Thousands of Muslims gathered in Toronto from across North America and around the world for the 18th Annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Convention from December 20 – 22 and they were addressed by many prominent speakers.
However, former Dutch politician Joram Van Klaveren’s address was one of the highlights of the convention. He converted to Islam a couple of years ago after holding anti-Muslim views.
Van Klaveren was a lawmaker for the far-right Party of Freedom (PVV), led by the Dutch populist Geert Wilders and was also the party’s spokesperson on Islam.
“I was anti-Muslim because, in 2004 an artist, Theo van Gogh, was killed by the people who called themselves Islamists. 9/11 and other attacks added to that,” he said. “Also in my studies, Islam was taught very superficially, thus I developed a wrong view on Islam. I was thinking all Muslims wanted to kill Christians.”
However, his views on Islam would change as he was writing a book against Islam.
“While I was writing the book I started to make researches, then I wrote to Dr. Timothy Winter – Abdul Hakim Murad from Cambridge University,” Van Klaveren added.
“I thought he would not answer me because I was a far-right politician. But he did. He gave me some book names that he wanted me to read; he sent me some other books. He answered my questions and opened the gates for me. I started re-writing my book.”
He said he discovered that many anti-Islam stories had no basis at all.
“Then I started reading about Prophet Mohammad and his life. I discovered another Prophet Mohammad who was very gentle, very helpful, very understanding towards people who were not Muslims at all. Then I thought what I knew was not the real Islam,” he said.
“Beauty is to live like you see God and if you cannot see God live as He can see you. That is a beauty to me.”
The Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention was first launched seventeen years ago by Muslim youth to tackle the backlash on Islam and Muslims after 9/11 and to build a bridge of understanding with non-Muslims.
The event has become a staple in Toronto’s downtown core during the Christmas holiday season and an estimated 20,000 attendees are expected from all over North America and around the world, adding a boost to the local economy.