Category Archives: News & General Updates

General ‘house keeping’ updates about the site, blog and stufffff ;)

Interview with Terna & Wazina in HuffPost!

Check it out and much love to J. Mase III!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/j-mase-iii/queering-islam-an-intervi_b_5549913.html

Within many secular LGBTQIA spaces, being a person of faith can come with a lot of added baggage. With Ramadan in full bloom, it becomes hard not to acknowledge that to be both queer and Muslim means navigating a host of phobias focused on your right to love, your right to claim your gender and your right to pray. Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love, will be featured July 7th & 8th as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival happening right here in NYC. Having roots within Islam as a queer activist, I was more than honored to invite castmates Wazina and Terna, to share a bit about themselves, their current project and what New Yorkers can expect from this show!

J Mase III: How did Coming Out Muslim come about? Can you tell us about your role and who else is involved?

Terna: Coming Out Muslim evolved from a project Wazina and I did calledInterrupting Islamophobia. It was a seven week series of sessions we facilitated for youth workers in New York City around how to deal with Islamophobia in their work. As Wazina and I are both queer Muslims and both committed to social justice, we felt it was essential to include queer Muslim experiences as well as those of others who are typically marginalized by “mainstream” Islam. One of the participants, Laura Marie, was/is a theater maker and all-around gem of a woman who then invited us to create a visual gallery of their Muslim pieces along with a few pieces from allies. I’ve been a writer just about my whole life and was very involved in theater for a number of years. Though I have a great love for gallery spaces and endeavors I’d never undertaken to create one myself. I don’t think Wazina had either, but we said yes.

So during New York City Pride month, June 2011, we opened what turned out to be a really beautiful show. We had submissions from queer Muslims in various parts of the world, a beautiful series of photographs of queer Muslims done by the lovely Patrick Mulcahy. (he continues to shoot portraits of queer Muslims). More people came than we expected and the whole thing was really just a lovely experience. After that Laura Marie, who is quite persuasive in a loving and powerful way, asked Wazina and me if we wanted to do a show. She made it incredibly gentle for us by producing the show and really making a lot of things happen, while Wazina and I wrote. We initially set out to have a three night run at a small theater. Here we are nearly 3 years later! Now we have a beautiful soundscape by the inimitable Alsarah as well. She performs with us when she can.

J Mase: Who is your target audience? What do you feel is the purpose of this work?

Terna: It’s for all those who say “I thought I was the only one,” “I’ve never met another queer Muslim” or “I gave up Islam because I’m queer.” For me, when we perform I’m really aiming for folks who have felt that they couldn’t hold being queer and being a person of faith at the same time. Every time we perform, we meet someone for whom the possibility was out of the question before the show. After the show, holding both becomes more possible. I think the purpose of the show is also to be a vessel for the message “there is space for all of us in God’s creation.”

Wazina: For me, the show, the conversation, the messages/intention behind each piece is for people under the LGBTQIA umbrella, particularly white folks/non-folks of color. For me, coming out as queer was never very personally difficult, however, occupying common and shared spaces with white folks within queer spaces, coming out as Muslim and as an Afghan woman has been more layered, sometimes difficult and almost always with a raised eyebrow or a series of curious questions. Often, I felt special and even significant being asked and answering them, but more and more, I recognize the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) features of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia underlying the interactions.
The purpose of this work is to affirm the existence of all people, in all of our contradictions, perceived or actual!

J Mase: Is performing Coming Out Muslim during Ramadan intentional? Do you think it will change how the work is perceived?

Terna: You know, this is the second year we’re doing shows during Ramadan. We didn’t sit down and say “hey, let’s do shows during Ramadan,” and yet I absolutely believe that is intentional in the sense that that is when opportunities have manifested. It gives us a chance to bring folks together, folks who may not otherwise be in the same room. In that sense, it is very much keeping the spirit of the month. I think there is a way that others might interpret our performing during Ramadan as incompatible with the month, but for us, it isn’t. I also heard from Laura Marie that in Sudan, it’s quite common to have performances after Iftar, which I didn’t know! Wazina and I keep the fast in various ways during the month, and we will continue the tradition of our Ramadan blog again this year.

Wazina: Ramadan is about reflection. My mother always reminded me that Ramadan wasn’t about just keeping my mouth shut (and not eating) and offering the show to both to the public and our community, I look forward to reflecting on the new lessons that come up for me each and every show. I also can’t help but be made to stop and notice the longevity of the show into a third year, and to smile at the way Ramadan cycles its path across ours.

