Monday, December 25, 2006

How I Celebrate Christmas, RIS Final Day

I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas to everyone.

Ten years ago when I landed in Canada from the Middle East I would not have said that. Call it my evolution over the decade I am in Canada but now I realize wishing someone well on their occasion of joy does nothing to diminish what is yours, but only adds to the mosaic that is ours. Yes some people may argue that Jesus (peace be upon him) was not really born on December 25, but you know, ultimately in this instance it's not what is right but what is good. And no one can deny that Christmas is a good time.

Yes, even though I may not celebrate Christmas in the religious sense as having a Christmas tree or going to church (I am a Muslim after all) I do enjoy the festive season. As the days get shorter and darker, as the temperature falls and a sense of gloom descends with the weather that will not falter until March, it's nice to slip into the malls and marvel and the embellished decorations and glitzy lights. It's fantastic to see crowds of people roving around with smiles on their faces. And yes, you can't deny it, people are generally in a better mood in December, and you can't but help being caught up in smiling and being festive - good behavior is infectious. Not to mention all the bargains that can be had.

Add to that all the free food you can eat at various Christmas parties and the sense that you are under no pressure (after all I don't have to buy gifts, look for and decorate a Christmas tree or have a dysfunctional family over for dinner) I would dare to say Muslims have a better time over Christmas than many Christians themselves!

Of course our Eid is coming up shortly (December 31) so there is that pressure to come. Fortunately we have Boxing Day (in Canada) in the middle (December 26) to shop for our gifts.

* * *

I hooked up with Nowal of Baby Brown Tales, and Isheeta. I asked Nowal before the conference if she was going to be a hijabi, and her reply? "I am not a hijabi and it would be hypocritical of me to be one for three days. When I do it, I will do it sincerely." Kudos. Nowal, you deserve all the poetry written for you.

As for Isheeta, well what can I say. The girl is one fun desi. She is like her blog, spontaneous and fun and so refreshingly genuine. She had the greatest smile. Isheeta seemed to have a great time at the conference, and persuaded me join CAMP to boot. In spite of all the chaos, she and I managed to run into each other. She looked radiant and was so modest too. I had a great time talking to her. OK I will shut up about the girls now.

Also hooked up with Jafar (he had a blog before but now is publishing editor of the Bengali Chronicle). He reads my blog! I feel so humble. Not to mention a bit... egoistic. Shame shame. Must not be arrogant. Hai Allah! What have I learned in the three days?

* * *

The final day of RIS was also one of the best. I really had a good time over RIS this year. Call it a combination of meeting various interesting people, hearing supremely good speakers who gave genuinely good and inspiring speeches, I left the convention feeling genuinely proud of being Muslim, following Islam and being a Canadian. I am a Western Muslim, not a Muslim living in the West. At this conference I heard from a rabbi, a collection of imams and even a Christian. How many Islamic conferences in the lands of Islam can claim that? Not to mention there was an "Islamic" concert (but that is a story for another day).

Sheikh Abdullah ibn Bayyah started talking on the virtue of moderation. It was just too bad he could not speak in English. So he talked in Arabic for 15 minutes, before Sheikh Hamza Yusuf translated for us, and the process was repeated a few times.

I know some people complained about the need for Bayyah to speak at all, but I beg to differ. Think about it for a minute. The man is 80. He is going on Hajj after the conference. He travelled thousands of miles from Saudi to Canada, just to give a couple of speeches, and then fly back the next day. The man was genuinely enjoying his time here, and he is a scholar's scholar. All the present day moderates learnt from him. He clearly loves this young crowd and has a vast treasure trove of knowledge to share. While listening to him, I did not feel it was too bad he didn't know English. I felt it was too bad I didn't know Arabic. His talk was criss-crossed with examples and truly the man is a gem. It is too bad he will be marginalized in Saudi power circles because he speaks the truth.

He talked about how the soul has a tendency to go to one extreme or the other and struggle for Muslims is to find the middle ground where we assimilate the good of other societies but hold steadfast to our resolute values. He talked about why Shariah law is more than just what it is made out to be and why it is not necessary for minorities. He talked about the danger of treating laws as absolute. For example, it was a time of severe draught and people started to steal. So Umar, the tough one, actually relaxed the punishment of theft because of the circumstances. This was just one example that stuck in my mind, he gave lots of examples.

