Day 7 was the first day of 30 Masjids Ramadan 2012 that I left the area code.
It was also the first time this year I didn’t break fast inside a Masjid.
Uh Oh. 30 Masjids 2012 technically just became. . . 31 Masjids.
SeekersHub Toronto isn’t a Masjid. It’s an Islamic Learning Centre.
SeekersHub Toronto isn’t in Toronto. It’s in Mississauga . . .
Unit 10, 2355 Royal Windsor Drive, Clarkson.
Having first learned of The Ta’leef Collective reading Aman Ali’s take on Ta’leef on 30Mosques.com last year, I somehow got it in my head that SeekersHub Toronto was our local GTA equivalent of Ta’leef.
Yet maybe something like it.
Arriving early enough to have a few moments with Faraz Rabbani (@FarazRabbani), the trained Scholar and founder of SeekersHub Toronto (@SeekersHub), helped me understand exactly what SeekersHub isn’t.
- Is not open for the regular five daily prayers nor are there any plans to do so
- Will not schedule a regular weekly Friday Jumah Prayer, hence it’s not even a Musallah
- It is not a Masjid. However, as Muslims anywhere else will do when it’s prayer time, they will unroll the prayer rugs and read Salat
- Is identified as being Toronto Area and made the conscious decision to be outside of and away from Toronto itself to make that identity work successfully
And Faraz Rabbani? He also isn’t taking on the duties and roles of what Muslims usually expect from an Imam heading up a Masjid or Islamic Centre or even a traditional organization.
What Faraz Rabbani is not doing:
- He doesn’t perform marriages. Like every rule though, there was that one exception
- He doesn’t do counselling nor dispute resolution
- He declines requests to show up at group meetings of Imams to tackle the usual stuff
- He is not running a masjid
- He is not scrambling like mad in Ramadan to fundraise for building a building
- He doesn’t ask you to turn off your cell phone as you line up in prayer
- Avoids sitting in panel discussions that are not discussions at all but one-way talking from the podium mic or speaker’s table
In putting such constraints, it helps SeekersHub Toronto and its Founder to be free to define a new type of Islamic Institution.
The need for something like SeekersHub has been “In The Air,” to borrow from Aman Ali’s blog title for his Ta’leef article, for some time.
What then IS SeekersHub?
- It is an Islamic Learning Centre
- It is about Community Service not lip service. Walk the Talk in other words
- Social Engagement
- Food Bank fundraising
- Clean-ups in natural areas
Yeah, I know. You still don’t get it. What’s the big deal? What’s the difference? So?
I felt the same disorientation initially when first learning of Shaikh Rabbani via Twitter last year.
His tweets (@FarazRabbani) were being retweeted by people I followed in my timeline. Then he’d retweet secular tweets you wouldn’t expect from an Islamic Scholar.
But then I did get it.
He’s that out-of-the-box Islamic Scholar that we wished would address all the jack-in-box surprises popping up in regular daily life.
All those things we say Masjids and Muslim Organizations should be doing but don’t?
That’s the stuff SeekersHub may tackle.
But aren’t other Masjids and Imams already doing this?
Because as Faraz Rabbani has observed they are all over worked just putting out fires that keep showing up on their doorstep. And overstretched in trying to be everything to every Muslim.
One-stop shopping and brand extension ulimately is self-defeating in the wider marketplace. Why would it be any different when every Masjid and Islamic Centre and Islamic Private School just does what every other Masjid and Islamic Centre and Islamic Private School is already doing? Where’s the value in that?
Oddly, Islamic Scholars and Shaikhs in the Arabic Speaking world are much more engaged via social media than their local North American equivalents.
Because many duties and bureaucratic responsibilities handled by North American Imams here are handled by Governments over there. Hence they have more time to be answering questions on their blogs, tweeting Q&A’s on Islam, and engaging in a teaching or activist role.
For Example, How many Imams showed up at Occupy Toronto?
During the Occupy Movement, Shaikh Faraz Rabbani with Nader Khan and other Hubbers read a Friday Jumah Prayer in St. James Park.
Having performed my own Jumah in Masjid Toronto earlier, I was able to record it.
Afterwards, I asked Shaikh Faraz Rabbani why he lead Jumah at Occupy Toronto?