2014-07-02-Orange.jpg

J Mase: How do you personally deal with Islamophobia within the LGBTQIA community?

Terna: Interrupt, interrupt, interrupt! Often when people say Islamophobic things in my presence, the first step for me is letting them know that I’m Muslim. It’s amazing what folks say when they don’t think a certain identity is in the space. I get in there and let folks know, lovingly, what they are unaware of, significant perspectives that are left out of their point of view. Of course I have my anger as well, and I find that people don’t receive interruption well if it isn’t couched in a way they can actually hear. Then there are all the ways the racism, white privilege and the myth of a single, coherent “American culture” get caught in the web as well. Sometimes it’s wearisome to have to assert one’s existence time and time again, but it must be done. For me, I also feel that we are not only in the world doing this work for ourselves, we’re doing it for all the folks who are not able to safely assert their existence. This requires I raise my voice wherever I can. I recently heard the term “counter-oppression” instead of “anti-oppression”. I like that. It embodies the action. Inshallah I strive to counter oppression within LGBTQIA communities and beyond.

Wazina: Countering Islamophobia within the LGBTQIA community has been ever evolving for me. Much like Terna, I come out as Muslim time and time again. I get angry, I get sarcastic, I shut down and I let my absence speak for itself. And more than that, I rely on the role of my accomplices and non-Muslim comrades to assist in countering the Islamophobia. When we first started the Interrupting Islamophobia study group, the intention was to ‘get ahead’ of the 10 year anniversary of September 11 and to provide educators with tools to understand Islam for themselves and the rich and complex layers of experiences of Muslim youth and families. For me, sharing a story with someone and making a personal connection is the the crux of how we shift and change perspectives. This is also why we choose storytelling in the show.

J Mase: What do you want other queer Muslims to get from this work? Non-Muslim queers?

Terna: I want other queer Muslims to feel affirmed, appreciated and celebrated through Coming Out Muslim. I also want them to feel connected to a larger sense of community and to know there is space for all of us under the banner “Muslim”. One of the things I’m most proud of that the show has contributed to, is getting queer Muslims connected.

For non-Muslim queers of faith, I want them to walk away feeling connected and seeing themselves reflected, though the details of the faiths we hold may be different.

For non-Muslim queers who do not identify as people of faith, I want them to get a little more comfortable with the fact that we exist and that some of us choose to hold our faith in significant ways. I also want the show to help non-Muslim queers develop some awareness around some of the microaggressions we hear that can cause fissures in relationships where the subject of faith is treated in a cavalier or highly ignorant manner, which both Wazina and I have experienced.

The show is actually quite funny and gets at universal topics such as family, love, the complex ways we navigate our cultures and more. I want everyone to walk away feeling moved by our very human stories.

Wazina: I cannot agree more with Terna!

As an educator working with young people everyday, I meet queer youth, queer youth of faith, non-queer youth of faith who are struggling with being okay with their sexual orientation, gender identity/expression – and I want them to be more than okay – I want them and all of us to thrive – in our communities, in our classrooms and in our homes.

I also want compassion and empathy to come from this work – for there to be compassion towards those who are ignorant and sometimes hurt us; for compassion for one’s self and our processes – to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and to be easy with yourself (as Terna always says to me!) in the process and understanding. Most of all, I want queer Muslims, non-Muslim queers and all else to create unimaginable alternate realms of radical possibility for our lives. I want radical acts of love!

J Mase: What else should folks know about Coming Out Muslim? Where else can we find you all?

Terna: We go where we are invited! As part of the show, we usually do talkbacks and/or workshops around a variety of topics. We want to take the show and the conversations that go with it far and wide. We’re always atcomingoutmuslim.com.

Wazina: NYC folks or those traveling through, can find us at the Fresh Fruit Festival, Tuesday, 7/8 and Wednesday, 7/9 at 9pm at the Wild Project in the East Village. Tickets can be purchased here!

Ramadan Reflections 2013 (day 25/26): Striving and failing and striving

tunnel

Greetings beloveds,

May this find your hearts well and at peace, inshallah!
I just got home from Tarawih at a mosque I’ve been wanting to go to since last Ramadan. It was lovely. I heard and felt the love in the imam’s voice as he recited. This masjid is also the only one I’ve been to in Philly where women and men pray on the same floor, no partitions. It is also the most culturally diverse with black, brown and white families interacting comfortably.

