MY TOP 30 DO’S AND DONT’S FOR COVERING MUSLIMS AND ISLAM IN THE MEDIA

First, I begin by quoting the greatest Sufi Shaikh of all time, Yoda, who said: “Do or Do Not. There Is No Try.”

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1. Do Diversify your portfolio of token Muslims. Different Muslim superheroes have different superpowers.

2. Do not assume Arabs = Muslims and Muslims = Arabs. Do not use them interchangeably.

3. Do seek out Muslims who are black and/or white and or other colors. They exist, not all are brown.

4. Do not assume bearded men or covered women are religious Muslims.

5. Do not assume clean shaven men or uncovered women are not religious Muslims.

6. Do talk to more women, who are the majority of Muslim populations.

7. Do more stories about Muslim women not involving hijab or the burqa or honor killing or FGM.

8. Do not use the words “unveil” in your title.

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9. Do not assume just because a person claims to represent Muslim communities, he/she does.

10. Do not use fringe Muslims as representatives for diverse Muslim communities. For example, Graeme Wood relied on Anjem Choudary for his infamous “What is ISIS” Atlantic article. Anjem is like the Pastor Jones of Muslim communities.

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11. Do not assume all Muslims can talk about Islam.

12. Do have some Muslims talking about Islam. Just like you should have African Americans talking about racism and women talking about feminism and South Asians talking about Bollywood.

(NOTE: If your panel on Islam has no Muslims, that is a problem.)

13. Do not assume practicing Muslims support ISIS or Al Qaeda. Unlike Don Lemon, do not ask “Do you support ISIS ..or AQAP or… Taliban?”

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14. Do not ask or frame a conversation around the question: “Where are Moderate Muslims? Do they exist? Are they bearded unicorns?”

15. Do use “Moderate Muslim” in your title if you’re intentionally disrupting that simplistic narrative and showing the nuances.

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16. Do appreciate Muslims are the most diverse religious communities in America – based on ethnicity, education, ideology and so forth.

17. Do not say “The Moslems.”

18. Do not say “The Muslim world” – there is no Muslim world.

19. Do not say “The Muslim community” – there are many Muslim communities.

20. Do not ask “What does Islam say?” – Islam doesn’t say anything, Muslims do.

21. Do appreciate the unique differences between Shiism and Sunnism and the many different communities within them.

22. Do not lump Islamist with Jihadist with Salafist with Traditionalist.

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23. Do not use religiously laden terms to describe groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda as “Islamic extremist” or “Islamic terrorist” – just use terrorist, criminals or violent extremists.

24. Do reach out to local, national and international Muslims using social media or whatever means at your disposal: be proactive and establish a relationship. Reach across the aisle in good faith, and you will generally see reciprocity. Muslims are still young and evolving in certain arenas – including media, philanthropy, and institution building.

25. Do attend a local or national community event: an iftar, a jumaa, college event, a local presentation, etc.

26. Do focus on interesting stories done by Americans who just happen to be Muslims.

27. Do write on American Muslim stories that are not framed around national security or terrorism or extremism.

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28. Do find utility and value in American Muslim experiences and contributions other than helping national security or fighting terrorism and countering violent extremism.

29. Do not compare Zayn Malik to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

30. Do more stories on Zayn Malik. Teenage girls love Zayn Malik.

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***BONUS: Do projects, stories, events with American Muslims around shared values, rather than just “Muslim” issues. Lets create a superhero Justice League comprised of the coalition of the willing

***BONUS BONUS: Don’t have double standards

***BONUS BONUS BONUS

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Things I learned About ‘Merica By Watching The Super Bowl

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– In ‘Merica, “North America” means “World Champions”

– New Jersey is where Broncos go to die.

– A hijabi is drinking a Coke somewhere in America, most likely with biryani or kebobs. #AmericaIsBeautiful

– God bless Amreeka, where all ethnicities succumb to the sugary, carbonated, fatty goodness of the marketing Unicron known as Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

– That #AmericaIsBeautiful @CocaCola commercial is probably the worst nightmare for some pockets of America.

