There is this notion that Islam doesn’t have all the answers. That theology and philosophy have no place within our religion. Some believe that scholars don’t address these difficult questions and, in fact, ask us not to dwell on these issues. With an overwhelming amount of our youth going through university and attending philosophy classes, they are essentially taught to question everything they’ve ever known or believed. The very act of questioning is not wrong, in fact, our religion encourages us to do so. However, when these questions and debates lead to a growing epidemic of people leaving Islam, our community leaders, should take notice and address the key issues. Unfortunately, sometimes, when our leaders are posed with these difficult questions, they often respond by telling us to concentrate on our prayers and not to pay heed to these issues.
Faith isn’t a manual that you can read and practice. True belief comes after being well grounded and having a firm understanding of what you believe and why you believe in it. Our religion is complete, it is true and it has all the answers; but it is on us to understand these answers.
The Muslim Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto hosted their first ever weekend Symposium this past month on November 15th and 16th. This weekend intensive was titled ‘Faith & Modern Times: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Questions’ and tackled serious theological issues like evolution, free-will and atheism. I had the pleasure of attending the event that took place at the Multi-Faith Centre at UofT.
The Muslim Chaplaincy at UofT is an organization that supports students on campuses with relevant programming and effective support systems to help students through this vital period in their life. The idea of this event came about from the growing demand of a more in-depth understanding of how Islam answers theological questions that tend to confuse people on the concepts of religion.
Our teachers for the Symposium were Shaykh Omar Qureshi, Shaykh Talal Ahdab and Shaykh Ramzy Ajem, all extremely well equipped to handle the difficult topics we were discussing. The weekend consisted of 10 different sessions presented by the teachers along with three question & answer sessions. Although all of MC programming is usually free, due to the nature of this event, the tuition fee for the weekend was set at $30 for university students and $40 for non-students. The Muslim Chaplaincy provided a clear disclaimer that no one would be turned away due to lack of funds.
The first day was titled ‘The Intellectual Foundation’ where the teachers focused on establishing a solid base to understand these concepts. With an interactive teaching style, the scholars ensured we understood the basics of epistemology, learned various definitions, and taught us how to process information. The second day was titled “The Foundations at Work –Contemporary Issues” and covered incredible topics of evolution, new atheism, good vs. evil, and free will & destiny.
During lunchtime, most of the attendees would go out to eat at nearby places. The registration table had a guide with a list of halal places to eat. Burgernator was definitely a favorite.
With almost 100 people in attendance, the Symposium truly felt like a journey we all went through together. The scholars were interacting with us the entire time, asking difficult questions and encouraging us to keep pushing our understanding of theological issues further.
I spoke to Maryam Khattab after the event and asked how she found her experience. “The Symposium gave me the confidence and clarity I needed to move forward,” says Maryam. “Our teachers were engaging, approachable and made clear understanding something accessible to all of us. Though it was really an introduction, I know I’ll be able to look back on this weekend as a valuable starting point.”
I also spoke to our dear friend Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, Chaplain of the Muslim Chaplaincy at UofT. “The Symposium is meant to facilitate the intersection of the Islamic tradition with modern issues. It’s needed because many young Muslims are attempting to reconcile their belief and practice within their modern, secular context,” says Ustadh Amjad. “The symposium is meant to give them insights and tools to engage with their reality in a meaningful and balanced way.”
It is extremely encouraging to see our youth wanting to learn and asking difficult, intellectual questions. Our community leaders need to rise to the challenge of answering these questions and discussing complex issues. We as a community need to facilitate this discussion. We haven’t given enough importance to these issues, which is now causing a problem as we continuously see our youth turning to secular, non-Muslim sources for answers. Insha Allah, the MC Symposium is just the beginning of many more events like these to be held in our community.
A piece of advice to those still searching for answers: don’t feel like it is wrong to ask these questions. There is nothing wrong in having an honest interest in learning more about these issues. However, sincerely strive to find these answers. Find the proper scholars, read the proper texts, and move forward with a genuine conviction. Ultimately, Islam has the answers to all questions if we search hard enough for them.
Insha Allah, Lanterns plans to cover this story in more detail in upcoming issues. When we do so, I’ll make sure to link the new article here. Until then, what do you feel about this issue?