Sunday, July 28, 2013

Syria needs our help


You want to help but you don't know how... 

Here are some options, from UN orgs to religious-based charities to sources of information on how to rate charities and understand the situation in Syria from a humanitarian perspective. 

If you have a favorite that's not on here or a good experience to share about giving through a particular organization, please post it in the comments field. 

If the links don't work, copy and paste them into your browser. If they still don't work, please let me know that too!


Love, Light, & Peace,

UN Organizations

UNICEF - US Fund (United Nations Children's Fund — US Fund)

WFP (World Food Programme)

IOM (International Organization for Migration)

UNHCR - UN Refugee Agency

Religious-based organizations

Catholic Relief Services

Christian Aid

International Orthodox Christian Charities

Islamic Relief - USA

Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief

Palestinian Refugees (who had been in Syria and are displaced again)



Determining where to give
Charity Navigator can help you verify an organization's reliability or track record, e.g., on ANERA

To learn more about conditions in Syria:

Syria Deeply


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fundraising for the 2013 Retreat for LGBTQ Muslims and Partners

The Retreat
I have the distinct pleasure, privilege, and truly humbling responsibility of serving as Chair for the 2013 Retreat for LGBTQ Muslims and their Partners resource mobilization efforts. This is the third consecutive year the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD*) organizes the Retreat, which takes place at the end of May.

The Retreat is a uniquely diverse, radically welcoming and inclusive, safe and affirming place for LGBTQ Muslims and their Partners (not all of whom are Muslim). It is a rare place we can gather and be our whole selves, re/connect with the Divine and our faith traditions, and build community. For most, it is a time of meaningful reflection and necessary healing. It is also a remarkable moment of joy, seeing old friends, and making new ones.

Our fundraising helps us offer 15 scholarships to attendees who could not otherwise attend, and to offset operating expenses. We are at about 2/3 of our $6,500 goal, having raised a little over $4,500 so far. 

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has given, and those who have asked others to help. We would not be where we are without every single one of you. Beyond material and financial support, it has been enormously heartening to receive the moral support that each gift communicates.On the behalf of the Retreat Planning Committee, Scholarship Recipients, Retreat Attendees and, of course, myself, I thank you.

We are not done, however. In this final month before the Retreat, we must close the gap to our goal amount.

Can you help? 
In this time of widespread Islamophobia, Muslims need community and support. Some LGBTQ Muslims may not feel safe or be accepted as they are within their home and faith communities. This is an especially difficult time for all of us, and the Retreat is a unique setting fostering healing, spiritual renewal, and connecting people to a loving community. With your assistance, we can help people in need find this safe community embrace.

Can you give $15, $25, $50, or another amount both meaningful and possible for you, today?

If you can't give, can you "get"? Meaning, do you know folks you could ask to donate? $5, $15, $25? Every amount helps! If you ask 5 people for $5 and get that, it's $25 raised! If you ask 10 people for $10 and get that, it's $100!

It can be uncomfortable to ask for money, but I hope you will find courage in this project's worthiness. Like me, you may find motivation in a shared commitment to facilitating access for folks who otherwise could not attend.

Fundraising Tips
If you are willing to join me on the adventure of fundraising for the Retreat (or if you are interested in fundraising in general), I offer the following tips. I hope you will find them useful:

Tip #1: Set A Personal Goal.
This can be pie-in-the-sky, if you like a challenge, or it can be a realistic goal adding up what you think everyone you plan to ask can give (see Tip #2). Some people suggest Tip #2 comes first. I find that setting a goal and writing it down sets the intention out into the Universe and can be a personal motivator. After I've set my goal, I can make my list as long or as short as it needs to be to reach my goal. As with all activity, making a plan gives me a better chance of realizing my goals.

Tip #2: Map Out Who You Know & Set Individual Asks
Make a list of who you knowEstimate what you think they might be able to give or what you think is reasonable to ask of them. Make a game of it! I took this as an opportunity to draw and get my creative juices flowing. I had fun, drawing simple shapes:
You can use my examples, or draw whatever shapes you want, or simply make a list (and you don't need to stop at 5!). I never got around to designing:
  • A computer tower: write names & amount on wires hooked up to it
  • A book shelf full of books: write names & amounts on the spines
  • A subway map: write names & amounts on the train lines
... you get the idea.