Tareq Ramadan as usual was great and me, as usual, was out doing something else so I missed most of his talk. Bad, bad me.

Tareq Suwaidan as usual was charismatic and very, very good. He gave a talk of the four rulers after Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the lessons we can learn from them. He also talked about how Islam is a river and not a line.

Islam is a river because a river has boundaries and once you step out of those bounds you are out of Islam. But once you are in the river itself, anything within those boundaries is Islam. So this is Islam, that is Islam and that is also Islam. This is why terro rist groups are so bad, they have a strict understanding (a wrong one too) of Islam and anyone who disagrees with them is a non Muslim and target for terro rism. Islam is a river and that river moves, ebbs and flows with time. It is flexible, and changes and adapts with times. Once that constant reformation is gone, so is the power of our Islam.

The final session, by Imam Zaid Shakir and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, was mind blowing, in particular by Yusuf. It just ROCKED. You had to be there. The men made you feel proud of who you are, confident as to where you are, and conscious of where you want to be. I am going to have to buy the conference DVD when it comes out.

So all in all, three very well spent days.


Anonymous said...

hey! thanks for the updates. it was very well detailed! I noticed how you wrote terro rism separately. is there a significance in it? was it something said at the conference that made you write it that way? if so, i'd love to hear about it :)

mezba said...

Anon, Thanx. The significance? lol.. I don't want to end up top of the list for google searches for that word!

'liya said...

I love all the Christmas decorations too.. esp the way all the malls are decorated .. some trees look just gorgeous.. can't wait for tomorrow BOXING DAY SHOPPING !!!!

About Shaykh Bayyah, I just couldn't concentrate because I was too tired from the night before. My legs were falling asleep, I was too fidgety, and I could feel myself nodding off during the Arabic which I didn't understand (but also wish I did). I do admire the fact that he came all the way here and he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself!

shaz said...

btw, ris usually dont have the rights not distribute hamza yusuf's lectures.

Mousehunter said...

Thanks for the update. I wish we were able to make the last day too. I would have loved to hear Iman Zaid Shakir and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. That's like tag team! Two powerhouses concentrating on one topic. The Main event if you will. Unfortunately, as Shaz mentioned it probably won't be available, they have never done so in the past. Too bad too, cuz 2 years ago Yusuf gave an awesome lecture which would have served as great dawah.

mezba said...

Liya, Yes, you should see the Christmas tree at Eatons. What are you planning to buy over boxing day? I am after this electronic item and already dreading the rush at Future Shop.

mezba said...

Shaz and Mousehunter, spoke to a volunteer he said the RIS dvd will be out in 2 weeks iA. Hopefully they will include Hamza Yusuf coz he was the real power house.

M&M said...

great post again. you summarized it really well.
"I am not a hijabi and it would be hypocritical of me to be one for three days. When I do it, I will do it sincerely." such a good response and I am really glad she said that. You would be surprised (if you havent seen already) as to the numerous amount of girls that do that. It is not right. Obviously try to dress modestly but be true to yourself and to others.

And i agree w/ 'liya. I jus could not concentrate during Shaykh Bayyah's speech. I was so sleep deprived and in that session it was like all of the energy totally got drained outta me. I soo wished at that point I wish I knew arabic.

and i totally agree with u mezba. the final session rocked! you definitely had to be there. Imam Zaid Shakir and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf are one of my most favorite speakers. They are really funny and get the point across.

"The men made you feel proud of who you are, confident as to where you are, and conscious of where you want to be. " word!

and i am not sure if you said it in this post or the previous one "I am a Western Muslim not a Muslim living in the West" and I am really glad that the speakers stressed on that and did not talk about going back to countries of origin, of parents etc because being there as Tariq Ramadan said does not mean it is more reigious. It is us, who ourselves decide that.

Suroor said...

Thanks Mezba! Who wants to spend money and attend RIS when you have such a great friend to summarise it for you?! No seriously, I would have attended if I was in Canada. But, thanks for this!

Maliha said...

*sniff* I wish i was there. Thanks for this...sounds like a great time.

ruby said...

Sorry just had to get that out of my then, moving on...Thanks for the RIS summaary, I'm so glad they were able to bounce back after last year. I love RIS and was really looking forward to hearing Dr Tariq Ramadan but alas this was the one year I wasn't able to go and it was horribly saddening but inshallah next year.

