From Faculty & Friends: H. “Herukhuti” Sharif Williams

How would you explain the term “queer dharma”?

I’m a practitioner of neo-traditional African spirituality in both the Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) and Dagara traditions so it would be inappropriate for me to explain the concept of dharma, which is outside my cultural context. I can speak to the concept of Maat, which is a Kemetic concept of truth, balance, and the just order of things. I think of practicing Maat as being about how we observe with consciousness what’s happening around and within us, embrace the truth of what we find in what’s happening, and choose to act in harmony with that truth. When kweerness (some of us kweer Africanists use the word kweer to talk about queerness from a Black perspective by boring the prefix kw that exists in several African languages including Twi and Kiswahili) is added to that practice, it involves using the unique spiritual, cultural, and ancestral gifts provided to kweer people to observe, embrace, and act according to the truth in an effort to maintain harmony.  

How does the experience of queerness inform your approach to contemplative practice?

The Dagara people have a concept, bodeme. Bodeme are people who possess particular spiritual and cultural gifts/skills that the community needs bodeme to utilize in order for it to survive. Bodeme are, what Westerners would call, bisexual and gender non-binary. There is a rich and important educational process within the bodeme community to learn how to use one’s gifts and refine one’s skills as a bodeme. One might say a lifelong process of heart, mind, soul, and spirit work. 

How do contemplative teachings inform your experience of queerness?

Whereas in Western societies, queerness is marked by oppression, alienation from one’s community, and victimization, in the context of the Dagara people, kweerness as it is embodied in being a bodeme is a position of community responsibility, service, and power. As a bodeme, the very life of your community depends upon you and other bodeme become your full selves and your community engages you based upon that reality. Because I was born and raised in the United States, I have definitely experienced a different reality than bodeme in Dagaraland (Burkina Faso and Ghana). The Black community in the United States is a result of settler-colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and cisheteropatriarchy. We’ve internalized the biphobia, transphobia, and homophobia that European colonizers and slavers taught our ancestors. So my journey in becoming my full self has necessarily included responding to the challenges that the matrix of domination places along the way.

What is the biggest obstacle to a queer-inclusive contemplative worldview?

The biggest obstacle to a queer-inclusive contemplative worldview is settler-colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, and capitalism. That matrix of dominating systems forces people into believing there’s one form of queerness, one way to be inclusive, one contemplative worldview. As a result, the conversations often start with a simplistic, reductionist, Eurocentric premise that can only lead to simplistic, reductionist, Eurocentric conclusions. 

Share a story of a queer dharma leader who has shaped your relationship to contemplative practice and teachings.

One of my mentors was the Sufi teacher and mystic, Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajaje. He was a doula and midwife for some very important kweer ideas at the intersection of spirituality, sexuality, and embodiment. Ibrahim talked about the impact of erotophobia on our ability to become our full selves both in terms of how internalizing erotophobia can short-circuit our growth and liberation and how erotophobia in society creates mechanisms of policing and exploiting our bodies, desires, and relationships. He used his body through Sufi practice, tattooing, and BDSM/kink practice to resist erotophobia as a Black bisexual man.