Don’t Box People Into Taxomonies

*Written on Jan 19th 2010, but it’s been just waiting for me in my drafts folder. Apologies for the delay!

Dear friends, I’m back home safe and sound (well I’ve been back home for a couple of weeks now) after the most marvelous 10 days in Toronto at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention and the Knowledge Retreat. I attended classes, I prayed with hundreds of people, and I met many gorgeous souls that touched my heart and inspired me to reach inside and become more. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but the initial plan for this blog was to update in real time, but alas! due to a combination of poor internet access and technical difficulties, despite numerous attempts (and driving everyone around me a bit crazy) it didn’t really work. =(. But it’s all good, and God willing, over the next while I’ll post reflections and details of my time during those blessed days.

Today, instead of the detailed hour by hour breakdown of each day and my surprise and astonishment and adjustment and joy and all the different emotions of these days,  I thought I’d share a few moments, quotes, thoughts, different moments that will stay with me.  Not in any particular order, but more things that stuck in my memory after the event is done. And this is just Part 1, lots of things to share!

  • Hearing Junaid Jamsheed and all the other nasheed artists at the Friday night Entertainment Concert.. All the artists were beautiful, but Junaid Jamshed was special in the sense that you hear a lot of Arabic in nasheeds and qasidas, and I do find many songs beautiful and moving, but its hard to get the full experience when you don’t know what is being said. And before Junaid Jamsheed came on, there were a few performers that had the crowd reacting with different phrases, but I wasn’t quite sure what was going on! And then Junaid Jamshed came and started singing in Urdu, in front of 12,000 people in the giant convention centre, and it was extremely powerful. The words of course, and remembering the beauty of Madinah were powerful, but also the realisation that yes, I am connecting to this moment in a language that I understand, that is part of Islam too, because Islam takes on different cultural colours wherever it has spread, and each of those colours are gorgeous was wonderful too. (And that doesn’t mean Arabic isn’t important, of course it is important to develop a relationship with the language, but it’s nice to have those reminders every now and then that there is space for non Arabs too.)
  • At the same concert, hearing Isam Bachiri of Outlandish. He also spoke briefly about performing at Hopenhagen, how the moment when Desmond Tutu jumped on stage and started rocking to the music along with them was a special one, and spoke generally about the experience of trying to raise their voices for climate change..

(Which brings me to Resolution #1: To have the energy of Desmond Tutu! I couldn’t find a very clear clip of his talk or the Outlandish performance, but did find  this neat clip online of some of his words and the hope people had in the audience. You can feel Desmond Tutu’s sincerity even within those few minutes. And he is eighty years old.)

  • “If someone says something unkind about me, I must live in such a way that no one believes it”.  (Suleiman Moola, Dec 28th)
  • Story of Umm Salama  and her separation from her husband and her child when she migrated, and her son’s dislocated shoulder when the tribe took him away, and her own patience and forbearance for something better.
  • “It could have been worse, and it could have been better.” A conversation I overheard when I was waiting for my luggage in the Toronto airport. Our flight had been delayed, and we arrived much later than expected. And as we were standing at the carousel, I heard the above words, and thought, that’s true of so many things. Best to practice acceptance and detachment, since frustration is not a terribly useful emotion.
  • “My answer has more dignity than your attack, I am  not where you expect me to be.” ~ Tariq Ramadan, Dec 25th, RIS (speaking about how we respond when people attack)
  • “At thirteen, care intensely what people are thinking, at 25, don’t care at all what people are thinking, and at 60, realise nobody was thinking about you at all”. (Shaykh Yasir Fazaga, RIS)
  • Seeing a thousand plus coats being collected for those in need, seeing people pledge money and meals for a hunger campaign, seeing an afternoon comedy performance challenge audience perceptions and ways of being
  • “I’m not all these names, wahhabi, sufi, maliki. I’m a father, a brother and a son. But I’m not a box. Not in a group. Quran is the greatest testimony against groupthink. Have stories of person standing up and going against the group, and saying what are they doing? And it shows us what happens..throw him in the fire, get rid of him.. I want to meet human beings, I don’t want to know what group you’re in. People talk and say things but you need clarification. What do the terms mean? Don’t box people into taxomonies.” ~Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, RIS
  • Oh Shagufta! That’s one of my favourite names!~Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Book Signing. =D
  • Our families, their bodies may be in west but their memories are in the Muslim world. And yet,  they gave us the means to be Muslim, the feeling, the sense of the necessity to be close, the understanding of being Muslim. You know, sometimes our parents did not know so much, but gave us so much. Even the words, of saying Allah, subhanAllah, these things, this atmosphere, are so important. This is an ethics without words. (Dr Tariq Ramadan, RIS)
  • When people start raising their voices, or repeat same sentence/same proof, or refuse the obvious,  the dialogue is over, should withdraw ( Shaykh Tariq Suwaiden)

And that concludes Part 1. More to come I’m sure…

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