Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé was a queer theologian, HIV/AIDS activist, interfaith scholar, multi-ethnic artist, and spiritual leader. He died on Feb. 9, 2016 at age 63 in Oakland, California.
Formerly known as Elias Farajajé-Jones, he grew up in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious family in Berkeley in the 1950s and 1960s. Both of his parents were education activists of mixed heritage. He was considered one of the first black male students at Vassar, where he received a bachelor’s degree in religion in 1972.
He went on to earn a Masters of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir’s Eastern Orthodox Seminary in New York and a doctorate in theology from the University of Bern, Switzerland. Farajajé taught for 10 years at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC. He was the first faculty advisor to Howard University’s LGBTQ group Oxala.
In 1995 he joined the faculty at the Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist/Multireligious member school of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. He spent 21 years teaching at Starr King, where he was known with fond respect as “Ibrahim Baba.” He was serving as provost and professor of cultural studies and Islamic studies at the time of his death.
Farajajé was planning to retire at the end of the 2016-17 academic year. He was surrounded by family and friends after being hospitalized for a massive heart attack.
My experiences with Ibrahim Farajajé
I knew him as Elias, and I remember him as a great thinker who embodied fluidity of sexuality, race, religion, language and much more.
Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé was a queer theologian, HIV/AIDS activist, professor, artist, activist and spiritual leader.
His eclectic and seemingly endless scholarly interests included heteronormativity, multireligiosity, transphobia, ‘earthodoxy’-religion and care for the Earth, immigration policies, hasidic/sufi overlaps, death penalty abolition, colonisation, gynephobia, and Buddhist/Muslim intersections. He knew 16 languages. He considered himself to be a “scholartivist” — scholar, artist, activist and spiritual leader.
Elias made a big impression on me personally when I first heard him speak at a Metropolitan Community Church conference in the 1990s.
I took the initiative and invited him to submit a liturgy for “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies and Celebrations.” As co-editor of the book, I worked to ensure that his unique voice was included in the book.
In his bio for the book, he described himself as “a queer-identified bisexual / two-spirit person” of African and Cherokee ancestry.
As I remember it, Elias was the last of about 30 contributors to submit his manuscript. I was thrilled when it came by fax in a large typeface, using up the entire roll of fax paper!
“A remembrance rooted in solidarity”
His prayer for “Equal Rites” was titled “Invocation of Remembrance, Healing and Empowerment in a Time of AIDS.” The opening words are strikingly appropriate as we celebrate the life of the theologian who wrote them:
To the living and the dead, we bear witness. We gather in an act of remembrance of all of our ancestors and in a particular way of all those LGBT people of color who have died in the struggle with AIDS, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer, but also of those who were denied adequate health care and were target of racism, sexism, poverty, violence, homohatred, and other evils. Ours is a remembrance rooted in a spirit of solidarity and a spirit of resistance — a resistance that strengthens and empowers us to live and act boldly….
Farajajé also wrote the foreword to “Sexuality, Religion and the Sacred: Bisexual, Pansexual and Polysexual Perspectives,” edited by Loraine Hutchins and H. Sharif Williams (2012). His other publications include “African Creative Expressions of the Divine” (Howard University Press, 1991), which he co-edited with Davis Kortright, and “In Search of Zion: The Spiritual Significance of Africa For Three Black Religious Movements” (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang Publishing, 1990).
His voice lives on in a video interview and in the hearts of those who knew him.
Another video shows highlights from the chapel service honoring him at Starr King in February 2016.
Links related to Ibrahim Farajajé
News brief: Starr King announces death of provost Ibrahim Farajajé (Unitarian Universalist World)
Oral history of Ibrahim Farajajé (LGBT Religious Archives Network)
Our Great Loss (sksm.edu)
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
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