Friday, December 28, 2012

RIS 2012 notes 3

Mufti Mustafa Ceric
(as usual I came in late, and I took less notes)

The Delicate Balance

1. There must be balance between reformation and conformation. Truth and justice, faith and good deeds, tasdiq and tajdid. No tajdid without tasdiq.

2. When you fly in an airplane, you'd want a pilot whom you do not have to know who he is, but you can trust in him.

3. Ikhtiar - freedom (of religion) to choose what's right, but not wrong.

4. The advent of Islam brings a revolution in mankind. "laa ikraaha fid din".

5. Prophet's last sermon:
- no superiority of an Arab over non-Arab except by your moral credibility
-no racial discrimination
-we are born free with no sins
This is Islam's breakthrough.

6. We have to protect 5 values of an individual, regardless of who he is:
-an-nafs, life
-ad-din, religion
al-mal, property

7. We need to know how to earn a living and how to live.

8. When there is no water, a ship does not move, but when there is water inside the ship, it also does not move.

9. Suggests men should also have chaperons, their wives.

Habib Ali Al-Jifri
When The Prophet is Mocked

1. We need to cultivate beautiful patience in ourselves.

2. Be careful not to propagate offences (in expressing anger or refusal). Through people protesting, more people become aware of what you are protesting again, which could be a bad thing. eg. defamatory film is unknown until you decided to share it via media and the film garners more views.

3. We should not mix between demanding rights of the prophet with our own demand of rights. The way you stand up for the prophet might give him a bad name.

4. Be self-critical but not self-flagellating.

5. Other negative things like burning bibles, speaking falsely, killing, injustice is a greater offense than a film full of lies. Know which offences are greater and which ones are trivially provocative.

6. Prophet sent to perfect nobility of character. Defend him in a prophetic way. Do not speak of him in an emotional way using "my prophet", he is "the prophet". We should live the reality of the message that he carries to the world. Live as you are, not as how others want you to believe.

7. The believer isn't someone with a foul mouth and coarse tongue.

8. The prophet when faced with enemies even guarantees them with protection no holds barred.

9. Prove insulters they are liars by letting them see something else in you. It's your responsibility.

10. If you find yourself wanting to express anger, you have to struggle with yourself. The strong man is the one who can hold himself in the moment of anger. Turn anger into righteous anger by transforming yourself for the better.

Abdal Hakim Jackson

Imam Al-Qarafi and the Islamic Intellectual Tradition

(I came in a bit late. Yeah I got lazy on the last day and skipped a lot of lectures. There was one by Syakh Abdallah bin Bayyah which is about Sacred Law, but I didn't go in for that one and I'd wished that I had).

1. Differentiate between law and fact.

2. You derive laws from fuqahas, but the fuqahas may not know the facts. You know the law from the fuqaha, but to implement it in a realistic way, you need people who know the facts, the reality of the world the law is to be implemented to.

3. The limitation of fiqh is that there are things in life that will be regulated on the general principles of syariah, but there is no hokum on judging those things on judgment day.

4. Example, there is no such thing as an Islamic speed limit. These things are determined based on factual assessments based on the good of the community.

5. Difference between secular and secularism: secular - this worldly, secularism - there is nothing to consider but this world. Islam is okay with secular, but not secularism.

6. We tend to give syariah a false limit. We can engage in secular logic to determine certain regulations, eg safety.

7. When you don't understand fiqh, you make all issues fiqh.

8. What is the correct view of mazhabs based on customs of sahabahs ? When custom change, are they rendered defunct ? Do we have to make new rulings based on new customs ? Al-Qarafi: Holding on to rulings although customs change is an open display of ignorance religion and a violation of consensus. This is not legal relativism because things mentioned in the Quran that are haraam are still haraam, such as zina, but there are aspects of syariah that are based on customs. eg. in Al-Muwatta', if  a man says triple divorce to his wife, it is considered divorce. Al-Qarafi: this is based on custom, not Quran or Sunnah.

