Was IlmSummit truly one of the most historic academic events in the history of the development of Islam in North America? What was all the hype about? What was taught and learned?
Though it’s only been a few days since IlmSummit concluded I wanted to give the readers here a feel of what it was like, as I truly do believe it was am important event for Islamic academics in the West in the sense that we are on the road to formal and upper-level Islamic study.
I also wanted this to serve as my own personal ‘testimonial’ for the seminar, and what I benefited from it in hopes that it will motivate others to attend the future IlmSummits and also give those who couldn’t attend an inside glimpse. If you’re reading this and you were of the 140 or so that attended, then I hope that this may serve to rekindle some of the wonderful memories of the time there.
This post will give a brief overview of IlmSummit, who was there, some memorable moments, and of course, the class content, along with some concluding remarks of what I hope is in store for the future.
So what exactly is this whole IlmSummit thing?
A 16 day intense Islamic seminar covering multiple subjects, with the cream of the crop AlMaghrib students. Entrance was by application, and the criteria for admission included the number of AlMaghrib classes taken with exam scores, amount of Quran memorized, and community activity. People with different backgrounds and qualifications were there, even some students who had not taken AlMaghrib seminars (or only taken 1 or 2). In any case, attendance here was purely from the blessings of Allah (swt) to simply allow someone to come be in that environment and attempt to learn whatever they could.
IlmSummit is an attempt to give students a solid academic exposure to basic issues, and issues relevant to their daily lives as Western Muslims. Some of the material builds upon information from other seminars, and some of the material is completely new.
It was a 2.5 week intensive, with a full schedule from 845am to after 10pm, with the regular breaks in between, and no extended lunch or dinner. Even on days where I rushed to eat and get back to my room and just go straight to bed to catch a lunchtime nap, I was barely able to catch 30 minutes.
Who was there?
The instructor team was the best. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi and Yaser Birjas were both onsite the whole time, and Sh. Waleed Basyouni also moved in. Sh. Isam Rajab (Arees Institute), also came by for a number of sessions, Dr. Jonathan Brown came to teach hadith, and we had appearances from Imams Hasan Khalil and AbdulNasir Jangda (Dallas), Zoubeir Bouchiki (Houston), Nouman Ali Khan (Bayyinah) and other speakers for WildCard sessions.
Interacting with all the teachers was one of the biggest highlights of IlmSummit. For some, it was the first time seeing the more ‘human’ side of them, and hearing them joke and interacting with them casually (usually playing ping-pong).
The student body was a great assembly of people. We had brothers who were reciting aqeedah poems by ibn Taymiyyah from memory, Arab brothers singing Junaid Jamshed nasheeds by heart, a number of huffadh, brothers self-taught in Arabic, guys who sounded like BBC Radio when they spoke, expert level ping-pong players, a whole crew of people from AlHuda in Toronto (I think they were all related somehow – I saw the family tree), and many others. It was refreshing to be around people for 2 weeks who all took this program so seriously. If someone missed a session, someone else was there with notes before they even had to ask. When I normally take a class, it is easy to get a seat in the front, but IlmSummit was a constant struggle to barely get in the 2nd or 3rd row. You saw people studying during the breaks despite an almost 14 hour schedule. Even in the lobbies late at night you saw people sitting in groups and studying.
Memorable Moments With the Shuyookh
There’s too many to list here, but I will try.
The moment that I felt encapsulated the entire program was also one of the best moments of the entire program. It happened in the first few nights. Sh. Waleed was scheduled to give a WildCard session on the life of Shaykh Bin Baz (rh). This was one unforgettable night. The dinner delivery was delayed, so we sat around from 7 til almost 930 not doing anything but waiting. Right at 920 or so the dinner came, but they had him go ahead and start the talk due to Isha salah time getting close. Since it was the beginning, everyone was still getting used to the schedule and the long talks about hardships in the path of knowledge were still fresh on our minds. Isha was scheduled for 10, and Sh. Waleed indicated he was going to end very quickly around that time. But then, he got into it, telling story after story about the life of Bin Baz. It was nearly 1130 or midnight when he finished and we finally prayed and then ate but i don’t think a single person complained (though I don’t think my wife believed me when I kept replying to her text messages by saying we were still in class) or even thought about the food. I think at one point in the talk he even said for people to go get food and eat during the class, but not a single person got up, as if no one wanted to miss a single second of his talk. All this of course, on top of the content of the actual talk. The quote that summed it up best is that after one sees the life of Bin Baz, its like he was not even a man of our times, but someone who was from the earlier generations of Islam.
