Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Why the RIS List of Speakers is Inexcusable

On the very same day that Canada's new government took office with a cabinet that was made up of 50% women, the RIS (the Reviving the Islamic Spirit) Convention released its list of luminary speakers at this year's December convention.

RIS is an annual conference held since 2003, and has become one of the largest Islamic conferences in North America, along with ISNA in the USA. Over 20,000 people attended in 2015, making it the largest Islamic conference in Canada. Yet, year after year, there has been a complaint about the list of speakers at RIS, so one hoped that this year RIS would get it right.

Here is how RIS gets it spectacularly wrong (or doesn't get it at all) .


It should not be lost that today was the day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started his government in Canada and for the first time ever, the cabinet was made up of 50% women. Asked to explain why that was important, he simply - yet so powerfully - replied, "It's 2015."

What about RIS? Let's see how a conference about Islam, which many of these same scholars say gave women equal rights in 620 AD, is doing in 2015.

Out of the 23 speakers listed on the site, only 6 are women. That's merely 26%. Moreover, if the past is any precedent, the women will speak either in the morning, or early evening, while the men will get the prime time evening spots when maximum number of attendees are there. Many of the men are also scheduled to speak multiple times, while most of the women speak only once.

Is it too much to ask that out of 23 speakers, at least 10 be women? I am sure that despite the fact that some women scholars dislike to speak in front of a huge mixed gathering, we can at least find ten in the whole world?


RIS is a Canadian conference, yet where are the Canadian scholars? From the bios provided on the site, I could only find 1 Canadian. If you think women have it bad, that's  0.043%. What about renowned Canadian scholars and imams like Sheikh Yusuf Badat, Imam Dr. Hamid Slimi, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, Sister Ingrid Mattson - just to name a few? We are in Canada, and as recent elections, governance and public discourse has proven, we are a distinct society from the United States. Why should we have a conference where the overwhelming bulk of the speakers are foreigners?

There are plenty of other reasons for criticism of RIS as well. They are too shy of courting political controversies and hence their talks are always very timid. Since Tarek Ramadan published a popular open letter as to why he doesn't attend these conferences anymore, RIS seems to have doubled down on any political activity or call to action for justice.

So if you want a timid, feel good, nothing substantial but overpoweringly fluffy male dominated foreigner populated Islamic conference, please do attend RIS.

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