Syed Hossein Nasr
Umran: Reviving the Spirit of Civilization

1. The word civilization is often perceived as singular as an attempt to Westernize the muslim mind as the singular civilization or the word civilized is often associated to the Western culture. It instills the idea of progress that there is only one civilization - Western.

2. Islam is the first civilization to produce thought on civilization, by Ibn Khaldun.

3. No civilization is not rooted in religion. A civilization is created in the presiding idea that it is divine. However the Western civilization now imposes the divorce of religion from civilization. The spirit of civilization comes from the spirit of the religion that created it. The source of this spirit is the Quranic revelation.

4. Tauhid means oneness and integration, and the Islamic civilization is the manifestation of this concept through many aspects, music, art, architecture, calligraphy, textiles, patterns, etc.Multiplicity leads to unity. Why does it manifest this way, because it is the raison d'etre to assert life of laillahaillallah.

5. We come from one and return to one, we cannot escape from this inherent oneness.

6. When we revive the spirit of tauhid within us, we can revive the spirit of civilization.

7. Spirituality consists of faith and intellectual. Faith is immersing oneself in the reality of God, and intellect is applying revealed principles.

Zaid Shakir
(this was the last talk I heard, I didn't stay around for the finale. I went out to have halal beef burger with some friends :p)

1. Islam is confident in itself. It never perceived itself as inferior, and it does not falsely perceive superiority by belittling other civilizations. Muslims were confident.

2. Huntington mentioned in Clash of Civilizations, the threat to civilization is the Sino-Islamic threat. At apex of Islamic civilization, they were in partnership with the Yuan Dynasty.

3. Islam assimilated the best of civilizations to produce distinctive characteristics of Islam, in which at its heart is the concept of tauhid.

4. Physical world is not separated from the metaphysical world. zaalika kitabu la raiba fiih. Those who believe in the unseen and make efforts to understand the unseen is the heart of our civilization and our faith.

5. It is mentioned who are th mu'minun, the first mentioned is the believe in the unseen. The physical and unseen are both emanations from Allah. No separation between the sacred and the mundane because both come from Allah. Ethics is not separated from science. Allah has ordained excellence and beautification.

6. Ibn Battutta was recognized as a scholar anywhere he went. At that time, Islamic civilization was one common unbroken realm, defined by common institutions, common methodology and common worldviews.

7. We need to revive epistemology, methodology and curriculum to cultivate unity.

8. For that we need certain foundations:

- we need to recognize the pervasive hegemonic, material and physical manifestation of Western civilization.
nowadays, even the things that we can't see has physical reality, eg radioactivity

-and that force is a powerful one. why?
Another name for dunya is 'aajilah which means quick and accessible. Which means that it is very quick and accessible to physical manifestations. The akhirah's other name is aajilah which is something that you can't see right now, in contrast to the dunya.

9. If we don't realize the value of reviving epistemology, methodology, etc, there is no motivation. We have to realize the importance of Islamic civilization foundation and manifestation.

10. We have to appreciate the humanities such as theology, philosophy, logic, otherwise there is no means to revive.

11. We have to understand that the fate of the community is rooted in that revival.


So this concludes our RIS note-taking saga. Just to note: they do mention some Quran verses, but I didn't actually search for them before posting this, but it is searchable, and I highly recommend to myself and you (whoever who reads it, if there are actually anybody who reads this) to do so. Some of my romanized Arabic terms might not be accurate, I apologize for that, I have left the academic study of the Arabic language for years now. There are some terms that I wrote it as it is, so for those who don't understand you can look it up, and I stand corrected if I ever I used the term wrong. The reason why I put up these notes is for preservation sake, I tend to lose them, and I feel that it is nice to have an open discussion. Sharing things, thinking about it, checking it, assessing it, debating about it, and talking about it is constructive behavior, I believe and a positive intellectual culture. I really appreciate it if people could give feedback, and I know my memory's patchy here and there, I might not remember everything as accurately, so it's always good to check.

