The 48th annual ISNA convention has come and gone, and thousands of attendees from across North America were able to learn, laugh and reflect. From July 1-4 in Chicago, convention-goers learned from some of the most influential Muslim icons in the West, on topics ranging from social pluralism to racism and classism to Islamophobia, and more.
Whether attendees were taking part in the ISNA, MSA, or MYNA programs, sessions followed the main convention theme: â€œLoving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony,â€ in an effort to illustrate how the merits of integration and social harmony in America are in line with Islamic spirituality and inspire community members to respond proactively to discrimination with patience and initiatives to promote tolerance.
The four-day convention-the largest Muslim convention in North America-had many great moments, lessons and events. Too many to count, in fact. But here are the Top 11 highlights of the 48th ISNA convention:
1. Hathout, Mattson, Esposito and Shakir on Social Harmony.
At the Friday night main session, â€œIslam, Pluralism, and Social Harmony,â€ speakers Maher Hathout, former ISNA president Ingrid Mattson, John Esposito and Imam Zaid Shakir addressed the importance of a peaceful, pluralistic society, and the social movement needed today. Their reflections on the topic set the tone for the rest of the weekend, illustrating the main theme of social harmony.
Mattson urged others to have a positive attitude toward religious diversity.
â€œAllah [swt] in the Quran tells us that it is His will that there should be religious diversity in the world,â€ Mattson said. â€œThis is Allahâ€™s choice. … He could have chosen it to be a different kind of world.â€ Imam Zaid Shakir said he believed what is needed now is a social movement within the Muslim community.
â€œOur community has proven that we can live with other people,â€ Shakir said. â€œOur challenge [now] is to build a social movement to enhance values in our own community and then just share those values with others. Our movement should be of grace and rehabilitation to show that we have something to offer this country.â€
2. Tackling the â€œdifficultâ€ topics head on.
There are those topics that, perhaps in our local masjid community, are often shied away from, brushed under the rug, or arenâ€™t given the proper attention or depth of discussion needed. The majority of the sessions this weekend were chosen by ISNA members, so many were not the run-of-the-mill topics, but were instead those that are often â€œuncomfortableâ€ but extremely necessary today to bring to the forefront.
Convention-goers attended sessions from topics ranging from substance abuse and addiction to Muslim women in the military, to how to respond to Islamophobia and anti-Sharia sentiment, to the need for many of our mosques to be more inclusive.
3. All the Muslims.
Letâ€™s face it: ISNA is the largest Muslim convention of its kind in all of North America. And seeing thousands upon thousands of Muslims from all over the country flock to one place in an effort to learn more about their faith, network, reflect, and learn how to be a more active citizen or a better Muslim, is awe-inspiring.
â€œAs a first time ISNA-er, the number of Muslims from all over for one weekend is what is amazing to me,â€ Zaynah Qutubuddin said.
Another perk to being the biggest Muslim convention? ISNA-goers are able to see old friends.
â€œProbably one of the best things about my weekend was seeing the faces of people I havenâ€™t seen in nine years or so,â€ one convention-goer said.
â€œI got to spend time with friends from D.C., Chicago, Boston and California, all at once. I never would have been able to see them otherwise, and I look forward to seeing them at the ISNA convention every year,â€ said Dalia Othman, of Detroit.
4. Learning more about the faith.
The contemporary sessions of the weekend were remarkable, but some convention-goers are also looking for a revitalization of their faith, to learn more about Islam and be inspired. One of the breakout lessons that left a strong impression with attendees was the MSA session, â€œInner Whispers: Defeating Satanâ€™s Playbookâ€ with speaker Wisam Sharieff, who addressed ways to fight temptation and strengthen oneâ€™s bond with God instead.
â€œOne thing he said that just completely opened my eyes was how we should start any form of speaking with either alhamdallah, subhanallah, or la illaha ila Allah,â€ said Khalid AbdelJalil, of Villa Park, Ill. â€œ[Sharieff] said by starting with that, it could stop us from things like getting into arguments or gossiping. It was tips like that that I think are going to make a big difference in my day-to-day.â€ For some, sessions like this were a reminder of the importance of spiritual learning, and how the convention is a chance to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time.
â€œIt truly reminded me of why I came to ISNA and reminded me of how special I am to be a Muslim, alhamdallah,â€ sai Lama Musa, of Chicago.
5. Entertainment Night.
Native Deen, Muslim country singer Kareem Salama, poet Mona Haydar, and musician Najam Sheraz headlined Entertainment Night on Sunday evening. The crowd got to sing along to their favorite Native Deen songs, and old and new fans of Kareem Salamaâ€™s music were able to finally see the artist in a rare Chicago appearance.
â€œWhen Native Deen got on stage, I felt like I was a little kid again,â€ said Haneen Waheed, from Indiana. â€œTheyâ€™re an exciting, thrilling, amazing and talented group, mashallah. They really got the crowd going-I had a blast.â€
She also caught Kareem Salamaâ€™s performance for the first time. â€œHe was like a rock star country singer!â€
6. Sheriff Leroy D. Baca & Keith Ellison.
Bacaâ€™s testimony at the controversial hearing led by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was key in highlighting the baseless singling out of Muslims, and turned him into a veritable hero to the Muslim American community. His appearance at ISNAâ€™s â€œLoving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony: Building Bridges Through Caringâ€ session showed attendees his support for the Muslim community, as well as other faith communities.
