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An American Muslim Preacher Faces His Own Mortality

Usama Canon, a Muslim reverend and a initial executive of a Ta’leef Collective.

Omar Kohgadai


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Omar Kohgadai

Usama Canon, a Muslim reverend and a initial executive of a Ta’leef Collective.

Omar Kohgadai

On a new night in Chicago, a Muslim reverend sits on a building in a core of an ethnically churned and mostly immature organisation of group and women. Around him, a drum round sings praises of a Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

Mint tea is served on bullion trays. A male with a hipster brave circulates an smell burner. A musky, timber smell fills a air.

And Usama Canon starts to teach.

“If we find yourself eremite though your religiosity has led we to be unpleasant or to be reduction afterwards amatory or reduction afterwards patient, afterwards you’re doing something wrong,” he says.

Canon, 40, gives off a laid-back, West Coast vibe. He wears a beanie and request beads wrapped around his right wrist like a thick bracelet. He is a initial executive of this place, a Ta’leef Collective, with campuses in Fremont, Ca. and Chicago. In Arabic a name means “the entrance together of many things.”

The Ta’leef Collective was envisioned as a “third place” between a mosque and home to yield Muslims, generally immature or new Muslims, a space to try their faith outward a proportions of a normal mosque. The nonprofit is partial harangue hall, partial entertainment space, and partial sanctuary.

Participants trimming from former inmates to acid youths contend Usama Canon’s teachings have helped them know Islam in their bland lives. Those lessons feel essential to his students during a time of flourishing feeling toward a religion, that has some-more than 3.45 million U.S. adherents.

So when Canon was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological illness ALS in a tumble of 2017, a news ravaged Muslim communities all over a world, that reason Canon adult as a pioneer. They call him Ustadh, “Teacher” in Arabic.

He was diagnosed after seeing a change in his singing voice, when reciting Quran or singing hymns. It was deeper, slurred.

His initial thoughts went to his 5 children, who operation in age from toddler to teenager, and his wife. He might never see his kids marry. Most people with ALS, mostly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, tarry between 3 and 5 years after their diagnosis.

And afterwards he watched his friends and students digest a news. “It was roughly like being a spook in a room,” he says. “I felt like saying, ‘Hey I’m not passed yet, dude. I’m right here. Why are we pre-mourning?’ “

In one of his final talks before holding a leave of absence, Usama Canon addresses a throng during Ta’leef Chicago’s campus.

Leila Fadel/NPR


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Leila Fadel/NPR

In one of his final talks before holding a leave of absence, Usama Canon addresses a throng during Ta’leef Chicago’s campus.

Leila Fadel/NPR

Canon is a California-born son of a black Baptist father and a white Christian mother. He became Muslim in 1996, usually after graduating high school, embracing a faith by his adore of hip-hop and a office of amicable justice.

He served as a Muslim clergyman in a California jail system, and calls a prisoners he worked with there some of his biggest teachers. He is also a devout personality for a Inner-City Muslim Action Network, that works with at-risk youth, provides medical caring and helps former inmates on a South Side of Chicago.

But Ta’leef is what done Canon into a tellurian figure. Thanks to his online talks, he has amassed thousands of admirers in Muslim communities from northern California to Jakarta, Indonesia.

“It’s secure in a thought that Islam is not a unfamiliar thing and Islam is not think and Islam is not malignant,” Canon says. “Granted, there is all this stupidity in a universe and there are Muslims doing violent things, though a core of a sacrament is a beautiful, pleasing thing.”

Canon complicated Islam during a Zaytuna Institute (now Zaytuna College) in a San Francisco Bay Area before roving to Africa and a Middle East to investigate with Islamic scholars and learn Arabic. Soon after a Sept. 11, 2001 militant attacks, his teachers during Zaytuna assured him to start a girl overdo program. In 2009, Ta’leef became an accredited nonprofit in Fremont, Ca., and in 2016, it stretched to Chicago.

“Ta’leef was innate and we usually did what we knew how to do, that is feed people and speak to them and hang out with them and reason them in a nonjudgmental way,” he says.

The classification filled a blank in Muslim communities during a time people were traffic with a flourishing guess and annoy toward a faith. More than half of U.S. Muslims came of age after Sept. 11, and Canon has helped those immature people work by their questions of temperament as a faith saw increasing domestic scrutiny.

He is singular in a Muslim American landscape, says Zareena Grewal. She teaches eremite studies during Yale University and has combined extensively on U.S. Muslims.

“He understands there is a need for affirmation; Muslims feel unequivocally lonely,” Grewal says. “And a pressures on a village perceptible in Muslim infighting or feeling judged.”