These last 10 days of Ramadan are said to be the most spiritually potent of the month. Many people make itikaf (retreat in the mosque), if they are able. I haven’t made such retreat myself before but inshallah I will. My retreat is largely within the space of my being. I find I am more and more inclined to silence, to not wanting to talk about worldly matters that feel like distractions. It’s interesting to be in this place of inward retreat at this time this year because this Ramadan has me in a state of transition, one that requires decisions to be made, conversations to be had and traveling. Is it possible to be inwardly in retreat amidst this outward activity? I don’t know. It feels like quite a challenge. But there is the inherent slowness of Ramadan to lean on for support. I may have to speak more than I like but I can do so with a slowness and deliberateness that is rooted in having my hands in the world but my heart with the Friend. And with patience dear ones, with sabr. This Ramadan has me becoming better acquainted with my faults and striving to cover the faults of others. I’ve been reading a beautiful book called The Way of Sufi Chivalry. A good part of it is about generosity of spirit, part of which includes endeavoring to embody the divine attribute Ghafur–the coverer of faults. We benefit ceaselessly from Allah’s generosity in covering our faults. Interestingly, Ghafur is closely related to Gaffar–the All-Forgiving. I am striving to forgive myself my shortcomings as I strive to be and do better, to be pure of heart. I am striving to shift my negative judgements. The Way of Sufi Chivalry says “judge others as you wish to be judged.” Inshallah.
Striving requires sabr. Everyday I strive and everyday I fail somewhere along the line, but the test is to continuing to strive and to ask for guidance, mercy and forgiveness.
Ya Allah, increase me in my striving! Amin
Ya Allah, increase me in peace! Amin
Ya Allah, increase me in sincerity! Amin
Ya Allah, expand my heart within my breast! Amin.
Ya Allah, Ya Allah, Ya Allah.
Astafirghallah, astafirghallah, astafirghallah.

That’s where I’m at today.
Inshallah I’ll be with my spiritual community for Laylat-ul-Qadr (the Night of Power) tomorrow. Many communities around the world are honoring it then. Inshallah may it truly elevate our hearts and increase us in our God-consciousness and awareness. May it make us more compassionate and kinder.

Ramadan Reflections 2013 (day 23/24): IOU take 2

Greetings beloveds,

A ragged night for me.
I’m borrowing Waz’s IOU. Allah is throwing me some curve balls, alhamdulillah! I say thank you, more please!

Today I had the pleasure of spending a good part of the day in the woods, in trees and near water. As I’ve gotten older, my longing to be close to nature has grown. Something about the way noise is transformed in the woods, about the calm of it, and for me, the tendency to quiet. I picked up a rock and a seed pod of some kind. It comforted me to have the stone in my pocket for the rest of the day.

Also, the first harvest from my first garden have turned red on the vine–tomatoes! How amazing to see food grow and eat for free: )

How is day 23/24 for you?

Ps. Please send Waz some healing energy!

Ramadan Reflections 2013: Making Peace

coffeebean heart

I fell asleep dear readers, and couldn’t seem to rouse myself before my body felt a bit rested!

The cat is purring like crazy and circling me like he missed me at 7:30 am.  I think even he was surprised not to see me in the wee hours.

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a friend’s grandmother. They had a complicated relationship. Of her grandmother my friend said “She broke my heart. But before she broke it, she taught me about love.”Hearing that got me thinking about what it means to make peace with family members who break our hearts. One of my spiritual teachers speaks on honoring parents, in particular, through acknowledging that, whatever their shortcomings in our minds, they are the vessels through which Allah brought us to this earth. That fact is always true and always cause for gratitude. Even if our parents, grandparents, etc. also break our hearts, the peace of our spirits rests in holding both the heartbreak and the honor in ourselves. This is how I’ve come to understand making peace with ancestors. I believe there can be a really attractive pull to stay only in the heartbreak, whatever that is for us. What I’ve learned is that making peace leaves me feeling lighter and more present. I still have a couple of ancestors to make peace with and inshallah and by Allah’s grace, my heart will expand through the process.

 

Ramadan Reflections 2013 (day 18): What wouldn’t you do for the Beloved?

leap of faith

Salaam beloveds,

It is said that part of what makes Ramadan so special is that fasting is the only act of devotion we do purely for Allah’s pleasure. All of our other acts of devotion–prayer, charity, etc.–are purely for the benefit of our own souls, whereas fasting we do for Allah. I think a lot about the lives of saints and sages, from varying spiritual paths, often. I imagine what their lives might have been like, people who placed love of God above all things worldly. If God said jump, they jumped, and often without asking why. They made/make leaps of faith constantly. Each day many didn’t/don’t know where their next meal will come from, relying entirely, nakedly on Allah. I live in a society that prizes a particular notion of stability, which includes steady job, house, a measure of predictability. That’s called success by many. Is that perspective antithetical to being ready, willing and able to respond to the call to leap, when Allah calls?

