Saturday, December 24, 2005

RIS Day 2 - Review

Attending RIS from Dec 23-26 ... Regular blogging to recommence from Boxing Day.

I decided to take the TTC all the way today, instead of partially. That decision caused me to miss Ustad Muhammad Al Shareef's lecture (thank you stupid TTC). The 9.40 bus I was supposed to take came early at 9.35. And the next bus was conveniently late. One and half hour later, as I stepped into the CNE, Sheikh Abdullah Adhami was just warming up to start his lecture, 'Men and Women as Partners of Faith'.

Synopsis of the Day: Morning session: Excellent. Afternoon Session: Excellent. Night Sessions: Excellent.

Warning: I took notes, so this is a longer, detailed, post that yesterday's.

If anyone missed Sheikh Adhami's lecture, I recommend buying the CD. He said men and women are equally important in Islam, and Allah has accorded equal rewards to good deeds by either gender. In the days of the Prophet, the Sheikh said, men and women were equally fundamental in helping the growth of Islam.

Today, however, we have preconceived notions about role of men and women in society, based on our CULTURE. The Sahaba realized that they were the product of cultural upbringing, and kept it separate from their Islam. Islam also recognizes that man and women are governed by chemistry, by hormones, and rather that fight these natural urges, Islam gives us a system to cope with them, to help us direct our physical and hormonal urges in the proper channels. For example Islam permitted marriage and did not subscribe to abstinence or monkhood. The relation between men and women are then based on pure thoughts, not base desires.

The sheikh also warned us not to reduce every relation between a man and woman to pure carnal terms. There can be relations between a man and a woman, he said, that can be not carnal and yet pure. They may not be related, yet share an intimacy that is not physical but holy. For example, he pointed us to the relation between Isa (Jesus) (pbuh) and Mary Magdalene, or the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Khawla (Raa). Historians to this date cannot understand the relation between Jesus and Mary, so they try and say she was his bride, and what not. Similarly, some historians erroneously count Khawla as one his wives, when she was not. Just friends, as they say. And it is OK, the sheikh said.

Following this was Sheikh Riyad Ul Haq's talk on 'A Transformed Ummah'. He stressed that rather than asking others all the time to change their behaviour, first we should concentrate on ourselves, and then our families, and then others. We should first try to become better, remove our bad habits, before asking others. He said the Ummah is just a collective of individuals, and if individuals are bad, then the Ummah will be too. He pointed out that whenever Allah asked the Prophet to teach new instructions, new orders, He always asked the Prophet to first teach it to his own family members, then close relatives, friends, and then the other believers. Change starts at the lowest level, he said. Today, he warned, we make excuses for our own behaviour and weaknesses, but are quick to pounce on others.

Then it was the turn of Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah. He gave his talk in Arabic, and it was translated by Hamza Yusuf. The topic was 'Ettiquetes of Disagreement'. I find it hard to believe such a gentle man can be from Saudi Arabia. I have always associated that country with Wahabbism, a tough, strict, misrepresentation of Islam. But this man is from that country, and I like what he has to say. Why is he not on TV, as the face of Islam, rather than the terrorists in Iraq who cut off peoples' heads?

The sheikh said while we may disagree, diversity is one of the blessings (mercy of Allah) of the community. He said diversity is a sign of Allah, where he made fruits of many colours, people of many compositions. As such, diversity of opinions, even in Islam and its rulings, is to be expected. What is important, the sheikh stressed, is that such diversity not become a source of resentment. He said Omar bin Abdul Aziz once remarked that he was GLAD that the Companions did not always agree in Islam, as that made broader opinions and viewpoints possible. Also as an example, Imam Malik once refused the Ummayad Caliph's order that Malik's interpretation of Islamic rulings be the official rulebook of the empire, as Malik felt it would reduce chances of future amendments to the jurisprudence. He felt his interpretations were for his time, his place, and fixing it as official would reduce chances of someone else with another viewpoint from challenging it.