– Silly online backlash to Coca-Cola’s America the Beautiful ad also reveals some of the nation’s lingering ugliness.

– English is the only language that’s American, tu comprendes, Coke?! Naam? Acha, theek? Bueno. America the Beautiful.

– Foreign Languages. Hijab. Black President. Immigrants. Geography. Now officially adding Coke to this august list of things “un-American”

– Bruno Mars can sing, dance, jump and play drums for 15 minutes without moving a single strand of his luscious, finely combed hair. Meanwhile, all Desi men above the age of 30 send evil eye to Bruno Mars. 

– A Flea + A Legion of “Thugs” + a man named Bruno can make a Crappy Bowl intermittently Super.

– The dude who brings out the Lombardi Trophy must look like an extra from The Sopranos or The Godfather. He just left the gun, but brought the canoli…and the trophy. 

– Roger Goodell should never be allowed to say “shout out” ever again.

– Horse + Dog + Passenger song is enough for a teetotaling Muslim to temporarily root for Budweiser. 

– Electro in AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 look like Mr. Freeze from BATMAN AND ROBIN: proof that humanity is doomed and never learns from its tragic mistakes.

– Scientology commercial during Super Bowl = Xenu is pleased.

– It takes Matrix + Opera + Laurence Fishburne + Agents eating a fancy dinner to finally make KIA’s cool.

– Apparently, if you give China, North Korea, Iran AXE deodorant, then they’ll embrace peace. Question the rest of the world is asking: “What deodorant will it take for America to change?”

– Super Bowl Commercials reveal all about ‘Merica’s obsessions: “Cars. Beer. Chips. Hollywood Movies. Armed Forces. Trucks. Animals selling beer. Blondes. Celebs selling soda, movies, cars, beer. Animals + Celebs selling beer.”

– The NFL is part of the American trinity that includes the Armed Forces and God. The Declaration of Independence makes an appearance once in a while. However, the Founding Fathers would probably be appalled black men are allowed to play a sport alongside white men. Just saying.

HAKIM: A Short Story by Sajid Ahmed

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A countdown went on above Hakim as he lied on the ground looking off to the side. He made out blurry faces that whirled around like a wave. He looked up and saw what appeared like a man pointing his hand out with every count upwards.

“5…6…7…,” the shapes started to come together, the crowd became clearer, and his senses centered. His brain gave the signal to his joints, but they were slow to respond. One glove made it to the ropes as he tried pulling himself up. Through the ropes’ three openings, fans pumped their fists in the air and hollered out inaudible words. He threw his other arm up and over the rope, and like a pull-up tried raising his body upwards. 

“8…9…,” He gave everything he had, from his core down to his ankles. He felt his body give way until all the energy, determination, and hope evaporated. As if dropped, his body slammed back down to the floor. 

“Ten! He’s out!”

The referee looked one last time at him, and waved his hands over his head sideways, and the crowd erupted. Hakim looked over at his opponent who climbed the turnbuckle and started pounding his chest towards the crowd. The opposite corner men hugged each other, and threw their arms around their fighter as he jumped down to greet them. Hakim slid himself back to the turnbuckle, with his hands at his torso, and just breathed, and breathed.

 

He sat alone in the fighters’ locker room on a bench in front of his locker. His damp body air dried with only his neck receiving the touch of a white towel. The floor became his mirror and there he went into utter silence for a minute. As he looked up, his bruised, battered, and bloodied body glanced back at him through a mirror placed on the wall in front of him.  He began touching his wounds, starting from a purple and brownish spot on his rib that pulsed with pain as he pressed into it, all the way up to his reddened cheek bone. Before he turned away from the mirror, a silver ring on his finger caught his attention. He averted his eyes from the mirror and looked at the ring for a few seconds, going over it with his other finger. 

 

On a bus, Hakim sat in the back looking out the window. He wore a green v neck t-shirt and black soccer pants with his duffel bag sitting on his lap. Having passed the suburban posh homes, the GH 35 entered the rough area of Chicago’s neighborhood. Broken down fences, graffiti sprayed walls, and rims stripped of nets basketball courts. 

