including other openly LGBT folk, "aunties," and "uncles" and many members of our extended family of choice at the Noor Cultural Centre where the Imam in his sermon included homophobia and transphobia in the list of oppressions that Muslims must reject and work against. His words may ruffle a few, but all embrace, smile and share samosas, cakes and tea after the service.

My mother and father are on the West Coast; my father is in the hospital with my mother by his bedside. I did not see them this Eid, but they are ever present in my heart. Troy and I spent Sunday at the mosque and with friends. On Monday, we will celebrate Eid again, this time with biryani and 60 Muslims and non-Muslim friends, both LGBT and straight, with love, laughter and acceptance, poetry and song. We will celebrate with gratitude, knowing that not everyone is able to celebrate as we are, and hope that for many, their best Eids are yet to come.