Canon is partial of a tiny conspirator of American Muslim leaders formulating these forms of spaces for one of a many different faith groups in a country, she says. And he’s been successful where many others have failed, formulating an unreservedly welcoming place generally for immature or new Muslims who feel judged by non-Muslims as a hazard and afterwards judged inside their possess village about either they’re “Muslim enough.”

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On tip of all that, Canon creates Islam demeanour cool, Grewal says, in a approach he dresses: crawl ties, slot squares, sensuous fabrics. In a approach he speaks, slipping from references to hip-hop to personal stories to quotes from a Quran.

“He’s unequivocally displaying an expanded prophesy of what it means to be an reliable Muslim and to infer your piety. You don’t need to enclose your turban and crawl your conduct and be quiet,” she says. “You can have a small swag, we can be a participation in a room, as he positively is.”

And for many of his fans, Canon is a guide during times of struggle.

Fatima Saleck met Canon final year during a impulse she was doubt her faith. The 24-year-old was partial of a Ta’leef mentorship program, comparison since of her overdo to translates to Islam in her hometown of Houston.

Muslim extremists committing acts of assault left her indignant and confused. Hypocrisy in her possess village didn’t help. Why was it happening?

“I usually was like, so, apparently we don’t need to be a Muslim. If these things exist, afterwards that’s something we don’t wish to be a partial of,” she says.

Canon helped revive her faith.

“He told me, ‘We’re tellurian beings, tellurian beings have a capability of wholly good or wholly immorality and many of us are usually in between,’ ” she says. “It was a enmity of their personalities from mine, we were not pity a common faith system. Their actions never had an outcome on mine, never had a temperament on me, usually like cave never had a temperament on theirs.”

His viewpoint gave her comfort.

“I told him things that we hadn’t even told my possess mother, a tie he gave us as a chairman or even as a whole was so authentic.” She adds, “There is no façade behind it, there was no ‘Oh, I’m a clergyman and I’ve complicated overseas.’ It was just, ‘Hey my name is Usama and we know what you’re articulate about.’ “

That flawlessness is his biggest appeal, Canon’s admirers say. It’s also partial of a reason his diagnosis has been so harmful to them.

Brother Ali On World Cafe

Acclaimed Muslim hip-hop artist Brother Ali says Canon taught him there isn’t usually one approach to be a good Muslim.

There was a time a rapper — a legally blind, white, albino from Minneapolis who found acceptance in hip-hop and Islam — was deliberation abandoning his career and study his faith full time.

Canon wouldn’t let him.

” ‘Who’s going to offer your fans while you’re gone? Only we can do that,’ ” Brother Ali recalls Canon revelation him. “He done me know what my purpose is.”

That summary desirous his many new manuscript All a Beauty in This Whole Life.

One of a songs, “Uncle Usi Taught Me,” is named for Usama Canon.

“Uncle Usi taught me/ can’t learn what we don’t know/ we can’t lead where we don’t go,” he writes.

But Canon’s disease, ALS, will eventually take a voice he uses to learn and hypnotize his body. With a time extent on his life, he thinks about a things that expostulate his faith and work: orphans, a homeless, a jail complement he sees as broken.

“Let’s be honest, when we do this thing called village we put a possess turn on it. And a turn we put on it is a northern Californian, churned child who comes from a hip-hop, reggae, hacky-sacking, boogie-boarding background,” Canon says. People fun that his is a “California Islam.”

“Hey, bro, call it what we wish to, and if that’s what Cali Islam is afterwards we accept,” he says. “Welcome people, grin during people, make certain that they’re taken caring of as a priority.”

When he initial became Muslim there was no space where he could have brought his mom to be partial of his acclimatisation process. Today, he says, that place exists.

“Ta’leef is a space where when people are entrance to acquire Islam. They move their mom who is not entrance to acquire Islam,” he says. “We’ll give her flowers and a chair and make certain she’s partial of a process.”

That’s a really simple, really simple judgment of what he teaches: to value people; to acquire people; to assistance people.

Now, Canon is holding a yearlong leave of deficiency from Ta’leef to understanding with his illness and spend time with his family. He reflects on what he’s combined and either it will endure him.

“It’s usually as durability as a women and group that have hopefully benefited and learned,” he says.

At an eventuality celebrating a initial year of Ta’leef’s Chicago location, campus executive Mansoor Kazi introduces Canon to a throng of hundreds. He asks a question:

“Anyone in a assembly that believes that Usama has had a poignant impact in their life, greatfully stand.”

Every chairman stands.