By Daniel MacKay
On June 7, I attended the Halifax Unity Mosque congregational salat, or worship, at the invitation of one of the LGBT members who knew I was interested.
The Unity Mosque started in Toronto six years ago and began in Halifax when some members moved here; they've tried meeting at various frequencies and have settled on monthly. The sense of "mosque" here is of a congregation, not a building; one of the organizers, El-Farouk Khaki, who was born in Tanzania, is now living in Toronto and was visiting Halifax says, "I often refer to them as a 'mosque in a box'".
Halifax has the seventh of these mosques. The congregations welcome everyone regardless of race, class, disability, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity or religion and are child- and youth-friendly - non-misogynistic, non-homophobic, and non-xenophobic.
The event started with a pot luck (the invitation read, "No wine, no swine".) Starting a spiritual event with a shared meal, instead of ending it with one, was probably the most culturally jarring element of the afternoon.
I brought a tunafish pasta salad with herbs from my garden: lovage, egyptian onions (an Egyptian woman there asserted that she had never heard of them) and chives. There was a bowl of pretty good hummus (not as good as mine) and some grilled hot-sauce-marinated portobello mushrooms served on English muffins as burgers, a big kitchen-sink tabouli-like salad, a crock of meatballs, and an onion and cheddar pizza on thin crispy once-raised crust.
We ate as a traditional Atlantic Canadian kitchen party until the host shooed us out into the back garden, and I talked with a lawyer about his specialties, aboriginal law and modern day piracy of container ships.
An hour later we ten men and women, gay and straight, were called to the sunny living room of the north end Halifax home and sat around, mostly on the floor, mostly on pillows, and sipped tea that one of the organizers had brought in. A few kids wandered in and and out as the regulars discussed who was able to sing the call to prayer.
The salat began with prayers in Arabic and English spoken by the imam - that day's worship leader. He's a St Mary's University professor, and the khutba, sermon, that followed was based on a recent academic paper about the connection between hip hop and Islam, centering on the American musician Brother Ali. He outlined the relationship between Ali and Islam on topics of social justice, privilege, and protest, illustrated by readings from the Quran and Ali's lyrics, and included some history of the Black American and everything-phobic religion, Nation of Islam.
The Wikipedia biography for Brother Ali points out that he is deeply anti-homophobic - to the point of having a letter published in the Huffington Post calling out a fellow artist for the use of the word "faggot".
And then, things took a swerve from a sit 'n' listen church service: we had a discussion about the sermon, that ranged from social justice topics, the parallel between native smudging with smoke and Muslim ablution with water, and that Muslims believe that God sent 124,000 prophets to all nations of the earth, which must have included native North Americans, to Malcolm X, to indigenous people's rights.
To close, we lined up to face Mecca and performed four rakaats, or repetitions of prayers and prostrations to touch the mat with our foreheads - no easy task for me given the imprudent amount of food I had loaded my belly with.
There was time for prayers from the imam for victims of recent disasters, for victims named and unnamed in the Truth And Reconciliation report, and for all who thirst for justice, and we were invited to name specific people to pray for. To invoke these prayers we recited "dua's", the format of which would not be alien to anyone accustomed to praying to God. Our prayer sheet was written in English and phonetic Arabic - here's a dua I found particularly pretty:
O Allah! Grant me light in my heart, light in my grave,
Light in front of me, light behind me,
Light to my right, light to my left,
Light above me, light below me,
Light in my ears, light in my eyes,
Light on my skin, light in my hair,
light within my flesh, Light in my blood, light in my bones.
O Allah! Increase my light everywhere!
O Allah! Grant me light in my heart, light on my tongue,
Light in my eyes, light in my ears,
Light to my right, light to my left,
Light above me, light below me, Light in front of me,
light behind me and light within myself.
Increase my light!
After the last dua we retreated to the kitchen for - more food: pies and cakes and fruit juice. A half hour later -- four hours after I arrived -- I waddled home serene, refreshed and unable to think about food for the rest of the day.
You can find out more about the Halifax Unity Mosque on Facebook or visiting jumacircle.com.