Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rumi Rocks!

"I looked to the temples, churches, and mosques.
But I found the Divine within my heart."
-- Rumi

Friday, June 15, 2012

Post Retreat Musings, Part 1

One day last week, I sat down and wrote out some thoughts about 2012 Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners ("the Retreat"). I wanted to write something about what I learned at the Retreat, what was meaningful to me. I wanted to share it with my fellow attendees, and also with all of my friends and family and other supporters who gave generously to fund scholarships and help us cover other costs, and those who are simply curious (I got a lot of questions). What follows is part one of my musings. 


I keep learning the power of just being. Just gathering. Connecting. 

Where two or more of us gather, Spirit is there. Maybe even where just one of us is, if we can quiet our mind's chatter, we can feel It. Sometimes. 

If I am open and discerning and see the signs, I hear It in what one of my brothers or sisters says to me. Or I see It as I gaze in wonder upon my surroundings. Something as simple as the trees can reveal, when I am open, the awesomeness of Creation that I all too often simply take for granted (like the air I breathe).

And why should I not see it all around me? Spirit, the Divinity, is everywhere. 

It is the Light that reveals Creation, and It is Creation. It is the Creator and the Created. It is All That Is. It is the Infinite, a never-ending Mystery.

I truly believe each of us has access to It and Its guidance, as well as to the serenity and peace promised us when we discern Its will for us and our best to follow it.

The process of seeking knowledge of the Divinity's will for us is a deeply personal one, something no one else can do for us. We must go within, to connect to where Spirit resides in us all. 

This does not mean that we must be alone when we do this. In fact, gathering is part of how we understand our personal mission even better. Sharing with others our personal process (and allowing them to have theirs) is part of moving further along this path of seeking.

And that, for me, is what was spiritual about the 2012 Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners. The Gathering. The Connecting. The Being. The Love. The Light. The Peace.

I thank you all who attended and were a part of it, a part of opening my eyes, each of you in your own way, to the Beauty that is Creation, and all the lessons and messages that the Creator would have me heed.

May the Spirit bless you all with joy, love, and ease as you walk through your life. Know that you are never alone. None of us is.

Love, Light, & Peace,

Fundraising 101, Part 2

Last month I wrote a blog on fundraising, sharing some tips I had compiled from my own research on how to do fundraising for the 2012 Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners. Here is some follow up advice I gave to a friend (Abdurrafi Adkison), who recently reached out to do some fundraising to get to the Muslims for Progressive Values retreat in NYC in July 2012 (he needs $200). 
The retreat is coming up fast. July 13-15 promises to be a life changing event. I am attempting to attend. Due to some medical issues I have been set back financially. But through the generosity of family and friends I have raise all but $200 for my trip. I would like to ask to please consider donating to help me go to the Muslims for Progressive Values retreat. More information can be found at 
Click here to donate to help Abdurrafi get to the MPV Retreat

I wrote to Abdurrafi, sending him the link my blog post on fundraising, and adding the suggestions below. 

I share them here to disseminate his fundraising appeal, to amend my previous post in hope of helping other fundraising newbies like me, and since some of you may be helping us do fundraising for next year's Retreat, to give you a jump start on the process (start saving now people! Seriously, if you can set aside money for yourself and budget to also save $5 or $10 or $20 to donate on top of your registration fee, that would be awesome!): 

(1) post your "ask" regularly on your FaceBook page and other places and at different times (e.g. one day in the morning, one day at night, one day midday... well, you get the idea) since different folks have a different schedule for checking their FB and other social media or even emails; 

(2) post it daily or some other regular interval because people want to give and usually plan to get to it later and then forget, so they need and will appreciate the reminder; 

(3) make specific "asks" of specific people (send them an e-mail preferably after calling them to ask them or bringing it up in conversation), asking them for something you think is reasonable for them to give; 

(4) don't hesitate about soliciting small gifts ($5, $10, $20). Some people might be embarrassed to give a small amount, but be assured and reassure them the small amounts really do add up -- if my friend gets $10 from 20 people, he will cover his gap (he might consider asking 40 people for $10 each and maybe he will get the $200, since some people will say no) & if all 40 give $5 each he will get to his goal and if they don't all give he will still be closer to it; and lastly

(5) consider borrowing the amount from someone and pay it off at $20/month for 10 months or whatever is workable for you (and if you whittle it down with donations, then it won't be the full $200 that has to be borrowed)...

There are always more ideas that can come; my suggestions are not exhaustive. Be creative, be bold, and listen to your intuition.

