Tuesday, December 31, 2013

RIS 2013 Day 3 - Review

I wish I could say it was sleep that prevented me from uploading my notes from Day 3 immediately after the convention ended. However, it's been two days and I have had enough sleep.

Parata and Omelets - Breakfast of champions

Sadly, I have to man up and say it was laziness, although I did clean my home office space up. Therefore, without any further ado, here's my recap of Day 3. I have to apologize in advance, it won't be a complete recap, as I had other engagements on that day, so I missed the morning session.


I started with Imam Zaid Shakir on What Can We Learn From The Life of Mandela. He started by saying that like Malcolm X, Mandela was familiar with Islam (there's a lot of Muslims in South Africa, some quite prominent like Ahmed Deedat). Whenever we are in a land, we should be familiar with the struggles of people that are native to that land (for example, here in North America, we should be familiar with the First Nation and what happened to them).

On the day of the conquest of Makkah, Umm Hani gave personal protection to 2 men who fought against the Muslims on that day, and her protection was accepted. This concept of extending protection (and forgiveness) to the enemy was also known to the Natives (the First Nation). Lois and Clark were able to see this going from the East Coast to the West, allowing people to pass if they were protected by women. Mandela wasn't a Muslim, but a great leader, and Allah elevates people who had great virtues. You need to be always prepared for greatness - you can be called upon to be a means to save lives, to help this planet and to cleanse this planet. You can see this in the sunnah of the Prophet - humble yourself and Allah may elevate you, using you to do great things. Mandela was humble, he used to tend sheep and cattle as a 5 year old. Zaid Shakir reiterated that we should urge our kids to visit farms. The Prophet pbuh gave all his animals names. Today, we are busy with commodification and things (starter house, starter wives -> trophy wives). "All of you are shephards and you will be asked how you took care of your flock". Stand with people and they will stand with you when you need them to. Through his humility, ability to pardon, through his life style and struggles, Mandela found power within himself to forgive and to empathize.

After the bazaar break, it was time for Sheikh Hamza Yusuf to deliver his lecture titled Breaking the Spell: Revealing the Dark Influences on Popular “Occulture”. It was again a lecture that used slides, videos and images to supplement his talk. If I could summarize it in once sentence, it would be that Satan isn't lying still; he is busy preparing the world for the Dajjal by subtle and not-so-subtle means and the forces of darkness from the unseen realm are busy influencing us. If I had to summarize it in one word, it would be fasad-ul-earth (or corruption on earth).

A culture that people produce is the representation of the quality of people. There's two parts to this - quality and quantity. If quantity overpowers quality, then the culture is on its way down. Today the dominant culture of the world overpowers the culture of another place that's exposed to this dominant culture - and the native culture of the place then becomes a caricature - living only as the costume of a doorman or the uniform of a waiter in a five star restaurant (think of UAE's restaurants and top hotels). So Muslims have to be aware of the demonic nature of this dominant culture and its affects on their kids and families. Dajjal will not come until the Prophet's name is not mentioned at the mimbar, and people become corrupted and lack empathy, manners or decency. Today's media and consumerist culture is helping society go this way.

As Muslims we underestimate Satan and his forces, and we don't use "Aoodhu billah..." more often (seek refuge against Satan).

Already we can see that society has changed so much that what was considered normal has now become deviant and what used to be deviant has become the accepted normal. Heterosexuals used to get married and homosexuals used to not marry. Now we have homosexuals rushing to get married and heterosexuals shunning marriage. The Muslim civilization, which gave birth to the Western Civilization, used to be about serving human beings (a sign of an Islamic rule was that a woman could travel from one end of the empire to another fearing only the wolves on the road, and nor the robbers or any other men). Today society is about control and exploitation. One of the meanings of dujjal (pronounced dooojjal, this is another variation of the word) is to spread cheap goods in the world.

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf then placed the entertainment and media world in his crosshairs and pulled the trigger. Increasingly we are seeing sicker and sicker crimes in the news. R-rated material is now being marketed to under 17 year olds. What is R-now used to be X-rated back in his youth. By the time a kid is 18, they will have seen 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders on television, films etc. There is a book "Stop Teaching Our Children How to Kill". Those who deny the correlation are stupid. The average American (and the Sheikh apologized on not having the Canadian stats) watches TV for 5:11 hours / day. The CEO watches 2 hours / week. A top level manager watches 4 hours of TV / week. The lower you go down society's ladder, TV time increases. So smart, successful people hardly watch TV. 67% of people watch TV while having dinner. The Sheikh told us how in Mauritania it was considered good manners by scholars to leave books and debates of scholarly matters when it's time for dinner.

