The last time I went to this conference was years ago when they asked me to storytell for the kids. It was so long ago that one of my daughters joined me at the venue and then got annoyed with the audience because they were bouncing around instead of listening. She was only about thirteen or fourteen at the time!

I told her you can’t get angry at kid audiences. You have to instead be SO engaging that they’ll stop their bouncing for a few minutes and actually listen.


That’s one of the reasons I consider kindergarteners the hardest kids to present to. NOTHING BUT YOUR VERY BEST HIGH OCTANE impresses them! And they’ll absolutely let you know it!

With older kids, I just find, you don’t have to work that hard.

But today, I went as part of the audience.

Hadn’t been to an Islamic conference for ages! In fact the last one I went to was the ISNA convention in Washington, D.C. which was fabulous, and where I presented two presentations.


Standards seemed to have slipped somewhat, or maybe I’ve just seen so many excellent speakers, I was comparing the ones I saw today to them.

The organizers said there were twenty thousand in attendance. I can believe it.

That’s a LOT of people!

Didn’t learn that much from the speakers, but I did hear one thing that really jived with me that I wanted to share. One speaker said that if you always exceed expectations, you will be a winner.

He probably got that from someone else, but I liked it anyway.

I was eager to hear Karen Armstrong speak. She’s this fabulous British author who’s penned a whole bunch of wonderful non-fiction books about religious subjects, including a very good biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

She had recently won a TED award of $100,000 and used it to create a sort of Compassion Institute.

One of the biggest points she made was how ‘compassion’ does not mean ‘pity’. It means empathizing and understanding what other people are going through. And she talked about treating people with compassion, even your enemies! And I couldn’t agree more.

And she made the distinction that when Jesus said ‘love’ they enemies, the actual translation is off. It isn’t so much ‘love’ as it is treat them justly.

Then this incredible Muslim singer named Sami Yusuf got up and entertained us.

Thing is though, Muslim audiences are a tad…hmmm…RESERVED!

Okay, I should qualify that.

Canadians audiences are a tad reserved, Muslim audiences are downright QUIET! They’re like the adult equivalent of KINDERGARTENER audiences!

Real energy leeches!

Doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying it. They just don’t make much noise!

Imagine basically singing in front of a bunch of Russian diplomats, with their arms crossed, and the ‘Nyet’ expression on their faces.

Okay, okay, Muslim audiences aren’t THAT bad, but they’re close!

And Sami Yusuf was belting it out there, but the joint was not jumping. It was only mildly amused.

It didn’t help that where I was sitting, way at the back, he looked like a speck on the stage. Yeah they had video relaying him and the speakers were good, but his energy just didn’t extend that far back.

In a previous post I talked about how much I hate watching myself on video. It’s basically because I pick apart any little glitch or gaffe in my performance.

Well, apparently, it seems, I’m just as hard on other performers.

And I realized just now, even as I’m typing this, that even though part of me was INCREDIBLY sympathetic towards Sami Yusuf, and trying to clap along as loudly as I could without embarrassing myself, part of me was sitting there thinking, “Hey dude, stop playing with your ear thingie!” (You know that ear bud they wear to hear themselves sing in a big venue.) He kept playing with it.

It was SO distracting!

I’ve been in situations where the technology wasn’t working properly. I would have just yanked it out and used the other one that was fine.

And his lips got dry!

I could hear that little sticking sound they make when you speak and you haven’t drunk enough.

It’s SO annoying! And I kept thinking, drink some water for pete’s sake!!!

It wasn’t until Sami Yusuf went back to his classical roots and recited, brilliantly, some Arabic. It might have been Quran but I’m not sure.

That’s when I thought, “Wow! He’s really good!”

Apparently he did a tour in Malaysia and his CD went platinum in a couple of days! That’s how famous he is! Here’s a taste of him.

Then came Justin Trudeau.

He’s vying for the Liberal leadership of Canada.

Thing is the Liberal party was absolutely decimated in the last election. They’re trying to rebuild.

Justin Trudeau has some pretty big shoes to fill. He’s the son of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, one of the most charismatic leaders that Canada has ever had, and I’m just old enough to remember him.

Justin is super earnest.

What really impressed me is that he dared brook conservative opposition to come and speak to us at this Islamic conference.

The Islamophobes in Canada under their head honcho Harper, have gotten SO bold, they like to imply that even SPEAKING at such a venue is traitorous!

