By Aziz Huq, with contributions from Saghir Nizami
“I am fully loaded and ready to go home and implement what I have learned in this wonderful convention,” commented Imam Siraj Wahhaj, nationally known scholar and speaker, towards the end of ICNA’s 16th Annual Southern Islamic Convention in Atlanta, GA this year.
The annual three-day convention kicked off with a Jumu’ah khutbah by Imam Siraj on Friday afternoon. This year’s theme was “Quran for Humanity,” and was chosen to educate the audience about the importance of the unadulterated and direct understanding of the holy book and how it can address the needs of the whole humanity. Special sessions were designed to discuss misconceptions about the message of Quran, spread by the radical media, which now seems to creating doubts in the hearts and minds of common Muslims and especially youth. The weekend’s many lectures by scholars such as Sheikh Omar Suleiman, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Imam Joe Bradford, Imam Abdul Malik and Hafiz Wisam Sharieff revolved around the convention’s theme proved quite enriching for the soul.
This year’s conference was attended by over 3,000 in person and more than 1,500 via ICNA TV—a record for this convention. The lecture halls were mostly full to capacity; at times there was only standing room. There was a huge crowd everywhere but the atmosphere was serene, friendly and touching. The halls, elevators, hallways, Salat areas and bazaar were packed with people. Hardly known to each other and from different states, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, most faces still seemed happy simply to be in the midst of people who share the same values.
The convention was indeed a wonderful experience, and offered something for everyone. Special programs were held for women and children, and, along with the English-language sessions, there were some held in Arabic, Urdu and Bengali. The bazaar had booths for clothes, books, skin products, perfumes, and CDs and diskettes for both adults and children. The youth also held a parallel conference, which focused on “Modesty in Action.”
Children possibly benefited most of all, as such gatherings help reinforce their Muslim identity in the present world. I realized that although people come to these gatherings from across the region with different motives, they all return with a renewed sense of responsibility and commitment to work for the good of humanity and to spread the noble message of Islam. The 16th Annual Islam Convention proved that the tradition of an enriching Islamic environment, education, hospitality and fun under one roof and within one weekend can still be kept with humility and honor.