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Whitney

Not me, no mourning this morning. Tears come and waters flow but only from joy. This joy comes from knowing that you are alas reunited with Your Creator and no longer enduring the pain of this realm. So, I rejoice in knowing you are Up There and we are all here, smiling at you.


It was Spring Camp 2008, I went with a friend from the western suburbs of Chicago to Urbana Champaign to attend this Islamic weekend retreat. While attending the classes, one teacher particularly stood out to me. I recognized his name because the summer before I worked with his brother, Christian Canon, at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN’s) Takin’ It To The Streets music festival.


After attending Whitney’s lecture it was obvious–he was the fan favorite. Everyone flocked toward him right after his class to speak with him. When he taught, he spoke to the masses, he brought his full self and his full presence. He brought his style and class but also his rugged and real Bay Area swag. He was the Hip-Hop Sufi Master. Point is, he was real. And like he always said..”real recognizes real.”


A few months prior, I was moving my sister out of her San Francisco apartment. While we were there, we attended a dhikr (remembrance) circle and a flier was distributed for an Arabic intensive summer program. Baji handed me the flier and looked at me, “Think about it, Seemi.”


A few months later, I found myself in Berkeley, CA studying Arabic at Zaytuna College. This was the summer Whitney Canon became Ustadh Usama to me. In Arabic, “Ustadh” means teacher and “Usama” means lion. Outside of class, what was most invigorating were Sunday night dhikrs organized at Usama’s rented office space in Fremont, CA. Those nights were transformational. Every Sunday, a small group of us would hop on the Bart and make our way to Fremont to attend these fragrant dhikr circles with bottomless Moroccan mint tea, complemented with readings from Imam Al Hadad’s “Book of Assistance”.


I was so charged. I learned about Sufism and the path which brought Whitney to Islam. Inadvertently, I found myself recommitting to the faith I was born into. Islam took on a whole new meaning in my life.


Through the years, Usama became more than a teacher. He became a spiritual guide, a mentor, a friend, a confidant and, most importantly, someone who kept it real real with me. In the summer of 2017, when Usama spoke with me, he told me something was up.

“I am having a hard time singing. I’m seeing the doctors and they’re running some tests.”

A couple months later, it was revealed that Usama was diagnosed with ALS.

You are no longer in pain, beloved brother. In my dreams, you are dismembered and I am running to put you together. In my dreams, you remind me to breathe. My dreams are where I see you because that is all that is left.




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