Posted Posted on 2014-10-13
Virtually everyone I know who has attended the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference (RIS) since its inception feel that it is the best large Islamic Conference they have attended. I definitely feel that way. The organizers have done an amazing job in creating a highly professional event that truly leaves most attendees feeling revived and re-energized, prepared to face the daily challenges awaiting them upon returning to their homes with greater energy, resolve and vision. I look forward to that boost every year.
Like any human endeavor, RIS is not perfect. Some of its imperfections have been highlighted this past summer by a series of very public criticisms. This brief message is not to call into question the substance of those criticisms. I have had the opportunity to speak personally with some of those who feel the conference is not as inclusive as it could be, and I appreciate both the honesty of their observations, and the brotherly concern, which moved them to share them. At the end of the day, like Tariq Ramadan, a very high-profile critic of RIS, whom I have not yet had the opportunity to speak to in person, they want to see a better conference, and that is the foundation of their critique. May Allah bless them all.
Even before those criticism came to light, others, such as Canadian Muslims with Disabilities (CAM-D) have complained of the need for the conference to be more accessible to Muslims challenged by various disabilities. I know that the organizers of the conference have tried to address some of their concerns, but they will readily acknowledge that they have much more to do in this particular regard. Yet others criticize the conference from other, justifiable, directions. Members of our community should not be hesitant to raise issues that concern it, for we would all readily admit that constructive criticism is one the most fundamental requisites for improvement in any endeavor. RIS is no exception.
Having said that, what has been accomplished by the organizers has proven to be a powerful, life-changing experience for many of the attendees, beginning with those individuals who each year proclaim their Shahada at the conference. In addition to the benefits accruing to those Muslims attending, the annual coat drive, food drive and other social service programs, programs which the organizers are seeking to expand, thousands of non-Muslims benefit from RIS. As a result, the entire community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has come to see the RIS as a source of positive Muslim involvement in the life of the wider community.
For many Torontonians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, RIS is a source of great civic pride. In this age where Muslims are increasingly viewed by many in North America as menacing outsiders, the organizers should be commended for what they have accomplished. They have created, from scratch, without the aid of any Muslim country or major political party or organization, a powerful institution that serves as a testimony to the beauty of our religion at a time when there is so much making to appear ugly.
At the end of the day, the conference is dedicated to reviving the spirit of the attendees. Other conferences are dedicated to other purposes, some strictly political, some more eclectic in their approach. In my estimation, RIS has done a wonderful job accomplishing its mission. May Allah protect this unique gathering and may He reward the organizers immensely for what they have been blessed to achieve. I look forward to seeing you all in Toronto, Insha Allah!