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RIS 2012 notes 2

Nouman Ali Khan

I first saw this guy from this video: because a friend suggested it to me, then I watched some of his videos on quran weekly, notably this one:

I guess with his humor in his presentations, a lot of people I know actually like him. This is his first year at RIS, and honestly, I'd rather listen to him on youtube than actually pay an RIS ticket to come and watch him because I think he does better elaborations on his own youtube shows, considering RIS has a time constraint for every speaker. Nouman's specialty is in the Arabic language, and in his speeches he actually focuses more on transcribing the ayaats compared to other speakers.


1. Relating the word "umm", mother, and "ummah", as well as ummatan wahidatan. A famous "umm" in the Quran is Mary, and she was the divinely chosen mother whose pregnancy is miraculously intervened. As for the ummah, it is also divinely chosen.

2. The phrase "this is your ummah" is mentioned twice in the Quran (surah al-anbiya and al-mu'minun) and it usually proceeds after tales of previous prophets and their people. So, this means that you're not only the ummah of Muhammad, but also of previous prophets. In that phrase as well, God uses "hazihi" and not "tilka" which expresses closeness. "hazihi ummatukum".

3. But after that, it is also mentioned that the previous peoples "chopped it up amongst themselves". Which means that everybody has different views about religion and chooses to split up based on different views and this is why the past people have failed.

4. This "chopping up" happens when you fall behind and fail to keep things balanced. It also happens when you're obsessed with ideologies and schools of thoughts that you dismiss things.

5. Although in the Quran the ummah is mentioned in relation to the past peoples, our history is not bound to the history of the previous people because God is optimistic about our fate. The phrase ummatan wahidatan is a form usually used to get attention in the Arabic language. God wants to direct our attention that we are given the mandate to be a unified ummah.

6. This unification is not only in common work but also in common direction, or vision.

7. We are entitled to personal convictions, but if conversations can lead to conflict, it is best to keep it to yourselves.

8. In the world we live in today some mosques are built around ethnicity or schools of thoughts and some out of spite.

9. From Ingrid Mattson on how to differentiate between community and cult:

A community:
-allows diversity
-has rules and regulations
-different positions are allowed to be heard
-discussions are allowed
-don't keep people out

A cult:
-you are to think/dress/talk/etc alike
-questions not allowed
-when counseling becomes a taboo because it is an indication that something is wrong, that creates a cult

Sister Edina Lekovic

When Others Frame Your Picture

(I came in about halfway for this one).

1. We need to tap into the language of values.

2. You need to understand your audience, not only what you want to present.

3. Do you know why it's pro-life versus pro-choice instead of pro-abortion versus anti-abortion ? This is because you need to start talking at the level of values, and what you care about to get entry point to a conversation despite differences. "because I care about , I am opposed to "

4. Instead of talking about who you're not (defensive and apologetic), talk about who you are, what you value and what are your values. Islamic values are universal values. Speak using frames that promote accurate diverse picture of Islam. It's better to say "Islam is as diverse as America itself" as compared to "We are monolithic". Don't talk about "we're not oppressed", talk about "we're educated and we can contribute".

5. You can't rely on institutions to do something. Although you can't do everything but you can at least do something. You lose power when you think you don't have power.

6. Take charge. We have to frame our own stories instead of have others frame it for us.

Syed Hossein Nasr
Philosophy Matters

1. Three big questions in philosophy

-What is there ?
-How do we know it is there?
-What is it's worth?

2. Some muslim figures are not so favorable of philosophy.

3. We are philosophical in nature, we think about values. Every person has his own philosophy in life. Philosophy is like politics, it is not possible to have a nation without politics, even if it is dirty politics, it is basically what we make of it, but it has to be there.

4. The challenge of the anti-philosophical vein is philosophical. The biggest challenge of the West to Islam is intellectual. We have lost our confidence, we do not think enough and we do not think correctly.

