A Report of The 2nd Annual International Revert Conference in Brampton, Ontario, Canada 10/11-10/12 2008
The Revert Muslim Association (RMA) has been online and growing since 2005. The organization endeavors to serve people who adopt Islam as their religion. I recently participated in the 2nd annual conference organized by RMA. In attendance at the conference in Ontario were born and reverted Muslim alike, young and old, male and female, a beautiful mix of races and ethnicities, most residing currently in the U.S., Canada or UK, but citing their birth places from all over the world.
The energy at the conference was very positive and palpable. Participants, delighted but exhausted, chose from more than 30 lectures over the two days, learned together, inspired one another, ate together, offered salat together, and made new friends.
After the recitation of Qur’an and opening remarks, the first lecture of the conference was by speaker Khalid Khaleef-Jabari about the history and compilation of Qur’an and tafseer as well as the importance of continually reading Qur’an in a language one understands. His reflective and eloquent style let attendees know they would be actively engaged and learning throughout the conference. After Br. Khalid, Maulana Rizvi also spoke about understanding the Qur’an. He advised to read Qur’an for it to guide you, not to read it to support preconceived ideas. Further, he commented on the need to understand the Arabic of Qur’an not with the modern Arabic meaning, but in the meaning of the Arabic of Hijaz at the time of the Prophet (saw). He gave the example of the word ta’am in Surah 5 that in modern Arabic means food but in Qur’anic Arabic means only non-meat food. Another topic he touched on was Shia translations of Qur’an. He is hoping to finish his translation in the coming year, insha’allah and gave the opinion that the translation by Qara’I is currently the best one available in English.
Participants then attended a session on salat fiqh – either level 101 or 201. Session 101 covered the basics of performing salat while 201 went into more detail about praying in Jamat, Jumu’ah prayers, and praying while traveling. I attended the 201 session hosted by Shaikh Saleem Bhimji. A few things I learned included details of how to join a Jamat prayer late, what distance constitutes travel requiring shortened prayers, reward of praying in congregation (equivalent to 23.5 years of prayer alone!), and that five people are needed for a Friday prayer. We then exercised our fortified knowledge by praying together and then had time to socialize and eat.
The first session people attended in the afternoon was either about the Spiritual Reality of Food or Addictions in the Muslim Community. I attended the presentation on addiction by Br. Ulrick Vieux, a psychiatrist at Harvard University. He provided great insight into the phenomenon of addiction in general and its existence and treatment in the Muslim community.
The next session was on meditation in prayers – one session for women and one for men. I conducted the women’s session and talked about importance of presence of heart and concentration in prayer, the basis of meditation in Islam, and techniques for improving focus for prayers and for general use. Participants practiced some simple meditative techniques. Several reported back to me the next day about their efforts to keep track of their mind-wandering during prayers and try the techniques.
After tea and cookies, the next speaker, Dr. Maryam Shobani, talked about women role models in Islam, particularly Fatima Zahra (as). She moved the audience to tears as she relayed her personal experience of losing her son and her return to speaking 3 years after the loss.
For the next session, participants chose between a session on Breaking the Cycle of Abuse or Thawaab of a Muslimah. I attended the sister’s only session lead by Sr. Arifa Hudda on Thawaab of a Muslimah. She began with a hadith stating that women in particular manifest the names of Allah swt tangibly. For example, one of the names of Allah swt is Creator and this is manifested through women in pregnancy, another name is Provider of Rizq, and this is manifested in women in their breast milk. She narrated traditions that Allah swt is more compassionate to females than males because they have a crucial role to play in the family and society in the rearing of children and providing tranquility in the house. The jihad of a woman is to have noble ethical treaits in her house. She then stated the enormous rewards mentioned in hadith for women while in their monthly cycles, or when performing obligatory ghusl after the monthly cycle, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, etc.
After prayers and dinner, the next session provided the choice of single-gender sexual etiquette lectures or a mixed lecture on being divorced with children. I attended the session for women about sexual etiquette. Since some content may be best for people over a certain age, if you wish to hear details of this lecture, please contact me privately. I had a chance also to review some notes from the presentation about divorce. I was able to see that some of the topics discussed were the roles of custodial and non-custodial parents and about not involving children in the conflicts between parents.
Hasnain Rajabali then lectured to everyone on challenging one’s security and comfort zone by asking questions and seeking the answers about our faith and beliers If your beliefs hold true, they become stronger under challenge, but if they do not hold true, then you need to move away from those beliefs.
Sunday provided another iman-revitalizing set of lectures, prayers and socialization.