The sheikh also provided some other excellent examples of dissent. Once a group of Companions were leaving for Quraizah. The prophet told them to pray Asr when they were in Quraizah. On the way, the travellers were delayed and it was time for Asr. One group of Companions said the Prophet meant they should hurry and try to reach Quraizah before Asr, and since they were delayed, they should now pray Asr. So they prayed. The other group decided the Prophet meant for them not to pray Asr until they were in Quraizah, so they did not pray at all and missed it. Once they reached Quraizah they sent a message to the Prophet asking him to decide which group was correct. The Prophet did NOT condemn either group - both were correct as they had gotten to their conclusion by logic and best intentions. There were other examples, when learned scholars and Companions disagreed, but they always respected each other, and each other's opinions.

Differences in interpretation can be due to i)ambiguity of language, ii)selection of hadith. The first is easy to understand, the second was interesting. Apparently Imam Hanifah rejected several sound Hadith in his rulings when they went against jurisprudence and common sense. For example the Prophet said in his hadith that no Muslim should kill another Muslim, but Imam Hanif saw no objection to dropping this Hadith when legislating death penalty for murder. Is the executioner, a Muslim, allowed to put to death the murderer, another Muslim? Imam Hanifah saw no objection.

This lecture was very detailed, but it was sad that half of it was in Arabic. Most people simply dozed off. I saw one woman watching Gladiator on a portable DVD player during the Arabic portion. Another brother was playing games on his cellphone. Another brother was watching what other people were doing (me). The whole speech should be given in English.

Then came Sheikh Sulaiman Mulla's lecture on avoiding moral bankruptcy. He was saying it is not enough we fast, pray, go to Hajj and give charity, if we backbite others, we tell lies, we cheat, we usurp another person's lies and we leave debts behind then we will be bankrupt on the day of Judgement as Allah will give our good deeds to those whom we have wronged, and take their sins upon us. The sheikh had a tendency to branch off when making his speech, so he would be talking about A, then branch off and talk about B, then C, then come back to B, then A, then again to D, then back to A and so on. I guess he had so much to say, but so little time. But his content was good, and his qirat, during his talk, was nasheed-worthy.

And then came the talk. It was Dr. Tareq Suwaidan on 'Islam and Democracy'. This was after the evening break, and my friends and I could not find places to seat except far away from the stage, way behind. And the place we sat was occupied by characters. One guy, as Maniac Muslim would say, was the karaoke attendee. Whenever the speaker would recite a verse of the Quran, he would repeat it. Loudly. Another character was a sister who kept clapping after every other sentence. Then there was the guy who would suddenly wake up and shout 'TAKBEER!' for no reason.

Dr. Suwaidan was the first speaker I believe should have been given 2 hours rather than 1. His speech was excellent, captivating, and I was engrossed. He stated how Islam supported democracy, freedom of speech, movement, organization, opinion, etc., and how the early Islam was an embodiment of democracy. Due to lack of time, he could not cite hadith and sources for his numerous conclusions, which I would have loved to hear. Once he said that the Prophet made several decisions as a political leader, not as a Prophet, and those decisions are not binding. At this point someone seating one row behind us started should 'No. No!' - before the sheikh could respond, he had to move on.

One interesting point from his speech I noted down. In an Islamic country, he said, there can be political parties that can be un-Islamic, as Islam supports freedom of speech. During Muhammad (pbuh)'s time there was a Jewish party in Medina and Munafiqueen party, both of which criticized the Messenger of Allah and the leader of Medina to no end, and they were left untouched. Today in Pakistan someone can be hanged on a false charge of blasphemy.

Dr. Suwaidan also got a big applause when he said today, the Canadian government, due to its practise of permitting free speech and association, and other freedoms, is MORE ISLAMIC in that sense than ANY Muslim country. Big statement, this.

I attended only one more session. One was the Q and A by Dr. Zakir Naik, the most popular speaker at the convention. Several people asked him questions relating to various aspects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and he gave solid, excellent answers to all. If anyone wants to buy this section, I highly recommend this as well. The highlight was the last question, by a sister I presume was Christian. She asked him why Muslims don't believe in the crucifixion of Christ.

Dr. Zakir Naik explained to her politely our belief comes from the Quran (4:157-158). He also used the Biblical verse of the Sign of Jonah to explain to her, why according to the Bible, Christ could NOT have been crucified. It is too big and detailed to post here. At all times he was polite, witty, and extremely convincing.

