Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blackmer Loop - Cheyenne Mt. State Park 10/22/11

Blackmer Loop in Cheyenne Mountain State Park is a good choice when looking for fall color.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

IRC 2011

On the recent Columbus/Thanksgiving Day weekend I was blessed to attend the third International Revert Muslims Conference in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. This conference was hosted by the Masumeen Islamic Center and sponsored by the Islamic Humanitarian Service IHS, and was attended by born Muslims and reverts alike, hailing from regions all over the West, including the UK, Canada, US, the Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago. The speakers were a diverse group of scholars and reverts with origins in Iran, Pakistan, India, Canada, and the United States.

 The conference was organized and carried out by board members of the Revert Muslim Association RMA, founded by revert Sr. Jennah Heydari in 2005, as well as many volunteers from RMA, IHS and the Masumeen Center. Speakers included Sheikh Jaffer H. Jaffer, resident Alim of the Masumeen Islamic Center who was born in Los Angeles, California; Sheikh Muhammad Ali Shomali from Qum, Iran; Sheikh Muhammad Bahmanpour from the UK and Iran; Sheikh Saleem Bhimji from Canada; Sayyid Mohammad Rizvi from India and Canada; Sheikh Mohammad Razavi from Pakistan, Iran, east Africa and UK; Sheikh Hassnain Kassamali and Sister Tahera Kassamali from East Africa and Canada; Sister Arifa Hudda from East Africa and Canada; and Sheikh Shafiq Hudda from East Africa and Canada. The revert speakers were Sr Fatima Ali of Montreal, Br. Vinay Khetia of Toronto, and Sr. Masooma Beatty of Colorado, as well as emcee Br. Mohammed Langston from Detroit. British revert brother (and cast member of the movie 313) Abd al Rauf Shokoya spoke on behalf of Ahlulbayt TV and worked with staff to collect interviews with reverts for the program Revert's World.

 The intention behind organizing a revert conference was not to separate reverts from the general Shia Muslim population, but rather to bring together reverts and born Muslims alike from diverse backgrounds to address education, needs, and issues encountered by reverts and also born Muslims in the West. One of the beautiful things about the IRC has been the coming together of believers from many communities and, in the case of many reverts, no communities at all, to experience the benefits of brother and sisterhood. Many enjoyed the feelings of coming together and one lady even announced her intention to convert to Islam after being invited to the conference and traveling from the United States and feeling the love and and beauty of Islam at the event.

 The topics of lectures and workshops covered a wide range of needs. For example, Sheikh Mohammed Saeed Bahmanpour spoke on life and death in the hereafter. Sheikh Bahmanpour made a beautiful analogy between this world and the hereafter and a "caterpillar universe" and "butterfly universe". He taught that this existing universe will evolve in the universe of the hereafter and was apply to supply inspiring explanations and descriptions.

 Sheikh Mohammed Ali Shomali spoke on the collective nature of wilayah. Based on an article he has written in The Message of Thaqalayn, vol. 10, no. 3 (Fall 2009), in this lecture he explained that we often think of wilayah as an individual relationship of guardianship between ourselves and God and Ahlulbayt (as), but there is a social function of wilayah that stresses the unity of believers. Among many sources, he cited a saying of Imam Mahdi (as, ajtf): "Surely, if our Shi'ites - may Allah help them for their obedience to HIm - were united in their hearts securely on their promises with us, there would not be any delay in the blessing of meeting us." Thus, he stressed that the various communities should be working, meeting, and praying together in spite of whatever differences they have, and that every believer should be meeting with and knowing the well-being of other believers and interacting with them peacefully, and that this is a crucial duty in preparing ground for the Imam (as)'s return. We must unite and not divide no matter what.

 Sheikh Saleem Bhimji spoke on a western-muslim cultural identity in a very practical lecture highlighting 6 aspects of developing this identity, including using the common language, developing artistic expressions, finding contemporary manifestations of spirituality such as volunteerism, creating inclusive social events beyond just "religious" events, and networking and supporting the businesses of one another.

 Workshop topics included issues related to salat, light/noor, the Qur'an, prophets, hijab, spouse selection, interfaith, morals, facing difficulties, free will vs. predestination, and interacting with non-Muslim family, and there were also many other lecture topics such as mercy in the Qur'an, Irfan, social and domestic issues of reverts, and pluralism and perennialism. Question and answer sessions were held and many scholars and guests offered assistance to the cause of helping reverts as well as serving the needs of Western youth, etc. Vendors provided information or sold Islamic clothing, decorations, prayer items, and media, and halal food was provided throughout the conference. For many reverts, the vendors provided access to Islamic items and information that they did not know how to find previously.

 The Revert Muslim Association is already making plans for the next conference, and organizers are hoping that it will be held in London in 2012. Many of the lectures from this conference were recorded and pictures were taken. People interested in the conference lectures and images may visit the RMA website for more information. The videos may not yet be up but should be forthcoming. People can also join the forums there and/or the group on Facebook. Anyone interested in getting help to learn more about Islam, get help with revert or other issues, or to help reverts find Shia contacts wherever they may reside or provide other assistance can contact RMA.

