“I hope people come,” he says, wiping sweat from his brow — he took two buses to get here from his home in Shaw. “Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, it’s 10 people. Either way, I will be here.”
Abdullah is wearing circular glasses and a cream-colored Muslim prayer cap with a traditional long tunic and big black shoes. He’s a little nervous, pacing as he lays out his prayer rugs and waits for the sound of the door opening downstairs.
“Our mosque is just different,” he says. “I have a slightly different vision of Islam, and it may take a while for the world to catch up.”
He had a crisis last year when he went three weeks without anyone showing up. “I said, ‘God, what do I do?’ ” The next night he heard a voice telling him to patient, he says. “But the next week and the week after that no one showed up.” The following week, as he was serving food for Iftar, the evening meal at which Muslims break their fast during the month of Ramadan, 32 people showed up.
Part of the problem is that Abdullah’s target audience has often left the faith, said Urooj Arshad, 37, a Pakistani American and member of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Arshad sees herself as a cultural and secular Muslim.
“But he’s our one and only, and there’s no one else in the U.S. who does the work that he does,” said Arshad, who works in Washington on LGBTQ rights.
Tonight, as Abdullah sings the call to prayer, only one person shows up. He leaves quickly, after the first prayer, head down as he thanks the imam.
‘He opened a lot of people’s eyes’
There’s one place where Abdullah is always celebrated: at the home of the Muslim and Quaker couple for whom he performed a reading. The couple met nine years ago in the Middle East, ended up moving to Washington and were married in a Washington ceremony with 300 guests. They now have a 10-month-old daughter.
A wedding certificate in Arabic script hangs in their living room. On it is a gender-neutral verse from the Koran that reads: “He created for you spouses from among yourselves, in order to have tranquility and contentment with each other, and He placed in your hearts love and care towards your spouses.” In accordance with Quaker tradition, all the witnesses to the wedding signed the certificate.
“His presence at our wedding was really inspiring. He opened a lot of people’s eyes to the possibility of being gay and being Muslim and being out,” said J.C., a lawyer. His partner, M.Q., a graphic designer, said meeting Abdullah helped him reconnect with a faith he thought would never accept him. Because of the imam, their wedding became larger than themselves, they said.
“At first, even I thought, ‘Wow, can there be a gay Muslim imam?’ ” said M.Q. “Imam Daayiee gives a lot of people hope.”