Three men, two white and black, entered the bus at a stop wearing hoodies and beanies. 

“Man you crazy, shit was getting heavy out there with that one dude,” one of the men said. Hakim glanced over at them for a second then looked back out the window.

“Ey yo look at her,” one of the white males said, pointing at a brunette woman sitting in two rows ahead of Hakim. She pulled her purse to her lap from her shoulder, and put her head down as the men made their way towards her.

Two of the men sat down a row ahead of the girl, while the remaining one leaned on the edge of the seat in front of the woman. She looked up at him, then back down.

“Wassup girl,” he said. She kept her head down and looked to the side, “You goin’ ignore me? Why don’t you scoot over a bit? Let’s chop it up real quick.” He slid his hand down her shoulder, and she punched it away with an open palm. He grabbed her wrist and pushed her into the corner, while the other men watched. Hakim slid his duffel bag to the side, stood up, and cracked his knuckles.

At the next stop, two of the men carried off their third member, whose gray sweatshirt now bathed in almost dried up blood. Hakim sat in the same position as before, in the backseat with his duffel bag on his lap. Both his knuckles had blood on them, some of his from punching so hard, and mostly from the man he had punched twice, once on the chin and once in the nose.

 

Hakim got off on Samper Road, and walked a block down the street to his apartment complex. He unlocked the door to find the place dark. After clicking on the lights, the room looked tidy and cleaner than before. He narrowed his eyes and looked up at the clock that read 9:30. The floor had been vacuumed. He could tell through the soft impact made whenever he took a step on the carpet. The counter, the table, everything had been swept, wiped, washed, and mopped, but Hakim only looked worried. An envelope sitting on the counter next to the sink, caught his eyes, and he dropped his duffel bag to the floor.

He lifted the seal, and took out from it a neat handwritten one page letter. It read:

Dear Hakim,

I’m leaving.

I told you that I didn’t want to see you fighting anymore, and despite my plea, you went out and did just so. What’s worse is you left without telling me and lied about where you were when I had called you the other day.

 

We’ve been married for just over a year now, and I don’t feel happy anymore. You promised you’d make things work before we got into this relationship, you said if things got out of hand you’d leave boxing. I don’t care if you deny it or not, but look at where and how we’re living. Whenever I want to talk or spend time with you, there’s either a cut over your eye or a tear on your pride that I have to mend.

Hakim, I have no problem with being your support, but how long can you or I keep this up? We’re living here because you want it to be like this, because you don’t want any favors or anyone else offering any kind of help, not even me. Call me whatever you like, but this is beyond financial security, your career, or our marriage, you lied to me and couldn’t heed my one request. For that, I can’t go any farther with this relationship.

I’ve left you with a bit of money, please don’t let it sit and just accept it. It’s three months of rent, including groceries and other things.

I’m going to spend some time in New York with my family. You should also know I’m filing for a divorce, and the papers will arrive in a few days to a week.

I love you Hakim, and I always will. Please forgive me and I’m sorry. I wish you the best with whatever it is you do. Take care.

With Love,

Faizah

He stared into the last words of the letter, and the letter began to dampen as a tear from his eye fell onto “take care.” 

At around 11pm, rain sprinkled the concrete floors outside and trickled against the windows, making enough noise to keep Hakim from his already in-and-out slumber. He hadn’t changed, nor had his eyes shut all the way in the past half-hour. He felt strange without the warmth and comfort of Faizah, who usually soothed him of the pain with her sweet words. He had twisted turned, laid on his back and his side to no avail. The sheets came off, and he walked out of the room.

In the kitchen, he opened the fridge that revealed milk, peanut butter, cheese, a few loafs of bread, and several yogurt containers. He looked at them with distaste, and pulled out the bread and cheese. As he put his bread into the toaster, he fetched himself a glass of milk and leaned against the sink. Thunder began to roar outside as the rain slipped off the windows. The mixture of lonely thoughts, pain from his wounds, and the cold air made him almost paranoid. Before it all overtook him, the ring of the toaster brought him back to the moment.

