Malik Gillani: How the Orlando massacre affected me

Malik Gillani: How the Orlando massacre affected meHow the Orlando massacre affected me, a man who is proudly gay and Muslim

Upon learning that someone has died, Muslims recite “Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un” (“We surely belong to Allah and to Him we shall return”). I know that Muslims all across the United States are reciting this Quranic verse as they express their condolences to the families of those who were massacred in Orlando by Omar Mateen. But feeling sad or sorry won’t do anything to alter the cultural and, sadly, also the religious homophobia that has played such a big role in this tragic event.

Malik Gillani: How the Orlando massacre affected me
Malik Gillani (left) with husband, Jamil Khoury

When I heard about the Pulse nightclub massacre on Sunday morning, I immediately wanted to be in a gay bar demonstrating solidarity. But almost as quickly thought: “Wait, I’m Muslim — I’m also guilty of this horror.” Wouldn’t it have been terrific if my very first thought was instead: “Wait, I’m Muslim — I’m going to call all the local mosques to join me demonstrating our support and love for our LGBT community members.” How far away can that day be? Not far, if only we stop consoling and instead start listening to stories from our gay brothers and sisters. We are not that different, and many of us, like myself, happen to belong to both communities.

I am a Shia Ismaili Muslim. We call our mosque a Jamat Khana. It means “a house of gathering.” As a child I went to Jamat Khana twice a day. But now, at 45, I attend only infrequently because I can’t take my husband, Jamil, with me. Instead, more often I accompany him to Easter and Christmas services at the Methodist church that houses our theatre company (he’s an Antiochian Orthodox Christian). Although I’m welcome to come as myself to Jamat Khana, it’s a difficult environment for people to be out. It goes back to cultural upbringing.

Malik Gillani: How the Orlando massacre affected meGrowing up in Chicago as the child of immigrants, my Mom always told me to “take the good, leave the bad.” In addition to alcohol, cigarettes, and pork, the bad included the “Gay Lifestyle” — growing up a Gay American Muslim meant living in the closet. Even when a friend in grade school challenged me (“I know you’re gay!”) I had already learned to deny it.

It wasn’t until after college that I came out — not that I had much of a choice. One of my five brothers outed me to my family. I’m extremely grateful that he did. Once I was out, another brother began driving me to Boystown (the biggest gay neighborhood in Chicago). He wanted me to be safe going to and from the bars on Halsted Street. The fact that a police station was situated in Boystown did not prevent hatemongers from harassing us or even assaulting us without provocation.

I saw in my family a dichotomy: no matter what they thought of others who were gay, I was one of their own. They needed to keep me safe. Their interest in my boyfriends, and ultimately in the man I chose to marry, has meant a complete family that is there for both of us. One day my Mom offhandedly remarked, “Jamil is so smart; shouldn’t he consider becoming a Muslim?” (No; he’s happy as a Christian). Another day, one of my sisters-in-law saw Jamil shopping by himself. She immediately called my brother who then called me right away to make sure all was okay. “Why aren’t you with Jamil? Is everything okay between you?” (Yes, he can and does shop by himself!) Having learned to be honest about who I am, and being out, has led my family to accept both of us as a complete part of the larger Gillani family story.

Not all of us are so lucky. The fact is, if you’re going to be a gay Muslim, you’re going to have to learn to stand up for yourself. Sometimes that’s difficult, even dangerous. Allies, Muslim and non-Muslim, make the journey that much less treacherous.

My wish as I mourn the lives lost in Orlando? Let all families hold their loved ones dear; and let our LGBT American Muslims live their lives with dignity, openly and freely.

Malik Gillani is the co-founder of Chicago’s Silk Road Rising with his husband, Jamil Khoury. Their theater company presents plays written by Asian and Middle Eastern Americans.


Malik Gillani – June 14, 2016 –

Also read:

Muslim, gay and guilt for Orlando shootings – By Mary Schmich – June 16, 2016 – Chicago Tribune

Malik Gillani on Twitter @MalikGillani

Silk Road Rising Production – explores critical world issues through Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses.

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

One thought

  1. Thank you for this article and sharing your thoughts. One thing that needs to be corrected: The Ismaili Jamatkhana is NOT a “mosque.” A mosque or masjid is non-denominational space of worship – open and accessible to Muslims of various legal schools, Sufi tariqahs, and theological affiliations. However, in Muslim history and civilization, there are PRIVATE denomination-specific spaces of religious practice such as khanaqas, ribats, zawiyahs, tekkes and Jamatkhanas. The Ismaili prayer space falls under the historic category of Jamatkhana.

    While the non-denominational masjids in Islam are public places for the rituals of the sharī‘ah such as the exoteric ṣalāh, the Jamatkhana is a private space reserved for the rituals of the Isma‘ili ṭarīqah such as the esoteric Dū‘ā (which is the embodied ta’wil of the ṣalāh) and therefore only accessible to murids who have given bay‘ah to the Imam of the Isma‘ili ṭarīqah of Islam. The Arabic word bay‘ah means buying or selling and appears in several Qur’ānic verses (48:10, 48:18, 60:12) in which the believers give bay‘ah to the Prophet Muhammad when they become his followers or reaffirm their loyalty to him. The bay‘ah between the murid and the Isma‘ili Imam is a spiritual “transaction” or “contract” in which the murid pledges his allegiance, devotion, and obedience in exchange for the Imam’s spiritual guidance, intercession, blessings, and purification. Since the Jamatkhana is a primary expression of the Isma‘ili Imam’s spiritual guidance and blessings, its being accessible to the murid forms part of the spiritual transaction of the bay‘ah. Those who have not given this bay‘ah are not murids of the Imam and are not participants in this spiritual transaction; therefore, they have no rights to participate in Isma‘ili ṭarīqah rituals that take place in the Jamatkhana. To do so would be akin to stealing – partaking in benefits that one has not transacted for. The exclusive nature of the Jamatkhana space during prayer times is consistent with many Sufi ṭarīqahs who also have private spaces of religious practice such as khanaqas, ribats, zawiyahs and tekkes. Historically, Muslim law and society has recognized the distinction between PUBLIC and PRIVATE spaces for religious practice – something that is less known in Western countries. The legal or exoteric form of Islam and the common forms of Christianity practiced in the West – that most people are familiar with – DO NOT require anything like bay‘ah and DO NOT involve any spiritual pact or transaction between two parties (such as the believer and the Spiritual Guide).

    Thus, the fact that your partner cannot be present in Jamatkhana during prayer times has NOTHING to do with the fact that you are in a homosexual relationship. All non-Ismailis – regardless of sexual orientation – cannot be present in the JK during Tariqah ceremonies.

    We ask you to consider this important fact in phrasing your article – as *it appears* that you feel that official Ismaili JK policy discriminates against your partner on the basis of sexuality, which is not the case at all.


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