 As a revert myself, I am grateful for the efforts of others that I have benefited from on my journey to provide opportunities such as this. Many of the efforts made by born Muslims for their own children being raised in the West are also of great benefit to reverts and are appreciated. Sometimes reverts have very bad experiences that can sour their understanding of Islam, and often they may feel the highly cultural/linguistic divisions of many Shia centers and organizations leads them to be always outsiders or guests and never really fit in anywhere. The multicultural nature of a conference like this and the use of the lingua franca both help greatly in forming relationships and providing a hopeful direction for the future.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mt. Muscoco 10/26/11

Muscoco is a nice lesser-known hike in N. Cheyenne Canyon.  Can be out and back from Mt. Cutler, or a loop using Daniels Pass and the road.  It seems to be a favorite of Lady Bugs (as does nearby Mays Peak, as well).

Friday, October 14, 2011

From Resolution to Revolution: The Message of Ashura by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini

Muharram season is still about 6 weeks away, but I just received this book, and in interest of preparing for the season I thought I might read and make notes on some or all of it. This book is a compilation of lectures made by Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini during the Muharram season for Western youth. The portions of the lectures which relay the history of Ashura are removed to avoid repetitiveness.

 Part One is from lectures in London in 2005. Last night I read Chapter One, titled Dignity and Honor In this lecture, he tries to point out the honor of the human being. He notes that human life is sacred and sites the verses about not killing children due to poverty or other reasons, that Allah swt will provide for them. This did not particularly move me until he relayed a hadith from Imam Sadiq (as). In this hadith, a man complained to Imam (as) about being poor. The Imam instructed him to get married. "The man thought that perhaps the Imam did not understand that the reason why he was not married was because he was poor. However, the Imam understood his complaint the first time and again instructed the man to get married. The Imam was indicating to the man that God would provide him a better life for the sake of his wife and children if he gets married!" This just made me think that many times we create obstacles for ourselves that Allah swt did not impose upon us, and that many times the solution to our problems lies in hope and expectation for a good outcome and in keeping moving forward, trusting in God no matter what.

 In the lecture, this subject was the introduction to the idea that human honor is from the Creator, but many people seek it in the wrong places. We think that honor comes from wealth or beauty, etc. He notes that, "The commercial tendency of society has conditioned a great number of people into believing one's value lies in their appearance and possessions.... Unfortunately, this sort of thinking is a fallacy and a trap designed to exploit the vulnerable. However, while this trend has spun out of control today, it is nothing new as it was also rampant among the hypocrites who claimed Islam but secretly fought the Prophet. 'When you look at them, their exteriors please you; and when they speak, you listen to their words. They are as (worthless as hollow) pieces of timber propped up (unable to stand on their own). 63:4' These hypocrites looked impressive...but they sank beneath the level of animals." This point is so true - especially women, but all of us, are so damaged by this conditioning and it is so pervasive that it is almost impossible to eradicate - it is so second-nature to who we are that we are not even aware of it in many cases and have no idea how to think differently. We inherently judge people by how they look, but just because someone looks great and talks eloquently does not mean his honor and message are better than someone else.

 He then talks about a historical incident when a person complained that removing a person's fingers for wanton theft (not of out need) was against the honor of the human being. The complaint was to Sharif Al-Radi, who compiled Nahjul Balagha. His response was that the value of a human being was "in his soul, not his hands. As long as a person used his hands for honest deeds, they were invaluable." But once he used them for evil, they were worthless - it was the quality of the soul that gave them their value. This leads to what was for me the main point of the lecture that recognizing our honor is important to our self-development. He says it very well when he says that, "When we respect ourselves, we will consider it beneath our honor to do any wrong actions." This particular point was powerful to me. It shows that when we sin or commit doubtful acts, we are disrespecting ourselves and showing how little we value and think of ourselves. It shows we undervalue our worth while Allah swt does not undervalue it - Allah swt values us greater than we value ourselves! It also provides a means for us to improve ourselves.

By adopting this thinking, that doing wrong is beneath our honor as believers, we can find help in getting the will power to avoid sins. And the great thing is that this will power has a positive rather than negative source. Instead of saying, "I fear hell," which is true, but a negative motivation, this is a positive motivation, "I am better than this, or I am worth more than doing this." He goes on by talking about how honor is sincerity of our actions in doing them for God and gives examples from Karbala and he talks about the validity of crying for losses like the death of Imam Husain (as) even though it was a victory - it is part of our natural compassionate humanity that God made us to have and is part of the practice of the Prophet (saw) and Imams (sa). Insha'allah I will cross post this on the Muharram blog ( see side bar), and also post additional chapters there.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Aspen near Pikes Peak 10/1/11

Took Mt. Esther trail to Crews Gulch trail area for these Aspen photos.