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.
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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?
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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.