Call me a sceptic. Heck, call me a disenfranchised Muslim. What ever the term, I am a western Muslim who doesn’t really fit into the traditional landscape of mosque culture. And I am seriously okay with that reality. I have come to accept it and I feel rather liberated by the fact that I know that I can trust Allah, my family and my circle of awesome muslimah sisters here in Calgary, in Vancouver, Seattle and further afeild. I know who has my back, and I know who I would walk through fire for. And for the most part, this is enough.
But every once in a while I start getting that old craving back. You know… that need for a little something more. And I am not talking about whipping out my five inch platform boots, my corset, and heading out to the local rivet night at Dickens’. I mean I start craving some Muslim event that will have me reaching deeper and striving more completely. Some event that will get me rededicated to my awrad, to my salah, to my dua’a. For many years I would head out to every local event in hopes of spiritual nourishment and every single time, save but one particular trip to Toronto, I have walked away from community events feeling very unsatisfied. At best. I have run away from too many events feeling spiritually raped, emotionally abused and physically threatened. So, over time, I just stopped attending events. This is not to say that I haven’t attended the occasion event and had a good time, because I certainly have. The Offbeat Muslim Fashion show a few years ago was a total hoot, it just wasn’t a religiously significant event… I digress…
So a few months back when I heard talk of an upcoming screening of the Wayward Son documentary by Mustafa Davis, produced by the Ta’leef Collective out of the Bay area, (http://www.taleefcollective.org/) I was both excited and sceptical. I mean really, how could this event be any different? A film screening sounds like fun and I have attended such community events before. They are always followed by a heart warming talk or panel discussion in which lots of praise is heaped on everyone and a ton of ‘alhamdullilahs’ are bandied about and we all go home. No one actually discusses anything of depth or of concern to the broader community. Probably because no one feels safe to voice their opinions or to make critical assessments of the community aloud. So everything is swept under the table and we just keep going on about our business as usual while many in our community feel more and more isolated, further connected from community and worse.
But hope springs eternal and the optimist inside of me said, ‘tanda, for God’s sake, just give it a chance. The western Muslim initiative has never done any event half-assed and they are not about to now’. Furthermore, the Ta’leef Collective is a well known ‘safe space’ environment and some good friends have taken classes at their center in Cali, so I really felt the need to trust the message that they are promoting. So I bought my tickets and headed out to the Friday night gathering, excited about getting out of the house for a few hours and also steadfastly refusing to get my hopes up. I just can not bear one more disappointment with the community right now. I am truly at the point where I want to blend in with the broader society and not have any physical reminders to the outside world that I am Muslim. I am not in a crisis of faith, I never have been. I am in a crisis of community…
So many aspects of the evening surprised me I don’t think I can list them all in one post, to say nothing of the amazing Saturday workshop that was held, led by Ta’leef’s Micah Anderson and Mustafa Davis. But Friday night was last night, and I have had a few sleepless hours to digest the experience. I suspect I will have another few before everything settles in my mind, but what I am ruminating on thus far is the diversity of the crowd; born Muslims and reverts, a good gender mix, a variety of states of hijab, lack of hijab, beards and no beards and so on. There was no gender segregation in the seating, which was a boon as I am fairly committed to not attending segregated events any more (that requires a whole other post…) After the film screening a panel discussion ensued in which the crowd got to pose questions and make comments not only about the film but about what it’s like to be Muslim in the west and everything related to such. This session is what kept me awake all night. I can not get over the intense, deep and sometimes startling questions and comments that the audience made. Every one had their opinions and voice respected and there was no judgement, no threats, and no silencing opinions that were controversial or uncomfortable. Sisters were not only heard, but they were seen! I think that many present could have stayed all night, discussing and rearranging the world! It was inspirational and it left me feeling very connected and satisfied.
That’s not to say it was a fully positive, happy evening in which we all sat around holding hands and singing kumbayah. It was an evening filled with criticism of the status quo, raw desperation, and very intense emotions. There was laughter and there were tears. But in the end, it was an evening that made us all think about where we fit into the western Muslim landscape, about how we have survived thus far and what positive things need to happen in our community in order to go forward.
I know I have a lot more to write on this weekend’s event, particularly about the emotionally draining Saturday session, but I will have to pause here to collect my thoughts, make dua’a, and try to coalesce my ideas. I realize this post is a little ‘all over the place’, but I wanted to start to write about a theme that has been digging into my heart over the past year, which is community disengagement. About how I want to keep my Islam and my love of Allah pure and unthreatened. So this is just the first of many posts following a theme of loss, of discovery and of reawakening, inshaallah.
Wishing you all much Love,