Ramadan Reflections 2013: Grace Period

Salaam all,

TTG, Al-Sarah, Laura Marie and I have been in a whirlwind of experience the last week or so. We all safely arrived, trickling in from all ends of the country, and have been sharing Coming Out Muslim with all who we encounter – both through the show and the living/breathing of the conversation.

It’s been stressful, I’ll tell you that. Shlepping, figuring out transport, maneuvering the spaces in which we are performing, and personally, it’s an emotionally overwhelming time for me (more to be shared later this month, I’m certain). In the midst of all this, I am realizing Ramadan is coming!

I am almost certain that God is bringing me to another Ramadan so that I may do exactly as this blog says, reflect. I am excited and nervous too with anticipation of what is ahead, but I cannot foresee them now. I must trust in what is intended.

And so, to our Muslim brothers and sisters who have begun their Ramadan, I/we wish you a mubarak start to y/our month.
For Muslims, like myself, who have not started, for those of us in this in-between 24 hours, take this grace period to prepare yourselves and your intentions for what is ahead of us.

I leave you with my first meditation for the beginning of Ramadan (also words of advice from Terna): SLOW DOWN.

… which I certainly will after tonight’s show 🙂

xoxo Waz

Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze

Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze.

If you’ve seen the show, in it I talk about four different Queer Theories about what made me queer. These aren’t actually my own, they belong to the various people in my life who seemed to need to understand what made me not heterosexual. It’s always so interesting to be reminded of them and lately I’ve been writing down the handful of other Theories.

When I told Terna that I had written some of them she said something along the lines of well, let’s see them! And so here is Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze:

In college, as a Women’s Studies major, I learned about the male gaze. I read about it, I wrote papers on it, I organized the campus wide programming of Social Change for Womyn working to dismantle it?

I never knew it had a name until college, but my cousins and I had this belief that Allah makes Muslim girls hairy so that guys wouldn’t want us.

In my adolescent years, I knew it as boy attention. And I was not, or rather I did not feel like I was cut out for boy attention… and I had many reasons and proof for why that was the case:

I was hairy.

I am hairy. My entire body, if untended to, is covered in fur. If you are one of those people who enjoy euphemisms like peach fuzz – it’s actually more like the rough quill coating on a kiwi.

I was not the milkman’s baby… oh no. With my hairy traits, my South Asian father is definitely my flesh and blood – I just don’t buy the claim that I came out of my mother’s womb. This is because I am certain even her vulva is hairless. She is the smoothest, (white) smooth baby-skinned woman I’ve ever met.

I think the donor for my other X chromosome was a Brussels Griffon (and yes, I know I’m getting my genetics wrong here, just play along). Just wiry haired, scrawny and well, furry… and if any boy thought I was cute from a distance, the moment he walked up to me under the horrific, confidence-crushing glow of the fluorescent lighting in my junior high school classrooms, he then would surely know he was mistaken.

I remember bargaining with God to take all the unnecessary hair on my body and turn it into one long hair strand that grew out of my chest… a singular hair that I promised I would dye, curl, and maintain with care… lovingly, tend to because he had heard my prayers.

What made being hairy worse was that my mother unsympathetic to my plight.

For one, she was hairless and smooth. She claimed that she was hairy too at one point and eventually all the hair on her arms, legs (including upper thighs) just fell off on its own.

She refused to let me shave, wax, PLUCK or even bleach any part of my body. Getting my eyebrows done was reserved for my engagement and any other hair removal would confirm her suspicion: I was having sex.

Behind her back and without the supervision of any adult or knowledgeable person, I did these things on my own though… and in my fanatical routines, I likely made myself less attractive:

I would steal one of my dad’s terrible, TERRIBLE (dear God, why are these still on the market) Bic razor with orange handle. I would shave with hand soap early in the morning on the days I had gym – mind you, not in the shower… just my leg lifted high up in the sink on cold mornings. Have you ever tried shaving with goosebumps?!

I would do it quickly – and then put on my staple leggings (under my skirt or dress as I did not wear pants – more on that later) and by the time I put on my gym shorts, my ashy, unmoisturized stems were  speckled all over with spots of dry blood.

I began a regiment of at-home waxing basically my entire mouth region, not even my upper lip and whatever hair I missed, I bleached afterwards… all in the same half hour. I did this all in the secrecy of my bedroom and somehow thought that no one would notice the chemical burn on my face.

Conservative Goth

Much to my parents’ approval and happiness – and likely why I did not register on the radar of boys: I was a conservatively dressed young woman. And I was goth(ish). If my friends and I were in an Industrial/Dark Wave equivalent of the Spice Girls, I’d be Conservative Goth (and I would play the synthesizers).

Each day I made sure I showed no skin by covering in a combination of the following:

Black lace or fishnet
Stripey Wicked Witch of the East socks
Bangles/bracelets
Knit shawls and capes

Oh and I did not wear pants. Instead, I wore layer upon layer of skirts complete with a slip – sometimes with tulle and hoopy underwires. And just like in Little House on the Prairie, I would board my carriage, the Q76 bus, by lifting my skirt like a real lady.

I could probably go on but I won’t because it feels sad to be mean to young Wazina. I talk about it all in jest because it’s easier to remember it this way.

The truth is I don’t know if she would’ve been able to accept boy attention… or if I even wanted it. I was so frightened by crossing the wrong line – one that would get me in trouble with both my parents and God – to do something they both disapproved of.

And when my first girlfriend came along, there was an ease, a normalcy and rightness that made it easier to accept her girl attention.

