was first launched in 2003 by Muslim youth to tackle the backlash on Islam and Muslims after the 9/11 and to build a bridge of understanding with non-Muslims.
Since its launch, the RIS has emerged as a major platform for some of the leading Muslim personalities from around the world to address one of the largest assemblies of Muslims in the western hemisphere.Ha'aretz claims there's another reason for RIS's existence, though--it's to help Muslims cope with the prevalence of Christmas:
Hanukkah is typically close enough to Christmas on the Gregorian calendar for Jews to "upgrade" holiday celebrations to the level of gift-giving, well-wishing and cookie-decorating in an effort to join the general revelry in the United States. Many Jews have adopted alternative rituals on Christmas, like going to the movies and going out for Chinese food. Within the Muslim-American community, some of that also holds true: “It’s a great time to get Arab food,” Ahmed said with a laugh.
But there is no seasonal Muslim holiday equivalent (the Islamic calendar is also based on the lunar calendar so the major holidays like Ramadan and Id al-Adha shift each year, rarely crossing paths with Christmas), and even if there were, the Muslim concept of bid’ah forbids the creation of new holidays and rituals that weren’t observed by traditional scholars and theologians.
One way that Muslims in North America are dealing with the holidays is by coming together en masse to reflect on their faith and discuss issues of spirituality in their community.
The largest gathering is the "Reviving the Islamic Spirit" conference in Canada, which began in 2003 and draws tens of thousands of participants annually. A "Knowledge Retreat" with Islamic scholars will take place this year from December 20-25, followed by the main event, December 26-28, in Toronto.
This major international conference draws many Americans, as well as Europeans and people from the Middle East, and features events for children, concerts and a long list of speakers addressing a broad range of topics, from the rise of atheism to the social collapse of Muslim states. Additionally, the Muslim American Society holds its 13th annual convention in Chicago on December 25-29, as well.
“RIS has been a good time [for Muslims] to re-center themselves and refocus themselves, and focus on their spirituality and their connection to the divine,” said Tasca...And, let's face it, it must be really tough for those who believe in the supremacy of Islam to have to deal with the ubiquity of Xmas, and the confab affords 'em an excellent coping mechanism.