Jennah Heydari, leader of the Revert Muslim Association and chief organizer of the event, said, "As much work as it is to plan these events, the struggle is all for the sake of Allah, and the end results heighten your Eimaan, your mind, and your spirit. To look around the room and see the many faces from various backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures was inspiring and moving. To say goodbye to such passionate believers was difficult, but it is a comfort to know they plan to return next year, Alhumdulillah."
Indeed, a very diverse audience of men, women and children attended the conference. All left with unanimous sentiment of hope to be at the third annual conference – date and location to be determined. The Revert Muslim Association (RMA) has been online and growing since 2005. The organization endeavors to serve people who adopt Islam as their religion, not just online but in the physical world as well. Its website and forums are among the top search engine hits for issues related to reversion to Islam. Its online presence has grown to the extent that when the hacking attacks to such sites as Ayatollah Sistani's webpage happened last month, RMA was also targeted, but without success.
The two-day event included lectures from noted scholars such as Brother Hassanain Rajabali, Shaikh Saleem Bhimji, Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, and Shaikh Hasnain Kassamali, as well as other engaging speakers, many of them reverts, such as Brother Ulrick Vieux, a trained Harvard psychologist originally from Haiti who spoke about addiction and psychology of the Islamic community, Brother Robert Virdeen, a financial consultant who spoke about Islamic financial investments, Brother Joe Ramagali, who spoke about his master's thesis on Islamic Liberation Theology, and Sister Roshni Hafeez, a vision-impaired revert who spoke about Muslims with disabilities as well as media and activism. Other topics included Qur'an, Fiqh of Salat, Spiritual Reality of Food, Meditation in Islam, Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her) as a Role Model, Breaking the Cycle of Abuse, Hijab, Thawab of a Muslimah, Sexual Etiquette, Divorced With Children, Prejudice, Tribalism, Parenting, Social Networking, Hajj, Striving for Excellence in Our Institutions, Witnesses to Our Actions (about the recording of our deeds and intentions), Taqlid, Youth's Role in Society, a Ghusl Mayyit demonstration, and a Question and Answer session with scholars and speakers.
The lectures were extremely well-received for the quality of the topics and presentation. Participant Khaled Sharafuddin's comments mirror the feedback given by many: "The speakers were truly amazing, every one of them. I can't really point at one speech as the best speech, as it is not possible to compare. It will be like comparing apples and oranges. Bottom line, this conference was really worth it, and I am planning to attend the next one insha'Allah too."
The event was organized and run by a tiny core of volunteers such as Sister Fatima Ali of Canada and Brother Amin Toussaint of the United States. The volunteers helped manage everything from the food preparations to the recording of lectures and live feed into the daycare room. While many people support such events, the real workers for the cause tend to be small in number. Nevertheless, attendees said they were very happy with the venue and organization. For future events, the organizers hope to find full-time volunteers to help with daycare and to allow more time and organization for question and answer sessions and socializing.
The social networking aspect of the conference was extremely important. One of the greatest benefits of the event was that it allowed people to meet others with similar beliefs in a Western world where they may be few and far between. Many of the reverts may have non-Muslim family and have a strong need to make connections with other Shias. As people traveled home from the event, all did so having made new friends to help one another strive in the way of Allah. Within hours of the event's end, people were adding their new friends online on Facebook, posting photos, sending messages in e-mail groups and forums, and all making plans to reach out to one another, support one another on the path of Islam, and extend the benefits of the conference well beyond the confines of the two-day event.
As one speaker noted, many reverts to Shia Islam feel isolated from the larger Shia community, and many do not survive; statistics suggest perhaps as much as half of reverts to Shia Islam eventually leave the religion, with some of the primary reasons being lack of resources and social support. The intent of a conference like this was not to divide reverts from the larger Shia community, but rather to bring them together with reverts and born Muslims alike in order to help create the belonging and unity as well as the knowledge and inspiration necessary for all to prosper spiritually.