But he stared at the toaster, the sound bringing back painful memories, almost amplifying his current cuts and bruises to another level of pain. He snatched the two pieces of bread from the toaster, and smacked a piece of cheese between them. Without a plate, Hakim dropped on to the couch and turned the TV on. He flipped through about 20 channels until stopping at a highlight of professional boxing.

“Johnny “Quicks” Benson with lighting fast combinations put on a clinic as you can see here with an array of precisely timed power punches he..,” the highlight of Benson continued as the commentator narrated, “Roberts Jr. finally came toppling to an end when Benson connected on a two-punch combination in the 8th round, holding on to this welterweight title.”

All the while, Hakim hadn’t touched his sandwich, his eyes stuck to the screen and Benson’s ensuing post-fight interview.

“Man I just want to thank God, the city of Chicago for letting me do what I do. I grew up in tough times and I did what I had to do to come away with this victory and I just hope I can keep proving to the world why they call me one of the best in boxing,” Benson into a microphone looking into the camera.

Hakim turned the television off, and remained still, deep in thought. His milk stood on the table, and sandwich in hand, yet to have been bit. His eyes gazed into the sandwich for a few seconds. He threw the sandwich sideways and let out a yell.

“Ahh,” he slapped the glass of milk to the side that shattered into tiny shards covered in milk.

“Fuck,” he lifted the table with both hands and flipped it on its head, “Fuck!” He crumpled onto the floor, with his arms wrapped over his knees and chin tucked, “Fuck,” he murmured. He sniffled again and again as another, yet more aggressive, round of tears fell from his eyes. The blinds, halfway open, gave way to the only light in the room, with occasional thunder flashing up the inside like a disco ball. 

He lifted his head, and faced the windows. From his pocket, he dug out Faizah’s slightly crumbled letter he had folded. The letter crushed and shrunk under the vice grip he applied to it from inside of his fists. His palm swiped away at the tears, and he propped up. He flung open the door and took a few steps out to the small lawn next to the driveway. 

Hundreds of droplets of rain dabbed his face as he closed his eyes and lifted his chin to the sky. He let his hands dangle at his hips. After a few seconds, his band aids dampened and began to come apart, but he stayed still. Cool tingles went down his spine, and with every crack of thunder he held his ground. 

His hands pushed his now silky wet hair back, while his eyes reemerged open. His tears and rain mixing, he looked down at the letter. The ink began to drip from the paper that had become soft as tissue paper. After bringing the letter eye-level, he ripped it apart, and let it fall to the ground. He stomped on the letter once, then pressed his forefoot into it and pivoted back and forth.

He looked back up to the sky, “I was doing this for you! This was all for you!” He punched at the rain falling on him, “I took the fight for you! Got hit for you! How much more do you and her want from me? Answer me damn it! Answer me!” 

He fell onto his knees, and continued to bathe in the rain and thunder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Abu Humpty Dumpty Nursery Rhyme

 

Abu Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Abu Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn’t put Abu Humpy together again.

So they framed his son, Humpty, instead.
Without Miranda, cuffed him and dragged him out of his bed.

Sentenced by a vegan judge in front of an honorable jury of his egg white peers,
He left the court for prison in tears.

That night, he wept himself to sleep chained in a bracelet,
The next day, the warden and guards opened their fast with a salty omelette.

“Can Pamela Geller work with straight and queer Muslims?”

Can Pamela Geller work with straight and queer Muslims?

Dr. Junaid Jahangir

Recently, San Francisco public officials and queer community leaders expressed concerns that the anti-gay bus ads backed by Pamela Geller would denigrate the city’s Muslim community. Indeed, by emphasizing the outrageous comments of controversial Muslim leaders, these ads incite fear and demonize an entire minority.

Instead of stereotyping and generalizing, can the likes of Pamela Geller recognize the immense work being done by both straight and queer Muslims? Instead of creating divisiveness, can they work with Muslims towards affecting positive change?

