Sunday, July 19, 2015

remembering mahmoud asgari and ayaz marhoni



ten years ago today, two kids -- who were both under the age of 18 when they were arrested -- were executed in iran. their names were mahmoud asgari and ayaz marhoni. according to amnesty international, an "18-year-old, identified only as A. M. and a minor, Mahmoud A, were publicly hanged in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. According to reports, they were convicted of sexual assault on a 13-year-old boy and had been detained 14 months ago. Prior to their execution, the two were also given 228 lashes each for drinking, disturbing the peace and theft."

to go back to the age of the these kids, amnesty said that "Amnesty International believes that Mahmoud Asgari was 15 or 16 and Ayaz Marhoni was 16 or 17 at the time of the crime."

in other words, if you go by that understanding of the case, 15 and 16 year olds were later executed for sexually assaulting 13 year old. in iran, the age of consent for men at that time was 18. so, none of them could have consented to sexual activity, legally speaking, not that you can consent to homosexuality anyway. on top of that, sexual relationship between two men is illegal and per ja'fari (shia) madhab (school of thought) carries the death penalty.

however, ja'fari madhab prohibits the execution of minors, which according to ja'far madhab is age 15 (the age in which you're considered adult and which you can marry). so, unless a 13 year old does something so heinous (like murder), you can't kill him under shia sharia law. as such, when three teenage boys are caught having sex intoxicated in an alley... what do you do? you kill the ones you can, even if you have to let some fishes go in the process. but the ones you want to kill, now you can kill them without any issues because they committed a heinous (rape) crime... as a boy cannot consent under 15 to have sex with someone over the age 15.

so, there are no issues with that case if you're a shia muslim. unless, you're a shia muslim who want to live under the united nations convention on the rights of the child that you country had signed and which, in that case, your country would be in violation of.

basically, iran was screwed on all sides on this case. its 'clean' case was not so clean because neither the human rights defenders nor the gays were agreeing with their version (the gays saying the kids were gay, the human rights defenders focusing on child execution).

as a queer muslim, this case was a learning experience for me, and you could say that it had totally changed the trajectory of my life. when the story came out, i was put in a really bad situation: i knew enough about the case that i could help future victims; i also knew for a fact that there were people who would be highly in danger if i did so.

at the time, i was in the midst of negotiations with a big publisher. they were going to publish my book "illegal citizens" (which was published later in 2008). i had gotten a contract just a few weeks earlier that was dated for august 25th. but the publisher changed its mind. in order for that publisher to publish my book, i needed to take out one story.

the story in question told the life of one gay iranian in an upper class system, a story meant to showcase the diversity we live under as queer muslims as well as the hypocrisy of countries like iran and saudi arabia-- countries in which there are an elite group of people who are exempt from what the rest of people deal with. "the tehranian" in the book is about a young gay man who happens to be the son of a powerful ayatollah. his life, unlike the lives of many gays in that country who refuse to live other lives, is not in danger. he lives a privileged life, not very different of the many meth-addict gays you find on gay apps and clubs in new york city or paris. and even though his "lifestyle" is one i couldn't live, i knew his story was important in my book.

so, suddenly, my life as a queer muslim was in hot debate between publishers who wanted to cast iran as a bad country that only executes gays (iran executed many minors who were neither gay nor accused of gay rape), reckless journalists who only cared about their ideas of gay rights in the west, and naive human rights defenders who fetishize us as part of their liberal idea of inclusion.

but i wasn't having any of it.

in the end, however, those of us interested in this story in a real way got our way. all of the e.u. countries who used to send gays back to iran stopped, and officially took the position that iran was not a safe country to return gays who chose to go elsewhere. after nearly a decade of pressure, from both local and international people, iran officially changed its policies in 2012 by having a new law which says the execution of people under 18 is not allowed. and between 2005 and 2015, gay iranians enjoyed a much better experience, with the cases handled better... and law enforcement looking the other way in most cases in large cities. 

in other words, these two young men changed their country in ways they never imagined they would.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

a beautiful week to be queer and muslim



due to the popularity of the website queermuslims.com, i have been busy with responding to the mixed feedback in my mailbox. so, you could say i have been in my own bubble with that. of course, it's the negative feedback that always bothers us, right?