I’ll also never forget the Arabic alphabet song by Sh. Yaser Birjas. Alhamdulillah, I still remember one version. And of course, Br. Atif (with his unique style of dress) singing the alphabet nasheed, and giving the brothers pink balloons to toss around. This was an activity where you wrote something on a piece of paper (an action or question) and put it in a balloon and blew it up. Then after tossing around balloons, everyone popped their balloons and we went around and people had to answer the question or do what was written inside. I put “kiss Yasir Qadhi on the forehead” in my balloon, but alas, whoever got that balloon didn’t volunteer :)
Jokes aside, I think all the students grew in their respect for our teachers, and we caught a glimpse of what it means to accompany someone to learn their adab. In between sessions, during lunch/dinner, and even into the night – all the instructors made themselves available to the brothers and sisters to continue answering questions and talking to them. I remember one night coming down to the lobby around 130am to use my phone and I saw an unusually large group of brothers sitting around, and then I saw that Sh. Waleed was hanging out, talking, and still answering questions. And I’m certain that long nights due to dealing with student issues were not uncommon for our shuyookh. They, in fact, made it the motto of IlmSummit that “no question will go unanswered.”
The teachers were quick to lay down the rules of respect and interaction. When the brothers started making one too many jokes about the sisters, Sh. Yaser gave a heartwarming reminder that got everyone back on the same page. One of the main things we learned though, was to respect the knowledge, and know the focus of our attendance.
I miss the stories from our shuyookh about studying with their shuyookh. Sh. Yaser Birjas shared so many stories with us about his time with Ibn Uthaymeen (rh). I’ll never forget the story that was accompanied with the audio recording from his talk (insha’Allah I will leave that story to him to share :) ). Sh. Yasir Qadhi shared many stories with us too, the one that affected me most was some of his interactions with one of the scholars in Saudi Arabia and his humbleness and dedication in the face of attacks against him.
It was also interesting to see Sh. Isam, who many of us have not had the pleasure of taking formal classes with. I’m sure that many of the brothers have gone home to find Nooniyyah by Ibn al-Qayyim [download] after his tafseer of Surah Naba’. I also don’t think anyone will forget Sh. Zoubeir and the inevitable tangent when he took off his glasses, or the Sunan of the Wajibaat of the Preconditions of the Sunan of Wudu ;)
I won’t forget seeing the instructors coming and attending each others classes and asking questions – especially in Hanafi Fiqh (I don’t think there was any instructor under as much of a microscope coming in!). Seriously, seeing them doing that helped reinforce that all of us, no matter what stage we are in, are students and that we need to learn whenever and wherever we can benefit.
It was almost embarassing how much the instructors were all bending over backwards to host us. We are the ones who are supposed to travel to sit with them and learn, yet they were the ones accomodating the students. I’ll never forget Sh. Waleed taking out the brother for lasagna, and even offering up his own house if anyone needed help with anything. And I don’t know how to even begin enumerating everything that our 2 onsite instructors Sh. “Yasir with an ‘I’ and Yaser with an ‘E'” did to help the students, showing us by example the true spirit of brotherhood.
I will always remember Dr. Jonathan Brown (West meets East) coming dressed like his picture deserved to be in this post. I also won’t forget the sisters asking him to turn on the mic between sessions so they could hear the answers while he was talking to the brothers, and him responding, “they can come stand here, its a free country.”
The activity that tied all the instructors together with their students though, was the new archery (ping-pong). It seems every single teacher was a ping-pong savant. From Sh. Waleed with his Cereal Killer shirt, Sh. Yaser Birjas holding up his thobe for mobility, and Sh. Yasir Qadhi diving all over the floor with moves reminiscent of the Matrix, to Sh. Isam not answering questions in class from Brother Afif without making a comment about their upcoming ping-pong game during the break.
And who can forget Sh. Isam trying to get Haytham married? Or Yaser Birjas’ halal jokes about people in salah? Or Yasir Qadhi’s impeccable Brittish accent? Or Bollywood movies being brought up during the Juma session? Or the poetry face off?
I’ll always remember the conversation I had with Yasir Qadhi about the hallmark of manhood (the beard) and how it is marred by feminity, while discussing which brand of beard conditioner can make our beards the softest (more on this in a future post insha’Allah) :)
Sh. Yaser Birjas taught us the ultimate event mixing fun and learning with the Qira’ah game after Isha salah, and Sh. Yasir Qadhi showed his soft side for us desis while making intercession for a brother to not be kicked out after pronouncing a ‘th’ sound as ‘s’. The game really works though, once you get eliminated for a mistake, you won’t make that mistake again while reciting :)
I will forever appreciate the efforts of every single teacher we had during this event, and their constant striving to help us learn and benefit, may Allah (swt) grant them tawfeeq and put barakah in their efforts, and allow them to be pillars of light in our communities, and grant them and their families success in this life and the Hereafter.
The most moving gem though from our time with the instructors was being put to tears in salah. I vividly remember Isha that night and hearing (I believe) Surah Insaan, although the Imam didn’t finish reciting it. After salah you could hardly spot a dry eye anywhere. We pray 5 times a day, and we rarely remember any of them, but this is one Isha that will forever be engrained in our hearts and minds.
Part 2 – Student memories and what we learned…
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