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.


Anonymous said...

بارك الله فيكم
Excellent summary. Look forward to the coming day summaries.

Anonymous said...

MashAllah, appreciate the "coles notes" version of day 1. I wasn't able to attend in person and reading the highlights of the day really helped. JazakAllah.

Marie said...

I read your summaries of the RIS Convention and they were excellent. Now where could I purchase some of these talks of Hamza Yusuf? Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you, this was a really good summary for non-attendees. May Allah reward you for sharing.

mezba said...

Thank you everyone and jazakallah khairun for your duas.

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.