The ads include the controversial opinions of President Ahmedinejad — ‘In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals’ and of the influential Sheik Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood — ‘the punishment for homosexuality is death’.

However, such selective references provide a misguided view of the current Muslim position on queer rights issues. By putting the spotlight on President Ahmedinejad, Geller’s ad ignores the work of queer Iranian activists like Arsham Parsi  and developments like the Iranian Gay Pride that took place in Turkey in 2011.

Geller’s ad also does not account for the academic work by Iranian Professor Arash Naraghi, who has argued that it is possible to be a devoted Muslim and believe that homosexuality is morally permissible.

It does not seem reasonable to quote Sheik Qaradawi without mentioning that over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries not only called for an international treaty to counter such clerics but also for a tribunal set by the United Nations Security Council to put them on trial for inciting violence.

It is also noteworthy that Muslim Professor Scott Kugle argued in an academic article how Sheik Qaradawi churns out his homophobia as part of ‘an agenda to reinforce perceived threats to Muslim masculinity’.

Cherry picking quotes from homophobic Muslim leaders and projecting on the entire Muslim community is akin to stereotyping the entire Christian community by referencing equally influential evangelical leaders who believe gays should be put to death and the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose links with American fundamentalist Christian groups has led to the immense persecution of the Ugandan queer community.

It is also noteworthy that instead of referencing Muslim leaders from the United States, Geller’s ads make use of quotes from fanatical Muslim leaders who are living through upheavals in Egypt and economic difficulties in Iran.

Both American political and religious Muslim leaders have very different views on queer rights than what the Geller ads would have us believe. In 2009, the Council on American-Islamic Relations supported the hate crime bill that sought to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity.

Among Muslim political leaders, Geller may quote Ako Abdul Samad, the Iowa State representative from the 66th district, as saying ‘if standing up for equal protection under the law is a sin, then all of us in this room are sinners’.

Geller can also reference the first Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, representative of the 5th district in Minnesota, as stating, ‘I am proud to be vice-chair of the Congressional Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Caucus’.

He can also be quoted as saying, ‘It is not your place to judge and condemn others’ and ‘If the person you happen to love and want to be with happens to be the same-sex and gender as you then I say God Bless you and try to be as happy as you can in this very difficult world’.

Likewise, Geller can reference the second Muslim Congressman Andre Carson, representative of the 7th district in Indiana, as stating, ‘As a proud member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, I am committed to the Caucus’ mission to “achieve the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well-being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression”’.

Among Muslim religious leaders, Geller can quote Imam Johari Malik, director of Outreach at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Centre in Northern Virginia, as stating, ‘If someone says, “gay sex is nasty”, just ask them, “how do you know?” … “It’s time to get past our homophobia to help human beings”’.

Likewise, Geller can also reference Imam Suhaib Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest mosque in the New England area, as stating, ‘If someone who’s a homosexual comes to the mosque, wants to pray, wants to worship, be part of the community, I have no issue with that,’ and ‘Ultimately, people who have whatever inclinations in their life, no one has a right to bar them from their experience with God.’

It would be academic dishonesty and intellectual sloth to quote classical Muslim texts to represent the current conservative Muslim opinion. Just as the Jewish halacha changes with new knowledge and moral sensibilities so does the Muslim Sharia.

Even conservative leaders like Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Orange County in California, one of the largest mosques in the U.S., who had earlier proscribed queer people and stated that ‘no one is born a homosexual’, have slightly shifted their view point on the issue.

 In a recent interview, he mentioned, ‘many Muslim jurists today are inclined to accept on the basis of modern research that it is quite possible that people may be born with this [orientation]’ and that ‘we all have to learn and understand things more, so we do change our minds on the basis of understanding the human situation’.

Indeed, by accepting same-sex orientation but prescribing permanent celibacy for queer people, the conservative Muslim opinion is somewhat similar to the Vatican ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ position.

