Muslim, gay and guilt for Orlando shootings

In Malik Gillani's fantasy, here in the holy month of Ramadan, the mosques of Chicago would make a meal and invite gay people in.

Come break bread with us, the imams would say, and let us hear your stories. Tell us what it's like to be two men who love each other. To be two lesbians raising a child. To be a young gay man rejected by his family.

In Gillani's fantasy, the recent massacre in an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub would turn into an opportunity for gay people and Muslims to connect with each other through their stories of struggle.

"Stories humanize us," he says.

Gillani's life is built on that notion. He and his husband, Jamil Khoury, run Silk Road Rising, a Chicago theater company that produces plays written by people of Asian and Middle Eastern descent. They founded it shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, convinced that people from different cultures and belief systems are less likely to hate each other if they know about each other.

Gillani was asleep Sunday at home in Chicago when his husband woke him with the Orlando news.

"Oh my God" was his first thought, "Who's killing gays?"

And then he heard the shooter's name, Omar Mateen, and he felt too sick even to get out of bed to gather with his gay friends to mourn.

He kept thinking, "Why are we killing gays?"

He felt the "we" of being Muslim as deeply as he felt the "we" of being gay. He identified with the killer and the victims. Guilt blended with sorrow.

"Collective guilt by association," he says.

Being Muslim and gay has never been easy. In the wake of the Orlando shootings, it's more complicated than ever.

"Muslims pride ourselves on the umma," Gillani says, "the family, the community. When someone from our family engages in an act, we're part of it."

Gillani moved to Chicago when he was 7, and for years went to the mosque twice a day. He was in his early 20s, still closeted, on the day that his family came to his house for a party. While he was in the shower, one of his brothers outed him to his parents.

"Malik is gay?" he recalls his mother saying. "What is gay?"

His big family supported him, but as he grew older, members of his mosque wondered why he wasn't married. For several years, he assured them he wasn't gay, he just hadn't found the right person, a ruse that has been used by members of many religions and also by the nonreligious.

Through the years, Gillani grew more comfortable being openly gay. Though he and his husband, an Antiochian Orthodox Christian, are likelier to go to the Methodist church, where they're welcome, than to the mosque, where they're not because Khoury is Christian, he still considers himself a devout Muslim. He says he prays all the time.

"There are people who have stopped practicing Islam as a result of being gay and being ostracized," he says. "I will not pay that price. But because I am not willing to walk away, I am left holding that bag."

The bag is the one that contains the beauties and burdens of being a gay Muslim.

A few days ago, Gillani wrote a piece for the New York Daily News about being both. A Facebook commenter told him that being both was impossible.

But he feels a need, an obligation, to show that it is possible. He has been heartened by the many Muslim leaders who have condemned the Orlando attacks, though he doesn't believe condolences are enough.

"We have for the longest time demonized the LGBT community," he says. "We need to invite people into our homes, into our mosques, our centers and say 'Talk to us.'"

He has discussed the Orlando attacks with a few other gay Muslims.

"There is a feeling of pain and sadness and 'how do we explain this?'" he says. "Sadly, a lot of the gay Muslims I know are in the closet and so it's hard for them to openly express themselves. My willingness to talk about who I am is my way of expressing contrition and trying to make change."

Gillani is just one Muslim. Just one gay person. Just one gay Muslim. Others may have other views.

They may be less optimistic than he is when he says, "We cannot bring people back from the dead, but wouldn't it be beautiful if we could use this to become better people?"

mschmich@tribpub.com

Twitter @MarySchmich

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