An out gay Imam has created an online school which allows users to access information on LGBT-friendly Islamic philosophy.
Daayiee Abdullah has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, and says he believes nobody should be excluded from religious rites.
Abdullah was the first out gay imam in the US, and has become increasingly outspoken, since 2002 when he was approached to officiate at the funeral of a man who died of AIDS-related illness.
Speaking to Truthout, he said: “The idea that same-sex-oriented people can’t be as faithful or pious as heterosexuals is not something that is found in the Quran.
“It’s a cultural attitude, influenced by time and place, which is why ideas about acceptable sexual behaviour vary widely.”
Abdullah was inspired to set up the MECCA Institute, which acts as a think-tank and school, and allows people around the globe to access classes on modern day expectations of Islamic philosophy.
As well as acceptance and tolerance, the Institute aims to deconstruct ideas of rigid ideologies promoted by fundamentalist groups such as ISIS.
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Classes at MECCA are to include early Islamic history, comparative Quran, Arabic and gender and sexual variance in Islamic texts.
The school was set up with a $60,000 grant, which enabled Abdullah to found it.
“Five years from now I want to see 100 new imams who’ve been trained in an inclusive Muslim ideology,” he said.
“All of our classes will be open to Muslims and non-Muslims. Anyone who wants to learn about Islam, Christianity or Judaism and promote interfaith relations will be welcome. As an institute, we want to melt barriers and open up dialogue between diverse people.”
Originally from Detroit, Abdullah studied Chinese and Arabic Languages at Beijing University, and learned of Chinese Silk Road traders, who were introduced to Islam, but did not have issues with same-sex relationships.
“The Islam they practiced did not see being gay as an issue since Chinese history includes many leaders with same-gender partners,” he said. “They took me to their mosque, and what I heard made perfect sense, so I kept going back.”
He hoped to bring elements of what he learned in China, and uses it as inspiration to set up his Institute.
The 61-year-old has taken his appellation from a tribute offered by a Chinese friend who called him Tang Da Yi, which means the peaceful man of great virtue.