Love, Light, & Peace,

Related Links: 
Muslims for Progressive Values (Principles)
MPV Retreat Registration and Program

Abdurrafi Adkison's fundrazr campaign to get to the MPV Retreat

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fundraising 101 & the 2012 Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners

I am involved with the 2012 Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners held outside Philadelphia, over Memorial Day weekend. I attended the Retreat last year, the first of its kind, an energizing and spiritually nourishing experience. This year, I am honored to be part of the planning and fundraising committees.

A friend just shared with me that he sent my blog in which I detail why the Retreat was so significant to me, to his father, and his dad (who had agreed to give $25 when initially asked) decided to give $50. I also got a note from a friend I asked to donate that he had done so, and found out he gave more than I asked (he gave $250!). I got other responses from friends who gave $14 (we were short of our target by $1400 so I committed to ask at least 10 people for at least $14, taking responsibility for 1/10 of the gap), $18, or $36, and other amounts that were meaningful toand possible forthe giver.

This has all been awesome! Alhamdulillah!

So, thank you, everyone who has given thus far. And thank you to all who have asked your friends and family to help us meet our goals. Every little bit helps! It really does.

I’m not saying awesome because my blog inspired a friend’s father to give more (though I am very touched to hear it) or because I surpassed my targets, but because of my friend’s courage to ask and the beautiful surprise of being given more than I asked.

It’s also awesome because, candidly, I had to take my own courage in hand to send out my “asks.” Doing this fundraising made me very anxious. So if you are feeling nervous at the prospect of doing any fundraising, you are not alone!

Here are some steps I took to walk me through my fears:
(1) I admitted that Ilike a lot of other peoplehave a hard time asking for money, and I accepted that it’s ok to feel awkward or anxious about it;
(2) I reminded myself that there is a real need, and took care to explain it in my “ask”; 
(3) I anchored myself in the faith and total support I have for this project, and for how it addresses the needs I described in my appeal; 
(4) I held on to the understanding that while my call is personal and personalized (my perspective on the need, my reasons I think the project valid, etc.), it is not a personal rejection if people say no (this is important); 
(5) besides which, even if a personal rejection, Gloria teaches me: I Will Survive; 
(6) I let folks I asked know I understood if they were not be able to help out in this way at this time, and that it is ok (no high-pressure sales tactics);
(7) a friend eased my mind, telling me that this is an opportunity to let someone help me, to let him participate in realizing a worthwhile project, which makes him feel good; 
(8) he shared with me that people want to give and do good, they want to be helpful;
(9) so by asking them for money, I am giving them that opportunity; 
(10) because our fiscal sponsor, Muslims for Progressive Values, is a 501(c)(3) organization, the gifts are tax-deductible in the USA (and I remembered to put this in my “ask”); 
(11) I asked for a specific amount that I felt would be reasonable for them; 
(12) I took to heart what another friend told me: think of it as a conversation (maybe you do this by phone or in person—courage, my sweetsfundraising is best when done in person or by phone); my friend can respond, “I can't do $50, but I can do $30,” or, “Honestly, $20 is too much for me right now, but I can do $10.”
I hope this helps you! It helped me face my fears. And remember, when you ask, that every little bit helps!

Xoxo & love, light, & peace,

Additional Fundraising Resources:

Sample Letter:

Dear [Your friend’s name here],

I'm writing to you today to request your help in reaching my personal goal of raising $1000 for the second annual Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners held outside Philadelphia, over Memorial Day weekend. I've raised at least $525, and I am hoping you can help me close the gap to reach my goal! As you know, I attended the Retreat last year, the first of its kind, an energizing and spiritually nourishing experience. This year, I am honored to be part of the planning and fundraising committees.

I will never forget the moment I heard a woman’s voice raised in the call to prayer, the adhaan, during last year’s Retreat (I detailed in my blog why this was so significant).

This call to prayer healed a rift in my soul, a rift in Spirit I had not realized was there. My visceral reaction was an experiential confirmation that excluding women from spiritual spaces and leadership deeply damages all of us, not just women. And the Retreat helps heal that injury: women call to prayer and lead prayers, and people of all genders pray side by side and not in gender-segregated spaces.

This Retreat is part of an historic global reformation and reclamation movement in Islam, and I am proud to be a part of it and to support it.

The Retreat also is a welcoming and inclusive space for incredible diversity: secular, atheist, cultural, or devout and practicing Muslims; Sunni or Shia, and all sorts within those two branches; Sufi and not; and of course, the partners who may or may not be Muslim. We are young(er) and old(er), of many genders and many ethnicities and races. We offer the Retreat at a time of tremendous need for safe spaces for our attendees, both as Muslim Queers in America, and simply as Queer Muslims. The Retreat mobilizes and solidifies an abiding respect for the values of diversity and inclusion that is beautiful to witness.