Facts and factoids rolled out as he gushed on the occultist nature of some of the leading figures in the industry. The creator of Family Guy was singled out, and their programs and series are what they use to push out their agenda. 1 in 3 pop music has lyrics about drug or alcohol use. Video games - GTA - were singled out. Those who play them, many of them have been in a physical fight or damaged property. These statements of the Sheikhs were always backed by his more than credible sources. He said that Eros the goddess of erotica in ancient mythology was married to Mars the god of war. The ancients knew that violence and sexual decadence went together. Today's video games make young people lack empathy. We watch a million Syrians die and then go on as if life is normal - we lack empathy.

Dajjal will have one eye, and the sheikh went on to show us the cult of one eye. This was, pun intended, an eye opener for me, as the number of images with one eye (or the All Seeing Eye) is so prevalent now in our society that when the Anti-Christ finally comes, he won't be seen as deficient for having the one eye (take a look the logo of LG, CBS, AOL, for example).

We should take Satan as your enemy and Allah asks us to fortify our homes. We can start by throwing out our TV and our Playstations and Xboxes.

After that speech, it was time for Imam Suhaib Webb to deliver a talk on Unmosqued. Now I have only heard good of him, from friends who had heard him when Imam Webb was on the West Coast (he is now an imam in Boston). This was the first time I heard him speak, and the only thing I can say is WOW! What a dynamic speaker! Funny, articulate, knowledgeable, all at the same time. I wish all khutbahs were like this.

He started by referencing the previous talk by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and said it may make us depressed and fearful, but a believer is never fearful or never overcome by fear because he has Allah on his side. The key to overcome what we saw was to have faith in Allah, and remember that a believer is always a positive person. Never give up on Allah. The Prophet pbuh said if you had a seed in your hand and were planting it when the Hour came, plant that seed. We are not slaves to sadness and negativity and evil shouldn't scare us. The quality of the Prophet was to be brave. Moreover, every seerah book starts by listing the good qualities of bad people (those in jahilliyyah) so see the good of people and learn from that.

He mentioned the dua on how to get forgiveness of Allah when we slip up. I tried to find it on his website but couldn't. The dua goes something like this "O Allah I know my sins are great but I know Your Mercy is greater. My insecurity is great but my hope in You is even greater. Please forgive me." Or something to that affect. If someone can provide a link, that would be great. Imam Webb urged us to focus on our prayer and have intimacy with prayer and not see it as something of a chore. The Prophet pbuh said Bilal give us tranquility with prayer. The angels have 2, 3 or 4 wings to soar to Allah (mentioned in the Quran) and we are given 2 rakahs of Fajr, 3 of Maghrib and 4 of Zuhr, Asr and Isha to raise ourself as well. If we can't push a blanket off to get up for Fajr, how can we push for change in the world?

The speech was filled with humorous moments, for example when he said "I used to smoke a lot of weed before, and I plan to in the future ... in jannah!". He also recounted some funny anecdotes from his early convert days, which led to the unmosqued.

The youth have to witness love in our life. A husband should love his wife and demonstrate it. Imam Webb gave us examples from hadith how the Prophet used to kiss his wife (Umm Salamah), hold her hand (Saffiyyah) or declare to all about his love for her (Aisha). The problems in today's mosques are: political, racism (especially against black Americans), a bias against women and so on. In fact, one of the reasons people get unmosqued is due to religious people.

After this there was a break with Raihaan from Malaysia performing nasheeds, as well as comedian Maz Jobrani having us in stiches with his comedy routine - it was hilarious.

Finally it was time for the speakers of the day to give us some departing naseeha (about 3-4 minutes each) and the concluding dua (a moving one in Arabic) made by Habib Ali Jifri. And just like that, RIS 2013 was over.
One of the suggestions I would have for RIS is to have more local speakers on the podium as well. I know people come mostly to listen to the famous shuyukh and those we can't listen to here in Toronto, but it would be great to have some local scholars also share the stage with some of these luminaries. Examples of people I would invite would be Sheikh Yusuf Badat of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, as well as Imam Hamid Silmi of the Sayeda Khadija Centre.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

RIS 2013 Day 2 - Review

There is a reason RIS is for younger people. The last session ended last night at 11 pm. I skipped the entertainment portion and reached home at about midnight. It took me about half an hour to transcribe the notes and then some more to format it properly for the blog. By the time I was ready for bed, it was 1.30 in the morning. And then I had to get up for Fajr (no use reviving the Islamic spirit if you are asleep for Fajr, is it?); and here I was, 10 am, already downtown at the convention centre, ready for Day 2.

A talk by Ustadh Abd al-Karim Yahya on taking care of our souls got us underway. We learnt how the Prophet pbuh used to pray for his ummah, and he told us to pray in the wee hours of the morning. Our religion should help us connect with others and also pray for others. We should be a people who summons others and engage with others. We have to take our strongest concern to Allah, and then the strongest concern of others to Allah. He gave us a touching personal anecdote of how he prayed for his own mother to come to Islam.