Here is the Occupy Toronto Khutbah, or Sermon, Shaikh Faraz Rabbani delivered:
SeekersHub today is only a year plus change old
The idea for an Islamic Learning Centre had been percolating in Shaikh Rabbani’s mind for some time. Like all good entrepreneurs, he started before he was ready jumping in the deep end feet first last year.
SeekersHub Toronto is a Start-up.
SeekersHub is a work in progress and near the end of the night, Shaikh Faraz Rabbani expresses aloud his low-key excitement at what this Learning Centre will become in five year’s time. He doesn’t know.
Guitar Iftar Hero!
Tonight is their THURSDAY NIGHT RAMADAN PROGRAM at SeekersHub.
Evening begins with a mawlid, or celebration of the birth of the Last Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is Sufi-lite.
Not as involved as the similar Dhikr experience inside The Sufi Centre on Saturday Night, yet tonight is as stirring to the heart and ear right now, as the Dhikr Circle was then.
At moments, the sensation of being inside the Sufi Centre Saturday and being in the Here and Now overlap as a kind of spritual Venn diagram intersection. I exist in both places and times at once for a brief moment or two. Then it’s gone. I’m only here now.
Nader Khan (@nader_khan)’s drumming felt like an echo of Saturday night’s Sufi drumming.
Iftar prep in progress…
Adhan al Maghrib is called. Fast is broken with honey dates and water. Others choose samosa or pastry. We self-organize into straight lines.
Before raising his hands to formally begin leading the Sunset Prayer, Shaikh Rabbani says, Swallow your samosa before you say Allahu Akbar.
Not Please turn off your cell phone. But Swallow your samosa.
In middle of Iftar, Brother Nader Khan, flips on the mic and apologizes for interrupting our Iftar.
Rather than type a few words, here’s Nader Khan, Director of SeekersWorks, in his own voice:
Brother Faraz introduces me to Talha, SeekersHub Social Media point person.
We learn from each other over Iftar Dinner until dessert.
Talha lived in Maryland USA and was looking for like-minded people. Muslims involved in the wider community while being unapologetically a Spiritual inclined Muslim.
Many like-minded Muslims have been bouncing around Masjid to Masjid, community organization to community organization, informal one-off group to next informal adhoc muslim collective. Repeatedly being dissatisfied, knowing something had to be out there for them.
Talha is one such individual. As I listen to him. Looking around the room I recognize someone who used to run a Salafi-leaning Masjid elsewere in the Toronto’s Greater Golden Horseshoe. Wow. Speechless.
Looking around the room with a different eye, there are people from different generations here. SeekersHub is not a Generation Y masjid. It is multi-generational.
Talha moved to Canada in the past few years and to Toronto only recently. He had been following Shaikh Rabbani and his students while in the States, and having moved to Downtown Toronto, he found he was driving to Clarkson in South-West Mississauga to catch every SeekersHub event he could. The gas prices were taking its toll.
After some math, it became apparent it would be cheaper for Talha to move to Mississauga than to keep commuting. That’s what he did. His job is still in Toronto and everything else has worked out as well.
Tonight Tahseen made a special effort for the Thursday Program. He struggles to explain that he didn’t just come for the free Iftar tonight. Though it helped motivate him to do so.
In-between Iftar and Isha / Taraweeh, Shaikh Rabbani illustrates by example what SeekersHub was designed to be. An Islamic Learning Centre.
He leads a lesson, more in the style of interactive corporate training than in the top-down scholar manner Muslims would be accustomed to in such a setting with such a topic.
For example Shaikh Rabbani discussed this Hadith:
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,
“Avoid jealousy, for it destroys good deeds as fire destroys wood.”
— Riyadh-us-Salaheen, Hadith 1569
But he asked everyone present, how does wood burn? He asks who goes camping and expresses disappointment nearly no one here goes camping. If they did, they would see that it takes a while for a wood log to burn in the campfire. Likewise Jealousy takes it time to burn. It slowly hurts us, not in a single burst of flame.
Adhan Al Isha is called. We pray. Then Taraweeh begins. 20 rakats in 30 minutes. It is almost Ottoman Style yet minus the random mix of two and four rakats. I don’t know that for sure because I had to catch the last Commuter GO Train back to Toronto from nearby Clarkson Station.
It’s ridiculous, but I am leaving after the shortest 8 rakats read in a long time.
I wanted to stay for twenty.