Sadly, we are short of our final goal (about $1400 short), so I am reaching out far and wide and asking folks if they can contribute at least $14. If even 10 of my friends do so, that will close the gap by a tenth. Other committee members are doing the same.

Please join me in supporting the scholarships we offer to 14 youth (18-25) and 5 youth+ (26+) to attend. 

Can you make a donation today of $50, $25, or $14? Your gift will help and they all add up! 

All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent permissible by law in the USA, as our fiscal sponsor, Muslims for Progressive Values, is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.  You can give via PayPal or, if you prefer not to give via PayPal, you can send a check or money order (if you do the latter, please fill out the attached form, as we need to track donations through MPV to ensure that all donations to The Retreat are attributed). 

Thank you.

Love, Light, & Peace,

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2012 Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners

Dear friends,

I’m writing to ask you to help me in reaching my personal goal of raising $1000 for the second annual Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners, to be held this year outside Philadelphia, over Memorial Day weekend. This Retreat aims to bring together LGBT Muslims, to build community, and to help us reconnect to our faith and ourselves.

I attended the Retreat last year, the first of its kind, and am honored and humbled to do service on this year’s planning committee. Last year’s Retreat was incredibly moving, delightfully energizing, and spiritually nourishing. It was a life-changing blessing to participate in the Retreat and be a part of building a progressive community with LGBT Muslims and their partners. It was healing in ways I could not foresee.

I will never forget the moment I heard a woman’s voice raised in the call to prayer (the adhaan). Muslims signal the beginning of joint services (jum`ah) with a human voice. The first person ever to do this was a freed African slave, Bilal ibn Rabah, in the newly established Muslim community in Madina, at the invitation of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This happened in Year One for Muslims—our history begins after our ancestors fled persecution in Mecca. Non-Muslims may be familiar with the Hajj, the annual Muslim ritual pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina, in which we celebrate this event.

Having a woman call our gathering to prayer, opening our jumu`ah, was not simply a symbolic act of inclusion. There was deep meaning to it.

It was radical, getting to the “root of the matter.”

I have shivers when I talk about it and remember it.

Why am I, a man— and a pretty secular cultural Muslim at that—so deeply moved by such a simple thing, and a thing that does not directly (at first glance) affect my gender?

The only thing I can say is that this call to prayer healed a rift in my soul, healing a rift in Spirit, I had not realized was there. It was a spiritual awakening of a sort, and I am grateful for both the awakening and experience.

If you know me, you know I am committed to equality and equity. These are fundamental Islamic values, certainly as I was taught them, apparent in the teachings of Islam and its early history. I have shared how the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) invited Bilal to initiate the first prayer gathering in the emancipated Muslim community. That too was a deeply meaningful and spiritually significant act, not just a symbolic token of inclusion.

Today, I am sad to say that the Muslim community does not stand, to the world outside of it certainly, and maybe even to some within it, as a byword for justice, equity, equality, diversity, and anti-oppression. Centuries of influence by closed-minded social traditions on Islamic values and practices have turned us from the path that we began with that first radical call to prayer.

The Retreat for LGBT Muslims and Partners continues the Islamic tradition of righteous justice: it is a space of inclusion, healing and in our own way, incrementally righting wrongs done in the name of our Muslim culture. Maybe we are reconnecting to the authentic roots of the faith. Maybe we are amending it to correct for ways we have gone off the path.

What is there to correct? I look around at the Muslim world and I see a civilization wracked by spasms of violence and hate, with criminals and extremists from one sect killing members of other sects or killing the non-Muslims among them. And granted, it is a minority that is criminal in this way, but we are all suffering for it and from it, and we need more voices and more examples of what it looks like to do things a different way. I also see subordination and exclusion of women, and oppression and violence of sexual and gender minorities like LGBTQ folk.

Within mainstream and conservative Muslim communities in the West, we face these problems and conflicts as well. A minority is hateful and dangerous, and the majority does not always know what to do or say about it. Often, it is too busy defending against the Islamophobia in the larger society, which we as LGBT Muslims sometimes face even from our LGBT non-Muslim communities.

At the Retreat, we are open and inclusive of all partners, whether they are Muslim or not, believe in a divinity or not. We are open and inclusive of all sects—if you say you are Muslim, we believe you.  In this we are part of a global progressive Muslim movement, one which also is committed to ending the exclusion and subordination of women within our faith communities, and challenges those who would oppress and marginalize LGBT people.

My soul experience at last year’s Retreat revealed to me that excluding women from spiritual spaces and leadership has deeply damaged all of us, not just women. This is not just a diversity issue or an intellectual issue of equality. It is an issue of spirituality and spiritual healing. And it is a truth that resonates within my core.

The Retreat is part of healing that injury, with women calling to prayer, women leading prayer, and people of all genders praying side by side and not in gender-segregated spaces.