He was followed by sister Yasmin Mogahed who continued her good form from yesterday, speaking on the same topic. Highlights included
-          Islam has come to free you from the servitude of man and make you a servant of Allah alone.
-          Freedom is not where you are free to do anything you want. That is when you are a slave to your nafs. True freedom is where you can be free from your nafs.
-          She talked about Qalbun Salim and how a Muslim is like a bird whose head is the love of Allah (without the head the bird will not survive). The two wings are fear and hope. The fear of Allah keeps us on the straight path and the hope of His forgiveness makes us do good. When the two are in balance the bird is in flight.
-          Islam is not a club of perfect people but people trying to do the right thing who will slip up at times.
-          Someone asked the Prophet pbuh how to get Allah to love him AND how to get the people to love him. He replied that you must have zuhd (detachment from the world: defined by Ali as not that you do not own anything, but that nothing owns you) so that Allah loves you and you have zuhd in what people have and people will love you.
-          The more you run after duniya the more it will run away from you and the more you run after Allah, He will put the akhirah and duniya in your lap. This is where I wished she would have given the stories of some of the earlier Sahabah who didn’t care about this world but only of Islam, and Allah put the world at their feet.
-          She talked of the verse 3:189-190 “Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], "Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” – that if we ponder on the creation of this world we will come to the understanding that there is a purpose to its existence and to our existence.

The next session was by Dr Seyyed Nasr on sacred sciences.  What is sacred science? Dr Nasr started by saying the word science has very limited meaning in the English language but other languages describe it better. In French science also includes moral sciences and in German it means organized knowledge. The Arabic world “ilm” is most complete in this regard, and the Arabic world Al Alim is an attribute of Allah. Dr Nasr reiterated that science without God is a bidah and how secularization of knowledge is a modern phenomenon (this theme would be touched upon again by Shiekh Hamza Yusuf later in the evening). He pointed out that ancient civilizations built wonderful scientific monuments (such as a damn in Sana or the pyramids) but didn’t cause an environmental crisis because they didn’t divorce the divine from science. The goal of science used to be wisdom but today it is power (remember, knowledge is …?). Modern science limits itself to quantitative elements. Islamic science was great and Islam doesn’t have the conflict with science that Christianity has because in Islam science is not an alternative to God but a way to understand Him better.
It was a great talk, and he had lots of examples – for example how Ibn Sina when stuck on a scientific problem went to the mosque and prayed, and how Al Haitham the father of optics used to have “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and Earth” in his lab, but at the end of it I had two questions that I didn’t get answered – perhaps this was good because a good talk whets the appetite so you can do your own follow up. My questions were:
What exactly IS sacred science? Is it just putting God in science?
And how do you practice scientific research differently in that case?

The following session was by Dr John Esposito. It was titled Get Up! Stand Up for your Rights! Now before I recap his talk I have to offer a criticism. His talk was very American. It was focused on US and US examples. Now while what happens in the USA does impact Canada, some of it is not the same. While 9-11 affected everyone, the Park 51 circus was a non factor here. We have our own issues (Quebec hijab laws) that should have been talked about. The talk should have focused on what we can do in Canada. Even some of the complaints about not having enough presence in the public square, the media examples (Huffington Post) - it was all about USA. Amongst the problems in Canada he could have mentioned Tarek Fatah and his ilk (the MCC). Another criticism of his talk was that he asked us to plug into the establishment way of doing things and to be involved with the movers and shakers and the levers of power, but he didn’t put any qualifications or restrictions here. Perhaps it was due to time.
He talked about the immigrant experience and how an immigrant group moves from other to being accepted. Muslims were on that path when 9-11 happened. We have to have greater media presence and contribute financially to organizations like CAIR and so on, and how we must avoid segmentation within ourselves.

He was followed by sister Dalia Mogahed on the same topic and she confirmed that yes, she is indeed the sister of Yasmin Mogahed. I LOVED her talk. She started by saying that Western societies are looking at Muslims like a tumor. They are wondering whether it is a benign tumor that is harmless, or a cancerous harmful one that should be removed. And muslims are saying we are harmless, harmless! No! Muslims should stand up and say we are a vital organ of the body and remove us, the body will wither and die. She then used the first verses ofSurah Muddassir to show how it is a guide to social activism.

O you who covers himself [with a garment].
Social activism and public work is a calling that you do because you have it in you – you don’t do it for fame or ambition or worldly benefits. It will put us out of our comfort zone
Arise and warn.
We have to rise and deliver the warning. We are not told to make everyone Muslim. That is not the aim. We have to divorce ourselves from the results – we will not be asked about the results. We will be asked whether we delivered the mail, not whether others read them.
And your Lord glorify.
Our work is for God alone. We should never let the ends justify the means. Our work is a way to achieve God’s pleasure. Don’t do it half hearted.

