Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Dr Naseef Attends Reviving Islamic Spirit Conference in Toronto

WMC President Attends Reviving the Islamic
Spirit Conference in Toronto, Canada

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, the President of the World Muslim Congress (WMC) attended the three-day Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference (RIS) in Toronto, Canada, recently. More than 17,000 people from USA, Canada, Denmark, Australia, South Africa and around the world also attended the RIS Conference to listen the lectures delivered by illustrious scholars from around the globe.. After returning back from Canada, Dr. Naseef gave me an interview about this conference.

The 8th annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention hosted this year special guest speaker Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens). This was his first Canadian engagement in nearly a decade. Speakers included, among others, over 20 leading professors, Islamic scholars, and community workers. Interestingly, seven embraced Islam at some point in their lives.

Among the speakers included: Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, who is a widely respected philanthropist, educator and musician; Hamza Yusuf, founder of Zaytuna College, America’s first Muslim College, who met Pope Benedict XVI to promote Muslim and Christian Dialogue; Professor Tariq Ramadan, Oxford Professor, author and named by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people; Abdal Hakim Jackson, Law Professor of the University of Michigan and author of “Islam and the Blackamerican”; Zaid Shakir, leading US Scholar, lecturer and author, known for his grassroots anti-drug campaigning.

Zainab Alwani, Researcher on female Islamic scholarship and author on domestic violence; Aisha Al-Adawiya, Executive Director of human rights group Women in Islam; Jamal Badawi, Professor of St. Mary’s University, NS, Management, and leading Canadian scholar; Liberal MP, John McCallum also addressed the 17,000 attendees.

Uniqueness of the convention
The convention is unique as it is completely organized and managed by the youth. The theme of the convention is ‘SOS: Saving the Ship of Humanity’

“When a ship is lost at sea, is in imminent danger of sinking, or if it has been hijacked, the captain sends out an SOS,” according to the RIS website. “Our planet is currently sending out an SOS.” “It is time for us to mobilize all of our resources to help save the ship of humanity, before it sinks, or is forever lost at sea.”

Since first held in 2003, the convention has become one of North America’s high-profile Muslim gatherings. It has grown from 3,500 attendees in its first year to over 15,000 in 2008, making it one of the largest Muslim conventions in North America.

Speakers and their messages
On the first day of the Conference on Friday, 25 December, there were eight sessions and on each session there was a subject spoke by one renowned scholar.
Imam Zaid Shakir gave a sermon on “Saving Our Souls.” Imam Johari Abdul Malik and Dr. Jamal Badawi lectured on “Sending Out An SOS: Contemporary Relevance of the Islamic Message.” This was followed by Ustad Amr Khaled with “Strangers or Fellow Travelers: How Islam Removes the Causes of Alienation in Modern Societies.”

After Maghreb prayer, in the third session,
Dr. Tareq Suwaidan spoke on “Do Not Disrupt the Balance: Striking the Balance between Religion and Science.” In the fourth session, Sheikh Habib Ali Al Jifri spoke on “A Young Person Dedicated to the Worship of Allah: The Youth Around Muhammad, Peace Upon Him.” His speech gave many great examples of the youth as related through Hadith.

In the fifth session, Professor Tariq Ramadan spoke on “Where Then Are You Going? Tough Questions for Today's Youth.” The point he made in this speech, besides other points, was that when Muslims discuss Islam to others it is prudent to remember this is a message that was sent to all. There is no "Us" against "Them," or an "Us and Them." “Humanity is one and the message of Islam was sent for all. He spoke directly to the youth reminding them that if they are getting the messages that blowing themselves up or hurting others is the way of Islam they are mislead. Muslims speak out about injustice wherever they find it using means that are useful. He also encouraged the youth to speak out and share their issues so that, the scholars can address their concerns. Reported by Heather Laird in Michigan Islamic Examiner on 25 December.

In the sixth session, Yusuf Islam spoke on “On this Boat Called Near and Far.” The title of his speech is also the title of his new album. Dr. Yusuf Islam spoke of his life journey of discovery. How he discovered his relationship with God and ultimately Islam. Heather Laird reported in SE Michigan Islamic Examiner on 25 December: He sang a few lyrics of some of his old and some of his new music. It was so touching and memorable to this Examiner that it brought tears to my eyes. Most can remember one of Yusuf Islam's songs touching their lives in one way or another. For this Examiner, his journey reminded me much of my own.

Friday evening lectures finished with the renowned
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf who spoke on “Walk on Water: The Three Faces of Jesus.” Sheikh Hamza named one of the most influential Muslims in the World in the top 50 out of a list of 500, has recently published a book entitled, Walk on Water. He discussed in his speech how important Jesus is to Muslims. Heather Laird reported in SE Michigan Islamic Examiner on 25 December: ‘Jesus is mentioned in the Qu'ran 93 times whereas the Prophet Mohammed is only mentioned three times. He provided clarity around the often misinterpreted understanding of the verses in Qur'an speaking of Jews and Christians, explaining how most of the time these verses are speaking directly to passages in the Talmud and Bible and those educated in the respected theologies understand them. He discussed the different ways in which Jesus has been perceived by Jews, Christians and then Muslims over history.’

On the Second day of the Conference on Saturday, 26 December, there were seven sessions, such as Session 9; Tayyiba Taylor and Imam Tahir Anwar spoke on the topic of The Believing Men and Women are Each others Protecting Friends: Men and Women United for Change’.

