By Muhammad Husain Bawany
The speech resounded with the crowd; in strident timbre, the voice at the mic generated a palpable excitement that buzzed through the charged air. Infectious grins, strangers shaking hands, a spontaneous outpouring of emotion as one woman shed tears.
I would be lying to you if I said that it hadn’t all taken me by surprise. As my co-moderator and I dashed out of our session to hunt for more chairs, I snuck a quick look back at the flow of enthusiastic bodies that hurried toward our lecture hall. Differences in race, culture, and socioeconomic background meant nothing as they huddled together into whatever space they could find. On the sisters’ side, pencils moved feverishly across notepads as question after question was passed toward the speakers’ table. In the gentle men’s section, brothers squeezed against the wall, hoisted young ones onto their shoulders, and craned their necks to catch the pearls of wisdom that were being handed out by our gifted panelists. As I finally took my spot in the front of the room, I felt a tugging at my sleeve. I turned and saw a spellbound little boy, who excitedly whispered, “Mr. Moderator, can you believe that there are so many different people here?!”
Only a day earlier, as I was helping set up for Rochester, New York’s first ICNA Convention, I had wondered how we would manage to fill the barren halls. But ICNA brought with it the radiant warmth of brotherhood and sisterhood, the heart-filling sensation of unity, and crowds from all over the United States. At ICNA Rochester, we revived our roots and our Islamic heritage as we attended session after session to pursue religious knowledge, to improve ourselves, and to work towards achieving happiness in this life and the next.
With over 1000 attendees, guests from as far as Tennessee and Georgia, speakers distinct in opinion and delivery, a lively bazaar, and a family-centered theme, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” it became clear that Rochester’s first ICNA convention had succeeded. The opening session, a panel composed of local and guest speakers, including Naeem Baig, President of ICNA, commenced with a moving recitation by Qari Ismet Akcin, the Imam of the Islamic Center of Rochester. Thereafter, breakout sessions covering everything from “Small Acts of Kindness” to “Raising a Muslim Child in America” catered to the various interests of the diverse crowd.
The scholars leading the sessions moved us with their words as they encouraged us to lead service-oriented lives, to turn to our Lord during the ups and downs of life in order to always be happy. They were energizing preachers, such as Imam Rafique Mehdi, who had flown in from Tennessee, mesmerizing orators, including Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, who, collectively, drew us closer to one another and to our God. I assume that all of our attendees came to Rochester’s ICNA convention for various reasons, but I am certain that each individual left with a new found appreciation for Upstate New York’s Muslim community, and for Islam.