And your clothing purify.
And uncleanness avoid.
And do not confer favor to acquire more.
Do everything in the halal way and never be focused on just the results. Try to do it halal and Allah will give you barakah. Here I wished she drew on early history of the Sahabah and how they conquered the world with limited resources.

But for your Lord be patient.
Anyone in the public square will face brickbats and slander and hatred. They have to be patient.

Sheikh Mokhtar Maghraoui led the following session titled Light in the Midst of Darkness: Prophetic Guidance in Troubled Times. He said Allah has made both darkness and light and He is Light and all Light comes from Him, so if we want that Light, we have to come near him. Hardships can bring a mumin closer to Allah (no pain, no gain). We have to pray, salah, do zikr and prostrate to Him more often.
I skipped the following session for an extended bazaar break. So here’s my review of the bazaar.

It was TOO crowded. Now I haven’t been to RIS in the last few years so I don’t know if this was par for the course but it was packed and especially during the breaks it was really hard to move around (good practice for Hajj, I kept saying to myself). Moreover, there were only limited dining tables in the dining area (they were large and occupied by families all the time). Young people were eating by sitting on the floor outside the convention halls. My father and mother are senior folk who can’t sit on the floor due to bad knees, so I had to wait a while before we could find a free table (and it was a melee to get one!). So my advice to RIS would be to enlarge the dining area and get more tables there.

The bazaar wasn’t anything different. There were lots of books and bookstores had a large presence, along with the regular hijab, oudh and Islamic arts stuff. Overall the bazaar area seemed kind of small for me this time. Hamza, a character from a children’s series, made an appearance and was popular with kids. Eastern Toybox was another unique stall. Dawahnet and Soundvision too had their large presence (and they do a lot of good work in the community).

Back to RIS talks (it was now post dinner and the talks would be back to back). The next session I attended was Aspirations of a Believer by Sheikh Zahir Mahmood. He talked about how death was the end of all aspirations, and we all have to face death one day. The Prophet pbuh was one person who actually finished his work before his time was up, so we Muslims have to follow his example. We have to have aspirations and goals and have specific goals and ambitions. The Prophet pbuh gave the Sahaba aspirations and they conquered the world. For our life, we need visions, aspirations and goals. People with low aspirations will justify their life to themselves rather than try to improve it. Even in our prayers, for example, we have to ask for Jannatul Firdaus (2nd best not good enough for Muslims). Too many muslims say they are ready to die for Islam, but they are not ready to live as Muslims. They should be focused on making society better, and their focus should start here, where they live. If today all the muslims of the world disappear, will anyone miss us?
He then concluded by that famous story of the three men stuck in a cave. Each man recounted a deed he did for the pleasure of Allah alone, and the covering rock of the cave moved a little. The first one recounted how he spent the whole night with a glass of milk in his hands waiting for his parents to wake up, the second one said how he avoided zina with his cousin, and the third one said how he gave the amanah of an employee back after years (with all resulting investments). The sheikh than asked us, if we were the fourth person in that cave, would we have any story to share?
He was followed by everyone’s (and my) favourite – Nouman Ali Khan. He actually had the audience stand up and stretch, and then facilitated a shahadah, before going on to his topic of Marriage. Key points include (with lots of humour thrown in):
-          Muslims in the west become isolated and the mosques where we meet people of different ethnicities we don’t spend a lot of time there, so we don’t get to know one another, especially for marriage and love.
-          Youth need to talk to their parents about marriage and their preferences.
-          Girls go on long academic tracks and the reality is they go past a cultural “expiration date” and have trouble getting married.
-          Parents are here, kids are here, no one is going BACK home. We don’t have a lot to pick from, so we shouldn’t judge a suitor by ethnicity.
-          The land isn’t perfect and is full of shamelessness of the worst kind.
-          Some people keep shooting down proposals because they are not perfect yet don’t see themselves in that light.
-          In desi culture your son is your retirement plan, so a girl is brought into the family as a “servant” and parents don’t look for an “intelligent girl” as she will mess up the insurance plan, and oppression happens in the house.
-          Youth, when you prematurely give your heart to someone, a heart which is a special gift of Allah, it has a spiritual impact. Don’t do it.
-          It’s OK to look for a spouse, but take a respective, responsible approach. The indirect approach is the best as satan gets involved when you get involved directly (late night text messages, flirting beyond control, skype sessions). Get to know someone, but get others involved. Deal with reality instead of cursing it.
-          There are two sides: the youth have to get more strict and the parents have to get less strict when it comes to marriage.
-          In Islam parents have to be obeyed, but they also have to be fair and just.
-          For guys, BE A MAN.
-          Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan shared that he himself got married at the age of 22.