From the time I can remember, it has been my most fervent desire to live according to the path Allah has set for me, to do whatever Allah calls me to do, no matter what. I feel that sometimes means I make choices that appear strange or incomprehensible to others, but I know what is in my heart and so I am at peace with my leaps, such as I have understood them.

What is your experience with responding to Allah’s call? Is there anything you would not do for your Beloved?

 

Ramadan Reflections 2013 (day 16): Tired and grateful

heart balloons

Tonight I don’t feel much like writing. I am tired and want to read and rest. It is easy to think I “deserve” to do just that. I will rest, but I also want to post, as per our commitment, and be sure I am resting in gratitude today.

In no particular order, 20 things I am grateful for today:

  • I am grateful I am alive and in good health

  • I am grateful that I have clean clothes and food

  • I am grateful I can read and have full access to my mind

  • I am grateful for my mother

  • I am grateful for my beloved

  • I am grateful for breath

  • I am grateful for my friends

  • I am grateful for joy in my heart

  • I am grateful to have a conscious relationship with Allah

  • I am grateful to be safe tonight and for the safety (as far as I know) of loved ones

  • I am grateful for the peace in my heart

  • I am grateful for prayer

  • I am grateful I am a woman

  • I am grateful I am brown

  • I am grateful for the little garden full of near-ripe tomatoes out front

  • I am grateful for the bushy backyard

  • I am grateful for Jin Shin Jyutsu

  • I am grateful for all the activists and lovers of humanity working day in and day out

  • I am grateful for the possibility of forgiveness

  • I am grateful for my faith

 

And you dear reader, what are you grateful for?

ttg

Ramadan Reflections 2013 (day 14): Purge

Lightning flashes in the dark sky from time to time tonight, and the thunder sounds not long after. I am in the quiet of my home office. The fan whirs. It’s been a day of internally preparing to let go of a lot of material stuff–clothes, shoes, papers. I have clothes and shoes I haven’t worn in years and yet when I moved to Philly, I brought them. They only took up space as I continued not to wear them into the present moment. For me, Ramadan can be a time of shedding–shedding habits and ways of being that no longer serve. Ramadan invites me to be aware of my physical consumption of food and drink, but also my consumption of media, of conversation and interactions that are not nourishing. Recently, I find myself listening to music less. As an avid music fan from the time I was a kid, I rocked Lite FM  whenever I could (Mom knew that was the station we would be listening to on any car ride) until I was old enough to order my first cd’s through the “99 cents for the first 12” deals that were so popular when I was a teenager. I listened to live radio shows to discover artists new to me. Indigo Girls, Pearl Jam, Billie Holiday, Joan Osborne, Dave Matthews Band, David Gray, Zap Mama, Ani DiFranco, Blues Traveler, Sweet Honey in the Rock, were prevailing sounds of my high school years. I was a fiend for cd’s. I grew a hearty collection. I never liked music with lyrics that insulted or demeaned. I found such works hard to ignore for the sake of a beat. Now, I have a subscription to a music service and for some years, every Tuesday I was looked to see what new releases were available. I listened to a lot of music across all kinds of genres, read music blogs, listen to music podcasts. Now, sometimes I don’t check for weeks. You can imagine, no one could have told me there would come a day when my hunger for music was anything other than ravenous. But here it is. I find that sometimes I need a lot of silence in order to expand my inner landscape. Sometimes music, in the ways I  listen, support that expansion or water my inner gardens and sometimes it doesn’t. There is much that is musical in Sufi tradition. By no means do I mean to suggest, as some do, that all music is bad, forbidden, etc. No, for me I am noticing that the sounds that nourish me are shifting. I’m not eagerly rushing to the Blues Traveler album I used to wear out, for example. That being said, throw me in an African wedding any day and it’s on and popping, as they say. I will dance joyfully til I’m wore out.

What sounds/music nourishes you? Inshallah may today be full of nourishment at every level! Amin.

