“So what’s a nice white girl like you doing here?” asks El-Farouk Khaki while we’re on break before a gender-equal Sufi Zikr ceremony on Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto. “I’m going out for a breath of fresh air in the parking lot. Wanna come?” Like, yeah … “What’s a nice gay man like you doing here?” Okay … excuse me while my brain explodes … For one, Khaki loves participating in this groundbreaking gender-equal Zikr. Second, he is one of the founders of El-Tawhid Juma Circle Mosques, not only a gender-equal space but also an LGBTQ-affirming community. “We are Human Positive,” he tells me. “ETJC begins with the understanding that women and men are equal agents of Allah in all aspects of ritual practice, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, race, class, dis/ability, HIV status, language, or any other grounds.” I mean, WOW, how many restrictions can you shoot down dead in one fell swoop?
“Me, you ask? Well, I’m here because this is another thing that happened to me in Africa. I was introduced to the vibrations of mystical Islam via an imam and healer in a village near Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso.” This, to my great surprise, because I expected a field trip to the realm of the Dagara people. After all, I signed up for the “guided” African journey with elder Malidoma Patrice Somé to Dano, Burkina Faso, a village steeped in the Dagara-animist-Christian traditions and all that entails in terms of spiritual practices, conflict, missionary abuse, slavery, colonization, and ongoing turmoil and trauma both in the personal and political arenas. I consciously signed up for that. But this? A bi-monthly gender-equal Zikr on Saturday night in Toronto? Me: chanting devotional prayers and moving in unison with Sufi Muslims ceremonially and experientially remembering Allah? And feeling ecstatic, nonetheless?
Apparently, that’s how the crow flies! The allusion in this idiom to the crow’s ability to fly directly from A to B without the encumbrances of roads and landscape, features that restrict humans, could not be more apt. First, call it Allah or whomever or whatever, my heart opened and healed immensely that night. Second, it felt familiar. I embodied the haunting chants and rhythms initially with ease and eventually with passion. Third, I accessed this community by writing one email to Renée Mercuri. As it turns out, Stripe and Daisy feature Renée, a devout Sufi, in one of my favourite WHO’S MAKING WAVES videos. Unbeknownst to me, I was already plugged into a welcoming, gender-equal Toronto-based Dargah, a bi-monthly gathering of Sufis guided by a gentle, rule-busting sheikh.
And then another DUH moment occurs … likely my 122,999th DUH since January 15, the fateful date I flew to Accra, Ghana. It’s by now 10:30 p.m. and the smell of delicious East Indian food rattles me back to my physical senses. Like, DUH, a huge portion of the people in the room are South-Asian Canadians; they’re not necessarily from the Middle East. My obvious misconception sparked further curiosity. How many Muslims are there in India? A quick Google search reveals (add or lose a few) that 14% of inhabitants are Muslim, which adds up to 133,295,077! This number humbles my perspective on my forays into Indian culture, as my incursions both at home and abroad were within mostly the Hindu tradition. There’s so much more to understand. I mean, we’re 35.16 million Everything in Canada! And 50% of the population of Burkina Faso is Muslim, which adds up to 5.3 million. Despite the prejudices and vilification of Muslims in the media, they should be harder for me to dismiss or ignore!
Actually, the one word that most aptly summarizes my journey to Africa is IGNORANCE. I faced my own and that of many others’ every day. And it has not let up. I continue to face mine every single day.
Inshallah, as they say in Arabic, God willing, I will shed ignorance some time soon—as in not soon enough!