Out of Seats at “Reviving the Islamic Spirit”

By Nargis Rahman

Captions: People swarmed out of the convention halls after the RIS programs. Tickets were sold out to 20,000 people.

While American families were enjoying feasts at the dinner table over Christmas weekend, 20,000 people flooded the halls of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention in Toronto.

For the first time in 10 years, tickets were sold out by the second day of the 3-day program, organizers announced. The convention was put together by Toronto’s Muslim youth to tackle the backlash on Islam and Muslims after 9/11, and to build a bridge of understanding with non-Muslims.

On revivingtheislamicspirit.com the mission said, “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” convention is an attempt by the youth to help overcome new challenges of communication and integration…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.”

Scholars, speakers, professors, musicians, family and youth attended from around the globe. Programs were held in a large concert-like hall with lights, graphics on the stage and nearly a dozen drop-down screens spread out about every 20 rows. 

Organizers reminded people not to save seats, while people sat on the floors, lined up against the sides of the hall, and others stood outside the hall waiting for vacant seats. An extra room was set-up to accommodate families with children. People who couldn’t make it to the convention had a chance to purchase an online live stream version of the program on the group’s website.

This year’s theme, “Control Chaos or Community: Three Ways, One World, Our Choice,” focused on standing up for injustice and oppression, the future and reality of the Arab Spring, and doing something to change ourselves to help the community. Past programs focused on a similar upbeat spirit of revitalizing the core spiritual soul and working toward enriching the societies Muslims live in.
Highlights of speeches:

•    Habib Ali Al-Jifri of UAE, who is related to the Prophet sws through Husain, said the Prophet (s) related, Allah said people who love each other for His sake are the envy of prophets and martyrs, and they will be under His shade on the Day of Judgment. “Our religion is of love.”

•    Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University, said to take care of your spiritual selves and check emotions. “Support people when we get right understanding,” with knowledge.

•    Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College, said Muslims should be responsible, take care of their own business and rely on Allah. “Never think you cannot contribute positive to society.”

•    Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of Zaytuna College said Muslims need to create institutions based on moral principles.

•    Activist and author Jamal Badawi said people need to uphold their contracts, for example, serving in the country they live in, as long as freedom of religion is not contradicted.

•    Umar F. Abd Allah, international Islamic scholar, said part of our moral responsibility is to take care of the environment, and animals. The beauty of the world helps us remember Allah. “If only the world of existence nature could talk…it would lift the veil of the creations of God.” He said when man-made environments of drugs and prostitution are prevalent, evil appears normal.

Qari Mishary Rasheed Al-Afasy resonated the audience (and put people to sleep) with his recitation of Surah Ar-Rahman before the entertainment segment on the last day. Singers Junaid Jamshed, Sami Yusuf , Benammi and Khalid Belrouzi, Fez Singers, and Danish hip-hop group Outlandish were in attendance.

A full-time bazaar with over 100 vendors was open during the convention.

People stayed in lecture halls until 12:30 a.m. Monday morning to listen to final messages from the speakers before squeezing out onto the escalators and leaving the center.

Attendees posted comments on Twitter during and after the weekend. User Tomran39 said, “It was because of RIS last year I decided to embrace Islam and it was so much better this year now that I’m Muslim! Amazing!!” Another Twitter user, Alhusayn Hamidaddin said, “The most inspiring 3 days of my life. Thank you speakers, organizers and a special thank you to all the volunteers.”

A knowledge retreat and appreciate dinner followed the convention.

Nargis Hakim Rahman, Freelance Writer; nargishakim@gmail.com.


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