I started writing this entry shortly after the conference from March 4th-5th, but took an extended break to offer only irrelevant stories about Tim Hortons... so here it is finally, posted much later.
I am not a big fan of large Islamic conferences. I went to the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference once, but it didn't strike me as something I felt necessary to attend annually. I fully support the brothers and sisters who are taking the time and effort to organize these, but recognized that I personally benefit more from smaller, less glamorous efforts. So when a group of students at my alma mater decided to hold an Islamic conference in Ottawa, I was skeptical but slightly intrigued.
First, a little background. Throughout the course of my university studies, there was a major decline in the involvement of the Muslims on campus. When I first started, the students were recovering from a spiritual lull that was apparently going on for years. My personal introduction to the MSA was not particularly graceful; I accidentally dropped a plate of curry on the MSA president's head. That forgettable incident aside, I quickly found my place, and our tight circle of friends began to expand. Within my first couple of semesters, things started moving quickly; people were involved, happy, and things were happening. Above all, the core of the MSA was united, dedicated, and fully committed to the community and one another.
Things started declining in late 2002 and early 2003. Perhaps it began in Ramadhan 2002, when allegations began about possible extortion of MSA Ramadhan funds. While the issue was resolved, the whole issue left a sour taste; people began having misgivings about the direction things were heading. When some of the key members started suffering academically, it only made it easier to doubt the efforts of the MSA. Something was amiss.
Rumours began to spread about some of the core members, and the tight community that was UOMSA started disintegrating. While activities continued to happen, the people running them were themselves losing any inclination towards being involved in the community. Rumours continued to surface, and many comments were misinterpreted as a result. After weeks of festering, all the lies, rumours, and miscommunication resulted in a complete breakdown of the once tight community; internally, we still refer to this period as The Fitnah.
And that core that I was so proud of during my early years fell apart. One graduated. Another went through a devastating quarter-life crisis. One vanished from the public sphere, while another fought hard to disappear himself. Most of the active members became disillusioned with the shura of the MSA, the loosely connected group of alumni and elders who selected the MSA executive each year. While amends were made eventually, everyone passed through The Fitnah changed and disaffected.
For over a year, things languished. Few cared anymore, and those who did care did not have the respect of the others. The system had broken down, and it remained that way until I graduated.
Over the course of the next year, I'm told, things remained stagnant, and there weren't any promising signs that things would change anytime soon.
Given the plight of the community, I was not the only one slightly skeptical about the prospect of a large-scale conference hosted by our MSA. At the same time, I had a faint hope that perhaps this would precisely be the mechanism by which the community can be woken up again.
And thus it was. The conference was an incredible success, and the volunteers were second to none. It was among the best organized events I had attended since I came to Ottawa, and will hopefully set a new standard. Even with last-minute cancellations and awkward circumstances, the event worked. What was most amazing was the fresh new set of faces behind the scenes; finally, perhaps, some of the older faces can move on.
I just hope it lasts.