Tip #3:Make Your Ask In Person Or By Phone.
Personal requests usually work best, followed by emails, posting on FB, etc. One suggestion: practice asking with a friend. I'll role play the asks with you if you want! It's OK to follow up, people are busy. I know I appreciate follow up.

Tip #4: Ask For A Specific Amount.
I've heard people give both sides of this, to ask a general, "Give what you can," or a pitch that is more specific, "Can you give $20?" Normally, you ask for one amount, not a range (like I have above). But I'm bending the rules. You can too! (These are suggestions.)

Tip #5: Every Gift Matters.
Some people feel if they can't give a certain amount, it is not worth giving at all. I've solicited and seen gifts of all amounts (our smallest gift was $1 and our largest was $500); they all add up. I've suggested to folks who feel challenged that if they can save a quarter a week for four weeks, that $1 will help. And if they have 10 friends who can do the same, that is $11 they could mobilize. Every bit helps. Plus, it's very important to us to have broad participation and support. With this in mind, don't forget to ask if your prospective donor has a matching gift program at their job.

Tip #6: Always Mention Donations Are Tax-Deductible.
The Retreat's fiscal sponsor, Muslims for Progressive Values, is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, so gifts are tax-deductible to donors to the fullest extent allowed by law. If your prospective donor is Muslim, they may care to know that gifts to MPV are zakat-eligible (zakat means "charitable giving," and is one of the basic tenets of Islam).

Tip #7: Get Creative!
If you don't feel comfortable asking for money out of the blue, maybe you have a birthday coming up and can ask people to make a donation in lieu of a gift. Or you can host a potluck with friends and have a suggested donation jar. Or ask an artist friend to donate artwork for which you can have a silent auction. Or if you are a poet, offer to craft a personally commissioned poem for a specific donation level. Maybe donate your Starbucks money for four Fridays in a row. Be creative! Have fun and make a game of it!

Tip #8: "No" Is An Acceptable Answer.
It can be hard to say no, almost as hard as it is to ask for donations. Have some compassion! Say thank you regardless of whether your pitch succeeds in generating a donation. A person's refusal is not personal, it reflects their capacity to provide financial support at that moment or their giving priorities (which are not about you). You brought the project to their attention, which is great, and have offered an opportunity to be an Ally. You connected intimately by virtue of doing something difficult (asking for money). Maybe they can't give now but will next year. It's all good (mashallah!). :)

Tip #9: Be Gracious.
Always thank people, whether they are able to give or not. They have given you their time in listening to you (as you have given me your time in reading thisso thank you!). 

Tip #10: Stay Positive.
All will be well (inshallah). A month ago some of us on the Planning Committee were unsure we'd have the $4,500 in hand as we do today. With positive thinking and faith, followed up by honesty, willingness, courage and action, we are here and we will proceed. We can do it, together!

Tip 11: Share, Share, Share.
Those of you on Facebook & Twitter who are comfortable doing it, can RT my asks or modify them or create your own. Let's amplify the call for donations and keep at it. Persistence pays off as folks mean to give and then forget. Also, you never know who will be interested in the project unless you talk about it with them.

Tip 12: Don't Give Up.
Fundraising, or resource mobilization, can be daunting and disheartening. Reach out for support. Vent with your friends and teammates. Pray or meditate if this is your tradition. Then get back to it. You are not alone, and you don't need to do this alone. 

Thanks for reading this. I hope you found it helpful!

Love, Light, & Peace,


*Here's a short video announcement about MASGD, with the mission statement shared at minute 5:35 (MASGD is pronounced masjid, like the Arabic for mosque).

PS If you want to donate by check or money order, make it out to "Muslims for Progressive Values" with, "LGBTQ Muslim Retreat" in the notes field. Or, make an online donation, if you prefer. Checks should be sent to:

LGBTQ Muslim Retreat
PO Box 1562
Easthampton MA  01027-1562

To help us track check/money order donations, we ask donors to fill out this downloadable form.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Gratitude and Other Solutions

The Boston attack and the media focus on efforts to identify the culprits have upset me and many people I care about, and obviously the people who had to live through the attacks and the aftermath of fear, of staying home while the chase for suspects unfolded.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston, the families who lost loved ones, the people who have been injured, everyone who has witnessed this appalling crime and had prior trauma rekindled (as happens when folks with a history of trauma are exposed to a new traumatic event).