5. The Quran mentions that "We reveal the Quran so that people with intellect will use to intellect".

6. Intellect is different from reason, it is a lot more, but in the West, the term intellect is absorbed into reason.

7. We are at the receiving end of the values of multiple -isms. We are passive to the -isms that invade us. (eg atheism, materialism, etc) These -isms have to do with Philosophy, the key of thinking.

8. aql - rational, istiqlal - reason

9. The extreme ends of the spectrum of extreme fundamentalism and extreme worship of technology.

10. Wrong thought needs correct thoughts. Emotions do not answer wrong thoughts. This is why we need the Quran as a guide. We need to think Islamically and clearly, we need to revive the intellectual tradition. eg. mantiq, kalam, usul, metaphysics, gnosis, etc. The framework to revive is through science and humanities.

11. (He mentioned something about scientism being a threat. I think it's the worship of science. I skimped on this part because I was a bit sleepy. As well as Islamic science. Important definitions, but I missed it.)

12. We need muslims in the humanities as fardhu kifayah, because most of humanities is taught in the Western view.

Nouman Ali Khan
1. Our religion is 90% attitude. Attitude of gratitude. Be optimistic.

2. Ayaat about being grateful, and not just to Allah, but simply anybody. Allah doesn't need your praise, you are dispensable.

3. Be grateful that Allah gave you the opportunity to serve, not because you're special.

4. Two plural words for nikamh. ni'am and an'um. ni'am is the superlative plural, an'um is the less than ten plural. an'um was used in an ayaat in the Quran about Ibrahim being grateful for the blessings from God and ni'am is used in the ayaat in the Quran when it refers to us, generally, which means that Allah has given us infinitely many of His blessings, uncountable, both zahir and batin. Surah Ar-Rahman speaks a lot about Allah's blessings.

5. Always look on the brighter side, Allah tests you because He is optimistic that you can handle it. It's a reason to move on instead of being pessimistic.

Karen Armstrong

Quran: A Call to Compassion

1. Compassion is a test of faith.

2. The golden rule basically tells you to dethrone yourself from your world and put someone else there.

3. Confucius: "You seek to establish yourself before others."
Jewish: "Love the stranger"
Christianity: "Love your enemies"
Islam: "Reach out to all tribes and know them."

4. Compassion is not feeling sorry for people or pity, it is not weak or sentimental, but it is proactive. It comes from the word compathe, to feel with another person and put yourself in other's shoes. Brahma comes from the word that means womb, which suggests that the love of God is that of a motherly love that comes with imminently lots of sacrifices. And that is required for compassion. Buddhist prayer about cherishing everything as if you are a mother for an only child. When all human beings share pain, it brings them together.

5. When Jesus said love your enemies, it is not the English word love that you use for expressing feelings, but it is the Hebrew word hesse that is a legal term which means to look out for each other, offer help when necessary and loyal. It is a principled determination to look at and take responsibility for the pain we see in the world.

6. Greek tragedies designed for cathartic effect after seeing suffering, so that you know that you are not alone in pain. One of the plays involve the triumph of the Athenians over the Persians. The play asks them to weep for the Persians so that they view their victory from the point of view of the fallen.

7. When compassion becomes a global imperative, you have a viable world to live in.

Tariq Ramadan
1. Taqwa is being anywhere in the world and remembering God in whatever you do, and you will have peace.

2. You will not have peace when you don't reconcile your mind with your heart. When you take care of your heart, you will get answers for your mind and you will find peace.

3. Before Muhammad became a prophet, Allah made him feel loneliness so that his heart searches for inner peace. When you call for Allah, you acknowledge you're in need, and you acknowledge Him. Allah will answer because He is close.

4. Three types of knowledge that you must have:

5. When your heart is at peace, and your mind active, you have intellectual peace. You follow the questions that you have and move with it. To be peaceful is not to be sitting down or stagnant. Without the mind, you can be misled by the heart, because it is driven by emotions. So you need to keep your heart and mind in check. Develop intelligent emotions. The mind needs to be spiritual, aware and always checking. When you are constantly checking the heart and mind, you realize your own nature, and you judge less, because you realize that you are not qualified to judge people.

