As someone who has been involved in organizing huge cultural events before, I know it's hard to please everyone and people will always criticise. Having said that, I must let loose a rant.
It is all well and good to have distinguished speakers come and proclaim Islam to be the best religion and way of life for all human problems. We know that. It is nice to hear Dr Zakir Nair tell us about comparative religion. It is entertaining and is supposed to make your faith stronger. However, as an event organized by young people I found it puzzling that there was no focus on some specific problems Muslim youth in North America face. Not all of us have media treatment of Muslims, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Iraq war, the lost civilization of Al-Andulus, the corruption of Muslim countries and preventing selfishness as our top priority. Here are some specific issues that concern North American youth, that I wish would have been raised at the conference:
- Finding a life mate, or meeting that special someone.
- Finding a life mate that meets our parents' expectations.
Often we are barred from a young age to speak to the opposite sex, and suddenly its the most important thing to get married. OK, but how? And don't say let parents find someone. Often, they can't. It's not the home country where every young member of the opposite sex is a potential candidate.
- Peer pressure at university for drugs, alcohol, dating and cheating.
- Work situations. Often our colleagues will go to a bar after work, or have as a topic of their conversation issues that Muslims feel uncomfortable with. How can we mix and develop a good working relation with them?
- The stubbornness of some scholars who make irresponsible statements in the media and place Muslims living here in uncomfortable situations. For example stating voting is against Islam (stupid, I know).
As for the first two, well, you got what is probably a large number of Muslim guys and girls in the same place for THREE days! Like ISNA, a match-making service run by competent, experienced older people would probably have been a good idea.
Synopsis: A very dull day.
For once I reached early (I drove all the way and parked at CNE). Dr. Ingrid Mattson, God bless her, may be a smart and educated Muslimah, but what a boring talk, I am sorry to say. It was about women's rights and places in mosques (and etc.) so naturally we guys would be less inclined, but even the girls in our group decided time was better spent in the bazaar. And that is what we ended up doing.
I wanted to buy a scarf for my sister, and made the mistake of asking a friend's wife for advice. She gave me a looooong lecture on the differences between hijab, nikab, jilbab, abaya and khimar. I made an excuse and popped into Hijab Fashions. The lady vendor showed me a Calvin Klein scarf.
Wow, a brand name hijab! I didn't even know such a thing existed. And to give me more choice, the lady said she also has some Adidas hijabs!
We came back halfway through the lecture on Muslim civilization's contribution to humanity by some sheikh. Or atleast that's what the program said. It was hard to come back and follow what was going on, so I will refrain from commenting on the speech, except to say it was getting really difficult to keep focus. Maybe three days in a row was a bit too much to digest, first up.
Another talk followed, by an Arabic sheikh, translated into English by another person. Just like yesterday, half the time was lost when Arabic was on. However, I must say for some reason that there seemed to be more (a lot more) Arabs in the audience today than yesterday. The speech seemed to be good, as he got laughs out of them, and quite a lot of clapping. The English translation, when it came, merely woke me up from pretended slumber. However I did catch a joke, about the importance of saying Inshallah. Apparently some guy went to buy a donkey in the market and didn't say Inshallah, I would buy a donkey. He was robbed on the way and couldn't buy the donkey. When he came home empty handed his wife said he was like a hundred donkeys.
Maybe such comments made my married friends take the decision to go to the bazaar again, and buy some gifts for their wives, Inshallah. When the sheikh started to speak again in Arabic, I decided to join them. We killed time there until after the Zuhr prayers.
It was time then for Dr. Zakir Naik's talk on 'Quran - the Final Guidance'. Keeping with his style, it was a very entertaining talk, but nothing you haven't heard before. If you have read the book 'The Bible, The Qur'an and Science' by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, that was what Dr. Zakir Naik summarized. I have heard this speech before, but even then I found it good to listen to again. My friends who have not heard it before enjoyed it thoroughly. This was the best session of the day.