9/11 and related trauma
Some of the people experiencing trauma triggers are Muslims living in the USA. Some of us are very aware of the possible increase in hate crimes directed at members of communities to which the bombers have ties. For days, at the same time as Muslims have been reeling from the attacks themselves, we have been dreading a backlash, the result of collective guilt ascribed to all. And I am not just talking about verbal attacks like the Fox commentator who tweeted about Muslims, "Yes, they're evil. We should kill them all."

The fears are about more than speech, because, as FBI data shows, Muslims are three times more likely to be victims of hate crimes than anyone else. And the violence sends the message that we are not a part of the "us" in "USA." And Muslims, just like everyone else, are susceptible to trauma triggers. And the government itself had some responsibility for collectively blaming entire communities and treating all of its members as suspect by virtue of their ethnicity or religion.

I was here in NYC when 9/11 happened, and I still have flashbacks and anxiety related to the memory. I was attacked along with everyone else in NYC, from the air, by terrorist criminals. And, I was attacked on the ground, by fellow Americans, overhearing their hate and fear (several times hearing, "We need to round up all the Arabs!"), leaving me afraid to go outside and when I did leave my apartment, making sure I had my US passport on me. I remember the fear being so intense I could not engage in events like the candlelight vigils at Union Square to which my friend Daniel invited me to join him in attending.

This week, walking through NYC, hearing sirens, my stomach tensed and I could not understand at first my penetrating sense of dread. Then I connected the dots, and I remember feeling the same way immediately after 9/11: every alarm, every siren, was a harbinger of horror, of another attack. In fact, by day's end Thursday, a particularly difficult day, I was crying from the fear and the stress.

Focus on the solution
Thankfully, today I have several tools to deal with the fear and to manage the trauma. One of them is self-talk. I can reframe the story I tell myself about what the sirens mean (people are prepared to deal with a problem and help is available). So I talked myself through it: I am safe today. The attacks, however horrible, were limited in nature. I will not live in fear. I am resilient. I am a survivor.

I believe in a Gracious and Compassionate Divinity. This is my choice and it has been borne out in my own experience, which has resulted in my dawning awareness that my Divinity is indeed Gracious and Compassionate.

My life is not perfect. I am not perfect. I have my challenges. I am not alone in this (others also face challenges). But just for today, I need not live in fear, nor maintain my focus on a negative. I can accept my fear, as a human emotion that serves a purpose, an evolutionary purpose, to keep me safe and alive. I will not let it rule me. I have a mind, and I have choice. I can take action.

I also reminded myself to write out a gratitude list. It is by no means comprehensive, but is a simple thing I can do. I share it here, presented in no particular order:
  1. I woke up today (another day of life! Thank You, ya Latif!)
  2. I have a roof over my head (another gift!);
  3. I have food in my fridge;
  4. I have family & friends who love me & let me know it;
  5. I get to go to a Retreat & see folks I love, to be a part of building a community that is inclusive & healing, and to explore my faith tradition in a diverse & non-judgmental environment;
  6. I have a growing connection and sense of the Divine, which is called by different Names by different people;
  7. I have access to affordable medicines and quality healthcare;
  8. I live in a place that is not war torn;
  9. I am blessed in more ways than I can count or that I am even aware of at times... 
Just for today, I choose to move forward in faith, acceptance, and gratitude.

I hope this may be helpful to someone out there.

Love, Light, & Peace,

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grief and Healing

I recently had the privilege and honor of participating in an interfaith memorial service, a celebration of departed alumni, family, and friends, at Princeton University, my alma mater. It was with gratitude and humility (and not just a little bit of trepidation and sadness) that I took to the lectern when it was my turn. I offer up my words in hope they may help someone else struggling with loss and grief.

Celebration/Memorial Service Reflections
for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Ally Alumni
Saturday, April 13, 2013


Assalamu calaykum

This is the standard Muslim greeting. It means, “Peace be with you.” If you would like to respond, the response is Wa-calaykum assalam. “And upon you be peace.”

Thank you.