6. Which meaning do you give to your love ? Check your love. Justice drives love, not love make you forget justice. (This is in relation to a Quranic verse that I didn't catch, but it's about spirituality-what a specific way to describe things eh? #sarcasm)

7. To find God, you have to come back to yourself.

8. Ittaqwa is God consciousness. You realize you are being tested, but you believe that you will make it at the end of the day. Allah is testing the people He loves. He believes we can make it, so He tests us to encourage us to do better. So, look at yourself at a positive angle. Look at challenges positively that it is an intellectual challenge and it is to make you better. You are strong when you can face your weaknesses. Be positive with your sins and conflicts. because God is Ar-Rahman, the compassionate. Put your trust in Him because He can forgive you.

9. Taubah is the power for spiritual peace. It requires sincerity, and the awareness that you know what you did wrong and you won't do it again.

10. You are your own teachers, because you know best what methodology for the same content for you to teach yourself. Listen to your needs.

11. Always be self-critical. What are my values and what is my life ? be your own teacher and assessor. When you constantly check yourself, you are more open to others and you increase in humility. You can't easily judge others when you know who you are. You don't like people to know what's in your heart because you know what's inside, so you stop judging people. There is no taqwa without humility.

12. Summary: be positive, rely on Allah, be confident of Ar-Rahman, find the correct methodology and always be self-critical.

Abdal Hakim Jackson
1. When crisis happens, it threatens theology. eg. Rabbi Richard Reubenstein wrote After Auschwitz. People question if God exists, or if God is All Powerful, or All Good. However, muslims don't produce this respond.

2. Feature in Islam's theology that guards us from the secularization that comes from these tragedies.

3. God is not a power junkie (his exact words) in the same way humans are. For humans, to have power means to have the ability to translate desires into reality. Power operates in the service of desires for human beings.

4. God has all the Power, but is able to transcend preferences to allow things to exist or happen even though He doesn't like it. It doesn't mean that He doesn't have the power to change things or doesn't want to change things, but it just means that we have to find wisdom in why He let it happen. (Reminds me of this song: Dan Bern's God Said No. Do give it a listen, it's a really nice song.)

5. There is no escape from God other than to God. You have to figure out your role with God. Why does God allow tragedy? The reality is, tragedy, hardship and difficulty builds character.

6. If God gave everyone what they wanted, you'd be addicted, you'd worship what you want and you won't recognize people's hardships.

7. Tragedies are a recognition of the agency of human beings. You are responsible and accountable for circumstances instead of having God set everything right. From a comic strip, I think, Peanuts ? "Why didn't you ask God to do something about it?" "Because God might ask me back."

8. Bottomline: for muslims, God is not a divine santa claus, He doesn't actually give what we want, we work for Him and He has a plan. We have to ensure that we are on the right side of His plan. We are the agents of the plan and we don't arrogantly challenge that plan.

Imam Zaid Shakir

1. The Quran describes the human condition from stories of pain, trials and tribulations so that we can know and triumph while at the same time still be in touch with humanity.

2. Allah doesn't oppress. The meaning of oppress is to usurp rights and properties of others and inappropriately treats others. Allah doesn't usurp anything because everything belongs to Him, and He doesn't inappropriately treat His creations because He has a plan.

3. Tragedies are a test of truthfulness in our reliance on Allah. We are designed to struggle, against our soul, as mujahids. Jihad is dignified struggle.

4. Hardships bring clarity and ease.

5. Abigail Adams: Crisis awakens dormant characteristics.

Self-reflection and comments:
Well, I've commented a length about Nouman Ali in his sub-heading in this post. It's interesting to learn about the contexts and forms of the Arabic language that gives the different dimensions of the meanings of the Quran. It is best that you follow up on his numerous videos on Quran Weekly for in-depth analysis, and perhaps with your own analysis.

