*** 17000 Muslims come together for good, and it gets back-page coverage. "They don't speak out against terrorism enough" I have heard some say...well, listen up! MS ***
Close to 17,000 Muslims came to Metro Toronto's Convention Centre on Friday – Christmas Day – to learn about their religion and being a Muslim in a modern world.
They heard from Islamic scholars, prayed, visited with family and friends and shopped in a bazaar that offered up a variety of wares, including hand-embroidered shawls, books, T-shirts, hijabs for both women and children, jewellery and hijab pins.
It was all part of a three-day convention "Reviving the Islamic Spirit," an annual conference with its roots in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack. It is designed, organizers say, as a way to help young Muslims understand their faith in a North American context.
As the conference opened, men and women, young and old, parents with young babies in strollers and teens flooded one of the conference halls to hear Imam Johari Abdul Malik, one of the 20 scheduled speakers and Muslim scholars.
"It is my hope that by attending this conference you will leave better than you come," Imam Johari Abdul Malik told the crowd. "You and I must struggle to understand the Qur'an in our context. Islam can only be practised in the world we live in.
"Maybe it's time to save the ship to say that I am going to take an oath to be non-violent," he said, speaking of the widespread violence in the world by Muslims against other Muslims.
"And that I refuse as a Muslim to kill another Muslim and also as a Muslim to defend the rights of others." He added that he thought Islam should not be practised as it was 10 centuries ago.
At the bazaar, about 150 stalls were open. A prayer area was sectioned off behind the stalls.
The message conference organizers wanted participants to take home was that they must find a way to practise their religion in a broader, secular, democratic society.
It is about "living the ideas of being a Muslim and being true to your faith but as part of a broader society," said Nadir Shirazi, one of the organizers of the conference and the CEO of a diversity training company. "We are, after all, part of a broader community of Canadians."
Conference organizers also want to inspire Muslims to spread a peaceful face of Islam to the world, said Shirazi. Toward that aim, they have brought in a diverse group of speakers and scholars, including Yusuf Islam – known to many who grew up in the 1960s as musician Cat Stevens – and the comedy troupe Allah Made Me Funny.
For Janan Arafa, a 17-year-old high school student from Ottawa, the prospect of learning more about her religion brought her back to the convention for a second year. "Your faith increases by one thousand notches – no, one million notches," she said. "You learn so much and you meet so many people. Islam means finding peace within yourself. We, with this conference, learn how to spread the word about what our religion is really about."
*** An excellent conference. All the best in the future years. MS ***