by: Hasan Gilani
Who doesn't love coffee? Sometimes it feels like there's a coffee house on every street corner. Coffee fuels the modern world and we have the Muslims to thank for it. Before becoming the name of a chocolate latte, “Mocha” was a city in Yemen where coffee beans were first brewed into the beverage we depend on today. From there, the drink spread throughout the world, but its introduction to the West was difficult. The fear of “creeping sharia” is nothing new; there were calls to ban the “Muslim drink” in Europe. It wasn't until 1600 that Pope Clement VIII allowed it upon tasting the “the bitter invention of Satan” for himself.
But the story doesn't end there. Before coffee, the drink of Europe was beer. In fact, they would start their day with “beer soup” and continue to drink beer throughout the day. Their primary hangout was the tavern where people got together, got drunk, and passed out. But with the introduction of coffee, the hangout became the coffeehouse where people got together, got hyper, and talked… a lot. Instead of drunken rambling, now people were holding intelligent conversations. It was in the coffeehouse where people like Voltaire and Rousseau would discuss ideas that led to the Enlightenment of Europe. It was in the coffeehouse that the modern encyclopedia was born. Later, it was in the coffeehouse where Paul Revere and John Adams planned the American Revolution.
The coffeehouse pulled Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment. Today, we Muslims find ourselves coming out of our Dark Ages. We recently struggled out from under the heel of colonialism and are now trying to find our way through circumstances never experienced before, especially here in the West. We need venues like the coffeehouses of Europe where Muslims can get together, hold intelligent conversations, and come up with innovative ideas to help our communities overcome the unique challenges we face.
One way of fulfilling this need is the Rad Talks conference. It is a gathering in Houston, TX where creative thinkers and influential doers come together to share ideas about Islam and Muslims. Rad Talks takes its name from the Arabic word ra'd meaning thunder. True to its name, conference speakers share their ideas via “lightning” talks, which are 10-minute talks covering a variety of ideas from a diverse set of speakers.
But monologues alone cannot replicate the benefits of the coffeehouse. That is why Rad Talks also hosts group discussions in an open “fishbowl” format in which all conference attendees have the opportunity to discuss important, polarizing issues facing the community.
However, perhaps the most powerful benefit of the conference is the networking that takes place during the breaks. A striking example of this occurred at the last conference. A Muslim firefighter approached the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) and told him about a woman who collapsed in an ISGH mosque last Ramadan. He knew the team that responded to the incident. They told him that in the 10 minutes that it took for their ambulance to arrive, nobody attempted CPR. By the time they got there, it was too late. Innaa lillahi wa innaa ilaihi raji'oon. May Allāh have mercy on her and her family. Out of this discussion, the idea was born for the firefighter to teach CPR in ISGH facilities to volunteers.
Holding events like Rad Talks is extremely simple, yet amazingly powerful. Communities interested in hosting a Rad Talks event or seeking guidance on how to start their own networking event can contact the Rad Talks staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with them via Facebook or Twitter. Videos of past talks can be viewed at http://www.radtalks.com