After Qur’an, the first lecture was by Br. Joe Ramagli on Islamic Liberation Theology. This is the topic of his master’s thesis under the stewardship of Sheikh Idris Samawi Hamid at Colorado State University. He explained that a liberation theology is a religious movement to make socio-economic changes. Islam is not just a commitment to metaphysical truths but is a practical deen. Islamic theology seats Allah swt as the source of justice and walayah, or dynamic loving between Creator and creation, is the core of Islam. If a person commits an act without walayah, then it is not an Islamic action.
It was then my turn to speak again, this time on the topic of prejudice (‘asabiyyah). I began with the tradition on ‘asabiyyah in Sayyid Khomeini’s 40 hadith to developing an understanding of what prejudice is. Prejudice is a major sin, and like all major sins, if even a mustard seed of it is allowed to remain in one’s heart, it can cut one off from the faith. Further, major sins tend to work in clusters – if you let one mustard seed of one major sin stay in your heart, it invites other major sins to take over the heart as well. Participants took a quiz to self-evaluate if they have any prejudice, and then stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination were all defined carefully. A lively question and answer session followed.
For the last morning session, participants chose either Tribalism or Muslims with Disabilities. I chose to listen to Sr. Roshni Hafeez, a blind revert from Glasgow, Scotland speak about Muslims with Disabilities. She said that a disability is not the impairment that a person may have, but rather it is the barriers in society which prevent an impaired person from being able to participate and benefit fully. For example, a person who speaks only English but can find only Urdu lectures at his local masjid is impaired by not speaking Urdu, but the disability is that the society of the masjid prevents him from benefitting from the lecture unless they provide translation, etc. She talked about the unfortunate prevalence in Muslim cultures to look on impairments as a shame, tragedy or curse, and then she and a brother in Toronto talked about actions being taken to address the needs of Muslims with impairments.
For the first afternoon session on Sunday, participants chose The Psychology of an Islamic Community, Parenting, or Establish a Social Network. I was involved in the discussion about Establishing a Social Network. Participants discussed the issues of reverts in particular that make the need for reverts to reach out to and support one another especially crucial. We talked about pairing up with other reverts like the model of the Ansar and Muhajireen. All reverts can participate, as can born Muslims, and it is not necessary to have all the answers, but rather just to be a consistent companion.
The next session was either Hajj, Striving for Excellence in Our Institutions, or Hijab. I went to the Hajj session hosted by Sr. Shaheen Daya. She helped demystify the hajj experience for reverts. She discussed what happens in hajj, how to prepare for it, how to find a group to travel with, and the necessity of performing hajj and related fiqh.
This was followed by a session on Sunday before evening prayers was either Activism and Media Relations, Financial Investments, or Witnesses to Our Actions. I attended the session on Witnesses to Our Actions. This session was basically expounding on 9:105 in Qur’an that shows that our actions are witnessed by Allah swt, the Prophet (saw) and mu’minoon (in this case meaning Ahlulbayt (as), rather than believers in general). We learned that everything we do is witnessed, but even more importantly, the intention is witnessed. Two people can do the same act but receive different punishment or reward based upon their intentions. I did not attend the financial investments session but heard a little about it later on. The speaker Br. Robert Virdeen talked about a number of increasingly popular investment and banking tools to buy houses, pay for college and more while avoiding the concept of riba or paying interest.
The last session for the evening prayers included a session on Taqlid, Youth’s Role in Preparing the Society or a demonstration of Ghusl Mayyit (washing of a dead body). I went to the taqlid session hosted by Br. Hasnain Rajabali. He explained the necessity, as written in Qur’an, for the common people to follow or emulate those more learned in the matters of practice. It is logical for the people to follow the most learned. If one does not stand out as most learned, any of those that the experts point to as being highly learned are appropriate. There are many people, male and female, who reach this level of knowledge, but only a few of them publish their rulings and allow people to emulate them. Some of them are of the opinion that the people should follow just one person but can refer to other scholars on issues on which that scholar is not positive. But other scholars are leaning toward the idea that followers should be able to pick from the rulings of any of the most learned as they wish in a situation when one scholar does not stand out as the most learned. Br. Rajabali was of the opinion that at this point a person could choose to do either method of taqlid and still have his obligation fulfilled.
After prayers and dinner, the evening ended with a Question and Answer Session of all the speakers still present. Most questions were directed to Br. Hasnain Rajabali or Shaikh Saleem Bhimji. The last question of the evening is one that I particularly remember. It was about evolution. Br. Rajabali stated that the idea that humans evolved from prehominids is not supported by science or Qur’an. DNA evidence points to a single pair from which all of humanity originates. However, in the matter of evolution as a general process through which Allah swt has created, this is supported by science as a possibility and that possibility is not negated by Qur’an or other Islamic literature.
The evening ended late and people made their good-byes already talking about plans for the next conference. Video of many of the conference happenings should appear at the RMA website in a few weeks, insha’allah.