I was honoured to be the keynote speaker at Calgary’s EMAAN 2011 (http://www.emaan.mac-cc.ca/). It was great to see the talent in the Calgary Muslim community at all levels. I was particularly impressed by the valedictorians – at both the public and high school levels as well the university.

My own address was on the theme of the evening – Making A Difference. In brief, I had six points:

1. Know Your Stuff – it’s not enough to want to help; we must build our skill set to be able to help. While this is obvious to young graduating students, it is not as obvious as it should be to adults. Yet, we all need to continue to learn, whatever our age or stage of life.

2. Do What You Can – Sometimes it is easy to convince ourselves that there is not much that could be done. I gave the example of Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island, who yet felt that he should continue the struggle even from his prison cell. I also gave the example of Imam Sayyid Abdullah ibn Qadi Abdussalam, also known as Tuan Guru. He was also imprisoned on Robben Island in 1780, almost 200 hundred years before Mandela. Tuan Guru was an exiled Malay resistance fighter who fought against Dutch occupation. In his prison cell on Robben Island, he proceeded to write out a copy of the Qur’an from memory as well as writing a short manual on Islamic practice. After his release in 1793, he lived in the Cape and opened a school for children and slaves.

3. Remember Peoples’ Names – A name is the most precious and enduring part of a person. It was given to them by their parents and stays with them for their entire life. Remembering a person’s name is a small way of telling them you care …

4. Care About People – Remembering a person’s name is a small way of telling them you care about them, but it doesn’t really do much unless you actually do care…In the Prophetic tradition, “All creation are the dependents of God; the most beloved to Him are those who are most helpful to His dependents.”

4. Evaluate Yourself – academics are awful for the persistent external assessment/evaluation process. You do a project, get a mark; complete an assignment, get a grade; finish a course, get an average; complete a degree, get a certificate ..etc. All of these external assessments are important, but what is more important is evaluating ourselves honestly and bravely… and then acting on that evaluation.

5. Trust in God – Because, as the High School valedictorian, Manal Shaikh, said, (I’m paraphrasing), it’s never about you and them. It’s about you and God.

See the Youtube coverage at http://youtu.be/H4JtUdUPaK8