In session 10, Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, the former minister of justice of Mauritania and a member of the Islamic Fiqh Council, translated by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, spoke on ‘Purification of the Soul” A Blameworthy Innovation or the Heart of Islam’. Shaykh said that Muslim youth must not forget the spiritual legacy of their predecessors but must reconnect with that tradition. In session 11, Imam Yasir Fazaga and Shaykh Sulaiman Mulla spoke on the topic of ‘Rediscovering our Moral Compass: Finding our Spiritual Coordinates’.

In session 12, Dr. Tarek Al-Suwaidan, a leading scholar and public speaker from Kuwait, spoke on ‘Imam Ali: A Role Model for Our Youth.’ He spoke on Islam and the Modern World. He stated that scientific facts can never contradict Islam but scientific theories can. He said the distinction should always be kept in mind. In session 13, Dr. Zainab Alwani and Imam Zaid Shakir spoke on the topic of ‘The Apple’s Rotten Core: The Social Implications of Domestic Violence’.

In session 14, Dr. Abdal Hakim Jackson and Professor Tariq Ramadan spoke on ‘The New We: Muslims in Future of Western Society’.

In session 15, Yusuf Islam, Habib Ali Al-Jifri and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf spoke on ‘SOS: Saving the Ship of Humanity.

On the third day of the Conference, on Sunday, 27 December, there were nine sessions and on each session there was one topic but the last session 24 there was a special message for the audience.

In session 16, Sister Aisha Al-Adawiyyah and Dr. Abdal Hakim Murad spoke on ‘Freeing Our Mosques’. Sr. Aisha, a native of New York City, New York, spoke of the needs of the communities and their relationship with the mosques. Heather Laird reported in SE Michigan Islamic Examiner, on 28 December: “One particular note was the need to deal with no tolerance toward issues like domestic violence.

Dr. Abdul Hakim Murad, a native of Cambridge, Great Britain, spoke on what mosques are supposed to be. He elaborated that mosques are not supposed to be hyphenated with some tradition, race or ethnicity, i.e., this is the Somali-mosque. But, rather, mosques are supposed to be freely attended with the diversity of all communities and not at the exclusion of anyone. He mentioned about the mosque in his own town of Cambridge. While discussing about this mosque, he said it is one where even those who are not Muslim like to come and sit for the peace they feel there. It is diverse with nearly 70 different nationalities all praying there. And it has been blessed to the point where in the last few years it has more than doubled in size, largely due to an indigenous population and so they are building a new one down the road.”

In Session 17, Professor Tariq Ramadan spoke on “Read: A Simple Command of Profound Implications”. In his speech Professor Ramadan focused on the attributes of God and how we need to access them. Laird again reported, “He discussed the need for critical thinking and to not follow anyone blindly.”If you like what someone has said, don't just take it because you like it" he said, "but rather find out for yourself.” Dr. Ramadan recently published a book entitled What I Believe. Many of his thoughts from his speeches at this conference can be found in the pages of this book.”

In Session 18, Dr. Abdal Hakim Jackson spoke on “He Made you into Nations and Tribes to know one another: The Social Implications of Race Relations. This was a powerful speech to end the morning sessions. Laird reported, “Dr. Jackson spoke of the differentiating between white supremacist and white racist. He was asked to elaborate on the question of the increase in white supremacist groups after September 11, 2001. He said that groups like the KKK were not, to him, white supremacist groups, but rather white racist groups. To be a supremacist group you have to be able to effect the people's own self-image and feelings of worth. “

Laird also reported, “He continued to point out that white people themselves have been some of the biggest critics of white supremacy, and directed the audience to the writings of Theodore Allen. He asked people to understand that the majority of whites have been victims themselves to white supremacy, especially poor whites.”

In Session 20, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf spoke on “The Muslim World: A SWOT Analysis”. Hamza Yusuf encouraged people to know one another and try to understand one another before reaching conclusions about one another.

In Session 21,
Sheikh Abdalla Idris Ali and Sheikh Sulaiman Mulla spoke on "Is the Generation Gap Real?: Social Reality or Anarchist Myth." In Session 22, Imam Zaid Shakir spoke on "Overkill: How Many Times Do We Need To Destroy The Earth?" He spoke to the environmental destruction of the Earth. After Imam Zaid, in Session 23, Dr. Tareq Suwaidan spoke on "A Quest for Dialogue: Islam's Contribution to a New Civilizing Discourse."

Message of the Convention: United We Stand
Speakers at a three day Islamic Convention held in Toronto on the weekend urged Muslims to live up to their responsibility to save the world. In the finale session of the conference
Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah translated by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf offered many advices to the Muslim community. And then for an explosive finish Sheikh Abdalla Idris Ali, Dr. Jamal Badawi, Dr. Abdal Hakim Murad, Sheikh Sulaiman Mulla, Dr. Sherman Abdal Hakim Jackson, Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. Yusuf Islam, Dr. Tareq Suwaidan, Habib Ali Al Jifri and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf each spoke for about 5-7 minutes with a message on "United We Stand."

History of the Convention
The first conference was held in
2003, and has since become one of North America's largest Islamic conferences. Though it is not a rival of the ISNA convention in the United States, but it is, no doubt, a similar convention in North America.. The conference has grown from 3,500 attendees in its first year to over 15,000 in 2006, making it the largest Islamic conference in Canada. The conference have been structured since the beginning around a specific central theme, which have included the life of the prophet Muhammad, Canadian-Muslim identity, and Islamic civilization.

"Reviving the Islamic Spirit" convention is an attempt by the youth to help overcome new challenges of communication and integration. According to the organizers, “The convention aims to promote stronger ties within the North American Society through reviving the Islamic tradition of education, tolerance and introspection, and across cultural lines through points of commonality and respect. Furthermore, the convention will be a celebration of our identity and Islamic faith. To help attain these ideals, the convention will feature a wide range of voices from various parts of the world.”

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