Secondly, another thing that I'd like to note is the perception of this conference itself, and generally my personal observation of what people perceive when going into this conference, and because it is merely my opinion doesn't necessarily make it true. So, honestly, I went to this convention in first year, basically just for the fun of it, to hang out with friends and they have a bazaar with lots of abayas, halal food and books. I guess it's also for the experience and the fact that I didn't go anywhere out of Toronto. I pretty much enjoyed it, I loved sitting next to a friend of mine whom I could happily discuss what we got out of the talks with. Fangirling over Tariq Ramadan, lol. (Although I feel a bit guilty fangirling over him, because I know that's probably not what he intended the people who hears his talk would behave. He doesn't want you to clap while he's talking because clapping is emotive. He wants people to be thinkers, and listen to what he actually says instead of reactively emotive). I didn't write down notes last year and I don't really remember, so it's really hard to compare in an academic sense of how it was back then and now. This year I went in, also because a friend of mine is going, but this time around I was determined to write notes so that I can actually look back to it and get something from it. The whole term has been stressful for me, and although I was reluctant to go because I already went last year, I still went on ahead, it wouldn't hurt to hear people talk about religion once in a while. So, I went in, treating it more as an informative session, i.e. I might learn something. Well, I have to admit some of the talks were pretty light, in fact, I think a lot lighter than last year's because last year they were speaking about governance, and of course with Hamza Yusuf's you're bound to get all the facts thrown at you, which I particularly enjoyed and regretted not taking notes back then. This year it was a lot more focused on self-change. It was a bit short of what I bargained for, but I kind of told myself, well, I had a hard year, it's good to have something light, but at least also in some way informative, I'd have to say I wish they put in more facts and go in depth, but then again, maybe if I'd really wanted to go in-depth, I'd read the speakers' books or something, which was why I bought Syed Hossein Nasr's book this year. Then, I'd reconsidered hmm, perhaps this conference is to pique interest or at least it has to be light and easy as a baby-step intro to compassionate, community-oriented Islam to people who are new to this, or it could be just some meet muslims all around the world kind of event, but I'm pretty glad that something like this was being organized, otherwise I wouldn't have known Habib Ali, Abdal Hakim Jackson and all these scholars. Someone actually made me think what the motivation for this conference was, well I could easily have checked the website and got my answer there, but I'm sure that if I'd ask different people, they'd have different motivations for going for that. Well, I alone had many different motivations which changed during a short course of time from friend -> shopping benefits -> info -> intro -> and who knows. Some people go in with the "usrah" mindset, so they prefer talks about self-help-oriented and dislike "heavy-weighted" talks that hint of secular issues like politics (although, honestly even the political-themed talks this year was very light and doesn't really touch on the actual political issues, but it was just a preaching to get your priorities right when approaching these issues). And I'm not suggesting all usrah-minded people are like that, and yes, you may have your preferences, I have no qualms with that, but my point is, I'm actually glad RIS has a range of issues. Such that it is not only centred on the self (although this year it is a lot more so than last year) and avoids becoming just another "usrah" party. There's stuff like philosophy, history, politics. I'd hated those three things, but I can appreciate their importance, and when I give it a go, they are actually interesting, and I do feel that, RIS is trying to promote a muslim intellectual culture, while also offering, okay, in words of a certain individual "invoke" religious motivation in a person. I feel that one way to promote intellectual culture is to have a well-rounded or diverse interest in different fields, even if you can't find yourself to like all fields, at least give it a go, or know what's going on, and I do believe interest can be cultivated, especially when most of the talks do mention that we need muslims who specialize in these different fields. I do have to admit I was a bit disappointed with Karen Armstrong's talk because I felt that she could have delivered more of her expertise had she talked on a different topic, like I mentioned, akin to her book that I half-read, but it also kind of disappoints me when people say things like "I don't like her talk because I can't "feel" it when she talks about Islam because she's not muslim." Not exact words, but sort of implies that way. I guess some people just like learning about religion in the usrah surrounding, but I love learning religion in the academic surrounding, which I feel, personally, is more fair and intellectual than in an usrah. I don't want to go on criticizing usrahs, and I have to admit I am biased against usrah, which I will explain if I have to, or if I am compelled to in another post, but I will leave it at that. So yeah, for this lengthy paragraph, my point is, people go in with different intentions and take home different messages and cultivate different perspectives. What I put up in my blog posts is what I got from my perspective, (although I do feel my notes feel a bit usrah-y, but can't be helped, I am certain it's more usrah-y this year than last year) so other people might actually write different things or write the same things in a different way. I try my best to stay true to what the speakers say, but you know, I might've left out some things and heard it differently.

