Hartford, CT (June 5, 2011) – From a thought-provoking performance at Sunday’s entertainment night, to jam-packed sessions with various scholars the ICNA-MAS Convention was the place to be this Memorial Day weekend.
More people attended the ICNA convention this year than any other in the past 4 decades.
A record 18,900 people attended the three-day conference entitled “Quran: Guidance Towards a Just and Balanced Way,” 4,900 of which were unique online viewers. Convention-goers benefited from nearly 80 sessions by over 100 prominent scholars, leaders and activists from across the country and around the world. The overwhelmingly successful Youth Conference ran parallel to the ICNA-MAS Convention, and crowds lined the entrance as speakers discussed “Diamonds in the Rough: Heroes of the Past.”
Reverend Dennis Perry of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, VA was honored for his interfaith and community work with the Community Service Award.
National and local leadership of organizations including ISNA, CAIR, MSA, MANA and MUNA attended the convention this year, and were recognized at the Community Leaders Luncheon on Sunday.
Attendees check out goods at the bazaar. This year’s bazaar was quickly sold out and featured about 200 vendors. (Photo credit: Arfa Aijazi)
The Islamic Circle of North America launched its nationwide, yearlong “Understanding Shariah” campaign at this year’s conference, which, according to president Zahid Bukhari, “will educate the American public on the definition and place of Shariah in Islam.” Says Bukhari, “Our campaign will also counter Islamophobia that is fostered and spread by groups who hide behind the false guise of an anti-Shariah movement.”
Nihad Awad, Executive Director, CAIR (L) and Naeem Baig, Executive Director, ICNA Council for Social Justice (R) taking notes during the presentation by Dr. Jamal Badawi on Social Justice.
ICNA plans to develop an online portal as part of the campaign in order to support those engaged in similar efforts to shed light on religious freedom and the concept of Shariah. The organization also hopes to mobilize the Muslim community to undertake several grassroots efforts to better explain Shariah, and intends to partner with various faith and civic organizations to reach this goal.
Convention-goers filter in and out of sessions at the Connecticut Convention Center. A new registration record was set at this year’s convention. (Photo credit: Arfa Aijazi)
The convention also marked the beginning of ICNA and ICNA Relief’s Back to School Giveaway campaign, a two-month long initiative that will culminate in a series of free school supply giveaways in low-income areas in the month of Ramadan (August 2011). The Back to School Giveaway, previously hosted in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC is now expanding to Houston, Chicago and Southern California. Mahmood Aijazi, national director of the Back to School Giveaway hopes more cities will follow ICNA’s lead and host giveaways in their respective areas.
Winner of the iPad at the Back to School Giveaway. Islamic centers, churches and synagogues were encouraged to endorse the Back to School Giveaway, which last year distributed over 5,000 school bags full of supplies to needy children.
Aijazi says the initiative is necessary because “it’s part of our duty to help our society. We need to go out, reach out to others and give back to our communities.”
The convention was webcast live, and thousands from across the world tuned in to watch selected sessions for free. (Photo credit: Arfa Aijazi)
Social media played a significant role in this year’s convention, with ICNA hitting its 10,000th Twitter follower and 14,000 Facebook likes over the weekend. Perhaps the most creative initiatives at this year’s conference were the “surprise events”, exclusive to those who are members of ICNA’s social media fan base.
Special “surprise events” were announced via Facebook and Twitter, and only a limited amount of those who made it to the session were allowed inside.
The attendees then enjoyed one-on-one time with renowned speakers. ICNA also offered a live webcast of selected sessions for the second year in a row, and families as far away as Trinidad were able to enjoy the lectures. One convention attendee said this spurred his family to raise the money to attend in person next year.
Children enjoying snacks while waiting at the convention office for their parents to “find” them.
And bringing families together is a staple of the convention. In the middle of the day you’ll find parents and their children lunching together or friends strolling through the bazaar searching for the perfect gift. Strangers will stop you and ask your opinion on the right hijab color or ask you to borrow your charger to recharge their cell phones. The ICNA-MAS Convention is that experience that brings together people of all backgrounds for a unified purpose. And as one speaker said, “It just gets better and better every year.”
Article: Rida Fozi. Photographs: Arfa Aijazi, Waqas Syed, Rida Fozi.