ICNA Convention Brings Unified Message of Prophets to Baltimore
A major change in dates did not deter ICNA-MAS convention attendees as more than 21,000 converged at the Baltimore Convention Center on Easter weekend, April 14-16. The theme of this year’s convention was “Quest for True Success: Divine Message of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them).” At the inner harbor, WHYISLAM, an ICNA initiative, conducted street dawah on a perfect spring day. Sadaqah was also a big part of the weekend. 750 Blessing Bags were distributed on Friday after Jummah and a thousand hot meals distributed after Zuhr on Saturday at four locations in Baltimore City by MSSA (Muslim Social Services Agency) and ICNA Relief volunteers.
All booths at the bazaar were completely sold out, with 450 vendors. Over 125 sessions, including spiritual, parenting, marriage, and activism tracks, took place throughout the three days. For the first time ever, the main sessions were live streamed using Virtual Reality 360 degree cameras. Breakout sessions in Malay and Turkish were added to existing ethnic sessions in Arabic, Bangla, Urdu, and Spanish languages. Several organizations collaborated to host mini-events like Muslimmatters, IIIT, Noor Kids, Council on Islamic American Relations, Muslim Legal Fund of America, Muslim Social Services Agency, and others. A new programming track for ages 10-14 was introduced and was well-attended. The Youth Conference was packed and their sessions were a huge draw. The annual Quran competition was held, as well as the first ever ICNA Master Chef competition.
Jummah was led by the new ICNA President, Javaid Siddiqi, of Kentucky. His khutbah was about renewing the intentions — every speaker, attendee, volunteer, and vendor at the convention — his or her intention should be solely to please Allah. “It is a true mercy of Allah that He has made you and I Muslims,” concluded Javaid Siddiqi at the last session.
It’s Time to Get Uncomfortable
I have always heard of people going to ICNA and returning with all of these cool stories about how they got to see all of their favorite scholars. The talk that I attended was named Islam: Deconstructing Myths and Clarifying Truths. The speaker who stood out to me the most was Dr. Dalia F. Fahmi, a professor of political science. I had known of her beforehand, but I had never heard her speak. When she got on stage and began to speak, you could feel the emotion, the passion, and the care in her voice. She began talking about issues such as starvation in Africa, or politicians belittling Muslims and misrepresenting “Shari’a Law.” She gave uncomfortably mind-boggling statistics about people dying around the world. She spoke so fiercely but compassionately at the same time, with language intended, as she herself stated, not to comfort you but, in fact, to make you uncomfortable. It forced me to reflect with sadness on how little I am doing for the people in need. I have working arms, legs, and mind, and yet I use none of them to help. How am I able to live day-to-day without thinking once about others? Do I not have a responsibility to people who cannot fend for themselves?
I greatly enjoyed this talk and it forced me into a position from which lot of people insulate themselves. A position of discomfort. Too often are we too comfortable, and we find it difficult to leave behind the luxury. It’s time to get uncomfortable, and start facing these issues head on together, as a united ummah.
The Wisdom of Converts and the Value of Seeking Knowledge
There was one session at the recent ICNA Convention in Baltimore that had the greatest influence on me. The Youth Conference, entitled “The Storm Within,” honestly changed my life. The topic of the session was “Seeking Knowledge.” Former basketball player, Br. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, spoke about seeking knowledge and related it to his own life. His mother had only received an 8th-grade education. He also pointed out how he was very socially awkward as a kid, and how he had had trouble giving voice to his own thoughts and opinions. The fact that he could go from being that person to speaking in front of hundreds of people was a great eye opener. I personally have always had trouble, for example, with raising my hand in class. The comparison of his childhood to his life now really gave me a confidence boost. He mentioned that ever since his conversion to Islam he has taken any chance he could get to enhance his level of knowledge.
Another speaker who was at this same session was Sheikh Saad Tasleem. He said that people nowadays don’t take the concept of seeking knowledge seriously for one reason — the Internet. We all think that the knowledge is at our fingertips, so what’s the point in making an effort to learn. I was very fortunate to hear this because, in truth, I am that person. I am guilty of neglecting to put in the extra effort to open up a book and try to obtain something new. I am very thankful that I had the chance to hear these wonderful words from these people and that I am now able to apply it to my own life. I will, insha’Allah, try to put these words into actions and improve my life for the better and, insha’Allah, ensure my path to Jannah.
Boys II Men
As attendees of Islamic conferences, we come in with the intention to seek knowledge but we often end up confusing knowledge with inspiration. Sheikh Abdul Nasir Jangda articulated this point in the Boys II Men session at the ICNA 2017 conference. In conferences such as ICNA you can, and are meant to, gain knowledge, but it is primarily for inspiration. Inspiration isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it is essential because it embeds in us the desire to want to continue to learn and grow. Nonetheless, it is important that we make a clear distinction between the two. If people weren’t inspired to learn, nobody would become a scholar, hafiz, or an imam.
As Muslims, we must seek knowledge so we can better ourselves. Sheikh Jangda mentioned that if you just replace the ten minutes you are on your phone before you go to sleep you could learn so much. This message applies to me first. I can say that personally after attending the conference, alhamdulillah, I’m on an iman high, but it slowly fades as we get busy in our day-to-day lives. We have to make the intention that we will continue to seek knowledge outside of conferences like ICNA by using the inspiration and advice that we received during that weekend. Inshallah, we can use knowledge to better ourselves, our communities, and to please Allah (SWT).