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Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) 2014, with Sara

Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) 2014, with Sara

By on Mar 24, 2015 in Blog |

Sana Gillani

I was very lucky to have attended North America’s largest Islamic Convention, Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS), in 2012. I was accompanied by two good friends from Sydney, and we coupled the trip with visiting friends and touristic pursuits in New York.

The experience was eye opening on many accounts. The trip had touched each of us on a very personal level, at important stages of our lives, respectively. Being exposed to the North American Muslim community and what it has to offer the world was a treat. I shall save a more detailed account of my RIS trip for another time, but for now, I have a fresh review of the most recent RIS from a good friend. After we hear from Sara, I will provide you with some more information on RIS that can help you plan if you wish to go to this year’s one (it’s never too early to plan).

Allow me to introduce a friend, human rights/social justice activist, poet, singer, community worker, and everything else in the world-er, Sara Saleh.


What were the circumstances that led you to attending this year’s RIS?

I had the opportunity to take part in a competition open to students of a spiritual class I had been attending.
I was lucky enough to be one of the winners, which meant “Hellooo RIS!”


How did you go about planning for the trip and what preparation did you undertake?

Some of the things I suggest attendees do (Which isn’t to say I did them all 😉 But highly recommended in hindsight.
– Looked up all the scholars / speakers – mark down the ones you want to see. You’ll probably over enthusiastically say yes to everything, but it might not be feasible. Days are long, exhausting and info-filled. It’s OK to miss out on one or two things so that you really make the most of what would benefit you.
– When it comes to accommodation, go with a shared flat especially if you’re with a group of people like I was. We stayed at Maple Leaf Apartments – a 3 minute walk, and much more economical than other options.
– Make sure you have all the appropriate winter clothes you need – unflattering duck feather was my best friend! I packed everything from gloves to fluffy beanies, scarves to boots, coats and socks (Though it was tricky trying to fit them all into one not so small suitcase that couldn’t exceed 20 kilos)…
– Which brings me to my next point, pack smartly and lightly, especially if you want to buy loads of cheap books from the Convention stalls (books that aren’t available everywhere!).


How did you find the retreat and what were the highlights from it?

The Retreat is intimate and intense, both positives for a first timer like me. Having said that, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. It was an important dose of in-depth knowledge that has motivated me to continue down the path in pursuit of more learning and inspiration. It reminds us of the importance of having knowledgeable, well-respected scholars and guidance as students.
My stand out has to be Imam Zaid Shakir.
He is engaging, all about ‘keeping it real’ and doesn’t talk at you, but to you, and of course –has wealth of experience behind him. I loved his style and his content.
Discussed everything from how the fellas out there should man up (he jokes about his wife and laughs…he does impromptu raps – both really nice to see)
Shaikh Abdul Hakim was another…Yes he might be slightly monotone, sightly intimidating but he’s got that cracking British wit.  His series on the Four Khalifas is an excellent history lesson.

Would have loved to see a female scholarly presence in the Retreat.


How did you find the following conference? Who were your stand-out speakers?

The convention is a more dynamic space, wider variety of speakers and topics.
I loved that there were talks linking contemporary affairs and addressing everyday issues, be it addiction to politics (inevitably linked) for Muslims today.

We forget we can’t separate one from other, especially when we live in Diasporas during such “turbulent” times (as people like to call it). Sheikh Omar Suleiman did this really well.

Another standout was Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr who spoke about metaphysics as well as the importance of beauty, art and culture in Islam – Need I say more? A brilliant, beautiful mind!


Being an Australian Arab Muslim with primary experiences of residing in Australia and the UAE, what was it like to observe the North American community for the first time? Also, what’s Toronto like more generally?

FREEZING! Sorry to be so predictable but it’s true. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of cold 😉
One thing I will say is these communities, longer and more well established, seem to have a wider pool of leadership and scholars guiding them. I am slightly envious.


How has this experience changed you?
I wish I could say I came back determined to be a scholar… or attempt to be a perfect human/student/seeker of knowledge.

I am certainly convinced more than ever of the importance of knowledge, scholarship, proper guidance and community.

It is so important to be surrounded by positive influences and people who want to learn and improve as human beings just generally – and then give this back to society.

The trip definitely helped centre me….there’s been a lot of (negative) noise lately. I am grateful for the time I had to myself to refocus.


What is your general advice to others wishing to attend for making the most of RIS?

Come with an open mind, ask questions to your heart’s content.
In terms of logistics, as above.
Factor in a day of downtime…and check out the falls if you get the chance.  They are incredible Sub7an Allah. Nothing like a good day out in nature to remind you of just how small you are, and how infinite this universe is – and we get to BE in it. Perspective.

Sara with her fellow Australian travel companions, pictured third to the left here. They are joined by our esteemed teacher and scholar, Imam Zaid Shakir.

Sara with her fellow Australian travel companions, pictured third to the left here. They are joined by our esteemed teacher and scholar, Imam Zaid Shakir.


Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and his teacher, Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, presenting at RIS.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and his teacher, Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, presenting at RIS.


Tips for those interested in attending RIS:

If you are from North America, you may already have a lot of information on RIS, and therefore can share further tips and knowledge in the comments section of this post.

RIS is a renowned Islamic event attracting thousands of attendees from Canada, America, and more internationally as well. The event is intended to bring together the community and encourage a revival through the sharing of sacred knowledge. The event consists of the Convention with speakers, talks and interactive events, as well as the Seekers retreat which is a more intimate and intensive learning program spanning a week. RIS is usually held during the Christmas and New years break; the convention running for 3 days, and the retreat goes for a week.



For visa information to Canada, visit:


Costs & Accommodation

Costs associated include the entry ticket to the convention and/or the retreat, as well as accommodation for if you are coming from outside Toronto. The RIS website offers accommodation discounts for surrounding hotels once tickets are available for purchase each year.

The retreat is usually held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto’s CBD, and the hotel is within walking distance to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where the Convention is held.



Christmas time in Toronto is very cold, and one is recommended to bring snow-appropriate clothing, thermals, waterproof boots and thicker gloves. Do note that indoors are always (very) heated, and so it’s best to have ready a few layers to shed.



Toronto is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, so once you have finished with the conference, you may enjoy what the area has to offer. Niagara falls is a one and a half hour drive from Toronto CBD and can be travelled to via Megabus services (cheap and convenient), where you can book in advance online:


Eating Out

Halal food is not always easy to spot in Toronto CBD, but there are nevertheless quite a few halal eateries in town. There is also a great range of vegetarian cuisine available in food courts close to the venue.

One restaurant which has remained popular amongst RISers is “Marché”, located in Brookfield Place on 181 Bay St in Toronto.

Have you attended RIS or want to attend RIS? We’d love to hear your advice, thoughts or any questions.




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