A small boy taps my wrist, asking in his baby-talk Arabic for the qalam that’s rolled under my seat. A curly haired girl is running down the aisle with a light-up mouth guard pressed between her lips; she calls me weird because I’m sitting on the ground instead of a chair. The nasheed artist from Palestine sits beside the Pakistani-American lecturer who speaks to the law student from Hofstra. A session is so packed that I knock into someone while opening the door to enter the room. This, my brothers and sisters, is the 34th Annual ICNA Convention.
There is much to be said about the history of the ICNA Convention and the legacy of Islamic work that trails behind ICNA as it moves forward into the 21st century. There are figures and facts, numbers, numbers and some more numbers. I am afraid, however, that attempting to dazzle you with the statistically enhanced IMAX-sized picture of this gathering will take away from the smaller parts, the tiny moments that strung the weekend together and made it what it was for the thousands of individuals who descended upon Hartford this year.
For much longer than I can remember, the ICNA Convention has been the staple of my year. I’m told my first convention took place in Rhode Island, but the first one I recall attending was held in Bloomsburg, PA. My sister, cousin and I were still going through that phase where we wore the same outfits in different colors and considered ourselves much, much cooler than we really were. Between jumping on beds and rolling down green hills I remember hearing the speeches of Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Dr. Muhammad Yunus. I’ve since grown, and while the matching outfits may be missing, I’m grateful that ICNA and the annual convention have remained a part of my life.
But this is only my story, and what’s beautiful about the ICNA Convention is that it consists of thousands of stories woven together by the thread of Islam. Sara Bridge, a first-time Convention attendee from Lincoln Park, NJ described her experience as being “motivating [and] moving… you could feel the unity of Muslims and the connectedness of the community.” As I observed the diverse pool of people stepping out of elevators at the Marriot, I could only agree with Sara’s point. The unity and warmth that permeated the Connecticut Convention Center was nothing short of inspiring. This weekend brought us together to share and celebrate the multitude of voices, faces and thoughts that belong to the Muslim community, and drove us to learn more about Islam and how to lead our lives.
Dalia Mogahed, President Obama's Advisor on Muslim Affairs, speaks at the 34th Annual ICNA-MAS Convention.
After attending numerous sessions on the various crises afflicting the world, I found myself, quite simply, moved to move. There are orphans and disease, democracy is dying, the financial system is crumbling, the legal system is fighting us and families are falling apart. And yet, we are Muslims. We hold in our hands and hearts the Islam that can redeem this world. As one speaker noted, Allah has placed us in America to do good and “no one can disdain what Allah has decreed.” It is our task to bring the light to this dark, plagued world, and what I realized as I walked from room to room and lecture to lecture was that being part of the ICNA Convention was the first step in shining that beacon into our lives.
Among the many moments that stood out to me this year, a few words from Imam Mahdi Bray’s lecture on the role of Muslims in this time of opportunity were most inspiring. “Be a thermostat and not a thermometer,” he said, advising the Muslims in America today. Stop reacting and start acting. Be a Muslim. No, really, be a Muslim. Exhibit Islam in all your affairs, remember the Prophet Muhammad (S) and emulate his ways. Become an active participant in your world. You will see, as I did, that change is not at all beyond us. All it takes is one more step before you’re running in the right direction. ■ Rida Bint Fozi