By Zainab Arain
In the final days of the winter holiday season, Muslims in the southern United States gathered for a weekend of spiritual rejuvenation at the 19th annual, ICNA-MAS South East Convention, in Atlanta, Georgia, from Dec. 27 to 29.
The three day program, â€śIslam: The Pursuit to Happinessâ€ť, was an incredible success, with more than 3500 people from across seven states in attendance. The program hosted a number of scholars from around the country to address topics pertaining to the theme.
â€śWe wanted to make the theme family oriented and cover topics relevant to all age groups,â€ť said Saghir Nizami, the convention organizer.
For this purpose, youth lectures were also conducted, both in conjunction and in parallel with the main sessions. Other parallel programs included language workshops and the immensely popular childrenâ€™s competitions.
Additionally, the bazaar was a huge attraction for many participants. With over 50 booths offering everything from books to calligraphy to clothing, people were able to acquire items not easily found otherwise.
â€śThis is one of the biggest Muslim gatherings under one roof,â€ť said Mohammed Ilyas, the president of the ICNA southeast region. â€śThe goal is to create a family friendly environment and make people feel comfortable.â€ť
The remarkable increase in the number of attendees â€“ 40 percent from the previous year â€“ can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the publicity for the event was conducted on a much grander scale. In addition to online outlets such as Facebook and YouTube, the organizers created teams whose purpose was to travel to neighboring states and build relations with the mosques. Within Atlanta, ICNAâ€™s relief and outreach work generated heightened visibility for the organization and the development of relationships with local Islamic centers.
Another reason for the boost in participants was the change of location to a larger venue closer to the center of the city, allowing easier transportation and lodging. Lastly, unlike previous years, the convention was held during the winter holidays which enabled out-of-state families to venture out with greater ease.
Looking at the future, Nizami and Ilyas would like to see the number of attendees increase to 5000 and a more robust youth program that engages intimately with the demographic.
â€śWe want to make the conference lively and interactive,â€ť said Ilyas.