It was getting late, and I had a long journey back home (thanks to TTC). So as Imam Zaid Shakir started to speak, I had to leave. I have never travelled late on Christmas Eve via TTC before, so it was an experience as tired shoppers plopped down with beer cans, as drunkard after drunkard ambled onto the subway, obviously too lost for words to drive home safely. I thought about my RIDE check yesterday, and the sort of company I left behind at CNE. For the first time, I felt my 45 dollars have been well spent, if it has increased my knowledge and understanding of religion.

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7 comments:

Omar said...

The sheikh also warned us not to reduce every relation between a man and woman to pure carnal terms. There can be relations between a man and a woman, he said, that can be not carnal and yet pure. They may not be related, yet share an intimacy that is not physical but holy. For example, he pointed us to the relation between Isa (Jesus) (pbuh) and Mary Magdalene, or the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Khawla (Raa). Historians to this date cannot understand the relation between Jesus and Mary, so they try and say she was his bride, and what not. Similarly, some historians erroneously count Khawla as one his wives, when she was not. Just friends, as they say. And it is OK, the sheikh said.


Considering life before and after marriage, I whole-heartedly agree with the principles alluded to in this statement. I have retained, grown in, and actually made new friendships with women on a level that is spiritually and intellectually rewarding.

On the other hand, I'm sure the Sheikh (May God preserve him) indicated or at least assumed general knowledge of the preventative nature of certain Islamic rulings related to gender relations (due to the very fact that in this earthly domain, with the sex-drives of our non-spirit forms, all such relationships are in de facto ambiguity). You can get an indication of these from Sheikh Adhami's very own talk entitled "Gender Relations".

An example of such preventative rulings is that there is general consensus on the unlawfulness of being in physical seclusion (far-removed from public eye) with an unrelated member of the opposite sex, regardless of how platonic one's relationship with the person is.

mezba said...

Hi Omar,

We can all agree that given maturity, relations between men and women can be of different types. Having said that, I don't think the Prophet explicitly prohibited men and women from being alone in the same room. The Hadith states if a man and woman is alone in a room, the third person is Satan. I think if someone is confident they can overcome their Satan, then it's fine. Which explains why many Companions etc used to visit each others' houses. Umer the second Caliph used to visit Aisha for advice and so on.

Omar said...

Mezba,

What you say is true -- however, in all the cases you've mentioned, a third person could easily enter upon the people -- these cases are not strictly the seclusion that is made unlawful.

On a related note, an objective of Islamic rulings is not only to prevent sin between two people, but to guard their honour. People's abilities to overcome satanic influences says nothing about the commoners who spread rumours.

Omar said...

Just a point to add: what I intended to do was not bring up a particular ruling for debate, but to draw attention to the following point: while it is true that, becuase of humanity's higher calling, relations with the opposite sex shouldn't be reduced to solely carnal terms, it shouldn't be forgotten that we have indeed, at least in this realm of existence, a carnal aspect, by nature. To simply abstract away our carnality is to make gender relations more difficult, not easier — deny "reality" in a sense.

So any decisions made in this realm should appropriately take into consideration all facets of our being — not just our spirit or potential.

Bilal Shirazi said...

Salam Mezba,

I liked your RIS Day 1 and RIS Day 2 reviews, and await your RIS Day 3 review (and possibly your concert review, although I'm not sure if your musical tastes include Muslim Boy Bands). I see the rest of the University of Waterloo Blogosphere has found you through technorati.com (Omar & Shahid).

Peace,
--B

mezba said...

Hi Bilal,

No, I will not probably go for the concert, it's on Boxing Day, and I have some stuff to do I couldn't due to RIS.

Mezba

aisha said...

Then it was the turn of Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah. He gave his talk in Arabic, and it was translated by Hamza Yusuf. The topic was 'Ettiquetes of Disagreement'. I find it hard to believe such a gentle man can be from Saudi Arabia. Shaykh Abdullah lives in Saudi Arabia, but is originally from Mauritania...and I believe thats where he received his Islamic educationThe whole speech should be given in English. I disagree with this statement however, I think that they should have some sort of simultaneous translation option either in another hall or through radios. The Arabic speakers would be losing out on receiving the lecture in the shuyukhs language of preferance.