The following session was by Ambassador Shahbazz and Tariq Ramadan on coexisting and behaving well with the “other”. I am summarizing Professor Ramadan’s speech below:
-          You don’t have to respect what someone does (his actions) but you can respect that person as an individual.
-          All the messengers could go to their people and say “Ya qawmi” – they were concerned about their people, even if they were mushriqs.
-          We are all neighbours in humanity.
-          About Nelson Mandela. Let’s take and learn from the good in his life. He was courageous and brave and didn’t sell his soul and forgave his enemies. As for his after life, we leave it to Allah and we remain silent on it.
-          We cannot isolate ourselves but must integrate in the society. We love everyone, but we love the justice in them and we oppose the bad they do.
-          Muslims must be the voice of the voiceless and they must stand up against oppression even if the victims are not Muslims, for example native rights here in North America. He brought up the example of Hilful Fudul from the seerah.

There was a nasheed performance by Outlandish, and I really enjoyed their track of Aisha.
There was also an address in video by the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

The best talk of the night was the last one – entitled When Worlds Wither: Guidance in the Latter Days by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. If you could see one talk today, you should see this. I would urge everyone to buy a DVD or CD of this talk if you can.

He stated by asking us to pray for his mother who is 93 (he made a point that she was born when there was still a Caliphate). Sheikh Hamza Yusuf actually had a presentation on his topic that he incorporated into his talk. Again, I must stress that this recap will not do an iota of justice to his speech, it’s a speech about how we are raving our planet that should be read at the United Nations. I was so engrossed in the talk that I actually wasn’t taking notes as I should, so these are from memory as well. Again, PLEASE BUY THIS LECTURE.
Man is doing fasad (mischief) on earth when he is supposed to be its caretaker (caliph). The corruption is on land and sea and the sins of man have an effect on the sea.

Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness].” Quran 30:41.
The corruption in the ocean has resulted in fish diminishing due to our sins (and the sheikh was supported by statistics and facts). Fires are spreading across the earth and as global temperatures go up so do fires. 15,000 people died due to terrorist acts and we have a war on terror, but 1.5 million people died due to pollution and bad air yet we do nothing about it.

The Quran tells us the animals are communities like us and have equal rights to earth, yet we don’t care about them. Dogs are now getting depressed because they live with people who are depressed and this is not a natural order of things. The powerful animals (lions, tigers, elephants etc.) are on an endangered list and the cockroaches and rats are not. And humans are now aping cockroaches and rats in our behaviour and leaving aside the lions and tigers. The ocean is getting more acidic and the star fish are dying and as corruption spreads to the sea, 90% of big fish stocks have fallen (90%!!).

What is increasing? Jelly fish. They are spineless, mindless and consume all the time – just like us humans today.

In all facts and figures he was presenting credible sources and news articles. He talked about usury and the uncontrolled growth and the “war of Allah” that is coming (and it’s not just in the hereafter) the banking industry has been close to collapse and Allah WILL bring it down. The rulers in power are making billions from war when the average people have no hatred between them naturally.

As I said, it was a very powerful talk that deserves to be seen, not just read as a recap from some blog.
So that was Day 2. A very good day with lots of great speeches.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

RIS 2013 Day 1 - Review

RIS stands for Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention, one of the largest of its kind in the world. I haven't attended the convention for the last few years, so this year I decided to return in a long while and see what I have been missing. The Toronto Metro convention is a convenient place to hold the event - it's right downtown and there's parking (expensive at $27/day!) nearby.

The first thing I noticed was that they were still doing the bands thing. You register and pick up your conference stuff (a name tag and a wrist band) and the problem is that you have to wear the wrist band for three days. You can't cut it or take it off. Now I don't know about you but I feel very uncomfortable sleeping while wearing a wrist band. Minor complaints though ...

First up was the Friday sermon by Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, one of my favourite speakers, and he didn't disappoint. There are many verses that tell us "don't do this" or "don't do that", he said, but there's some rare ones when Allah tells us in very strong terms, "stay away from this", rather than merely "do not do this". This was in Surah Hujarat where Allah is telling us to stay away from making bad assumptions about other people, or "Zan". It was a good khutbah with lots of examples, but what was sad was that when I heard the sisters could not hear the talk at all due to sound / technical issues, so all they heard was echo. I hope it's something they keep in mind for next year.