Hopefully the Retreat heals other injuries as well, and provides a space to do much more. It is a place of exploration and reconnection—people who felt they would never pray again find a safe space to discuss this and may join in worship. Those of us raised secularly can attend the Islamic Prayer 101 workshop and learn how to pray or brush up on the rituals, even learning about the diversity of rituals between sects. Members of sects that outside that space might fear each other are not afraid to have an open discussion about their differences and their histories.

At the same time, the Retreat is a safe space for atheist, agnostic, or secular Muslims who simply want to be there among others with whom they have a cultural commonality and with whom they share a political solidarity in an era of increasing Islamophobia. And it is definitely a place of community-building and fun.

We have an incredible diversity. We are secular, atheist, and devout and practicing Muslims. We are Sunni and Shia and all sorts within those two branches. Some are Sufi, others not. And of course, we include the partners (who may or may not be Muslim). We are young(er) and old(er), we are many genders, we are of many ethnicities and races.

I hope you will join me in supporting the scholarships that we offer to 14 youth (18-25) and 5 not-so-youth (26 & over) to attend. We also would appreciate donations for our general operating costs.

Can you help out with a donation today?* Can you give $50? $25? $10? Any amount you can give will help and all helps us reach our goal!

Thank you.

Love, Light, & Peace,


*All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent permissible by law in the USA, as our fiscal sponsor, Muslims for Progressive Values, is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Be the Change

Be the Change: We All Have Power, We All Have Choices

Have you seen this story from Bangladesh yet? 

A man who works as a rickshaw (pedicab) driver, saved half of his $6/day earnings over the course of 30 years and, with his savings, built a clinic in his home village, which was far from any medical treatment. 

This man is inspiring: he turned his anger at his community's exclusion—& the death of his father due to inadequate access to healthcare—into motivation to do something good. He was determined, and he was frugal. And he saved half that $6/day he made, and built that clinic.

While this story could serve to reinforce our notion of the persisting poverty and inequities that exist around the world, I look at it and see another lesson as well.

We all have power, and we all have choices. 

There is no doubt that economic and other constraints facing this man and many other people around the world like him are very real. 

But he shows us even in the face of such challenges, we have power, and we have choices.

He also shows us that when we act, we may inspire others. 

After news of his clinic spread, it received anonymous donations from all over, and now women and poor people in an area of the country that did not have medical care, do. 

He is a testament to patience, persistence, positive-thinking, taking responsibility to change things we don't like, frugality, charity, and commitment to justice and equity. 

Vision in action. Values in action.

My first thought was "What an amazing example of Muslim values," because I saw in him so much of what I was raised to believe Islam is about (see the list above), and because it was so refreshing to get away from the Islamophobes and what they would define Islamic values as (or the radical Islamists, for that matter, who truly to me seem to be the flip side of the Islamophobes—each with their terrorizing and restrictive understanding of Islam.). 

But I know these values are universal—we can find them in other faiths and among non-theist people too.

Connect to your vision. Connect to your values. Now put them into action. 

Love, Light, & Peace,

This blog is dedicated to my mother and father, who taught me the values I hold dear, and to, "Be the Change."

Related links: 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Feet Only Walk Forward: Guest Blogger, Kamal Fizazi: A Letter to Friend About Hope and Survival

I recently wrote my first guest blog on Brandon Lacy Campos' site: My Feet Only Walk Forward: Guest Blogger, Kamal Fizazi: A Letter to Friend About Hope and Survival.

It emerged from a letter I wrote to a real-live friend, an Arab, like me (well, from a different country), thus the nickname, "Habibi", who has struggled with suicidal thoughts over the years.

Just last week, I found out another friend of mine, someone who combated HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and depression, lost his fight. He committed suicide, jumping out of his 12-story window.

I and my friends who knew him are devastated and sad.

Why did I not know he was in such pain? What could I have done differently? How could I have been a more effective part of a solution for him?

I have personal insight into pain and loss, what it is to feel an all-encompassing despair.

So, I wrote this letter to my friend, "Habibi", sharing some of the resources I have used get through tough times. Among the things I mention is a spiritual resource, a Qur'anic prayer, Surat al-Asr. As a Qur'anic prayer, Muslims may recognize it and it may have special resonance for them, but its suggestions are spiritually universal, and I believe many people will be able to find something from their own faith tradition in it and in what I wrote in the guest blog.

I hope you will read my offering of love and compassion, and if you are so moved, comment on it and repost (use the My Feet Only Walk Forward link: My Feet Only Walk Forward: Guest Blogger, Kamal Fizazi: A Letter to Friend About Hope and Survival).

Love, Light, & Peace,