However, Islam is not a monolith. While, acknowledging the classical Islamic position, Professor of Islamic Law, Dr. Mohammad Fadel mentioned in the context of the 2012 U.S. Elections, ‘I think one can certainly take the view, and I know a lot of Muslims might find this to be controversial, that we can support the idea of same-sex marriage because what we want is to make sure that all citizens have access to the same kinds of public benefits that other people do’.

Fadel’s opinion is not novel in this regard, for the late Imam Zaki Badawi had expressed in the context of U.K. civil partnerships that queer Muslims could take advantage of such relationships provided they were not sexually active.

Similarly, Dr. Omid Safi recently weighed in on same-sex marriage in the U.S. He has clearly stated ‘Love is love. Family is family, though they come in different shapes. My children have gay and lesbian friends.  They belong a social club at school that is an alliance of straight, gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual students’.

Referencing the Prophet’s saying ‘Do not do onto others what you dislike for yourself’, he has come out in full support of marriage equality by stating ‘Live and let live. If it’s important to you to be married and have your love recognized by the state, recognize that it is important to others’.

The strongest support for queer Muslims in the U.S. comes from the community Muslims for Progressive Values, which has chapters and gender and queer inclusive mosques  in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Salt Lake City and Columbus, Ohio. Their Board of Directors includes Imam Daayiee Abdullah, who leads the Mosque for Enlightenment and Reform and who has worked for the queer Muslim community for over two decades.

Where the Geller ads fail to recognize this diversity of positions amongst Muslims in the U.S., some commenters on the news articles on the Geller ads, exhibit a lack of nuance in their understanding of the queer Muslim situation.

Instead of obtaining information from queer Muslim groups both in the U.S. and abroad,  commenters on the Geller ads news articles expressed alarm on the “emergency” situation for queer people in places like Saudi Arabia, mentioned the stoning of a Somali gay man and referenced the Prophet’s saying that prescribes the death penalty for ‘homosexuals’.

However, unlike the emergency situation in Uganda, Nadya Labi depicted in her article ‘The Kingdom in the closet’ how gay life flourishes in a place with religious and cultural taboos.  Likewise, it is noteworthy that Muhammad Aslam Khaki, a lawyer who specializes in Islamic law, assisted the Pakistani transgender and inter-sexed community – the Hijras, at the Supreme Court, which eventually recognized their equal rights as citizens of Pakistan.

Referring to the execution of the Somali gay man, queer Muslim activist Afdhere Jama has stated that queer Somalis ‘have all agreed this story is fake’.  Likewise, even conservative Muslim religious leaders like Imam Muzammil Siddiqi have expressed that the Prophet’s saying that prescribes the death penalty for ‘homosexuals’ is inauthentic.

Instead of being a Debbie Downer, and instead of showing half-baked concerns for the queer Muslim community, Geller and the commenters can show genuine concern by talking to queer Muslims, who despite facing both Islamophobia and homophobia, continue  their work with dignity.

Indeed, Geller and the commenters will find that tactics that include cultural imperialism, which include the June 2012 Pride celebration held by the American Embassy in Pakistan only imperil the queer Muslim community living in places whose laws were shaped by the Victorian morality of their colonial masters.

Geller and the commenters will also find that if they are genuinely interested in helping queer Muslims, they would listen to queer Palestinian activists like Haneen Maikey, who has expressed on the Israeli occupation, ‘Stop speaking in my name and using me for a cause you never supported in the first place … stop bombing my friends, end your occupation, and leave me to rebuild my community’.

Geller and the commenters can also help queer Muslims causes by supporting the Iranian railroad for queer refugees, U.A.E. based queer Muslims with their concerns with the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, or the closer to home 2013 Philadelphia LGBTQ Muslim retreat.

In short, instead of creating fear mongering and divisiveness, will Geller and the commenters overcome their limitations to work with Muslims, both straight and queer, towards affecting positive change?

Dr. Junaid Jahangir is a Lecturer of Economics at MacEwan University.

 An earlier version of this article was published on March 28 in the Huffington Post.

For a different perspective on Islam and Homosexuality, check out Gareth Bryant’s piece in Altmuslim