then came this week.

this has been a very interesting week, to say the least. i don't remember another week in which queer muslims have gotten good news after good news. it all started on monday when rahal eks publicly came out to say being queer and sufi was not mutually exclusive. rahal eks has been a writer on this very blog, as well as huriyah when the magazine was alive back in the day. he's also the author of "khalil & majnun" and "hussein & the nomad," both queer muslim love stories, so to speak.

then, on tuesday, reza aslan and hasan minhaj crafted a beautiful open letter to american muslims on lgbt rights. reza aslan is the popular scholar you probably know from tv and the author of the great book "no god but god". hasan minhaj is a popular comedian and correspondent on the daily show. their support has been incredible, and it got the community talking. on twitter, we at @queermuslims re-tweeted many of those tweets.

last but not least, on wednesday the crowdfunding campaign for mecca institute was released. mecca institute is the first muslim educational institution in the united states in which islam is taught from a progressive point of view. they are planning to have lgbt and gender courses, and to educate muslims to live progressive lives.

it's weeks like this that can elevate a group of people's spirit. for non-queers in the muslim community, and for queers in non-muslim communities, it might not seem like a whole lot. but to me, a queer muslim, i would love to see more weeks like this week. it would be nice waking up to beautiful discussions in the community, both within the larger muslim community and within the queer muslim community.

may we have more and more weeks like this week.

amen.


link to rahal eks article: bit.ly/1H7skTa

link to reza aslan and hasan minhaj article: bit.ly/1HKn3r6

link to mecca institute crowd funding: bit.ly/1HkJqwZ

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

UPCOMING VALENTINE'S DAY AND ASPECTS OF LOVE by Rahal Eks

Digital art by Rahal Eks - dancers pausing

UPCOMING VALENTINE'S DAY AND ASPECTS OF LOVE by Rahal Eks

Nowadays February 14 is worldwide known as Valentine's Day, or the day of the lovers. The historical roots of Valentine's Day are numerous, going back to various Christian martyrs who were called Valentine or Valentinus. Some claim also a link to the much earlier Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival from Pagan times, or relate it to the ancient Athenian calendar where the period between mid-January until mid-February was the month called 'Gamelion', which was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Unfortunately in some countries such a day related to love and lovers would have to be forbidden under puritanical-religious and fanatical sectarian ideas and rules – even though the Qur'an clearly says “...there shall not be compulsion in religion...” It makes one wonder in utter disbelief how some folks argue against this, insisting to spread their intolerant view as the only true reality – of course it isn't! While in other countries this day or a similar celebration takes place on a different date. Here too diversity is striking on a global scale. And as long as the celebration of love is not denied it doesn't really matter what's the date.

For example in Brazil the Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12! While Feb. 14 sometimes falls right into the period when Carnival takes place.

Or in Israel there is the Jewish tradition of Tu B'Av, which has fused into the secular Jewish equivalent of Valentine's Day and is celebrated on the 15th of the month of Av = usually in late August.

In antiquity in India, a long time prior to colonization and thus prior to imported prudishness, there was the ancient tradition of adoring the lord of Love, Kamadeva, shown beautifully by the erotic carvings and sculptures in the Khajuraho complex of monuments and the famous KAMASUTRA lovemaking treaty.

In Greece the Eastern Orthodox Church has another Saint, Hyacinth of Caesarea. He protects people who are in love and the feast is on July 3.

In Persian culture there is the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan festival, an earth celebration where love is expressed to mothers and wives. In contemporary Iran the holiday has been scheduled on Feb. 17, just to be different in regards to the Western holiday.

Universal souls have probably no problem whatsoever to celebrate all these dates and festivities, after all the spirit is love, isn't it? Perhaps some might delight in reading Rumi's DIVAN SHAMSUDDIN TABRIZI – others might get elevated by some of Ibn 'Arabi's condensed thoughts and reflections about love, wonderfully presented and commented by William C. Chittick in his DIVINE ROOTS OF HUMAN LOVE. Yet others would get carried away by the beautiful Classical Arabic poetry of pre-Islamic times of Antar Ibn Shadat's MUALAQAT, an epic love poem written in gold leaf and placed on the walls of Mecca in ancient time together with the other seven odes by different Arab poets of that period. Just for the time reference: Antar was an old man when the Prophet Muhammad – PBUH – was born.

