Alhamdulillah, I was able to fly to Singapore to attend the conference Journey to Ihsan last weekend. It was my first time in Singapore, and I came in the hard way, landing in Johor Bahru, then taking a three hour combination of trains and buses before arriving at my hotel, across the street from Dar ul-Arqam, the Singapore Muslim Converts Association. The Geylang street area was lovely. Just a block from my hotel were two old masajid across the street from each other, Masjid Khalid and Masjid Ta Ha (I think – there’s an excellent Singapore mosque portal here, but the second masjid isn’t listed). I sorely missed my camera the whole trip long, which I left at home, inoperable for lack of a screw.
I started at Masjid Khalid with Subuh Saturday morning, and then made my way across town to Arab Street by rail. Impressions along the way: The public transit was superb, the city is shiny and new, every nook and cranny is lush with landscaping. Singapore has much more in common with New York than with Kuching, that’s for sure. Maybe it’s a measure of how long I’ve been stuck in the sticks (almost four years now) that I was so bowled over. One thing that kept coming to mind due to its absence was the sight of children. There weren’t any. Every now and then I’d see a couple with one child and it would only reinforce the feeling: This is the land of the DINKs.
I got off at the Bugis train stop and proceeded on foot to the Sultan Mosque, where the weekend event was to be held. Mash’Allah, from the opening session till 4 o’clock the next afternoon when I had to leave before Shaykh Hisham’s closing speech to wind my way back to Johor, I had a wonderful wonderful time.
I’ll admit the main attraction for me was Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, whom I hadn’t seen in four years. Shaykh Hisham started, as he often does, with a bit of stumbling, a bit of awkwardness, just enough for you to think maybe he’s unsure up there, and then the spirit moves him and he explodes into just the most moving oratory imaginable. I’ve never seen another speaker like him, may Allah bless him and elevate his station.
Many other speakers gave interesting presentations, from a wide range of perspectives. Prof Gianotti brought up the issue of humane treatment of animals as an aspect of making meat halal, an issue I sorely wish our local halal certifiers would look into. The halal chickens I buy every week uniformly have there forelegs (drumsticks) broken. I’m fairly sure this is because they are hung upside-down by their feet on metal hooks as they are conveyed down the line to the killing floor, their legs breaking from struggle. Even if their necks are then slit, how can this be halal? Here in a muslim country, if our halal council certifies it, I’m not one to dispute. Still, it’s not the path of Ihsan, that’s for sure.
Sister Aisha Gray, the founder of Fons Vitae, is an American convert to Islam who performed the Hajj before I was even born. If that isn’t enough reason to sit quietly and pay attention, I don’t know what is. She showed an excerpt from a new documentary on sacred art and architecture in Cairo. It was stunning, but then at the end, there were some selections from the Hikam of Ibn Ata Allah that, after gazing at all the sacred imagery preceeding it, moved me to tears. Looking back at the selections that night from my hotel room, they were beautiful, but they didn’t touch me the same way as they had that afternoon. It proved her point to me, that being surrounded by sacred art softens the heart and makes one more receptive to sacred knowledge.
I had the opportunity between sessions to go around the block to the storefront of Wardah Books, an Islamic bookseller you should really take a look at. Their collection isn’t enormous, but it is 100% quality. Last time I wrote, they had come out with a translation of Mawlid Daiba’i. Well, they’ve got another now, a new version compiled by Shaykh Hisham that I picked up. I sprung for a few of Imam al-Haddad’s books that have been translated by Mostafa Badawi too. I had to pick up what I could, since sadly Wardah Books doesn’t deliver outside Singapore.
All in all, it was a great trip. Living in a muslim country, you rub shoulders with people all day long who have only a tenuous connection to their faith. Attending events such as this, shaking the hands of people who are committed to the spiritual journey, listening to advice from our scholars and saints, it is truly invigorating. I just hope next time I have a camera with me. And that I don’t lose my phone again. Mash’Allah, you win some you lose some…
[Update: Streaming audio of Shaykh Hisham’s speeches at the conference is available at Sufi Online.]