It was 12:05 a.m. on Monday December 28th 2009 when the curtain was finally dropped on the 8th edition of the RIS.  Between it’s beginning on Friday December 25th at 12:30 p.m. its early morning end over 15,000 souls traversed the 13,000-seat auditorium.  They were of both genders, dressed in every style from traditional home country fashion to business suits, with hair covered and uncovered, men in turbans, crew cut and even a Mohawk, women in the latest hair styles to niqab, Deobandi and Naqshabandi sat beside each other, dark skinned next to white skinned, modernist next to traditionalist, reformist next to conservatives, strollers and wheelchairs, Indonesians and Malaysians, side by side with Arabs, Africans and Europeans, Indians and Pakistanis, not to be left out Mauritians and West Indians, North Americans and South Americans,  a true representation of the Islamic nation.  All were focused on the well-lit stage on a plethora of speakers who kept them enthralled with a message of “peace and love” the basis of which the conference theme “SOS: Saving the ship of humanity” was intended to be achieved.

Habib Ali AlJifri and translator Sidi Waleed counsels the audience on the family

The messages from the stage was in sharp contrast to the media headlines of “Islamic” terrorists engaging in plots to bring down airplanes, suicide bombing of places of worship, market places and government buildings, the banning of minarets and religious fashion, the slander of the evangelical right wing nuts and 24/7 news spin stirring Islamophobia.  The multitudes by their attendance collectively said that indiscriminate use of violence, vigilantism and criminal conspiracies are not tenets of our faith. The conference stuck to the spiritual nerve centre that informs the Muslims' faith in God and adherence to the message and example of Prophet Muhammad (s). 

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) addresses the RIS audience

No other speaker than Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) brought a direct message with the arrival of his “peace train” imploring the attentive to get on board with “salaam and muhabbah - peace and love”.  In depth analysis and serious commentary were dispensed from the erudite academics (Dr. Abdal Hakim Jackson, Dr. Abdal Hakeem Murad and Professor Tareq Ramadan, Dr. Jamal Badawi,) to the traditionalist religious scholars (Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Habib Ali AlJifri, Imam Zaid Shakir, Shaykh Sulaiman Mulla, Imam Tahir Anwar), to religious, social and civic activists (Amr Khaled, Shaykh Abdalla Idris Ali, Dr. Tareq Suwaidan, Tayyibah Taylor, Aisha al-Adawiya, Imam Johari, Imam Fazaga, Dr Alwani).  On many occasions the schooled tensions between the different perspectives rose to the surface but none were baited to break the underlying aura of a community bonded on faith in God and love of the Prophet (s).

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf speaking at RIS 8

RIS 8 raised the bar to new heights, attendees were so moved that at least 8 persons took the shahada to become Muslim; one Masjid President even warmly embraced a former Imam of the mosque of which he is President, seeking reconciliation for past misunderstandings. Perhaps it was the melodious chanting of the burdah by the Groupe Ahl Fes de Madih et Samaa, or the nasheeds from Maher Zain, Benammi, Abu Ratib or Junaid Jamshed that allowed the heart to soften, or perhaps it was the voice of Isam Bachiri (Lead Singer - Outlandish) the youth favourite, only Allah knows, but the mood was positive, uplifting and filled with muhabbah.  The Quran recitations by Qari Amar Bellaha set the mind to focus on God’s calling to His creation, to try and leave the place better than you found it and you would be granted a great reward.

Over 400 youthful volunteers staffed the event. They deserve every bit of praise for so selflessly giving up their holiday time, video games and hanging out to play such a significant role in executing.  The teenager at the entrance who repeatedly said “thank you” hour after hour, to each new batch of attendees who were entering the auditorium as they showed their wrist bands, was amazing, the voice is still echoing in my ear two days later as I write this piece.  These young Muslims took politeness to the extreme, enthusiastically finding seats in the packed auditorium for the seatless, moving people along to prevent pile ups in the most courteous manner, those who were collecting the winter clothing for the downtrodden or enlisting donors to feed the hungry, the youth demonstrated they are capable of patience.  They proved themselves to be home grown, well-bred ambassadors of the best conduct of our shared faith.

Nader Khan sings in the bazaar

The bazaar was also a welcome treat, a relief of sorts, from the lecturing.  It buzzed with vendors hawking their goods and services; the food court had a variety of foods to suit the multinational taste buds. The mini-stage in the food court highlighted upcoming artists allowing the uninitiated the opportunity to express their creativity. There was a constant buzz in the market place that heightened in between lectures with each vendor using different tactics to attract attention to their wares.  Nasheed artist Adnan Sirajudeen and Nader Khan performed live at particular stalls to the delight of the onlookers.  The atmosphere in the bazaar was brilliant.  During one of my many forays into the bazaar I met Zainool Ali, former Secretary at my alma mater ASJA Boys' College in Trinidad  attending the conference.  The bazaar yet again proved the marketplace as a meeting place in this small world.

All participants left uplifted by the weekend experience, except that I ran into a salafist in the convention centre lobby. An interesting conversation ensued.  He apparently attended the conference for “serious Muslims” at another venue in Toronto.  This one apparently was for “the mainstream Muslims” who were seeking comic relief, hip hop and the attention of the less qualified scholars “who only wrote t seven books” compared with those whom he listened to who “wrote seventy”.  So what are you doing here, “oh, I heard that there are 20,000 Muslims here, so I came to check out the scene and to touch base with 6 or 8 members of the community”. Perhaps for RIS 9 he might seek to venture from the lobby to three floors down to the main auditorium where the real action played out over a fantastic weekend, but “I ain't paying $55.00 to get in there”.  May Allah SWT guide us all to that which is right and forgive us any mistakes made along the way ameen.

For further details on this and upcoming programs in the RIS series you can check  the RIS website here.