It was billed as 'the Islamic event of the year', and the question I, and no doubt many others, were asking ourselves as we made our way to the Lincolnshire countryside was whether this joint Young Muslims/Islamic Society of Britain conference would live up to the pre-event hype? I am delighted to say that my fears proved to be completely unfounded for this was in so many ways a really memorable experience.
Welcoming us was a pleasant team of sisters and brothers who efficiently facilitated our registration, allocated accommodation and guided us through the programme and excellent range of conference facilities. The talks on Thursday evening began with a gentle introduction to the aims and objectives of the camp, this being followed by a spiritually uplifting Nasheed programme, which was, I was to learn, but a taster of things to come!
A well thought through parallel scouts programme for 7 to 12 year olds kept the youngsters occupied and for families with children under this age there were dedicated play areas with big-screen link ups to the conference proceedings. Also, noteworthy was the careers fare with the police, armed service, medical and nursing professions represented, to name but a few.
The star-studded line of speakers had particularly enticed me to attend, my own favorites including the illuminated Professor Jamal Badawi and Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick, both of whom have I know been so instrumental in promoting a balanced, enlightened interpretation of Islam amongst young Muslims in the West. They were complemented by excellent presentations by the Islamic Society of Britain's own Sarah Joseph and Dr Munir Ahmed.
Saturday evening witnessed the culmination of events. First, there was the much-awaited appearance of Imran Khan. With the main conference hall (a big top with a capacity of 3000) packed to the brim, local national and international press in place, Imran appeared still looking as young as ever! and eloquently delivered a deeply challenging message emphasizing the vital role that British Muslims can and must play in promoting mutual understanding, tolerance and respect between the Muslim and Western worlds. There then followed an interview with the ex-Pakistani cricket captain in which he entertained questions on a range of issues including Jemima's conversion to Islam.
The Nasheed extravaganza that followed featuring, amongst others, Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Native Deen and Sami Yusuf, was truly spectacular. The atmosphere was electrifying and the breadth and depth of talent on display, from artists originating from all corners of the earth, a clear sign that Islam, when correctly understood, is a truly universal phenomenon.
In short, the Living Islam experience far outlived my expectations. This was an original display of how vibrant, exciting and enriching Islam can be. This was a real glimpse of the holistic nature of Islam and has set new standards in Islamic events. And to top it all, the young men and women, who had so obviously spent many months planning this event and can barely have slept throughout the four days, were throughout courteous, helpful and genuinely interested in looking after my needs. These inspired human beings inspired me and for this I am truly grateful.
Dr Sangeeta Dhami