By Dania Sandfia
Memorial Day weekend was the weekend of the ICNA-MAS Convention. The convention brought together about 16,000 Muslims in the Hartford, CT area—an area that, if it weren’t for the convention, would be dead. Muslims came from all over the country—some from Ohio, Boston, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and as far as California.
For those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to go to Makkah Al Mukarramah, the ICNA-MAS Convention is a glimpse of just that. It’s a preliminary experience into the window of diverse personalities and ethnicities of the Ummah. Casually taking a step back from all the chaos of the weekend, I noticed a couple of human things that I wanted to share with you:
• There was a lot of hugging and embracing. People haven’t seen each other since the last ICNA-MAS Convention and are so happy to be able to share their experiences with friends who may not always be a simple car ride away. New Yorkers embraced Bostonians, Californians hugged people from Joisey, and folks from Ohio hung out with attendees from Chi Town.
• Kids love to be there. Smiles embraced the faces of children as young as a couple of months. They were forced to face their fears by riding on the CamAli rides but then enjoyed their parents’ comfort once they got off of it.
• Shuyookh may be superstars, but they’re human too. Whether it’s beef about basketball (shout out to the sheikh on sheikh basketball tournament!), passing by them in their athletic gear in the hallway as you head out to the hotel elevator, or even shopping at the same bazaar booths as their families, shuyookh like to be given their own space but also won’t forget their duties as teachers and mentors to the Ummah. On Monday morning, my roommate was sitting in the Marriott lobby reading her book as she was waiting for the rest of us to come down when a simple lady with a child told her “Salaam” and sat in the chair next to her. She didn’t think much of it until Sheikh Omar Suleiman approached this simple lady to talk to her. My roommate realized that it was his wife and she was both stunned and touched by the simplicity and humility of his wife. My roommate said that she felt normal. That’s exactly it—our shuyookh are normal.
• There’s a whole other world inside but outside of the convention. What do I mean by that? If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, you know exactly what I mean. Besides the hype of being at the convention, there’s a whole other hype happening in the virtual world. Friends and family that regret not coming, tweets from attendees and shuyookh alike, livestream-ers cherishing moments of the convention from inside the comfort of their home, pictures capturing those perfect “Kodak” moments, and those secret shuyookh sessions that were announced only via Facebook. So if you were hyped about being at the convention, you became even more hyped because of the virtual activity.
• You SHOPPED – till you DROPPED! Literally. With over 200 vendors at the bazaar it was impossible not to find something that caught your eye. Whether it was creating your own t-shirt at Qays Design, buying a thobe at Kamani Clothing, mix-and-matching abayas to hijabs at Bulbul, buying books and ‘atr, decorating your home with something from Simply Impressions, or deciding to change your pill intake by visiting Noor Vitamins – there was something for you.
• Prayer brings people together. I headed out to pray fajr in the Marriott Capital Room the second night of the convention, and to my surprise I found a friend from college waiting for the congregation to start. Who would have thought that I would see my college friend from New York City waiting to pray Fajr in a hotel in Hartford, CT, of all places?
• Surah Fatiha is the blueprint. If you wanted to learn something that you would always remember without having to take notes, you should have been at Ustadh Wisam Sharieff’s session on Monday morning. As we were waiting for Shaykh Abdulnasir Jangda to arrive for the session, Ustadh Wisam was spotted sitting on the floor next to a kid that was about 11 years old. He was watching the young boy play a game on his iPad – just sitting there, bonding with an 11 year old. If you were looking for other benefits from that session, you got it once Ustadh Wisam got up to teach us how to properly recite Surah Fatiha so that way when we’re standing in front of Allah SWT 17 times a day, we could properly address our Lord by properly reciting from His Glorious Book. That session was better than a thousand talks.
• Dr. Hawa received a standing ovation. If you weren’t there, as I sadly wasn’t, you missed out. But reading about what Dr. Hawa did in her hometown of Somalia, would make anyone who had any form of respect for justice and courage proud. In short, 63-year-old Dr. Hawa kicked lots of behind and stood up for her people against young men with weapons. For more info about her awesome-ness, read it here.
• It’s not about me, it’s about we. Learning to embrace the diversity of the convention attendees, and taking everyone as-is, is an important skill to have. Responding with huge smiles to the faces that felt discomfort at your presence was an essential part of making sure everything ran smoothly. Helping a parent find her lost kid, a boy find his shoes, and an organizer get hydrated with water, were the best things that could have happened at the ICNA-MAS Convention. In short: #BuildingCommunity.
A lot of effort and hard work was put into making this year’s ICNA-MAS Convention the success that it was. May Allah SWT reward all the organizers, attendees, families of the attendees, and anyone who had an intention of attending. May Allah SWT make this of their sadaqa jariya (residual charity) and may He make ICNA-MAS 2013 a greater success than ICNA-MAS 2012. Allahuma ameen. If anything wrong was said, then it is out of my own faults as a human being. Anything good in this piece is from Allah SWT.
Photography by Muhammad Tahir and others.