Born and raised in Detroit, Imam Daayiee Abdullah is believed to be the first openly gay imam in America.
“Being an openly gay imam and having been identified as such, I do get a lot of feedback and also kickback, but that’s OK,” he said. “I think that when people are unfamiliar with things, they tend to have an emotional knee-jerk reaction to it.”
Only 15 when he came out and admitted his sexuality, Imam Daayiee converted to Islam at the age of 33. At that time he was studying in China, but he went on to study more about Islam in Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
He believes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims in the U.S. have unmet spiritual needs and that is the reason why he decided to become an Imam, so that he can provide them with community support.
Imam Daayiee’s first act as an Imam was when a gay Muslim man died from AIDS; he was there to perform his funeral rites.
“They had contacted a number of imams, and no one would go and provide him his Janazah services,” said Abdullah.
“I believe every person, no matter if I disagree with you or not, you have the right as a Muslim to have proper spiritual (rites) and rituals provided for you. And whoever judges you, that will be Allah’s decision, not me,” he explained.
Abdullah serves as the imam and educational director of the Light of Reform Mosque in Washington, D.C., where he has worked to create a safe and welcoming space for all congregants, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or culture.
There, women pray side-by-side with men and lead prayers and same-sex marriages are officiated – controversial acts even among mainstream American muslims.
At the heart of his beliefs, Abdullah emphasizes: “It is our relationship with God and our relationship with each other that really establishes our faith.”