Sunday, December 25, 2005

RIS Day 3 - Reflections

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

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.

*Rant alert*

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:

  1. Finding a life mate, or meeting that special someone.
  2. 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.

  3. Peer pressure at university for drugs, alcohol, dating and cheating.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.

*rant off*

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:

Salam Alaikum,

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.


Moez Masoud

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.



Omar said...


I think I can solve one of your problems... ;)


Masti-boy said...

Dr. Schol's shoes?

Tea said...

Well, I wouldn't like it if so many lectures were in Arabic. A lot of things DO get lost in translation and they should make proper arangements for it. I once went to a Masjid in Boston, and the Shaykh was an all-Arabic speaking person. But we also were given these headphones through which we could hear the translation, instantly.

Yes, ISNA's lectures do seem to address all the stuff you have mentioned in your rant. There were specific sessions talking about "how to find a life-partner" and the nicer thing about it was that they would be totally segregated sessions. For example there was one where Imam Zaid Shakir's wife conducted the sisters' session, and some brother (probably Imam Zaid Shakir, I don't know)conducted the brothers' session. The sessions are small and cozy and hence can be really personal and you can get *real* ideas about it.
But I would have to tell you about the ISNA matrimonial services. Even though ISNA has it set up to help the young folks, people really do not take much advantage of it. It seems like most kids like to hang out in the lobby, a lot of times crossing the lines (extreme free-mixing with alcohol, you get the point). So, I totally agree that ISNA has done a lot to help the single folks, at the end of the day, we need to make sure that we have enough people that are sincerely looking to get married and not just chill out at the hotel lobby! Because it turns out that, every year, the lobby is more crowded than any lecture hall or the matrimonial section and hence little good come out of the matrimonial service.

mezba said...

@Omar: Hmm.. I find it hard if the mosque leadership does not ask young people what they want in khutbahs and all. I once asked our imam to give a speech encouraging Muslims to vote, as we are into our elections here. He said he will 'look' into it. Till date, nothing on that. He is talking mostly about taqwa, sukoon and injustice in some place of the world.

@Masti: No, not Dr. Schol. Some innovative person placed these stickers near their stall. You follow the footprints and you come to their stall.

@Tea: Most of the speeches were in English. Only around 4 of the sessions was in Arabic. But they were the most interesting sessions (2 by bin Bayyah). Too bad they cannot speak in English.

What I found disconcerting is the amount of white converts I saw who wore complete Arabic clothes (as if Arabic clothing is Islamic clothing when Islam mentions no such thing). It's as if they have a need to be accepted so they forgoe their own culture an adopt another one. As Dr. Zakir Naik said, culture is culture and religion is religion. There is Bengali muslim - he actually said Bengali - and Malay Muslim and they dress nothing alike yet both are wearing proper clothing by Islamic standards. You don't have to ignore your culture. These converts also seemed to hate Tareq Suwaidan (a very liberal Sheikh) and Adhami.

Shabina said..., it doesnt sound like you had much fun. I agree that it was kind of hard to get any central message out of the weekend, b/c the program was really helter skelter, but there were lots of little nuggets of knowledge that could be gleaned from the speeches.

For example, Imaam Zaid's thing on how to be successful...basically, a successful life is just a bunch of successful days strung together. so just focus on making today go well, and you'll be straight. i know, nothing new under the sun (nothing new this weekend, really), but it was still a pleasure to be around so many moz, fo sho.

oh, and i got a great shirt at the bazaar, hooray for ninjabi! (yes, i hug random hijabis)

mezba said...

I actually had a good two days. Only the last day was kind of boring. But the second day was what made it all worthwhile, so much knowledge, especially when they mentioned how liberal and flexible Islam can be in accomodating various viewpoints. One thing we Moz don't get is A can say one thing and B another, and both can be right.

Anonymous said...

"What I found disconcerting is the amount of white converts I saw who wore complete Arabic clothes (as if Arabic clothing is Islamic clothing when Islam mentions no such thing). "

Another trend is that many "Born-Again" Muslims have a deep wish to "learn more about Islam" by visiting ountries like Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia etc.

Unfortunately, once they actually go to those places, they realize that just because they are Muslim majority countries doesnt mean they have "better " Muslims than in the West.

Anonymous said...

Its also a common trend among Bengalis in the Gulf. Men will start wearing the Arabic "Dishdasha" or Salwar kurta just to feel more "Islamic".

And the funny thing is Bengalis look upto men who wear Dishdashas, which are "Muslomander poshak"; as opposed to "kaferder kapor chopor" i.e. a plain T-shirt.

There is an inherent belief among Bengalis that the Salwar kurta and dishdasha are more"pious" attire, as if there was such a thing

Quest said...

"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."

Mezba, you hit the nail on the head with this need. Though I think there has to be a better solution than a match making service, do these actually work?

@Omar: Everytime I hear about sites like Shaadi or Naseeb, I cringe. Maybe it's just me.

....................... said...

would you like to share your notes brother please ?
i would love to learn from RIS too bad couldn't go one of the best conference in the world!

Sr. said...

sorry if it didn't get to you
i need notes!

mezba said...

this is such an old post. I don't have any notes now.