Usama Canon, 40, is a popular community leader and teacher. As the founding director of the Ta’leef Collective (a space where young Muslims and recent converts can explore their faith in a more casual environment), Canon’s teachings and guidance have helped a generation of millennial Muslims – especially those with issues of identity stemming from 9-11 to the current Muslim Ban.
In the fall of 2017, Canon started noticing a change in his voice while singing hymns – his voice became deeper and slurred. And sadly, soon thereafter, he was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disease ALS (AKA Lou Gehrig’s Disease) – a tragic fatal diagnosis (survival rate is between 3-5 years).
Canon is the California-born son of a black Baptist father and a white Christian mother. He converted to Islam in 1996, shortly after graduating high school. He has thousands of Muslims fans from northern California to Indonesia, thanks to his online talks. “It’s rooted in the idea that Islam is not a foreign thing and Islam is not suspect and Islam is not malignant,” Canon says. “Granted, there is all this insanity in the world and there are Muslims doing insane things, but the core of the religion is a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
Canon is taking a yearlong leave of absence from Ta’leef to focus on his health, and spend needed time with his wife and five children. At an event celebrating the first year of Ta’leef’s Chicago location, director Mansoor Kazi asked a very significant question to the crowd of hundreds. “All those in the audience that believes that Usama has had a significant impact in their life, please stand.” Every person in the room stood.