So, as commentary on day three's speeches. Okay. I have to admit I skimped on this the most, but here's what I think so far.

Mufti Mustafa Ceric's speech was of course as entertaining as his first, and it's pretty good about the way he talks about social justice. It's easy to follow. The funny thing right at the end was his commentary on women having to have chaperons everywhere they go for "protection", and he mentions that Khadijah, a woman, was the first muslim, so in all fairness, he suggests that men should have chaperons too, their wives, for "protection", but of course a different kind of protection, if you know what I mean.

I did go to Yasmin Mogahed's halfway, people are crazy about her, but to me she's a poet. Her talk is mostly about consoling hearts who feel low in their lives, who need a motivational boost, so I wasn't too crazy about her as other people are, but I have to say I respect her as a wordsmith. Her book was also on sale and was sold out, I took a look at it, but it was basically a compilation of her blog posts, I think, on the surface, and I figured being the stalker that I am, I think I've read most of what she posted on her blog.

Habib Ali's just hit home. Every time I see someone get worked up on FB, that includes me, I should be reminded of that. FB just makes it easier to sensationalize trivial issues and you'd go all out and become keyboard warriors for Islam. It's a good reminder.

Abdal Hakim Jackson's was the most interesting of the day, it kinda made me want to read this Imam Al-Qarafi's books despite not really being interested in the field of jurisdiction and legislation. And his statement of the secular versus secularism, I kind of already know inside what the difference was, and I needed that reaffirmation, and I guess I just needed someone to talk about it. At the mention of secularism in Malaysia people stare daggers at you.

Syed Hossein and Zaid Shakir spoke on the same thing about civilization. I've heard the term Islamic Civilization gazillion times, from youtube videos, from Sejarah textbooks, from Islamic Studies during my Taylor's time but usually I just brush it off, but when I heard it again, it was kind of interesting of how they mention that the civilization is a manifestation of tauhid. It makes me imagine a show on discovery channel talking about how the patterns symbolize a certain theological meaning. I don't know if there really is such a show as of now, but it'd be really cool if there such a discussion of the topic.

So you see, it's not so much that I'm not aware of the intellectual role that we have to play as youths that is constantly being reminded of during all the talks, which sometimes I feel is a waste of time in which they could actually fit in more facts, but then again, it is the REVIVAL of Islamic SPIRIT, so I guess, suited to their audience, they kinda have to do that, and if I'd wanted the in-depth facts, I should go to the books. But my point is, I'm more interested in knowing the facts that they throw about and I guess that is my way of responding to said call for youths to play an intellectual role. I like to know things, and it makes me feel that I'm putting myself to use when I know things, even in a trivia sort of way.

So, yeah. I guess that's all for the RIS saga 2012. I should probably go somewhere else next winter. It's not that I'm deterring you from going for it, I highly recommend it though for the experience, but be prepared to face the deluge of people, and be warned that if you're looking for facts, like me, you're better off reading the books, but if you just want to do something for the holidays, or you want to go for something that makes you think, RIS is a good start, plus, go for the bazaar as well, lots of books, clothes and food food food. Oh glorious food. Okay, till then.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

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.

