Hamza Khan is a citizen and political activist based in Montgomery County, Maryland. Since 2001, Hamza has advised, worked on, or consulted for over a dozen Democratic campaigns at the county, state, and national levels. Hamza has formally studied Arabic, Farsi, French, Hebrew and Japanese–and continues to practice them in his spare time. In 2014, he received a citation from Maryland’s then-Governor Martin O’Malley for over a decade of intensive involvement in Muslim-Jewish relations. Here, he shares how 200 members of the LGBTQ and Muslim communities participated in the #SolidarityIftar in the wake of the tragic Orlando mass shooting.
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 life story 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.
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 Democratic 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.