There is a Sufi saying that “sensual love is the shadow of mystical love...” Meaning that love for a human being is a kind of lower form of love than for the Divine – however, sensual or human love is required on the path to advance in order to develop love for the Divine, in other words, human love can have an evolutionary impact, but not always and not automatically. It can be, or it may be so, under certain circumstances.

In this context it is of great interest to hear that Maulana Jami asked those who wanted to become his students if they had ever loved?

If we look at the myth of Eros who aims his arrow at those who when pierced in their hearts will fall in love, we get the idea that love might be a divine gift. And when reading Plato's Symposium, or Banquet, we find out that one of the men present explains the nature of love in the form of a tale being told to the guests. In my retold words, he said that prior to the existence of the human race there were round beings rolling around on the earth. They had two faces, four arms and four legs. Some of them were male and female – others were all female – and yet others were all male. These beings began to behave arrogantly and outrageous, so the Gods on Mount Olympus had a brain storming session to decide what to do with these beings. After long arguments in pro and contra (to kill them or let them live), a compromise was agreed upon. It was decided to cut each of these beings in half, thus keeping them busy to search for their other half...

This gives us a symbolic explanation why we have different types of sexualities (heterosexuals, and homosexuals – both in the female and male variation). Of course this tale doesn't explain what we call nowadays inter-sexed and transgender identities, not to forget asexuals, just to be fair and mention it all.

Now some people seem to fall in love blindly in a stupid or nutty way (regardless if they happen to be straight, gay, lesbian, inter-sexed or transgender folks). Others don't and progress from a crush on someone to falling in love and loving a person – whoever it may be to fulfill their natural heart's desire and attraction. Remember, no matter what, from a Sufi perspective a person's sexuality is God-given, created by Allah, and thus it ought to be accepted. The difference between falling in love blindly or somewhat more refined and aware is most likely a reflection of the development of the nafs, the commanding self – or the lack of its development.

No matter where people stand on their evolutionary ladder, relationships are a perfect tool to refine the commanding self, the nafs, and grow on multiple levels. In my view this includes romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, as well as work relationships.

Sufism is indeed focused on the field of action regarding relationships and the transformation of the lower self: “From base metal into gold” - as the alchemical Sufi saying goes.

Coming back to love. I have never experienced that I decided to fall in love, nor have I met anyone who did. It happened or it didn't. Or is there anyone ready to come up with a different take on that?

And coming back to the Divine, there is of course the famous hadith qudsi of the Hidden Treasure, meaning a sacred hadith where God is the speaker: “I was a treasure that was not known, so I loved to be known. Hence I created the creatures and I made Myself known to them, and thus they came to know Me.”

In this very context Ibn 'Arabi's poem found in the FUTUHAT MAKKIYYA resonates with special overtones: From love we originate. For love we were created. That is what we aim for and it is to this we have given ourselves.

And he also wrote: To my own soul I was wed and I was my husband while I was my wife.

However, Ibn 'Arabi's most famous lines are the following from his TARJUMAN AL-ASHWAQ, the Interpreter of Desires, which are very suited in my view to be read on Valentine's Day:

Oh marvel! A garden amidth fires!
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a table for idols and the pilgrim's Kaaba
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur'an.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

In 1382 Goeffrey Chaucer wrote his PARLEMENT OF FOULES, where we can find an early association of Valentine's Day with romantic love: For this was on seynt Volantynys day whan euery bryd cometh to cheese his make. (For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate).

And in 15th century France we find some surviving early French Valentine's poetry by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné
ma tres doulce Valentinée...

Also William Shakespeare mentions Valentine's Day in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.

We also mustn't forget Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, longing for greater wholeness and the beautiful words of Antonio Machado, who wrote:

Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt – marvelous error! -
that it was God I had
inside my heart.