The first proper session was a talk on The Sanctuary of God's Book. It was delivered in two segments, first by Ali Ataie, and second by Dr Badawi. Now I enjoyed Ustadh Ataie's talk immensely - it was full of passion and examples and humour in proper doses. Highlights included:
  • holding tightly to the rope of Allah
  • The Quran is the rope of Allah, hold on tight as if your life depends on it, and a parable is the umbilical cord from the mother to the fetus in the womb
  • The Neyamah (blessing) is the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
  • As per the Deists, God is not man and cannot love man, and vice versa, therefore God became man in the form of Christ. This isn't what Islam says, obviously. God loves man despite being spaceless and timeless and doesn't have to mix in with space and time to love man.
  • Quran 21:107 is the equivalent of Bible's John 3:16, and also Quran 3:31.
  • Jesus was asked the secret of walking on water. He asked his disciples which was more valuable - gold, stone or mud. They ranked them in that order. He replied that to me, all are same. And when you figure that out, you will know how to walk on water.
  • Don't waste life on simply bread and entertainment. Take solace in the Quran.
  • Just because you are a Muslim you are already better off. In any predicament, it could be worse. It's in your duniya, not akhirah and with every difficulty comes ease.
The next session was on patience by Sheikh Mokhtar Maghraoui and he talked about how our original home is Jannah and we have to return there. Allah rules this world by rahmah and not justice (in which case we would all be doomed as we sin a lot) and we need patience to be loving and fair. He asked us to remember how patient is Allah with us when we misuse His blessings to do things He doesn't like, and so be patient with those under us. My person nasihah to the sheikh would be to speak up a bit. He is very soft spoken, so it was hard to hear him from all the way in the back, even with the microphone and modern technology.

The next session was the second best session of the day, and it was by Sister Yasmin Mogahed on Pain and Suffering and Tests. Are you noticing a theme here? :-) It was simply a really well thought out speech and a fantastic presentation and on this evidence RIS should definitely get more female speakers - she and Nouman Ali were the highlights of the day for me. Here's the key points from her talk:
  • How do you respond to a trial? Is it a blessing or a punishment? People usually respond one of three ways.
  • First is to complain about God and be angry at God. Why me? Obviously we don't want to do this as Muslims.
  • Second is to be patient despite our hurt and refrain from complaining about Allah, but rather complain to Allah (examples are the Prophet pbuh's dua after the humiliation of Taif, Yusus pbuh's dua from inside the belly of the whale. You admit your own weakness and ask Allah for help. It also removes the sins of the believer.
  • The final is "rida" - this is the highest level where you are content with whatever Allah gives you, and it elevates your status with Allah.
  • The example of the three are a newborn who is to get an injection and doesn't understand that it's good for him, so he cries and is angry at the doctor. Later on, as a child he understands it's good for him so he bears through the pain. Finally, as an adult, even when put under a surgeon's knife, he trusts the doctor and is happy that such a good doctor is taking care of him. No matter what happens to a believer, it's good for him (or her).
  • It's not like an exam of this world where you are not allowed to cheat or ask for help, but rather, DO ask Allah for help in a test. And remember the difference between Adam and Iblis when they both made a mistake and slipped up - Adam asked Allah for forgiveness in humility.
  • There will be no fear or sadness in Paradise, and do not be attached to the wealth of this duniya.
  • Sister Mogahed rounded off with a beautiful story of Abu Hanifah about how, when he was told he lost some ships of his (they were carrying his merchandise and sunk) and how he paused for a but, and then said Alhamdulillah, and when later told it wasn't his ships but someone else, he again paused, and said Alhamdulillah. Later on, when asked, he said in both cases, he was making sure his heart was unmoved, and so he said Alhamdulillah. He wasn't sad at losing his stuff, and he wasn't overjoyed at finding out he hasn't lost after all, because his heart wasn't attached to the duniya. Rather, it was simply a means to an end.
As she was speaking about all of this, though, my heart was pondering on another issue. These are all fine and dandy when we are sitting at home in North America, or even when we are suffering for 4 days without power, but are these talks equally comforting to someone in war ravaged Syria, shivering in the cold in refugee camps on the border? How are they thinking about tests and hardships?

From limited experience, though, I know that I would be surprised that these people would often be MORE patient and MORE thankful to Allah, despite their hardships that we can't even imagine.

The following session was by Dr Seyyed Nasr on a world out of balance. This was a superb talk as well, but it was also more cerebral; you had to pay attention. If you lost your focus for a bit it was hard to catch up - but I enjoyed it thoroughly as the talk brought up issues I had often thought about and it was touching on many intellectual problems. The problems of a world out of balance and driven to extremes. Extremes of wealth, as such when a janitor earns $12,000 a year and the CEO of the same company earns $30 million. The extremes of religion where one side is completely atheist and devoid of spirituality, and others are religious fanatics (and not just Muslim either - the God's Army of Africa are Christian fanatics, the BJP marauders of Gujarat are Hindus and the Burmese doing ethnic cleansing are Buddhists). This was because extremism is moderated by the centre and today the centre is missing. And we should put God and His laws at the centre of what we do. He also talked about the balance of God being the outer and inner, and how Islam has successfully balanced duniya and akhirah (with akhira the priority) for 1200 of the last 1400 years, and only in the last 200 years we have lost our religiosity and our spiritual centre.

