Thousands of Muslims have gathered in Toronto from across North America and around the world for the 18th Annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Convention being held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in the heart of the city’s downtown core.
“The convention is a premier global event and a meeting point for today’s foremost Muslim academics, activists and entrepreneurs,” Omair Naeem Director of RIS Public Relations, told AboutIslam.net.
“Aimed at providing a holistic weekend of programming, sessions throughout the event will explore topics as diverse as religious activism, cosmology, sports, and climate change.”
This year’s convention opened on Friday, December 20th and runs through Sunday, December 22nd.
“In addition to hosting the world’s most sought out speakers, RIS also acts as a unique cultural hub for entrepreneurs and artists. Stepping outside of the lecture environment, the bazaar showcases Muslim excellence and ingenuity with a wide variety of vendors and activities,” added Omair Naeem.
The convention began at noon with the Salaatul Jumu’ah (Friday prayer service) led by Khalid Latif, a University Chaplain for New York University and Executive Director of the Islamic Center at NYU.
“The coming of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was nothing less than to perfect good character and ethical conduct,” Imam Latif told the gathering. “He did not come to introduce religion that was purely ritualistic.”
“The idea was to be able to embody something that implemented transformation, externally as well as internally.”
In the early sessions, the speakers also urged the gathering to focus on character and ethical conduct.
“Love is the great experience Allah created,” said Shaykh Muhammad Ninowy. “Love heals.”
“Islam tells us love soothes, love purifies, love elevates, love refines and love illuminates.”
Later in the evening, the convention dealt with topics ranging from the situation of Muslims in Kashmir, India, and China as well as the difficult issue of spiritual abuse and breach of trust by religious leaders.
Former Dutch politician Joram Van Klaveren’s address to the convention was one of the highlights of the first day. He converted to Islam a couple of years ago after holding anti-Muslim views.
Van Klaveren was a lawmaker for the far-right Party of Freedom (PVV), led by the Dutch populist Geert Wilders and was also the party’s spokesperson on Islam.
“I was anti-Muslim because, in 2004 an artist, Theo van Gogh, was killed by the people who called themselves Islamists. 9/11 and other attacks added to that,” he said. “Also in my studies, Islam was taught very superficially, thus I developed a wrong view on Islam. I was thinking all Muslims wanted to kill Christians.”
However, his views on Islam would change as he was writing a book against Islam.
“While I was writing the book I started to make researches, then I wrote to Dr. Timothy Winter – Abdul Hakim Murad from Cambridge University,” Van Klaveren added.
“I thought he would not answer me because I was a far-right politician. But he did. He gave me some book names that he wanted me to read; he sent me some other books. He answered my questions and opened the gates for me. I started re-writing my book.”
He said he discovered that many anti-Islam stories had no basis at all.
“Then I started reading about Prophet Mohammad and his life. I discovered another Prophet Mohammad who was very gentle, very helpful, very understanding towards people who were not Muslims at all. Then I thought what I knew was not the real Islam,” he said.
“Beauty is to live like you see God and if you cannot see God live as He can see you. That is a beauty to me.”
Ontario’s Premier sent a video message to the convention commending the Muslim community for their contributions to the province.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for delegates to come together to make new connections, explore contemporary issues, and to share in and connect more deeply with the teachings and rich traditions of their faith,” said the Premier.
“I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge, with gratitude, the valuable contributions that the Muslim community has made to our province and across the country.”
“Muslim Canadians have distinguished themselves in every field – and have made Ontario a better place to live.”
The convention will also include new features and prominent personalities who will make their debut at the event.
“Also new, for the first time in North America, is a Virtual Reality exhibit which will allow attendees to experience Mecca and iconic moments from Islam’s history in the first person. It will help in forging a stronger connection to faith and experiencing well-known stories like never before,” said Omair Naeem Director of RIS Public Relations.
“Making his RIS debut this year is Dutch politician Joram van Klaveren. Formerly an active member of Netherlands’ far-right party, he became Muslim while writing what was intended to be an anti-Islam book. Now, drawing on his experience, van Klaveren brings a dynamic perspective to the convention with unique insights into the growing trend of Islamophobia worldwide.”
The Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention was first launched seventeen years ago by Muslim youth to tackle the backlash on Islam and Muslims after 9/11 and to build a bridge of understanding with non-Muslims.
The event has become a staple in Toronto’s downtown core during the Christmas holiday season and an estimated 20,000 attendees are expected from all over North America and around the world, adding a boost to the local economy.