Well I didn’t mean this to be about my evolving relationship with music exactly. All this to say that it’s time to let go of items that served years ago. I am so grateful for the shirts my mom gave me when I interned at the UN. I needed good tops for that purpose. I don’t think I’ve worn them since 2005 or 2006. Why am I still holding on to them? Why am I still holding on to shoes I wore once or twice? Why am I holding on to papers I haven’t looked at in years? Would I miss them if they go? Some of the holding has been in the vein of “this is a nice blank. I can wear it [at some other time that’s not now].” And then I don’t. The possibility is the thing has had me hold on. Here’s the thing: I live now. I am only sure of now. Holding on for a possibility that’s not assured, and which will offer its own potential, doesn’t make as much sense to me as it once did. I view this purging of items as an opportunity to also clear some internal space, as fasting does.

When I’m tempted to hold on to something I haven’t actually used, remind me I said this: )

Is there anything in the material world you’re holding on to that you no longer need?

 

With love,

ttg

 

Ramadan Reflections 2013 (day 10): alignment (ttg)

Greetings beloveds,

It’s been a very long day. I didn’t sleep at all last night in order to support a friend in a ceremony that marked something significant for her. Even though we go on the road at what is typically my bedtime, the energy of alignment carried me. Back in January I wrote about Divine Alignment, and my experience of seeking to surrender my whole being to Allah. I feel I am living in alignment right now. It is a blessing to really feel that where I am is where I am meant to be, that I am with the people I’m meant to be with–like this morning just after sunrise on a beach in Jersey. The last few days, actually the day of the night Ramadan arrived, has been an unexpected whirlwind, with previously unimagined opportunities popping up and bringing with them an unexpected move across state lines–and quickly. The amazing element for me has been the deep sense of peace and clarity that I have in the eye of this whirlwind. That is the best sign that, inshallah, I am saying YES to the leap of faith alignment requires at this time.

Something else I’m beginning to understand is that when I am in alignment, the pleasure of Allah (ridwan) is my greatest motivator. Serving Allah is beginning, middle and end. I can access myself and my gifts with a concentrated depth because I am motivated by love.

I know this may seem rather abstract. Still, I hope you’ll find some nugget to relate to.

I’m on the road again for a Jin Shin Jyutsu training. I bid you goodnight/good morning from the west side of PA!

I am so grateful it is Ramadan. There is such love and tenderness in this month. Alhamdulillah!

Ramadan Reflections (day 7): Compassionate Rage

compassionate rage pic

Like Wazina, I’ve been wrestling with how to make sense of the Zimmerman verdict, especially how to understand it in the context of Ramadan. The question I ask myself is how do I hold all my rage, grief, and compassion, and still function? We were in the midst of a lovely iftar gathering when we got news of the verdict. The rage coursing through me would surely have been enough to overturn a car, yell and scream and break some things. I daresay all of us in the room went through some serious contortions to maintain our self-control, contortions people of color are adept at through hundreds of years slavery, colonialism, ruthless capitalism, etc. Someone asked “why hold on to the rage?” a question which sparked anger. As a black woman in America, I am very clear that my anger is scary to white folks. Just last year, I caught sight of the nearly-automatic pacifying smile I adopt with white folks I don’t know to signal “peaceful, everything’s alright”, the residue of training which had our ancestors know that “if the white folks alright, we’re alright, we’re safe.” And so even in the face of a crazy, nonsensical verdict that once again reminds us of how the criminal (in)justice system consistently devalues the lives of black and brown bodies, I find myself struggling with what to do with my rage.

The grief, too. What about Trayvon’s family?

It is also true that fasting is not just from food, drink, sexual activity and smoking. Shayka Fariha encourages fasting at this level:

There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us. Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up. Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah’s majesty. Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower. Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone. Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies. Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us. Let us fast from our bad habits and our reactions. Let us fast from desiring what we do not have. Let us fast from obsession. Let us fast from despair. Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart. Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior. Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important. Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view. Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah. Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah’s Prophets and friends, and our own true self. Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.

What is required to maintain this level of fasting? Part of what helps me is to broaden my perspective and remember. What I know is that I don’t know or comprehend the inner workings of creation. What I know is that things unfold as they are meant to, as Waz said. I don’t know the purpose the unfolding of this case means in the larger view of creation. I know I want to be as faith-full as I can in this life. I know part of what that means is  to strive with my mind, body, and goods for the triumph of love in this world. I know part of that means finding healthy ways to express not just my own rage and grief, but to contribute to the collective exorcising of historical trauma and the rage and grief that accompanies it. I believe it is possible to express such intense emotions and legacies in service of our own goodness and striving and compassion and love and hearts.

For me, it is also to pray for our humanity, for forgiveness, for wisdom to do better, for hearts that break and then heal bigger.

Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein: and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause, shares in its burden: and Allah hath power over all things. (Surah An-Nisa–4:85).