Shiekh Habib Ali Al-Jifri then delivered a talk on repelling evil with good. However his talk was in Arabic, with an English translator. Now I would urge RIS here to think deeply about whether such a presentation works in a convention where 25,000 people are in attendance, most of whom cannot speak or understand Arabic. This is an English speaking conference after all, and yet you have a speaker not speaking in English. Don't get me wrong - his talk was excellent with lots of examples, and yet, something didn't work. Perhaps it was the translation - they were translating line by line, sentence by sentence. A better model would have been for him to speak a whole paragraph, and then have the translator speak a whole paragraph. This way, the flow of the talk could be maintained. Here, the sheikh was saying two words in Arabic, the translator then saying his thing, and you end up getting confused.

Jifri's talk was on how if we say Islam is a beautiful religion teaching mercy and compassion, we must act it. He gives us a few examples, some of which I was able to catch (due to the lost in translation factor as explained above). One is Abu Bakr's response to supporting a relative who was engaged in slandering Abu Bakr's daughter Aisha, second was the Prophet pbuh's reaction and the Quranic injunction when he discovered his own uncle Hamza's mutilated body after the battle of Uhud.

Of course, then came the session everyone was waiting for. It was Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan's time to shed some light, pun intended, on the Verse of the Light in Surah Nur.

Here's the verse (Quran 24:35) in question.

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp—
the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star—
lit from a blessed olive tree,
neither eastern nor western,
whose oil almost lights up,
though fire should not touch it.
Light upon light.
Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes.
Allah draws parables for mankind,
and Allah has knowledge of all things.
A verse of the Quran can be studied at many different depths and this verse is no exception. Brother Nouman attempted to explain this verse (and he succeeded) in a level that everyone can relate to.

Without light, we see nothing. No matter how beautiful our world and the heavens, without light it is nothing and reality is irrelevant. Light is life. This is of course the physical light, and then there is the spiritual light. And just like we make lamps and the night lights, but when Sun (Allah's light) comes up it makes the lamps irrelevant, similarly Allah's spiritual light is overwhelming. One of His 99 attributes is Nur (or light).

So in olden houses there is a niche in the world, shaped like an arch, where you would place the lamp. The indent of the niche would help in spreading the light around the house. When you enclose the light in a glass (to prevent the flame from blowing off), the glass itself glitters as if it were a star (even though the source of the light is inside it, the lamp). The fuel for the lamp is an olive tree (so long used by Arabs as a multi utility oil - you can eat it, cook using it, put it on your body or use it as fuel). It's in the centre (neither east nor west - so it gets full nourishment from the rising of the sun to when it sets).

Our body has a rib cage that is shaped like an arch, an indent, and inside it is our heart. Just like the lamp was inside the indent of the house. And our heart has a light inside it - the ruh - which was once in the presence of Allah before we were sent down to earth. This light inside our heart makes our hearts shine (like the glass surrounding the lamp). Our sins make the heart blacker, and dim this light, but purifying the heart makes this light shine brighter. And the source is the Light of Allah, or the Quran, and when Allah's light meets our light, that's when Light Upon Light happens. And ultimately the more we follow His light, we will be guided to Him, our ultimate destination. These are parables Allah drew for us, for humans, for we have limited understanding, and He has complete knowledge.

Now of course this is a recap, I couldn't do justice to Brother Nouman's presentation even if I tried. Let me just say if you paid full price for RIS and attended just this one talk, you have gotten full value for your money.

The final session was by Dr Tarek Ramadan and it was a political talk on Muslims standing up for justice with wisdom and courage. He asked us to draw inspiration from the seerah, and from the story of Musa and how he dealt with the tyrant of his time, and he ended with a prayer.

So it was a good first day of RIS. Friday is usually a slow day, as many people have work, but it was really busy (I can only fear how busy tomorrow, Saturday, will be) and the number of sessions will go up.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Toronto Ice Storm 2013

As I compose this post, we have no power at our place for over 30 hours now. We moved to our parents' place for the interim; as they were one of the lucky ones not to lose power. Over 300,000 in Toronto are now without power, and Toronto Hydro is saying it could take over 72 hours before the situation goes back to normal.

The ice storm started Saturday evening and continued all night into Sunday morning. We lost power early Saturday evening. In the morning, when we went over to my parents, I took some pictures. It did look beautiful and surreal, but it was also deadly.

It looked like the scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Trees and branches were broken and lying around, and cars were abandoned on the roads, completely encased in ice.

It was easy to tell which houses had power (and thus, heat); they were the ones without a thick coat of ice on the windows.

It took us over forty five minutes to dig out my sister's car, which was left on the driveway and had a layer of ice on top about half an inch thick.

After about half an hour's of scraping and warming up the car, we managed to open a door and roll down the window. The ice remained outside.
It reminded me of a Tom and Jerry cartoon when the temperature had suddenly plummeted, and everything froze in an instant. Kind of like some scenes out of Day After Tomorrow.

As I write this, I know that it may take time (up to 72 hours!) but insha Allah, my life WILL return to normal once power is restored. However, there are some in the world who are not so fortunate. Only 15% of the people in Gaza have power or water at any one time, and refugees in Syria are dying in the cold due to lack of shelter and food.