Since I have the microphone, let me thank the organizing committee and everyone who made this weekend happen. It has been a gift.

I am humbled and a little nervous to be up here today. It’s been overwhelming to be back. I was fairly out when I was on campus, in the early to mid 1990’s, so I thought I was OK. Yet it turns out I have had more to heal from in that experience than I thought. I know I am not alone in this.

I am glad I am back though, and and I am grateful to be here with you, to be here now. This celebration has been beautiful. Thank you to all who have come before me.

We’re here today to celebrate the lives of departed classmates, friends, and family. I love that frame—we celebrate rather than mourn.

Yet, to celebrate, I need to come to terms with my grief and my loss. And I have had my fair share (I know I am not alone in this as well.). One loss that is very recent happened 5 months ago when I lost one of my closest friends, William Brandon Lacy Campos, which is why it has been so meaningful for me to be asked to be one of the participants addressing you today.

Brandon was 35 years old, a Queer, Poz, African-American, Afro-Puerto Rican, Ojibwe and Euro smorgasbord (his words, not mine). He was a poet, a playwright, a blogger, a journalist and a novelist. He wasn’t a Tiger, but nobody’s perfect. Brandon was fearlessly honest about his struggles. He was someone I was proud to call brother. He was family.

My grief is fresh and has reopened old wounds, triggered other memories of loss. I’ve seen this weekend that I’m not alone in carrying grief or having wounds that still need to heal.

As a Muslim, I turn for guidance to Surat al-cAṣr, one of my favorite Surahs, or Chapters of the Qur’an.* It’s brief, thank goodness!

Inna’l-insāna lafī khusrin
Illa’lladhīna āmanū wa camilū’sāliḥāti
Wa tawāṣū bi’l-ḥaqqī wa-tawāṣū bi’s-ṣabrī

I’ll give you a translation and my interpretation of it:

In the Name of the Divinity, the Gracious, the Compassionate,
Time itself is witness
Surely all humankind experiences suffering
Except for those who have faith and do good works
And live their lives as examples of honesty [and as inspiration for others to be honest]
And live as examples of patience [of forbearance in bearing the troubles that befall, and as inspirations for others to be patient].

This is how I interpret it:
In the Name of the Divinity, the Gracious, the Compassionate

Time itself is witness
This is a universal truth, for all people, across all time

Surely all humankind experiences suffering
Grief, loss, pain and suffering are something everyone experiences at some point in their life. This tells me that I can expect to have some challenges and also that I am not alone in the experience.

Except for those who have faith
Here I am given a solution to my problem, and I believe that “faith” here is faith with a small f, not a big F. This means all those who can keep their focus on the positive, looking for reasons to trust that things do get better, without necessarily closing their eyes for the ways that problems also abound;

And [those who] do good works
This suggestion is very practical, as doing good works or charitable actions gets me out of my head—try it, do something for someone else, you’ll see. It is also pragmatic because if I take action to improve the world around me, I can ameliorate or remedy the problem which may be the cause of my suffering. Here I am directed to focus on solutions instead of problems and to be a part of those solutions, to participate in bringing them to the world;

And live their lives as examples of honesty [and as inspiration for others to be honest]
We all know the value, no, the necessity of living as authentically as we can. We all know the costs of not doing so, the isolation and alienation that results, the lack of intimate connection to others—because, how can we be close to anyone if we do not let them know who we are and we are constantly lying about ourselves or keeping ourselves from them? That barrier is always up;

And live as examples of patience [of forbearance to bear the troubles that befall, and as inspirations for others to be patient].
This last line tells me that I will face challenges, and that while I strive and strive to face them, patience will be a great tool.

I love this Surah because it is so simple and I can recite it when I am troubled, like a check list. Am I being patient? Am I giving time time?

Patience is not the same thing as passivity or inaction. Am I being honest, am I living in faith rather than fear, am I doing service? All of these are actions.

But I still need to be reminded to be patient, that there is a Mystery to this thing called life. The timeline upon which I demand change or think it is best is not mine to determine. I may have some good ideas (I went to Princeton, right?), but there might be better ways to fix the problem and there just might be another Plan.

Brandon’s is not the only loss I’ve experienced. In the last 10 years, I know at least 30 people who have died: suicide, drug overdose, health problems, unknown causes, etc. There is a silence around this that I want to interrupt here, that I need to interrupt.