The male gaze? Yeah, I am still trying to dismantle it.

the Local Mosque–cue Jaws music

Last Friday I finally made it to Juma at the mosque around the corner from my house. It only took 3 months. This is actually an improvement given that it took me more than a year to make it to the mosque down the street from my old apartment.  For the last few years I’ve gone almost exclusively to my tekke or dergah (Sufi meeting house), which I love and which is full of ease and light for me. It’s a joy to go there. I feel perfectly comfortable and always welcome there. In the show I talk about how nervous and dread-inducing the prospect of going to a mosque you know nothing about can be, for queer Muslims especially. In my case, I always have a fear that one of the sisters will comment on one piece of hair showing or something minute like that in a way that feels like shame from the you’re not doing it right posse known to roam through mosques around the world. What will the people be like? Will the imam give an anti-gay kind of talk or a very black & white khutba (sermon) that expresses some rigid interpretation of Quran that has nothing of the mystical spirit in it? Will the women’s space be in a basement with a loud speaker and all the small children or behind some intense partition? This time, with some trepidation, after imagining becoming friendly with folks at the mosque, I considered that it might be quite difficult to invite anyone I met there to my home without having some very awkward conversation beforehand, and then would they still come?

The thing is I really love mosques. I love the deep peace of a space so imbued with the prayers of folks in intimate moments with Allah. That peace is so profound, just entering such a space immediately brushes aside whatever unimportant distractions are running loose in my mind. I believe every space where people pray has this profound quality. Interestingly, there are lots of Muslim student groups for example, who pray in churches because that space is made available to them on campuses. And this works because the sincerity of the prayer and worship there has made it an open door for anybody, regardless of particular faith, who wants to pray and worship.

So, with the mill of questions a-swirl in my head, off I went. I was greeted at the door by a brother who then pointed me to the sister’s area, through a door as opposed to upstairs where the brothers were headed. Uh-oh I thought. It turned out to be a very nice, peaceful space, complete with its own bathroom and a clear…loudspeaker. Ok.

All the sisters who came, less than 10 in all, wore hijabs and jilbabs (long loose dress-type garment). I was the only one in pants but it didn’t feel awkward at all. We were all paying attention to the khutba, which turned out to be quite interesting. The imam spoke about gratitude, that it is incumbent upon us to be grateful all the time to Allah for the constant stream of blessings and for what our ancestors went through for us to be here now. It would actually tarnish their memory to be anything other than grateful. There was a lot to the message, and bones I could pick–how the imam seemed to be addressing brothers, never speaking directly to us women who were out of sight, for example. Nonetheless, I got a lot from his talk. I find in myself a strong desire to go again, to continue to feel out the space. Inshallah it becomes an even better experience, perhaps even one with a bit of healing in it for this queer Muslim? I don’t know about all that yet.

I want to shout out the amazing efforts of folks like the El-Tawhid Juma Circle, an LGBT-inclusive prayer space, and inclusive in a broader sense as well.  Check them out http://jumacircle.com/  as well as the amazing inclusive mosque initiative going on in France: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20547335 . Inshallah some day queer Muslims won’t have to think twice about going to any mosque. Mosques and all spaces of prayer and worship will be safe in the hands of human beings. Amin amin amin.

A treat:

Ramadan 2012 Blog: Waz Intro

I grew up observing Ramadan all my life and often had a mix of emotions that went a little like this:

dread and nervousness that I would mess up and not be able to keep my fast followed by intense guilt because HOW COULD I DREAD such a holy time?!

In high school I was usually able to observe all 30 days because I was underweight (a combination of an awesome eating disorder I developed after dreams of wanting to be a ballerina) and I was experiencing amenorrhea. Baba (my dad) would joke that there weren’t even men who could do all thirty days.

In college, I only had my friend Sana that I did iftars with. And although, I didn’t have much more of a community, I observed nevertheless. I knew what Ramadan was about and for… and the lessons I could learn from it, but I don’t honestly believe I ever felt connected to observing the month in a way that I do this year.

I have been anticipating this holy month in my heart for so long. I have been preparing myself for the task of observing my fast during a hot, humid NYC summer and downloaded two azaan apps to let me know when it is time to pray.

As an educator, I have been preparing my school community: prepping a prayer room for students and staff and thinking ahead to two/three years from now and hosting iftars at the school (when the entire school is in session and not just summer camp/summer school students).

As someone who is newly part of a queer and progressive Muslim community, I feel like I get to be the Muslim me for the first time ever. I don’t have to explain things to others; I don’t have to go to a separate space to pray; I get to authentically be Muslim with others who love Islam and we do it alongside one another.

“Ramazan is not about just keeping your mouth closed and not eating” Madar (my mom) would always tell me as she reminded me to pray five times a day and flex the muscle of my faith emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Yes, I am ready for the workout

Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love


“For me, being both has never been a source of internal conflict. I’ve never felt Islam asks me to be something other than what I am. If Allah is closer than my own jugular vein, is the creator of my heart–ya Khalaq! ya Bari! Ya Mussawir!–the source of its blood and beat, how could I despise myself?”

Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love, captures stories and experiences of being at the intersections of Islam and queerness and its relationship to family, lovers, one’s sense of self and relationship with our faith. Terna Tilley-Gyado and Wazina Zondon utilize traditional storytelling and conversation as the medium for exploring the broad range of their experiences as queer Muslims. The stories Coming Out Muslim tell range from tales about other people’s theories about where queerness comes from, the gifts of being queer and Muslim, the tension between one’s culture and religion, and love—romantic and spiritual. Coming Out Muslim is both funny and poignant.

As lovers of Allah and humanity, we are committed to liberation and freedom for queer Muslims, and all who stand at the intersections of identities, to be the shining souls we are, our light unimpeded by anyone s prejudices, threats, “you can’t”s and “you shouldn’t”s. We are real. We are.