RIS 2012 Notes

RIS : Reviving Islamic Spirit site here

I didn't attend all talks or stayed attentive in all of them, but here are some of the notes.


Tariq Ramadan 

(not sure what his speech is entitled, I came in about halfway)


1. Check our intentions. Do we want to remove power to gain power or because we truly believe in restoring justice ?

2. Stop being emotional and be aware of complexities, in reference to the Arab Spring and Palestine.

3. We have an intellectual role to play by:

-Understanding the situation by reading from reliable sources so that we are informed and equipped. eg: There is no social justice without education, without educating women, it is not the head scarfs that causes social injustice.

-As a democratic country, we have to be democratic in our own country and as well as in dealing with other countries as well. If we stand for democracy and liberty, than we can't just sit around while in other countries injustice is rife, eg Palestine.

(note: I'm loosely using we. It does not refer to any specific group, or in this case, it might refer to the Canadians/Americans/Westerners, well, however you deem fit to see it).

-Contribute not by going to war but to equip self with education

Ustad Moez Masoud 


1. Sometimes in your concern with struggling against injustice, you forget the adab in Islam. Name-calling, jeering, insulting against perpetrators of injustice is unIslamic.

2. Allah sends sakinah into the hearts of believers to increase their faith. This sakinah is serenity. When one has sakinah, one is open-minded and open-hearted to manifest change.

3. When you view the world at the vantage point of akhirah, it will help to manifest change.

4. Other than sakinah, one also needs yaqin. Allah will not change the world without muqinuun.

5. The syaitan is known as Al-Gharur, the deceiver. Let not life of this world deceive you and the deceiver deceive you.

6. Three important questions in life:

- Where did I come from?
-Do I have a purpose?
-Where do I go after I die?

7. Parallels between the story of King Odysseus and the Lotus Eaters and Imam Al-Ghazali's categorization of people.

The 4 categories:

-One who gets things done, enjoys what he does and finds a good seat (referring to the King Odysseus story as an analogy where the king and his men land on an island and the king sends them off to find supplies on the island and return to the boat. Good seat refers to the seat on the boat or ship, or whatever)
- One who gets things done, made it back just in time because he enjoyed too much, but didn't get a very good seat.
-One who is distracted, barely made it back and insisted to carry many things so he gets not a good seat and is burdened
-the lotus eater. never made it back and forgot his purpose. Two types: one who denies there was a mission and another who was aware of the mission but refused to return.

8. Religion of None is growing due to the actions of misguided religious people.

9. Syaitan's dream is not of atheism, but of false religion, because it easily leads to atheism.

10. Quoting C.S. Lewis's Screwtape to Wormwood: "The connection between religion and politics. Our position is more delicate. We don't want men to allow religion to flow in their life. We don't want religiosity in political people. We only want religion to become a means for him to move up.It is easy to trick humans into doing things in outer forms." eg. by making Islam as a means to social justice not to God, so that something appears to be Islamic, but the aim is misguided, it does not lead one to God. Islam becomes an ideology as a reaction to modernity, instead of believing in Islam because of it's truth. God doesn't want to be the means to an end. HE is the ends Himself. Believe in God because of yaqin. Not because of anything else.

references: surah fath, surah sajdah, not sure which verses.

Habib Ali al-Jifri

What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love

"One does not truly believe until what he loves for others is what he loves for himself." -hadith, I can't remember the citation for this, but this one is legit.

1. This hadith begins with a negation similar to the testimony of faith. Why is this so? Because it affirms the absolute reality of the importance of unity, similar to the absolute reality of the oneness of God.