â€œWe will defend all religions at all times,â€ Baca told attendees.
Following Baca was congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who closed the session with a rousing speech asking the Muslim Americans to be active in the arenas of social and economic justice. â€œGet ready to help your country, help your country revive the economy, help your country say liberty and justice for all to include all and help your country to relate to the rest of the world,â€ Ellison said. â€œAll these strengths are on your table, all these things demand your attention. But I believe you can do it if you put your mind to it.â€
7. Islamic Film Festival.
Whether youâ€™ve been dying to watch â€œMooz-lum,â€ â€œI am Here,â€ or â€œThe Deen Show,â€ it was all available for screenings at the Islamic Film Festival that showcased some of the latest and most critically-acclaimed films by and about Muslims.
The big weekend crowd-pleaser was the documentary â€œFordson,â€ about the Fordson High football team and what happens when Muslims play football. It also helped that the â€œstarsâ€ of the film were there for the screening. Film creators talked about the making the film and gave the audience a â€œbehind the scenesâ€ look, team members took photos with fans, and the team coach threw a football around with kids at the bazaar.
â€œI kept fighting with myself-I couldnâ€™t decide if I wanted to go to a lecture or sneak back to the film festival and watch another movie,â€ said Samira Mohommad, of Chicago. â€œâ€™Fordsonâ€™ was great, gave a really strong patriotic message, especially on fourth of July weekend!â€
8. Health Fair.
At a time when more than 46 million Americans lack health insurance, the free health screenings at the convention health fair were a welcome offer, and had an almost constant stream of traffic all weekend.
Along with health screenings, testing for blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and even dental health screenings were available on site. There was also a blood drive from the Red Cross, and a bone marrow donor registration-in memory of 15-year-old Bilal Mallik, who passed away earlier this year after a brief battle with Leukemia.
â€œI registered to be a bone marrow donor,â€ said Omar Yunus, of San Francisco. â€œJust took a swab of the inside of my cheek-the whole thing took about five minutes. This is a good thing theyâ€™re doing.â€
9. Love for the orphans.
Dozens of people signed up to be an orphan sponsor, seeking to clothe, shelter and nourish orphans from all corners of the world through Islamic Reliefâ€™s orphan sponsorship program. And when Imam Shakir, along with speakers Elena Melona and Wafa Bennani, discussed orphan adoption in Islam in the session â€œEach of Us is a Flower: Adoption in the Muslim Community,â€ the room was so jam-packed that attendees were standing in any space that was available-the phrase, â€œthis may be a safety violationâ€ was uttered more than once-demonstrating the eagerness with which many ISNA-goers sought to learn about adoption and how they can reach out and care for orphans.
â€œIf we donâ€™t provide nurturing environments for both our biological children and those children who are orphans, then we are going to provide a social situation that is going to provide a lot more haraam,â€ Imam Shakir said. â€œThere are social consequences that accrue when we donâ€™t look care for our orphans.â€
10. Zumba! Fitness.
This yearâ€™s convention had many new and fun activities, including the return of the ever popular basketball tournament, but none more anticipated than the all-ages â€œSoul Improvements: Sisters Fitness Extravaganza,â€ where attendees (sisters only!) were able to enjoy a food tasting and an exciting Zumba routine, while also learning about healthy living in Islam.
Zaynah Qutubuddin of Boston, a newcomer to the convention, said, â€œI absolutely loved it. It was my first time doing Zumba and I had a lot of fun. I also appreciated the tie-in to Islam and general health.â€
11. Bazaar, Bazaar, Bazaar.
Itâ€™s always fun to see what stops vendors pull out to attract ISNA-goers. From free t-shirts and electronic tasbeeh counters to live-and oh-so-adorable-baby chicks, to a chance to win a free cruise, you can always guarantee a good time at the bazaar (and get to go home with a respectable amount of free swag!).
Many booths even featured surprise appearances; bazaar shoppers could take get their Kareem Salama CD signed by the artist himself, take a photo with the football players from the critically-acclaimed film â€œFordson,â€ talk with imams Yaser Birjas and Yasir Qadi at Al-Maghrib Instituteâ€™s booth, or meet NFL players-brothers Hamza and Husain Abdullah.
â€œKareem Salama signed my CD, that was a definite highlight for me,â€ one young convention attendee said. â€œI love his music, so different from other Islamic music, with its own unique message.â€
â€œI got to hold a baby chick,â€ gushed another attendee, Tamara Saleh, of Washington D.C., said. â€œThe chicks at the Crescent Chicken booth were my favorite.â€
Article courtesy of ISNA volunteer and freelance journalist Meha Ahmad. Photos courtesy of ISNA volunteers and photographers Nushmia Khan, Osama Alian, and Mariam Saifan.