Have a blessed and loving Valentine's Day – how can love be forbidden?

Ishq bashad, may love be upon you, a Persian Sufi greeting – or in Arabic: Ishq aleikum!


Saludos, con Dios, Rahal Eks

Monday, January 26, 2015

Upcoming Urs of Abdulqadr Jilani on February 1, 2015 by Rahal Eks

Sheikh Abdulqadr Jilani's turba  in Baghdad

Sayyed Muhyiddin Abu Muhammad Abdulqadr Al-Jilani Al-Hassani Wal-Hussaini, called the Sultan Al-Awliya, Ghaus-e-Aazam and Jangi Dust, was born 11 Rabi al-Thani 470 A.H. or 1078 C.E. in Gilan in Persia. From his father's side he was 'Hassani' and from his mother's side 'Hussaini', meaning he was a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad – PBUH – via Ali and Fatima and both their children Hassan and Hussain.

His first name 'Muhyiddin' means 'Reviver of Religion' and 'Abdulqadr' means 'Servant of the Able'.

Abdulqadr was educated in Baghdad where he studied Law and Hadith, as well as being trained in Tasawwuf, the Sufi Tradition.

After the completion of his education he left Baghdad and spent 25 years as a reclusive wandering dervish in the desert regions of Iraq. He returned to Baghdad in 1127 C.E. and began to teach: in the mornings Hadith and Tafsir, and in the afternoons Sufism, the Path of the Heart.

Abdulqadr was one of the rare teachers who reconciled exoteric religion with esoteric mysticism. His books include FUTUH AL-GHAIB (Revelations of the Unseen), which are 78 powerful and to the point discourses – AL-FATH AR-RABBANI (The Sublime Revelations), 62 somewhat longer discourses given in Baghdad between 545-546 A.H. - KITAB SIRR AL-ASRAR WA MAZHAR AL-ANWAR (The Book of the Secret of the Secrets and the Manifestation of Light), as well as numerous other works.

Maulana Abdulqadr Jilani passed away – aged 89 years according to the Islamic lunar calendar – in 561 A.H. (1166 C.E.). His shrine is located in Baghdad on the East bank of the Tigris. The Qadiriyya Sufi Tariqa received its name from Abdulqadr. It is one of the big main Sufi Orders, next to the Chishtis and Naqshbandis, for example. The Urs or Wisal is the passing away date – called the Wedding Feast with the Beloved. Abdulqadr's Urs falls in 2015 on Feb. 1 of the Gregorian calendar. His spiritual impact went way beyond Tariqa borders and is still felt today on a global scale. For example in Morocco it is quite common among the syncretic Gnaoua Brotherhoods to invoke the Baraka of Abdulqadr Jilani before starting a Leila, a spiritual night with trance music and dance for cleaning and healing purposes.

Maulana Abdulqadr Jilani is one of the very important figures of the Sufi Tradition, respected and loved by many dervishes and Sufis worldwide. He was reported to have a tremendous Baraka and special spiritual powers that gave rise to numerous inspirational stories and tales.

Ishq bashad, saludos con Dios, Rahal Eks

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Qur'an does not forbid images of the Prophet - PBUH

A Persian miniature of the Prophet Muhammad - PBUH and the Angel Jibril (Gabriel)

Feel free to delight in the wonderful newsweek article by Christiane Gruber - a scholar specializing in Islamic paintings of the Prophet - with a link below. I am very happy reading these reaffirming historical facts, even though I already knew them before due to the lucky circumstances of having received a liberal education and a multicultural Sufi training. Plus being a critical soul at heart and an artist who at times indulges with great pleasure in figurative painting, as well as not having been influenced by negative indoctrination and conditioning of certain doubtful sources of reasoning or rather the lack of common sense.

As much as articles of this type make me happy, I also feel saddened by the very unfortunate trend trying to deny certain historical facts and pretending that Islamic art has always been entirely abstract and non-figurative - this is wrong. Just check the article below and you get more than just a hint of the beautiful figurative facts!

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal

http://www.newsweek.com/koran-does-not-forbid-images-prophet-298298