By Rida Bint Fozi
When a Six Flags roller coaster restarts after 20 minutes of being suspended 150 feet in the air, you expect cheers and applause from spectators and riders alike. What you usually don’t expect is to hear the vibrant sound of Allahu Akbar, God is the Greatest, resonating through the crowd that has gathered to watch the shaky passengers complete their ride. But here, at Muslim Family Day, that’s exactly what you get.
The Muslim Family Day tradition began eight years ago in New Jersey, where members of the Islamic Circle of North America reserved Six Flags Great Adventure for a day of “halal fun.” What was once a gathering of 1,500 Muslims has grown exponentially, spanning nine cities and Six Flags locations and drawing a crowd of nearly 57,000 at Muslim Family Day 2009.
Across the country, Muslims celebrated their Eid holiday by perusing through numerous stalls at the open-air bazaar, listening to the sound of nasheed being played around the park, and, of course, screaming their lungs out on rides like New Jersey’s Kingda Ka and Atlanta’s Goliath. Families with small children spent their day lounging in designated prayer areas or riding the teacups and swinging chairs.
Publicity for Muslim Family Day 2009 was no small feat, with nearly 100,000 flyers and posters being printed and distributed across the country. 200 major Islamic centers announced event details to their respective congregations, while another 200 venues sold Muslim Family Day tickets in record numbers. 11 print journals carried ads for the event, seven television channels broadcasted promotional commercials, and Facebook and Twitter pages were even created to spread the word.
Thunderstorms could not stop these Louisville guests from enjoying their day.
The extensive promotion did not go unheeded. In Los Angeles, 5,500 people braved the 109-degree weather to participate in the event, which included a bazaar, basketball competitions conducted by the local Muslim Basketball League and live entertainment provided by ManifestONE and Noor, who debuted their latest single, “Guidance” at the event. One Los Angeles attendee entered the fold of Islam by taking shahadah
. The Bay Area held its first Muslim Family Day with an attendance of nearly 2,000, while Louisville, KY drew over 1,000 people to the first event of its kind in the state. Despite poor weather conditions, Dallas had 8,400 attendees and Baltimore saw 5,600 event goers; Chicago, which held its Muslim Family Day in July, attracted 2,500 people; Boston witnessed an increase in attendance, with 2,000 people turning out this year. New Jersey exceeded even its own expectations, with over 25,000 people descending on Six Flags Great Adventure. Muslim Family Day Atlanta, which will be held on October 3rd
at Six Flags Over Georgia, is expecting a crowd of 5,000.
Waqas Ahmed, member of the Islamic Circle of North America and coordinator of this year’s nationwide event, describes Muslim Family Day as an occasion that “provides a fun, halal and [classically] American opportunity for Muslim families.” Event goers are blown away by the opportunity “to be around so many Muslims,” only wishing for “more events…uniting [Muslims] throughout the year.” This year’s Muslim Family Day also kicked off the Islamic Circle of North America’s “Save Family, Save Society” campaign, a five-week long movement dedicated to reconstructing the deteriorating structure of the American Muslim family. Along with offering workshops and seminars on family and parenting, ICNA will be launching its National Family Counseling Hotline and bringing Muslim Family Services to several cities. ICNA’s website will provide visitors with helpful tips, guidelines and Islamic material on building and nourishing the family.
Although Muslim Family Day is essentially a place for down time and enjoyment, it does serve the dual purpose, according to Ahmed, of bolstering American Muslim organizations and showing they are “capable of coordinating nationwide events and campaigns. [It] puts American Muslim activity on the national map.” Raising awareness about Islam and Muslims is one of ICNA’s key objectives, and with a successful nationwide event on its annual roster it accomplishes just that.
A record 25,000 people arrived at the New Jersey event.
As any attendee will be sure to tell you, Muslim Family Day is filled with moments that make it unique. Having attended this year’s event myself, I witnessed my sister’s roller coaster come to a full stop mid-ride due to technical issues. After 25 minutes of shaking out of her seat, both she and our friend exited the ride pale-faced. When I asked about how they felt hanging 150 feet in the air, she said our friend, “just kept reminding people to remember Allah.” I also watched as an elderly man, well into his 60’s and sporting a lengthy beard, disembarked from the Batman Forever coaster, a ride I’ve deemed far too intense to even be approached.
Zainab Arain of Southern California describes an experience where she and a friend were not too keen on depositing their items in Six Flags’ lockers. She says, “We saw a woman wearing hijab, sitting on a bench and entrusted her with our belongings despite not knowing who she was. Simply on the basis of her [sharing our belief].” It’s these instances of affection and collective brotherhood and sisterhood that keep people enchanted by their experience at Muslim Family Day.
While most attendees such as myself and Zainab left the park with a handful of bazaar goods and piles of memories, Muhammad Junaid of Los Angeles, CA was the blessed winner of a raffle for one round-trip ticket to a destination of his choice, courtesy of ICNA and a local travel agency. When asked about his plans for the ticket, Junaid revealed that he’d be using it to make Umrah, pilgrimage to Makkah, a trip that Muslims around the world yearn to make. Three such tickets will also be raffled off on ICNA’s website in the upcoming weeks.
Los Angeles guests cooling off during the soaring heat
Muslim Family Day, though largely successful, was not without its drawbacks. A pack of 25,000 in Six Flags Great Adventure led to inevitable parking delays and general overcrowding, with attendees waiting up to two hours to enter the parking lot and some spending an hour in line for a bite to eat. Heavy rains and thunderstorms in Baltimore, Louisville and Dallas on the days leading up to Muslim Family Day, and on event day itself, significantly curtailed the amount of tickets sold for these Six Flags venues. The increased turnout in some areas led to a shortage of Halal ethnic foods being sold to event goers.
So what exactly is it that keeps people continually interested in Muslim Family Day, and why is this event needed for Muslims and the American public? In a time where many feel the work of American Muslims is constantly being undermined, Ahmed believes events like ICNA’s Muslim Family Day are essential to depicting the true image of Muslims and American Muslim organizations. “[This event points to] our relevancy, our capability, and our support from the community. [It proves we can] continue to be the national voice for Muslims.”
For more information and to see more pictures visit www.MuslimFamilyDay.com