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.


nadia said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of your RIS review! You've summarized your experience so beautifully, and suggested improvements where they were required. JazakAllah khair for sharing this with us,

Also, I'm now looking to buy Sheikh Yusuf's lecture :)

Yawar Amin said...

'Sacred science'. A part of me wants to talk about how these are two separate concepts. But of course nothing is black and white. I think there are two sides to this story: our human and God-given morality should prevent us from doing things like human genetic experimentation and creating super epidemic diseases. But on the other hand, we should not allow 'faith' to dictate scientific study and curriculum with things like the 'theory' of Intelligent Design or pseudo-scientific gibberish like Zakir Naik's talks.

As humans, we walk a fine balance in this and all other aspects of our lives.

Maryam said...

I also enjoyed reading your RIS review. I am wondering where I can buy Sheikh Hamza's lecture/?

mezba said...

@Nadia, thank you. I actually asked about Sh Yusuf's lecture, but I was told the shiekh does not permit his lectures being recorded by RIS, unlike some of the other speakers.

@Yawar Amin, I do agree there's a fine balance. However, I still don't understand how faith will restrict science any differently if it's mixed. You still have to research your stuff independent of science. What you get is a morality factor.

@Maryam, I actually asked about Sh Yusuf's lecture, but I was told the shiekh does not permit his lectures being recorded by RIS, unlike some of the other speakers. So I don't think the lecture is available now for purchase.