For Urz Heer, growing up in Canada while practising her Muslim faith was a balancing act between two identities.
"It was hard to identify with who we were as Muslims. It was always a struggle between being Canadian and being Muslim," she said, recounting separate worlds of playtime at school with friends to prayer and reflection at home with family.
That's why Heer plans to take her 11-year-old niece to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Christmas Day to attend an annual conference that joins Muslims from around the world to discuss their religion.
From Friday to Sunday, more than 17,000 Canadian Muslims will gather at the ninth annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention, a meeting that offers Muslims a renewal of their faith just before the new year through sharing meals, group prayers and listening to lectures from prominent speakers.
The conference, created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, also offers young Muslims a discussion about Islam and applying its practice in a North American context, event spokesperson Ayman Faris said.
"As Muslims in the West, we have a responsibility to communicate and talk about our faith, but 9/11 has just heightened that responsibility to show the true Islam, the true religion and what it stands for. We are Canadian, we're not just Muslims . . . and we don't see the difference between being western and being Muslim, we feel it's one," Faris said.
The event works on "keeping the threat of extremism and radicalism at bay" as young generations of Muslims grow up in North America and, at times, turn to Internet, which can be a "dangerous" place to retrieve information about their faith, Heer said. She has seen the event grow from 6,000 to last year's 17,000 attendees.
Annual themes focus on integrating Islamic beliefs into the daily routines of North American Muslims who face challenges when merging their religious and societal responsibilities, such as making time to pray five times a day during a busy schedule.
"(The conference) teaches us that even if life is complicated that Islam has answers to solve our problems," Heer explained.
This year's theme, Reviving the 10 Commandments in the Modern World, links the common foundations of Judaism and Islam with speakers touching on how to reintroduce these rules into the moral decisions young Muslims must make.
Tariq Ramadan, an Oxford University professor, and Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert from Kitchener, Ont., who was also the past president of the Islamic Society of North America, are among the speakers at the 2010 conference.
The convention following the death of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez, who was strangled in her family home in 2007, addressed domestic violence. Other topics, such as addiction to pornography, also surfaced in recent years, as organizers "boldly" targeted "taboo" modern issues, Heer said.
Noreen Khan, who works in London, but is originally from Vancouver, said that in her experience, the lectures offered listeners an opportunity to regroup and continue on after stressful situations surface.
In 2006, after the Toronto 18 arrests, concern that youth were "taking religion into their own hands" led to a conference based on preaching kindness and mercy.
"It was frustrating to hear the repetitive misinformation about the mosque near Ground Zero and other issues and events that were discriminatory against Muslims. The speakers don't focus on these negative events, but talk about constructive methods to deal with them and move forward," Khan said.
Aside from the lectures, most attendees also use the event as an opportunity to reunite with friends and family members. Some guests come from the United States and as far as Europe and Australia, Heer said.
Khan is flying from Heathrow Airport so she can join her Calgary-based family at the conference.