Good for Justin Trudeau for standing up to them!

And shame on them for being such bigots!

I just felt sorry for him because he had to face this CANADIAN MUSLIM audience, that I’ve already spoke about.

He got some applause a couple of times during his speech, especially when he said that he didn’t believe Muslims should just be ‘tolerated’, he believed that EVERYONE should be treated with dignity and respect and be ACCEPTED.

But the funny thing is that comment took me right back to that Canadian Library Convention speech I did in Edmonton a while back, where that person in the audience spoke up about wanting to be ‘accepted’ and not just ‘tolerated’ as a lesbian.

I really do think that ‘acceptance’ is too much to ask for. And yet even ‘acceptance’ in the context it’s being used has a negative connotation to it, and does imply ‘tolerance’.

Nah, nah, nah.

And funnily enough Tariq Ramadan who spoke right after, said the same thing.

He said he didn’t want to be accepted. He just wanted respect and to be treated fairly.

And he referred to his experience with Canadian immigration authorities when he entered the country yesterday.

You can’t imagine how many of the speakers for this conference have been denied entry at the border.

Tariq Ramadan said that he could tell by the officer’s look on his face, that he was going to be taken aside and given secondary treatment.

And yet Tariq Ramadan was even interviewed by TIME magazine where they basically recommended him as a MODERATE Muslim!

I thought he was brilliant!

All Muslims want is a fair deal.

You don’t have to like us.

You don’t have to give us any special treatment.

Just treat us fairly, as you would treat any other citizen of the country.

That means no unfair surveillance, innocent until proven guilty, no incarceration without charge, and basic human rights.

Is that so much to ask?

Another speaker I enjoyed hearing was Kristiane Backer, a German born lady who was once the brightest host on MTV Europe, interviewed all kinds of celebrities like David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, who accepted Islam and was basically canned.

That’s not fair.

Personally, I don’t care if anyone in Canada accepts me.

And in fact when I’m presenting, my religion and ethnicity don’t even register in my mind.


That’s precisely why so many times I’ll see my reflection in some window, in the midst of a presentation, and I’ll think to myself, “Oh yeah. I dress different.”

Because at that precise moment, I’m so immersed in the story that I’d completely forgotten.

Anyway, the main points I took away from Tariq Ramadan’s speech was how he was talking about spirituality, and that people think spirituality is an emotional thing, in your heart.

But in Islam, we have to marry the heart to the intellect.

He said that the reason why the Prophet (peace be upon him) left his society to go meditate in Cave Hira was because his heart was troubled by all the injustices he saw around him.

So the heart needs to be satisfied.

But the first word of revelation, the first word of the Quran, conveyed through Angel Gabriel was “Iqra.” Which means, “Read.”

So it’s not enough to satisfy the heart. You HAVE to engage the intellect.

You have to study. And you have to have discipline (the five pillars of Islam).

And he said if people are too emotional they can let their emotions cause them to violate standards of justice. And he warned us to beware of treating people that we loved with partiality so that if they commit a crime we do not bring them to justice, and vice versa, if we are dealing with our enemies, or people whom we dislike or even hate, that we do not allow our dislike of the person to affect the justice we seek against them.

I already knew that, but it’s something that’s nice to be reminded of.

I think Justin Trudeau must have been surprised, given the ‘coolness’ of the audience, how much he was mobbed as he left the podium.

About forty-five minutes after he’d spoken, my hubby and I were just leaving the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to go home before the rush, and we saw him still taking pictures with a group of young hijab wearing Muslim ladies.

(By the way, that’s another thing I noticed! Wow! Talk about fashion! These young hijabis are stunning! They have STYLE! Dang, they make modesty look good!)

Anyway, he was finally going up the escalator, free of people to speak to, and yet I hadn’t had a chance to say anything to him. First I thought, “Nah. Leave the poor guy alone! Let him leave.” And then I thought, “What the heck?!” So I went up to him, even as he was riding up the escalator and said, “I really liked your speech. And I really liked your father. He was one of my heroes.”

His face lit up. He put his hand over his heart (like I often do when I can’t shake a man’s hand) And he thanked me for my kind words.

I couldn’t believe that he didn’t stretch out his hand to shake mine! He’d obviously been given the memo! Which made me LIKE him all the more!

He’s just such a nice earnest young man!

His father Pierre Elliot Trudeau was responsible for the multicultural policy of Canada!

And for that I am very very grateful!