After going through lots and lots of Feminist articles for my Philosophy course, I can't help but feel her speech is a bit Feminist in a way, but I'm not saying it in a bad way, it's like Feminism being applied to a religious-themed speech, and I kind of like it. It's like an amalgamation of Western-style thinking and Islam. I really enjoyed her speech and wished that I'd had come in earlier to hear the full speech and I wished that there are more such talks. It is empowering, especially for us women, and it kind of hits me right there, because from past experiences, I do things always to prove something to people or to myself, but with that kind of approach, it is very defensive and apologetic at times. It's as if I'm defining myself based on presumptions. "I have to prove to people that I'm not a backward muslim." It's sort of a negative assurance. So, Edina is telling us to be more positive in affirming a positive image of ourselves, and I guess it's not just about image, which gives a shallow superficial connotation, but I guess our identity, itself. Of who we are. We don't have to tell the world that "I'm not oppressed in my hijab", but rather "I'm a career woman just like you." Then the hijab, that which people perceive as an oppression, kinds of disappears from the picture. The second talk is by Kristianne Backer. She talked about how the media framed her during her conversion process. It was mostly personal, and it carries the same message as Edina's speech.

There's also speeches by Syeikh Sulaiman Mullah and Shaykh Mukhtar. Syeikh Sulaiman Mullah's speech was a bit reminiscent of Friday Khutbahs with fatherly imaams. I didn't write down much but he talked about dispelling conflicts in a dignified, hikmah way. I didn't stay around for Syakh Mukhtar but it was something about the heart, a very general way to put it.

I didn't listen to Syed Hossein last year, but I listened to him this year because he talked about Philosophy, and I'm sure people on my FB are aware of how much I can't stop complaining talking about Philosophy because I took it as an elective. It seemed a bit dear to me, and because I had experiences with a religious teacher dismissing my question and semi-reverence for Philosophy as something that glorifies the human mind, and is incompatible with the teachings of tauheed in Islam. So, here is a man, who appears to be a quiet, but steady thinker. I felt that his speech barely scratched the surface, but he did mention it himself that it's merely an "intro to philosophy in Islam", but like he said, Philosophy has something to do with thinking, and we need to know how to think correctly to dispel challenges that arises from Western streams of thoughts, the -isms he mentioned.

Karen Armstrong seemed to lack oomph for some reason, maybe it was because I expected something akin to her book The History of God, and good God, I'm only halfway through even after 2 years of reading it, something always comes up, I got her to sign a book though, and a picture. She talked about what compassion was. A really simple topic, very light, but digestible, and universal.

Tariq Ramadan seems a bit more structured today, but I was kind of guessing what he was trying to get at first, because he didn't indicate how the speech would develop and I felt that he didn't really talk about the topic he was assigned in the program book, but what he said about being positive in your repentance of your sins because God is surely capable of forgiving your sins as long as you do taubah is motivating, and the compelling, but like d-uh moment in his speech was that when you constantly check yourself, you'll think twice about judging people, which is true, but it kinda didn't hit me all this while.

Abdal Hakim and Zaid Shakir spoke about the same topic, but these two speakers have always been consistent, although I think Zaid Shakir was funnier last year, and I'd say Abdal Hakim's speech was spot on. I thought it was interesting and it kinds of hits you right there because yeah you kind of have "mini tragedies" when you fail your exam or something, you need that kind of reminder. On a more global scale, I never really thought about how the muslim theology has a feature that sort of "guards" against secularization. From experience and observations, I do know that people turn away from religion due to many different reasons. One of it is when they lose faith in the face of tragedy as well as as mentioned in previous post, due to actions of misguided religious people.

Well, I know I didn't mention a few other speakers because I didn't attend all the talks. Three days of talks back to back from 10 am to 12 midnight is taxing, but had I listened to them, I would've included them. You can check the program book online for the other speakers and check out their speeches on youtube or something, it might be worth a listen.

So, expect one more post for day three after this.


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