Saqi Namah said...

Thanks for the updates. May be we 'll see U at a conference in the USA someday since it seems that you are getting famous. May be there should be a gathering of the Al-Bloghi sect. lol

Bint Muhammad said...

Thanx for the updates, really appreciate it:)
Sheikh Abdallah bin bayyah is amazing. Had a luvley time with the sheikh, sheikh hamza and imaam zaid, and alll the rest of the awesome shuyukh at the rihla in madinah :D so I'm not too down about the fact I cudnt fly over for this event, besides we have the GPU here... but obviously the scholars are not the same, so yea i'll admit, maybe RIS was probably better.
U never know maybe next yr, inshallah.

Anonymous said...

Am taking my kid to Eaton's prolly tomorrow, I love to take pictures there. I love the decorations too,all the bling, who wouldn't resist? Our boxing day was uneventful, usually I go to shoe/bag stores ;-). This time, my baby was really sick had to take her to a children's clinic down at the Danforth,mann, it was packed and whatever illness/virus we didn't have, well, let's say, we managed to get from the numerous coughing/sneezing. Anyway, hope you had a gr8 time, was telling my husband's unmarried relative to go and he said that the young pple there really dress up, now I wonder why?(asking innocently) :)sf

Anika said...


"I am not a hijabi and it would be hypocritical of me to be one for three days. When I do it, I will do it sincerely."

Why do people esp BROTHERS put so much importance on hijab? That is NOT the only form of worship in Islam! Can you really use a yard stick to measure ones faith? There are SOO many other things that a person must do besides wear hijab. I think that wearing hijab during an occasion where one is deeply worshipping Allah is to be respected. Even if one doesnt wear the hijab everyday, those few times they do gives a sister something to hold onto. And that in turn may plant the seed for more Ibadah. It isnt to PROVE anything to others, it is a sign of worship to Allah. You dont know the reasons why so many sisters dont wear hijab all the time, and I think it is unfair to judge. If someone doesnt want to wear it at an Islamic conference thats fine, but thats her opinion, and you should only do it if you feel comfortable. However, we should stop making the distinction between hijabi and non-hijabi and just see everyone as Muslim or not Muslim. Allah knows best.


mezba said...

M&M: One of the things I noticed different this year at RIS was that how diverse the crowd was. Most girls were in hijab but there were also lot of girls without. Many brothers were in thobes but also many not. Even the scholars were dressed in multitude of ways. It was very main stream, very moderate. I think as these conferences grow bigger it becomes more mainstream and consists of less narrow minded people who are open to all sorts of ideas and discussions. As Suwaidan said, we must not step out of the bounds of the river, but as long as we are within it we are fine.

As for Ramadan, you can see that he spoke from the heart and yes, we are living in the west, that's where we made our bed now, so let's make the West better and let's make ourselves better.

mezba said...

Suroor, Maliha: I wish you girls would have been here, it would have been good and you would have so enjoyed it a lot. I have been to some Islamic conferences in the middle east when I was growing up there but they were all so boring and stuffy and self righteous. This was one of the first that truly made you proud and glad to be a Muslim and gave you lots of optimism and motivation.

mezba said...

Ruby: thanx, and welcome to this blog. I love my readers and their comments too. Last year was my first RIS and truth be told although it was good I didn't enjoy it a lot, as much as this year (lol this year I was still high on RIS a day after it ended). They had less speakers this year but it was more about quality and all the speakers remained focused on their topics.

Saqi: Al Blogifi - the true Muslim sect where all are welcome.

Bint: What is a rehla? Yes that sheikh has some amazing knowledge mA.

mezba said...

Sorry to hear about your baby, hope the kid is all well now. It was the first time I went out shopping on Boxing Day in years (the last time was in 2002) so I was so totally enjoying the crowds, not to mention the pushing and shoving lol who needs a video game when you got Boxing Day - the name says it all lol

mezba said...


huh? I don't put any importance on hijab, none at all. To me its a fashion accessory. And I don't get caught up in the myth that a hijabi is somehow more pious because she wears a hijab. None at all. I was just commending her on not putting it on as a show because most girls there would have it, but sticking to her beliefs.