2. Can we truly believe in Allah if we don't love Allah ?

3. One way to love God is to know God or to reflect on the manifestation of beauty of God in His creations.

4. When the heart is attached to Allah, the veil from the delusions of the heart is lifted.

5. Three things a person experiences when he has found the sweetness of faith:
- loved by Allah and the prophet
-love another person for none other than Allah
-hates to return to disbelief

6. Love is connected to taste, experience.

7. The glory of God is not veiled. Al-Zahir - the manifest, Al-Batin - the inward and concealed.

8. The veil is that which between the heart and God.

9. God is closer to us than our jugular vein. "If you are truly genuine in your search for Me, then I am near." When you ask where is God ? or if you search for him, you look into your own question, what made you ask that question in the first place ? Search for God not in the surroundings, but in your heart.

10. God is too glorious to be contained in space and time. Nothing surrounds God.

11. The "veil" is actually our ego, me, myself, etc. (reminiscent of Buddhist teachings of anatta ? I think)

12. The way to live the veil is to not be obsessed with the self, and not to transgress bounds, hence the hadith says until you learn to "love" other people for what you love for yourself, you will not (lift veil -> know God -> love God) believe.

13. If you say "I love a pious neighbor because he is pious" is conditional, it is deficient and an illness has befallen fitrah. This love should be unconditional to any human being even if it is to the person you hate. Christianity teaches love thy enemy. This ability to love is a test. You have to acknowledge this as a challenge that requires strength. Ironically, discussions of love is perceived as a weakness in discussing Islam. One must also know how to control his anger. If you can overcome your ego, at this point, you will know God, because you have exposed to yourself the reality of your soul.

14. When you know how to love someone unconditionally, you will perceive the meaning of how God love His creations. It is unconditional. He loves you for no reason. He doesn't have to create you, and yet He does, and He loves you as your are. Yet we are always conditional when it comes to loving God, eg. "I will only love Him (believe in Him) if you can prove He exists, and He is good." However, the human ability to love God is conditional, and that condition is to know yourself and lift the veil of ignorance.

15. (He mentions something about the "other". Quite reminiscent of Paolo Coelho's novels about overcoming the "other".) The Other is the false inclination of the ego. eg "I am doing this for recognition, not for God." or perceiving people as "other", con-notating something alien and unfamiliar.

"I am a pearl deep in the ocean, and I want my beauty to be known."

Mufti Mustafa Ceric
In The Absence of Caliphs and Pluralistic Societies

1. There is difference between faith, morality and religion.

2. Every human being is born with the ability of trust of faith. (He relates it to Freud's id as something inherent).

3. When we say syahadah, we are merely repeating what we already know in our souls.

4. Being religious doesn't mean you are moral. Morality is something that is deep in your mind or soul to differentiate right and wrong. Is it subjective or objective? (I don't remember what he said about this or he left it as an open question)

5. Religion is not necessarily faith or morality. It is organized theology. It is a human construct.

6. The three foundations of Islam:
-syahadah : personal confession of faith (asy-hadu not nasy-hadu)
-syariah: community that is based on morality. NOT necessarily hudud.
-khilafah : civil society

7. The more we only speak of Islam, the less Islam we have in our lives. You are not a defender of Islam, but Islam defends you.

8. The challenge is to build a just society.

9. There are 12 civilisations, 7 are deadm 5 are living: India, Japan, China, West, Islam, and only Islam is attributed to religion.

10. Four things you need to know how to do:
-Turn slavery to freedom
-Turn mythology to science
-Turn might to right
-Turn theory of state to legitimacy of state, and this is the big challenge

references: ayyuhal walad Imam al-Ghazali

Tariq Ramadan
same topic, he mentioned he had two points but wasn't clear on the headings.

1. Work in context, we need people who specialize in 11 fields, eg: psychology, science, philosophy etc

2. We need right questions for the scholars and students for the scholars.

3. The problem in our society is we avoid talking about power and this usually leads to the misunderstanding of the dimensions of power. Power is reduced to only the notion of political power.

4. The state is not an ends, it is a means the same way spiritual power is not an end, it is a means to be closer to God.

5. There is a crisis of authority when dealing with religious resources.

6. Avoid reducing power to just a political structure. Eg. Not reducing Salafiyah to literalism. The Salafus-soleh are people who were open-minded to challenges, were not literal to the text. They are faithful to the text, but are courageous to the world.