I was on campus in the early to mid-1990’s. We hear a lot about how AIDS ravaged our community during that time. But the dying did not end with the advent of antiretrovirals (first off all, you have to have access to the meds, and not everyone does). 

Our communities are still suffering.

But there are solutions.

We must love ourselves and love each other.

We must hold ourselves and hold each other.

And we must remind ourselves that we belong. Simply by being part of Creation, we do. I have at times found this hard to believe, so it is a reminder I repeat to myself.

Lastly, a solution we can hang onto is to celebrate ourselves, as we are doing here today, and not just those who’ve departed, but all of us who remain.

Thank you.

Additional Links

Obituaries for B

William Brandon Lacy Campos himself, himself

*I wrote a version of these reflections only a year ago, as a guest blogger on Brandon's blog, My Feet Only Walk Forward, after a friend, Tony, committed suicide. It was written as a letter to another friend who speaks often about suicide and who struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. 

Inna lil-llāhi, wa-inna ilayhi rājicūn.
Indeed, we belong to the Divine and indeed, to the Divine we shall return.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Passover and Happy Easter!

Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Eid Mubarak wa Majeed!

This year, Passover started on March 25 and ends April 2. So, Happy Pesach! Chag Sameach! Eid Mubarak! Happy Holiday to all the folks who are celebrating! 

I remember my first seder, at Lauren Erdreich's parents' house in Edison, NJ, not far from where Lauren and I were in college. I remember being struck by the beauty and value of having an annual celebration focusing on liberation from oppression and enslavement, the moral consciousness this could awaken in a child, and the reminders it provided to adults. 

Over the years I continued to learn about Passover from such sources as T'ruah: the rabbinic call for human rights (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights - USA), Jewish Voice for Peace (l think it's worth noting this from them as well), and Tikkun.

Of course, who says holiday says food, yum! And though I was raised in Morocco, sadly, I have not been to a Mimouna celebration there. Inshallah, next year in Casablanca! I look forward to being able to exclaim, "T'frah, uw t'rbah!" (Be joyous & prosper!)

That first seder was not my last nor was it my only interfaith experiencesharing friends' religious festivals. I grew up in a multi-faith family, in Morocco, a Muslim-majority nation with hybrid heritage proud of its pluralism. Perhaps because of this, interfaith work gives me inspiration and a deep satisfaction.

You can imagine my pleasure, just as Passover is coming to a close, at finding this interfaith, comparative discussion of the Exodus story (how the Jews fled from ancient Egypt, led by Moses) as described in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.

Passover is not over yet, but today is, of course, Western rite Christians’ Easter. Happy Easter to all those celebrating and observing!

This year, G*d willing, I will travel to Morocco to mark Eastern rite Christian Easter with my mom, who is Greek Orthodox. This year Eastern (or Orthodox) Easter falls on May 5. The Greeks and most Orthodox call Easter Pascha.

The Greek Orthodox Church in Casablanca my mom attends is a part of the Holy Archdiocese of Carthage, itself a part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, which rules all of the Orthodox churches in Africa. The names alone, Carthage, Alexandria, sound ancient. They are of course, modern towns in Tunisia and Egypt respectively.

I can barely wrap my head around the ecumenical issues or the denominational differences in any religion, but here goes. The Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa is: 
the second in rank of the fourteen Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, which in their totality constitute the Orthodoxy, one of the three essential doctrines of Christianity, along with the Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Located in Alexandria of Egypt, its spiritual jurisdiction spreads throughout the African continent, which is accounted as a single geographical Church region.
I care about the Greek Orthodox church in Casablanca because of my mother's tie to it and my passion for diversity and inclusion and my dedication to interfaith work. I also care about it because it is part of the cultural patrimony of Casablanca. The church is a solid example of 1920's modernist architecture that can be found across Casablanca and Morocco, and is worth preserving and feeling proud about. Not too long ago it underwent restoration of its icons and internal décor and I found these photos on Facebook taken by someone who traveled there. [Note, the person who posted the album calls it a "Cathedral" but it has no bishop and is a small community church.]

Enjoy! And Happy Holidays!

Love, Light, & Peace,

Also of interest: