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Sarah Hegazi’s Life and Death Is a Reminder That the Muslim Community Must Do Better in Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community

Sarah Hegazi’s Life and Death Is a Reminder That the Muslim Community Must Do Better in Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community

Trigger warning: This article discusses death by suicide, gun violence, and mass murder, and the discrimination and oppression of the LGBTQ+ community.

It should be noted that this article is in no way meant to substitute for medical or mental health advice from a trained and educated mental health professional. Muslim Girl encourages those who need help to seek it, and encourages the use of resources such as therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and trained mental health professionals. You should never try to manage your mental health alone. You are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking professional help. Muslim Girl also does not recommend self-diagnosis; again, please seek the help of a professional. The following are the views and experiences of the author only.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

This past weekend, queer Egyptian activist Sarah Hegazi died by suicide.  She was arrested in Egypt in 2017 after waving a rainbow flag at a Mashrou Leila concert in Cairo, along with other people believed to belong to the LGBTQ+ community, in what’s said to be the largest single crackdown on queer Muslims/Egyptians in Egypt since 2001.  The full story has been reported extensively in the U.S. media, including CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

Rasha Younes, an LGBTQ+ researcher for Human Rights Watch, also wrote a moving tribute to Sarah.

Hegazi endured months of torture during her imprisonment, including physical and sexual abuse, before being released and obtaining asylum in Canada, which is where she died this past weekend. Hegazi, who had autism, struggled with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and severe anxiety and panic attacks following her imprisonment in Egypt.

Hegazi is reported to have left a short note that read as follows:  “To my siblings, I have tried to find salvation and I failed, forgive me. To my friends, the journey was cruel and I am too weak to resist, forgive me. To the world, you were cruel to a great extent, but I forgive.” 

The story can be found in its details in the above linked articles, and Younes’s article in particular speaks to the deep outpouring of grief from the global LGBTQ+ Muslim community around this tragedy. 

What is there to say about this young woman’s life being lost due to the suffering inflicted on her for merely identifying as queer, and waving a flag?

In 2016, a Muslim man walked into a gay bar — Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida — and murdered 49 people, and wounded 53 others.  Following this brutal hate crime, a large number of Muslim leaders issued a statement about their opinion about the event which they called “The Orlando Statement.”  This statement is easily accessible on the internet and can be found online at http://orlandostatement.com/

While there is debate about the statement amongst allies and the LGBTQ+ community, with some thinking that it did not go far enough, it does make clear that several core values of Islam prohibit discrimination, including the prohibition against compulsion in religion, and the long tradition of Islam being a faith of love and tolerance. Unsurprisingly, at some points following the tragedy, the Pulse Nightclub murders were cited as revenge for U.S. actions against Daesh.   

Why is this not surprising?  Because, in one sense the whole earth right now is convulsed with a battle between two forces, the forces of love and peace and the forces of hatred and war.  The death of Sarah Hegazi is a result of a war on the LGBTQ+ community, and it is about hatred.  The actions of Daesh were based on a belief that Islam is a religion that condones — and even promotes — war.  The concept that one person, or group of people, have the right to forcibly inflict their beliefs on others through violence, based on their intolerance, hatred, and self-righteous beliefs in their own superiority is at the core of all kinds of suffering that we see on earth right now.  It is connected to the suffering of the planet; the concept that there is nothing wrong with living life at the expense of the natural world. The concept that my life, or our lives, can be at the expense of other people’s lives, is at the core of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, ableism, and the destruction of the planet. Daesh epitomized this belief in their actions in numerous ways.  The concept that people can be outside of the mandates for peace and love and tolerance is believed by some to be compatible with Islam.

Hegazi wrote critically of both Islamists and Sissi’s regime, writing the following in a local independent platform Mada Masr in 2018: “Islamists and the state compete in extremism, ignorance and hate, just as they do in violence and harm. Islamists punish those who differ from them with death, and the ruling regime punishes those who differ from it with prison.” She continued, “The regime uses its tools — such as the media, and mosques — to tell Egyptian society, which is understood to be ‘religious by nature’: We too protect religion and social morality, so there is no need for Islamists to compete with us!”

However, there is another force on the planet which sees Islam as the solution to these terribly misguided and deranged mindsets, actions, and systems.  There are people who think that Islam is a religion of peace, love, and of tolerance.  They see Islam as the solution to the problems of the world, because they believe that this type of oppression is zulm (oppression/cruel/unjust), and is prohibited by our Prophet, peace be upon him, and prohibited by Allah.

“I remember her saying ‘I never felt so alive as during the revolution.’ In her honour, and to fulfil our own sense of life, it is our duty to continue fighting for the revolution here, Egypt and around the world.”

Valerie Lannon on Sarah Hergazi in Canada’s Spring magazine

The 24th Hadith of Imam Nawawi reads, “O My servants! I have forbidden dhulm (oppression) for Myself, and I have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another.”

The Quran reads in Shura:40-42: “The repayment of a bad action is one equivalent to it. But whoever pardons and makes reconciliation, his reward lies with God. He does not love the unjust.

As for those who retaliate after being wronged, there is no blame on them.

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Blame lies on those who wrong people, and commit aggression in the land without right. These will have a painful punishment.”

How is torturing a young woman at a concert who raised a flag an equivalent response? How can this type of aggression be anything but zulm? This is a religious argument. 

However, there is a more personal response, from the heart.  I am a convert, and I love Islam so much.  It is a religion of peace and love to me; a religion that could save the human race from the disastrous consequences of our ignorance.  The story of Sarah Hegazi breaks my heart for her, for her friends, and for her family, and it breaks my heart for me as a woman and as an ally.  But it breaks my heart for my religion, and for the vision I have of our Prophet, peace be upon him. 

How can a man who was so loving, so pure, and so good, be considered able to condone this type of hatred and atrocity? 

Now Egypt is blasted all over the world in the media as a barbaric, hateful, ignorant home of oppressive despots who deny people their human rights. Shame on the people who hurt Sarah and any others; they have disgraced the creation of God, disgraced the religion of Islam in the eyes of the world, disgraced themselves, and disgraced Egypt. 

There is a hadith that imams quote all the time in Friday khutbas about some Muslims; how they recite the Quran beautifully, but it does not go past their throats.  Shame on people like that, and may Allah help us do better to be a religion of love and peace, and a religion of people that follow the sunnah of our Prophet, peace be upon him. May we never be oppressors, and may we always stand in solidarity and fight for justice for those who are oppressed.

If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

If you are an LGBTQ+ Muslim who is struggling and in need of resources, please consult the following for more resources: Coming Home to Islam and Self GuidePFLAG’s resources for Muslims, and the Muslim Alliance’s resource list.

For more reading about the importance of supporting our LGBTQ+ Muslim fam, we recommend reading this open letter to the Muslim community from a gay Muslim. You can read it here.

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