“Come again, please, come again, whoever you are. Religious, infidel, heretic or pagan ... This door is open for everybody. Come, come as you are.” Wali Kohgadai finds the words of Rumi most befitting to describe Ta’leef Collective, a place he considers ‘home.’
Often called a “safe space” for American Muslims, Ta’leef Collective is an independent organization that serves as an addendum to traditional mosques in the Bay Area to support spiritual growth. It also provides the companionship sought by many young Muslims and converts living in the West, who often struggle with social and internal conflicts. But most importantly, it is a place that welcomes anyone, irrespective of their spiritual status, to gain a healthy understanding of Islam and that is what sets it apart from other religious spaces and why you will find people of all ages and all races there. In other words, Ta’leef is one of the few religious spaces that practices tolerance and allows people to be comfortable in their own skin without being judged. Says Usama Canon, co-founder of Ta’leef: "In other words, when I’m the ‘Social-Me,’ I’m still the ‘Muslim-Me.’ When I’m the ‘Muslim-Me’ I’m still the ‘Social-Me.’"
While this ideal is celebrated among most young adults in the Muslim community and runs parallel to the teachings of Islam’s most revered prophet, Muhammad, it is also the reason the institution remains a polemical and factious concept. In the media, Ta’leef has often been representative of a contemporary Islamic culture inclusive of people with tattoos, piercings and funky hair which prompts traditional institutions to view it as a crevice.
Says Mustafa Davis, co-founder of the organization: “Regardless of the insignificance of this, most articles or blog posts written about Ta’leef Collective depict the organization as some type of wild punk rock modern liberal Muslim mosh pit.” And that is surely not the crux of it, he adds. “The most significant thing is that it’s a place where everybody is welcome, regardless of your level of commitment or outward appearance. I think the tendency to focus on the tattoos is for a valid reason. The reason is that in many other Muslim religious spaces, those of that have visible tattoos would not be welcome, or at least not made to feel welcome. Many of our religious institutions are so judgmental that it makes a place like Ta’leef Collective some sort of strange anomaly.”
Ta’leef Collective allows people to learn and grow spiritually at their own pace, which may be the reason for the large number of conversions that take place through this non-profit. The founders themselves are converts which makes it easier for them to empathize with non Muslims interested in embracing the faith along with Muslims who are simply disengaged . And what is striking about Ta’leef is the percentage of young adults who are becoming involved through the variety of programs it offers. Says Kohgadai, a regular attendee, “What makes it unique is roughly 85% of the people are under the age of 30.”
Most of the programs offered through Ta’leef are free of cost and are effective in encouraging and reengaging Muslim Americans to be active members of the community and reminding them of their individual responsibilities as members of a bigger society. For example, one of the programs, Civic Involvement, motivates participants to help impoverished groups of people by organizing charitable events such as the distribution of food and clothing items to the homeless in local neighborhoods. Other programs include weekly discussions and lectures led by scholars and teachers.
Ta’leef Collective, according to Usama Canon, is a community initiative that was developed as a response to the growing population of Muslim Americans. He says: “It’s not about an organization. It’s about a response to a very real need.”