7. When someone says democracy is not part of Islam, it is a narrow understanding of Islam. It is a superficial reduction of the text, because the text needs to be read in context.

8. In surah al-Alaq, God commands the prophet to read. This means knowing God and knowing what is being sent to him. Then God commands him to go to his people to tell them of the message. God has given the prophet the power to do so, the power to resist people to attack him and the power to be strong so he wouldn't go astray.

9. Understanding the Quran and implementing it faithfully is power. When you approach people with truth, they understand your power.

10. You have to understand where power comes from in order to wield it.

11. When a mosque built, it is so that people know what is the center, or the direction. It is a visible sign of your faith, a visible dimension of spiritual power. You assess the dimensions of a mosque by its activity.

12. Your faith is your power, but it has to be positively visible.

13. Other dimensions of power is culture, language and creativity. Intellect.

14. Next is economic power. Don't enter the world of economy with an obsession. You want to promote profit with ethics, not just to be as good as other people, but you want your trade to be legitimate.

15. Ask yourself if you are an added ethical value as a means to an end in your religion ?

16. In the absence of a figure of central power, the khalifah, we have to get it right when it comes to power. Instead of dreaming of a caliph, we have to take on all dimensions of power. It is not about idolizing the past. The history of Islam is the history of mankind, not angels. Models are historical, principles are universal. (that's his famous catchphrase)

17. The power of counter-power (from his new book).

18. We need to give power to women at all levels, and more female scholars. You can't have males talk about female realities.

19. Don't let people define words for you. Definitions come from the dominant. Use the correct definitions and be clear about objectives.


I didn't take notes last year, but this year I did, well, at least for some of it. It's kinda sad Hamza Yusuf isn't here this year, he was one of my favorite speakers, his speeches are always jam-packed with economic concepts and political theories. It's a very practical application of religious principles and concepts.

When I first came to RIS last year, I was so excited over Tariq Ramadan, star-struck even, but this year I felt that his speeches were less structured because he didn't sign-post his headings well. I just realized the points in his speeches were practically similar, but still relevant, all the same, especially about the intellectual roles we have to play as well as the dimensions of power.

There was also another speaker named Amr Khaled, but I felt really sad because I can't understand Arabic, he spoke in Arabic with subtitles but the subtitles were not up to speed with what he said and some of the humor in his statements were lost in translation.

What I find compelling from Habib Ali's speech on the first day is the statement that only when you are able to love other people unconditionally, you come to realize the depth and unconditionality of God's love for you. That made me a lil teary, I have to admit because I constantly ask myself how do I know how much I love God, or whether or not I actually do love Him. As human beings, it is kind of hard to try to love intangible things, but God, that transcends all things love us all the same despite our having that setback. And yet, despite being intangible, God is close. And I find it really interesting, here is a person who is most closely related to our prophet, and yet when he spoke of all those things about love, I can't help but find connections with what I learned in Buddhism, in Hinduism, in Judaism, in Christianity. This was the man that is most closely related by blood to the prophet but yet there he is, giving a universal speech, which shares so much similarity with teachings in other religions.

Mufti Mustafa Ceric was interesting. Being a prejudiced person that I am, at the word of mufti, I picture those local muftis that people worship their fatwas, but this guy mentioned a phrase "religion is a human construct", which would drive local mufti-obsessed people back home wild with rage, and insist that faith and religion is the same thing. So, this guy gets my hats off, because it made sense to me that there is a difference between faith, morality and religion, which would answer why people don't need religion to be moral.

Moez Masoud's style was cool and collected and it's very pleasant to listen to. I like that he gathers quotes and examples from a multitude of genres. His speeches were easy to follow. And his point about syaitan favoring false religion as compared to outright atheism is the most compelling and it serves as a reminder to constantly check our niat in practising our religion.

So, all in all, it was a good start. More posts to follow about the next two days of RIS.