Around 30,000 people flocked to downtown Toronto this past December for the 12th annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference. Held at the Metro Convention Centre from Dec 28th-30th, as usual, the conference featured a stellar roster of speakers. Renowned scholars like Hamza Yusuf, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Tariq Ramadan were on hand to speak on a diverse range of topics.
“It was an incredible atmosphere,” says Ali Almajthoob, a local resident of Toronto and a regular attendee of RIS. “The best thing about it is how simple it is—a long line of amazing speakers, one after another.”
As usual, attendees flooded the bazaar, which featured everything from food, to books, to an impressive range of Islamic clothing. Like the long list of widely respected speakers, all of this has come to be expected of RIS, which has blossomed into one of the largest annual Muslim conventions in North America.
Also unique to RIS is the popular weeklong Knowledge Retreat held just prior to the actual convention. A smaller crowd of a few hundred people gathered at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto to hear a series of lectures by some of the same scholars who spoke at the convention. The setting was much more intimate, with each lecturer speaking multiple times throughout the week in order to elaborate on complex subjects.
Speaking through his translator Abdul-Karim Yahya, Yemeni scholar Habib Ali al-Jifri explicated a section of Al- Ghazali’s Ihya Ulumuddin that dealt with the dangers of ostentation. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College took several sessions to lecture on the teachings of Al-Raghib al-Isfahani. Other speakers included Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna, Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University, and Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui of Algeria.
“A lot of the talks are reminders that we have to constantly purify our intentions,” says Omar Hameed, a Toronto-based civil servant who has attended several retreats in previous years. “It helps us reflect on our own lives and our own sincerity.”
The retreat featured a handful of speakers, but the topics covered were wide-ranging. While Shaykh Ali al-Jifri focused on matters of the heart and spiritual purification, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Doctor Tariq Ramadan spoke on matters pertaining to the world itself, specifically with respect to challenges like environmental degradation, poverty, and social oppression.
“It’s important for us to remember to act,” noted Dr. Ramadan, “we cannot forget to feed those who are hungry and stand up for those who are disrespected.”
Those who attended the retreat also had a chance to engage with the speakers during almost every session. In short, the RIS phenomenon is alive and well, and is the most accurate embodiment of Canadian Muslims and their lived Islam.