Report of The 2nd Annual International Revert Conference in
Brampton, Ontario, Canada 10/11-10/12 2008
The Revert Muslim Association (RMA) has been online and growing
since 2005. The organization endeavors to serve people who adopt
Islam as their religion. I recently participated in the 2nd
annual conference organized by RMA. In attendance at the
conference in Ontario were born and reverted Muslim alike, young
and old, male and female, a beautiful mix of races and
ethnicities, most residing currently in the U.S., Canada or UK,
but citing their birth places from all over the world.
The energy at the conference was very positive and palpable.
Participants, delighted but exhausted, chose from more than 30
lectures over the two days, learned together, inspired one
another, ate together, offered salat together, and made new
After the recitation of Qur’an and opening remarks, the first
lecture of the conference was by speaker Khalid Khaleef-Jabari
about the history and compilation of Qur’an and tafseer as
well as the importance of continually reading Qur’an in a
language one understands. His reflective and eloquent style let
attendees know they would be actively engaged and learning
throughout the conference. After Br. Khalid, Maulana Rizvi also
spoke about understanding the Qur’an. He advised to read
Qur’an for it to guide you, not to read it to support
preconceived ideas. Further, he commented on the need to
understand the Arabic of Qur’an not with the modern Arabic
meaning, but in the meaning of the Arabic of Hijaz at the time
of the Prophet (saw). He gave the example of the word ta’am in
Surah 5 that in modern Arabic means food but in Qur’anic
Arabic means only non-meat food. Another topic he touched on was
Shia translations of Qur’an. He is hoping to finish his
translation in the coming year, insha’allah and gave the
opinion that the translation by Qara’I is currently the best
one available in English.
Participants then attended a session on salat fiqh – either
level 101 or 201. Session 101 covered the basics of performing
salat while 201 went into more detail about praying in Jamat,
Jumu’ah prayers, and praying while traveling. I attended the
201 session hosted by Shaikh Saleem Bhimji. A few things I
learned included details of how to join a Jamat prayer late,
what distance constitutes travel requiring shortened prayers,
reward of praying in congregation (equivalent to 23.5 years of
prayer alone!), and that five people are needed for a Friday
prayer. We then exercised our fortified knowledge by praying
together and then had time to socialize and eat.
The first session people attended in the afternoon was either
about the Spiritual Reality of Food or Addictions in the Muslim
Community. I attended the presentation on addiction by Br.
Ulrick Vieux, a psychiatrist at Harvard University. He provided
great insight into the phenomenon of addiction in general and
its existence and treatment in the Muslim community.
The next session was on meditation in prayers – one session
for women and one for men. I conducted the women’s session and
talked about importance of presence of heart and concentration
in prayer, the basis of meditation in Islam, and techniques for
improving focus for prayers and for general use. Participants
practiced some simple meditative techniques. Several reported
back to me the next day about their efforts to keep track of
their mind-wandering during prayers and try the techniques.
After tea and cookies, the next speaker, Dr. Maryam Shobani,
talked about women role models in Islam, particularly Fatima
Zahra (as). She moved the audience to tears as she relayed her
personal experience of losing her son and her return to speaking
3 years after the loss.
For the next session, participants chose between a session on
Breaking the Cycle of Abuse or Thawaab of a Muslimah. I attended
the sister’s only session lead by Sr. Arifa Hudda on Thawaab
of a Muslimah. She began with a hadith stating that women in
particular manifest the names of Allah swt tangibly. For
example, one of the names of Allah swt is Creator and this is
manifested through women in pregnancy, another name is Provider
of Rizq, and this is manifested in women in their breast milk.
She narrated traditions that Allah swt is more compassionate to
females than males because they have a crucial role to play in
the family and society in the rearing of children and providing
tranquility in the house. The jihad of a woman is to have noble
ethical treaits in her house. She then stated the enormous
rewards mentioned in hadith for women while in their monthly
cycles, or when performing obligatory ghusl after the monthly
cycle, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, etc.
After prayers and dinner, the next session provided the choice
of single-gender sexual etiquette lectures or a mixed lecture on
being divorced with children. I attended the session for women
about sexual etiquette. Since some content may be best for
people over a certain age, if you wish to hear details of this
lecture, please contact me privately. I had a chance also to
review some notes from the presentation about divorce. I was
able to see that some of the topics discussed were the roles of
custodial and non-custodial parents and about not involving
children in the conflicts between parents.
Hasnain Rajabali then lectured to everyone on challenging
one’s security and comfort zone by asking questions and
seeking the answers about our faith and beliers If your beliefs
hold true, they become stronger under challenge, but if they do
not hold true, then you need to move away from those beliefs.
Sunday provided another iman-revitalizing set of lectures,
prayers and socialization.
After Qur’an, the first lecture was by Br. Joe Ramagli on
Islamic Liberation Theology. This is the topic of his master’s
thesis under the stewardship of Sheikh Idris Samawi Hamid at
Colorado State University. He explained that a liberation
theology is a religious movement to make socio-economic changes.
