Victoria BC – January 21, 2011

Two years ago I was a guest speaker at Epiphany Explorations hosted by The First Metropolitan United Church in Victoria BC. Since then they have become sort of extended family and invited me again this year to Epiphany Explorations 2011 – spiritual nurturing and continuing education for your personal journey. Their motto is Listen, Learn, Laugh, Sing and my journey to the center of my soul, fit right in there between spiritual nurturing and learn. So here I am seeing crosses in the sky again as signs of something profound and mysterious in my life journey.

Fact that my 61st. Birthday fell on January 21 was not lost on my hosts. I was the keynote speaker on Friday, the day of my birthday and my topic was gender in Islam. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate mention on the day of my birth. Before I took the podium to speak, there was music on stage and then 500 people sang Happy Birthday for me with words that were more than the lyrics of just a song – they sand for God to protect me and keep me safe and honoured me with presents. It was a profound moment with my new found family of caring, loving and faithful people. Megumi Matsuo Saunders, wife of the Minister Allan Saunders said a profound and meaningful prayer for me, naming me directly in an invocation to God which moved me to tears.

The entire conference is well organised and well attended with notable speakers like Stephen Lewis two years ago and this year Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, Lois Wilson , Mardi Tinadal and others giving their best.  After my talk a young Somali girl who is from a refugee camp and being cared for by a United Church attendee, asked me if leadership for women is forbidden in the Quran. I called her up on stage and said she had all the markings of a leader and no, its not forbidden in the Quran. As a matter of fact, Belqees (Queen of Sheba) is mentioned as a leader among women. The young lady said she wants to study so she can become Prime Minister of her country one day to bring about change. What a vision for one so young and what an inspiration for all of us. The audience gave her a standing ovation and support and she left with a wide smile and a new confidence in her step.

In my workshop I showed the film  Sufi Soul narrated by William Darylymple and directed by Simon Broughton. For hundreds of millions of Sufi followers worldwide, music is at the heart of their tradition and a way of getting closer to God. From the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey to the qawwali music of Pakistan, Sufism has produced some of the worlds most spectacular music celebrated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Dalrymples film traces the shared roots of Christianity and Islam in the Middle East and discovers Sufism to be a peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic bastion against fundamentalism. The participants in my workshop were mesmerised and surpirsed that they had not heard of this before. There were many questions and it was very well received.

The beauty of being here again after two years was when one of the Ministers came to me and said that his congregation decided to do something last Ramadan. They read the Quran with the help of a young Muslim girl who read it in Arabic and they read it in English and he said to me “we should have done this a long time ago – how much we learnt”. He then told me that one of the young men had accepted Islam and told them that they must read the Quran. He looked at me and said, “I wanted to let you know that its because of your talk on Islam. Its times like this that I give a word of thanks to Allah for taking me on this path where one drop in the ocean keeps me going for the next year.

Victoria is one of the most beautiful and peaceful cities in Canada and the people are warm and friendly. I will return.