The Hartford Convention Center was teeming with the sights and sounds that bring Muslims back each year. This was the ICNA-MAS 38th Annual Convention which was themed “Islam: The Pursuit of Happiness.” All previous records of attendance were surpassed, with roughly 18,000 people from across the U.S. and Canada. Another 14,000 people are reported to have tuned in from around the world to watch the ad-free live telecast of the event.
You could see the signs of Islam at every turn as women strolled by in hijabs and niqabs and the men with beards and prayer caps. Friendly greetings of “assalamu alaikum” were heard from every nook and corner, and the adhan, the call to prayer, rolled over the waves of sound at prayer times. The remembrance of Allah and His deen echoed from every lecture hall and in-between the educational programs, brothers and sisters explored the booths of books, CDs, prayer mats, halal food, and a seeming endless array of other products and services at the bazaar.
Laughter, heart-warming reunions, rekindled bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood — the convention center was hosting a Muslim community that was seeking greater knowledge but also the simple joy of connecting with others, and expressing of the pride and joy of being Muslim. “It’s the party of the year for me,” said Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, founder of Bayyinah Institute and one of the most popular speakers at the convention. Speaking to a packed hall of attendees at the keynote session, the Ustadh said he comes to the convention every year to be motivated and feel good. He encouraged everyone to try and bring one more family with them to the convention next year. “People’s lives change at conventions like these.” This was the last year the convention will be held in Hartford. In order to accommodate the growing number of attendees, the next year’s convention will be in Baltimore, MD, in a larger venue, Inshaa Allah.
Speakers at the convention discussed the concept of happiness in Islam and how a Muslim can pursue it. “Happiness is a disposition,” said Sheikh Omar Suleiman, another popular speaker. “It is not circumstantial.” He drew from a quote of Eleanor Roosevelt explaining that happiness should not be a goal but a by-product of a life well-lived. Sheikh Yasir Birjas spoke about the importance of setting one’s priorities straight in order to achieve satisfaction. “What really matters is not how many things you can put in order, what really matters is the substance,” he said. Other popular speakers included Wisam Sharieff, Dr. Altaf Hussain, Dr. Jamal Badawi, Abdul Nasir Jangda, Imam Suhaib Webb, and Sheikh Yasir Qadhi who was congratulated for receiving his PhD from Yale University recently.
A number of sessions were organized to run parallel to one another. As usual, all the sessions were so appealing that many people found it difficult to choose one session over the other. ICNA’s Sister’s Wing sisters-only sessions, Window to Islam sessions, children’s sessions, and the youth conference all ran parallel to the other sessions. There were also special sessions held in Urdu, Bangla and Spanish. In addition to the theme about pursuing happiness, there were sessions on learning Arabic, making dawah effectively, parenting, social media, social justice, and finance. There were also an entertainment session, an Urdu Mushaira, calligraphy workshops, and matchmaking meet-ups.
“I felt like there were a lot of practical tips,” said 23-year-old Aqsa Junaid who had come to attend the convention from New York. “I felt that was the most beneficial aspect for me.” Aqsa’s friend, Nazia Rahman, said she felt this was a great way to spend the weekend. “It’s a good way to immerse yourself and be around Muslims,” she said. Attendees came from all walks of life and all age groups. Diane Holskin, who is not Muslim, attended the conference with her daughter and her son-in-law. “I enjoyed the speaker that spoke about Moses’ faith in God. He was very dynamic and I enjoyed the presentation a lot,” she said. “I think it is a good opportunity for people to come together and share their thoughts.”
Some attendees had driven hundreds of miles to come to the convention. Issa Konane, from Vermont, said the convention helped boost his eman. “Masha’Allah, a lot of good scholars and a lot of good talks, alhamdulillah,” he said. “You do not get sleep, but you come here and alhamdulillah you see your Muslim brothers and sisters and it recharges your batteries.” Omar Shallan, hailing from New Jersey, who was hanging out with a group of boys after the closing session ended, said this was the second convention he had attended. “I thought it was very informative. I liked the way the speakers presented the topic with optimism. I also liked how it was very organized.”
Sister Zainab Ismail, who was a speaker at the Spanish sessions, said the convention proved to be a really nice “eman boost.” She said she was able to meet so many of her Facebook friends. “My experience as a speaker was wonderful. There were no complications,” she said. Maulana Yusuf Islahi, who had come all the way from India to speak at the convention, said he had a great experience. “So many Muslims gathered, got motivated, got to learn their deen and got energized, so I felt that and that alhamdulillah Islam is a religion many people believe in and it has a bright future.” Shahnaz Shahzad, who has been attending the conference for almost 38 years, including the early years when the annual meet-up was only for members, remarked that every attendee should encourage friends and relatives to come. “It is good for children, they get to know a lot of Muslims and it is good for their development.”
Alhamdulillah, the convention was a great success and everyone looks forward to next year and many more years of a long wonderful weekend filled with knowledge-seeking, inspiration, entertainment, and camaraderie.