Islam is not just a commitment to metaphysical truths but is a
practical deen. Islamic theology seats Allah swt as the source
of justice and walayah, or dynamic loving between Creator and
creation, is the core of Islam. If a person commits an act
without walayah, then it is not an Islamic action.
It was then my turn to speak again, this time on the topic of
prejudice (‘asabiyyah). I began with the tradition on
‘asabiyyah in Sayyid Khomeini’s 40 hadith to developing an
understanding of what prejudice is. Prejudice is a major sin,
and like all major sins, if even a mustard seed of it is allowed
to remain in one’s heart, it can cut one off from the faith.
Further, major sins tend to work in clusters – if you let one
mustard seed of one major sin stay in your heart, it invites
other major sins to take over the heart as well. Participants
took a quiz to self-evaluate if they have any prejudice, and
then stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination were all defined
carefully. A lively question and answer session followed.
For the last morning session, participants chose either
Tribalism or Muslims with Disabilities. I chose to listen to Sr.
Roshni Hafeez, a blind revert from Glasgow, Scotland speak about
Muslims with Disabilities. She said that a disability is not the
impairment that a person may have, but rather it is the barriers
in society which prevent an impaired person from being able to
participate and benefit fully. For example, a person who speaks
only English but can find only Urdu lectures at his local masjid
is impaired by not speaking Urdu, but the disability is that the
society of the masjid prevents him from benefitting from the
lecture unless they provide translation, etc. She talked about
the unfortunate prevalence in Muslim cultures to look on
impairments as a shame, tragedy or curse, and then she and a
brother in Toronto talked about actions being taken to address
the needs of Muslims with impairments.
For the first afternoon session on Sunday, participants chose
The Psychology of an Islamic Community, Parenting, or Establish
a Social Network. I was involved in the discussion about
Establishing a Social Network. Participants discussed the issues
of reverts in particular that make the need for reverts to reach
out to and support one another especially crucial. We talked
about pairing up with other reverts like the model of the Ansar
and Muhajireen. All reverts can participate, as can born
Muslims, and it is not necessary to have all the answers, but
rather just to be a consistent companion.
The next session was either Hajj, Striving for Excellence in Our
Institutions, or Hijab. I went to the Hajj session hosted by Sr.
Shaheen Daya. She helped demystify the hajj experience for
reverts. She discussed what happens in hajj, how to prepare for
it, how to find a group to travel with, and the necessity of
performing hajj and related fiqh.
This was followed by a session on Sunday before evening prayers
was either Activism and Media Relations, Financial Investments,
or Witnesses to Our Actions. I attended the session on Witnesses
to Our Actions. This session was basically expounding on 9:105
in Qur’an that shows that our actions are witnessed by Allah
swt, the Prophet (saw) and mu’minoon (in this case meaning
Ahlulbayt (as), rather than believers in general). We learned
that everything we do is witnessed, but even more importantly,
the intention is witnessed. Two people can do the same act but
receive different punishment or reward based upon their
intentions. I did not attend the financial investments session
but heard a little about it later on. The speaker Br. Robert
Virdeen talked about a number of increasingly popular investment
and banking tools to buy houses, pay for college and more while
avoiding the concept of riba or paying interest.
The last session for the evening prayers included a session on
Taqlid, Youth’s Role in Preparing the Society or a
demonstration of Ghusl Mayyit (washing of a dead body). I went
to the taqlid session hosted by Br. Hasnain Rajabali. He
explained the necessity, as written in Qur’an, for the common
people to follow or emulate those more learned in the matters of
practice. It is logical for the people to follow the most
learned. If one does not stand out as most learned, any of those
that the experts point to as being highly learned are
appropriate. There are many people, male and female, who reach
this level of knowledge, but only a few of them publish their
rulings and allow people to emulate them. Some of them are of
the opinion that the people should follow just one person but
can refer to other scholars on issues on which that scholar is
not positive. But other scholars are leaning toward the idea
that followers should be able to pick from the rulings of any of
the most learned as they wish in a situation when one scholar
does not stand out as the most learned. Br. Rajabali was of the
opinion that at this point a person could choose to do either
method of taqlid and still have his obligation fulfilled.
After prayers and dinner, the evening ended with a Question and
Answer Session of all the speakers still present. Most questions
were directed to Br. Hasnain Rajabali or Shaikh Saleem Bhimji.
The last question of the evening is one that I particularly
remember. It was about evolution. Br. Rajabali stated that the
idea that humans evolved from prehominids is not supported by
science or Qur’an. DNA evidence points to a single pair from
which all of humanity originates. However, in the matter of
evolution as a general process through which Allah swt has
created, this is supported by science as a possibility and that
possibility is not negated by Qur’an or other Islamic
The evening ended late and people made their good-byes already
talking about plans for the next conference. Video of many of
the conference happenings should appear at the RMA website in a
few weeks, insha’allah.