We in the First World are truly blessed, and we should do something for others less fortunate, and always give thanks to Allah for our blessings.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Conversations at a Bong Wedding

I attended a lot of weddings this summer. Bengali weddings in Canada are the best. We have Bengali people, Indian food, Pakistani dresses, Caucasian waiters and Arab imams, all under one roof. You can take a ginger ale and pose as if you are drinking Champagne for your Instagram. And our weddings aren't usually segregated, so it's fun, with music and masti and all.

Then there's these conversations:
Heavily made up aunty: Hey beta, how are you! I saw you when you were yeh high! How much have your grown! Do you remember me?

Me: Of course auntie! How can I forget you?

Later (to mom): Who was THAT?

Friend 1: Are they calling out dinner by table numbers?

Friend 2: Who cares? How will people in the line know we are not Table 37 and not 11?

Friend 1: Um, we are not white. That's the table that always gets called first at a brown wedding!

Twenty year old son: Dad, We can't sit here. This table's reserved!

Dad: Reserved sheserved! Dhut! That doesn't mean anything!

*turns the reserved tag upside down so no one can read it*
As I said, Bengali weddings are fun.

MCs, can you please, please, PLEASE, please not use this line:

"For Those ladies that are wondering... yes I am single."

Now that's just corny.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sexism on Display

So today, the whole world watched as FIFA made the group draws for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was a glitzy affair, but one thing struck me. Have a look.

Why is the woman barely dressed and the man fully dressed?
Why is the woman a blonde representing a country where white blondes are a minority (Brazil)?
Why is the woman asking the dumb questions and the rich older man explaining? Whoever thought this was a good idea?

The countries that often try to stake a higher moral position on women's issues and feminism are often the most promoting of objectifying women's bodies.

11 Questions Bangladeshis Are Sick of Hearing

So I was reading an article on questions that Indians are sick of hearing, and I thought what are the questions that we Bangladeshis get asked all the time that royally piss us off. So, without too much thinking, here's my list.

1. Tomar bari koi?

Literally translated as "where's your house" but what it really means is which part of Bangladesh are you from. Because, God forbid we are one of the smallest nations on earth, but the north of Bangladesh can't get along with the south of Bangladesh which doesn't jive with the east of Bangladesh. Somehow, my opinion of you will be based on where you are from, even if you have never lived or been there ever.

2. Bangladesh? Where's that?

This is for the geographically challenged non-Bangladeshi folks (also known as Americans). Seriously, get a world map.

3. Oh yeah, I saw the news. Too bad about the garment workers. Hope your family is OK.

Because, you know, the whole 144 million of us work in garments. And you only hear of us when there's a flood or a building collapse. But, nice of you to be sympathetic anyways. Right before you rush off and buy the sweater on sale at Walmart.

4. So, do you like fish?


Yes. And roshogolla.

5. I love people from India.

I am sure they are very nice people. They did help us out during our independence war. And they always manage to conveniently lose to us in cricket matches recently. But why are you telling me this?

6. I knew this Bangladeshi guy once. His name was Akram. Or was it Aslam? Do you know him?

Sure. We shared a rickshaw together from Dhaka to Toronto.

7. Why are you not married? Or why are you not having kids yet?

Yes, uncle. I am sure if I am not married, I am going to discuss the pros and cons of the situation with you. And I am married, I am going to discuss the minute details of our family planning with you.

8. Beta, news ta lagao to dekhi. Bangladesh-e ajke ki holo.

"Boy, can you put on the news. I want to see what happened today in Bangladesh."


First of all, does ATN Bangla do anything other than show off the latest music video of the channel owner's wife, or news every hour?

And second, it's the same news every day! You could watch a news from last year or yesterday and it would be the same.

Today, in a hartal, the police did a lathi charge. Three men were killed, and twenty has been admitted to Dhaka PG Hospital. Four cars and three buses were set on fire. The Opposition has lambasted the government for heavy handed tactics. The government maintained the Opposition has engaged in looting and arson and their protest was illegal.

On to sports ...

I think I speak for everyone in Bangladesh when our politicians take those expensive foreign trips, "Can you please STAY there? Don't come back, ever!"

And the uncles always discuss politics (as if they are going to bring about some change). If you had to summarize that discussion, it would be:

Haseena = Indiar chamcha
Khaleda = kichu parena

9. I don't know why you guys separated from us Pakistanis. We are the same people. You are just like us.
Too bad Bhutto and Yahya Khan didn't think so.

10. You guys love books. I heard Bengalis love books. And rice. Right?

So? What's wrong with that? Also, see #4. What Bengalis think today, and all that.

11. You are Muslim? Oh, I LOVE shawarma.

Allah sent down the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, so mankind could be guided. That's my belief. Notice the absence of any culinary product on that statement.