Things were really delayed, and the following session was completely in Arabic. We kept waiting (and waiting) for the English translation, but it came at Maghreb time, so the translator couldn't say much. It was about Purification of the Heart by Dr. Omar Abdel Kafi, and all I can remember is he saying (via translation) that the heart has some diseases which causes our conflicts and we need to purify our hearts. Basically that's what I can get from the title!
I am sorry if I am making it sound dull but it was like that to me. Another striking difference from yesterday was the presence of heavy security. I was told a secret yesterday, but today the organizers spoke openly about it - misplaced tags and funds. More on that later.
Sheikh Riyadh Ul Haq gave a talk on selfishness, entitled 'Me, Myself and I'. At the end when everyone applauded LOUDLY, the shiekh then said, this time very diplomatically unlike the first day, that we should take care to do everything in an Islamic manner. Our food, our dress, our manners, our attitude, our applause, if we are to attain Allah's mercy. No one got the stress on applause part and clapped even loudly. For those who weren't here on the first day, the sheikh was anti-clapping.
The following sessions were taken by Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir on civilization, and in particular Islamic civilization. Dr. Munir El Kassem spoke a abit about Canadian politics and a Liberal rally in an Islamic center in London, and of opening dialogues with non-Muslims and contributing to our wider community. Dr Tareq Suwaidan then talked about his plan to revitalize the Ummah, stressing the need for media, education and so on. It as too bad he came on very late at night, as he had to keep a dozing crowd on their feet (which he seemed to do well with his jokes, PowerPoint slides and some management anecdotes), but we had to leave before he was finished.
It was really the fault of the evening moderator Moez Masoud. His job was to introduce the speakers and shut up, but he seemed to think he was there to hold a session of his own. He quoted ayahs from the Quran, gave his own talk and basically took up a lot of time. Everytime when he took the podium he wasted time.
About the misplaced tags and funds. It appeared that some tags were stolen and sold to people in the parking lot at a discounted price by unscrupulous people, so the management appeared to be heading for a loss. When Dr. Munir El Kassem told the audience about this and appealed for donations to offset what he called the 'Shaytan's attempt to infiltrate us', people donated generously. Someone gave a gold chain, someone made a thousand dollar pledge and so on.
And thus ended RIS. An average to good first day, a super exceptional second day and a ho-hum dull third day. Will I come back next year? I don't know, but I would like some changes in the program to address my rant at the head of this post, and I would like some different topics next year. If it's the same topics as this year, why be back? In the meanwhile, I leave you with some pictures.
Update (January 2, 2006): Moez Masoud wrote to me:
Jazak Allah khayr for your efforts, and I want to thank you for reminding me of my flaws. I saw your comments online about that night at RIS.
I just wanted to tell you that upon inviting me, the head organizor specifically asked that i give a commentary for ten whole minutes in between each session but I myself cut down on that. They were trying to make up for not having time for an independent session for me this year.
I am sorry if I offended you in an attempt to do what I was asked to.
Well, that puts a different perspective to the whole issue. I was not aware that he was just more than a person who was merely introducing the speakers, but a speaker in his own right. I didn't see him as a 'speaker' in the program guidebook and merely thought he was just a person introducing the speaker. As such, he had a right to do what he did and I have to retract my comments about him. My comments about him were also based on what other people reflected to me, but again, as Moez says, he was asked to give a talk, which he did.
Prayer mats lie awaiting salaat.
I call it 'Canada-US relations'. I represent Canada. The giant is the US.
Footsteps to Islamic Financing!
Mo at his family's stall in the bazaar. His sister created the paintings.
One of Mo's sister's calligraphy pieces, stating 'Allahu nurus samwatey wal ardh', meaning Allah (God) is Light of the Heavens and the Earth and what lies in between.
Empty chairs as tighter security meant less people sneaking in.
My tired feet getting some rest. You can also see I am very bored.
Tags: RIS Reviving The Islamic Spirit Muslim Toronto