A few thoughts on marriage

Like millions of people I’ve been following the last two days at the Supreme Court with interest. It still boggles my mind that we are in a conversation about whether the right to marry applies to some people and not others. It astounds me that a good part of the conversation is about “redefining traditional marriage”. We hear some mention of the long history of marriage as a heterosexual institution and hesitation to call such a relationship between two people of the same gender the same thing. But I don’t want to write about the politics. Instead, I want to share some of my thoughts and feelings about marriage.

 

I didn’t dream of getting married as a child. I didn’t imagine myself in a white dress and heels, in a church, making promises. In my family, invisible husbands were the norm. With few exceptions, what I learned from my family and culture was that faithful men were like the Loch Ness monster– the stuff of legend. From my Liberian and Nigerian relatives, friends and observation it seemed a simple fact that every married man would at some point step out, have a mistress on the side, perhaps even a second or third wife. That’s simply the way it is. Yet in college I began to imagine myself married. It started because I had a dream in which I saw myself, and a green linen suit, barefoot, making promises. That dream stirred something in me, a desire that has remained. I told myself that my marriage would be different from many of the ones I’ve seen. In my marriage we would like and love each other, be faithful not just sexually but also in speaking well of each other, supporting each other, being honest lovingly and compassionately. We would have fun, be integral to a community and raise children together joyfully, among other things. It wouldn’t be easy but we would transform in honoring the commitment.

For me, marriage is fundamentally a spiritual commitment. In fact the legal part doesn’t even make sense to me without it, for myself that is. Islam says that marriage is half of your religion. I wondered why for the longest time. My understanding, as I’ve now been in a couple of relationships where we talked about marriage as a possibility (even going so far as to get engaged!) is that there is nothing like having to really consider, think about and do for a partner day in and day out. Such experiences have expanded my spirit. I rely on my faith to show up every day in my relationship. It is my faith that even makes it possible for me to show up every day. The story of Majnun and Layla (http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/mideast/mi-jcok.htm ) is a powerful metaphor, from a Sufi perspective, about treating your earthly beloved as a microcosm of the Beloved, Allah. What, if anything, would shift in your romantic partnership if you saw your partner as a microcosm of God, or something far bigger than you? Of course this doesn’t hold at every moment: ) partnership has helped me to exceed myself in ways I didn’t imagine I would have to. I’ve learned so much about holding honesty as a central value in relationship, being reliable, emotional intimacy, receiving support and help. There has been tremendous healing in these experiences. Interestingly, as I have grown in my ability to be a good partner both my faith and my spiritual practice have deepened. Inshallah I intend to marry before too long. I am indescribably thrilled at the prospect and excited to see what unfolds through the marriage door. 

Fear in the night

New Moon, Hilal (Rumi)

Remember the story of the young guest

who came before certain King. “And how old are you,

my lad? Tell the truth now. Say it out.”

“18, well 17. 16.

Actually,  uh,15.”

“Keep going! You’ll end up

in your mother’s womb.”

Or the man who went to borrow a horse.

“Take the gray.”

“No, not that one.”

“Why?”

“It goes in reverse. It backs up.”

“Then turn its tail toward your home.”

The beast you ride is your various appetites.

Change your wantings. When you prune

weak branches, the remaining fruit

gets tastier. Lust can be redirected,

so that even when it takes you backward,

it goes toward shelter.

A strong intention can make “two oceans wide”

the size of a blanket, or “700 years”

the time it takes to walk to someone you love.

True seekers keep riding straight through,

whereas big, lazy, self-worshiping geese

unload their pack animals in a farmyard

and say, “this is far enough.”

Last week Wazina and I applied for a big award, big both in terms of money and folks who will be reviewing the application. Angela Davis is one of them! As we were creating the video submission, I could feel myself desire to kind of back away, to remain as “discreet” as possible. Basically I could feel the fear in me of potentially becoming even more visible. Most days I ignore that small voice of alarm in the back of my mind that screams at me every time I post here, every time there is a video or picture of us somewhere, every time our names are connected with this project. It’s the voice that tells me visibility is not safe.  I know, at this point, that that voice is quite illogical in the sense that we are already waaay out there. Not only that but that we made a conscious decision to step into this level of visibility. I really believe in what were doing and why were doing it– the conviction that every body is entitled to a safe, fully expressed life, and one in which faith, sexual orientation and gender identity are not at all at odds. I also believe and trust that Allah has this as part of my earthly purpose at this time, a piece of my divine alignment. From that place I can feel a peace in my heart, a calm. From that place I can breathe and be easy. Sometimes the fear does get me, and the voice won’t shut up. “Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe?… What happens when a friend in Nigeria googles my name? Or when someone actually goes to this website after I’ve given them my card?…”

Then I remember all of you who have loved and encouraged us so well through this project, some of you, strangers. To remember this is humbling. Actually it’s moving. Getting a bit teary just writing this now. Thank you. I don’t think you have any idea how powerful your support, your prayers, your silent wishes, your thoughts, your sharing with friends about us, and all the ways you’ve loved and encouraged us, have been for me. Left to my own devices I think I wouldn’t keep showing up in the way that Coming Out Muslim requires. I’d like to do my selectively visible thing and call it a day, but is not the life Allah has given me. That story has not been written for me. My fear would have me lament that. I know better than to believe the stories it tells me. Nonetheless, we need all the love and encouragement you can give! (I think I can speak for Waz on that:-)) Please keep it coming!

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:

Divine Alignment

For the last 24 hours I’ve been celebrating my birthday my birthday. Happy New Year to me!  I enter a new chapter of my life with joy, enthusiasm, gratitude, and excitement.

About ten years ago I began giving a theme to each new year, birthday to birthday. There’s been the Year of Quickening, the Year of Reckoning, the Year of Transformation, and so on. A few weeks before my new year actually begins, I sit in stillness, take walks and listen for the name. It always comes.

This year the theme is Alignment. In the last year and a half, my life has changed significantly:

  • I started a new relationship
  • moved to a new city
  • went from full-time employment to unemployed/self-employed
  • came to some new understandings about myself, or more precisely, simply cycled back to remembering things I’ve known all along


From the time I can remember I’ve always had a strong sense of purpose, though I couldn’t quite say what exactly it was. The strength of that purpose compelled me and for much of my life – all of it really, until now – I made decisions about what to do or what not to do (become a teacher, get a PhD, etc.) according to intuitions that told me if I would end up closer to or further away from my purpose.

As 2012 came to a close, I realized that I’d spent the year getting comfortable with the new and first-time clarity about what I am here to do, getting comfortable with the possibility of answering yes or no to the question “am I doing what I’m here to do?” And 2012 I experienced what I call “divine alignment”. As I experienced the joy of feeling as if at any given moment I was in exactly the place I was meant to be a set of check and questions came to me,  guideposts by which to consider the day, the week, the month, the lifetime:

  • Am I in divine alignment?
  • If not, why not? What does my resistance look like?
  • If so, what does my surrender look like? What would the next level of surrender it look like?

In late 2011, I decided to move to Philly for love. I prayed about it and felt this decision was definitely in alignment. I was going to save money, move in the warm months – you know, do it prudently,  safely. In November I had a dream which showed me that my careful plan was nonsense, that by going in what I thought was a straight line I would actually be going in a circle. No, I needed to move by the end of December – in six weeks, not six months. By making the decision to move I had been in alignment but more was required. My resistance looked like “but…” And “I don’t…”  and waiting to get the ball in motion to actually move that quickly. Nonetheless, I leapt. I surrendered. Allah handled everything that could have been an obstacle. I was in Philly by December 28th.

Fear and bewilderment had me phasing in and out of alignment in 2012, or at least had me feeling as though I was phasing in and  out of it.  in 2013, I intend to be courageous. What’s the point if I’m not? I’ve been waiting my whole life to know what I now know about my particular purpose. So what does every day look like an alignment? Inshallah I’m looking forward to finding out.  Happy New Year indeed!

As the year gets rolling I invite you to consider these checking questions for yourself.

  • What does divine alignment look like in your own life? Are you in it?
  • If not why not? What does your resistance look like?
  • If you are in alignment, what does your surrender look like? What would the next level of surrender look like?


Wishing all of us courage as we each seek to fulfill our unique and divine purposes! Let’s love one another in the process. Ashe. Salaam. Shalom. Inshallah, inshallah, inshallah.