ICNA Convention Brings Unified Message of Prophets to Baltimore

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A major change in dates did not deter ICNA-MAS convention attendees as more than 21,000 converged at the Baltimore Convention Center on Easter weekend, April 14-16, 2017, making a bold statement to the current administration in the nation's capitol: we are Americans, we are here, and we belong.

Every inch of the convention center was taken over, as buses brought attendees in from New York to North Carolina. Muslims from the DMV area also attended in large numbers. Catherine Pugh, mayor of Baltimore City gave the welcome address at the 42nd annual convention. Mayor Pugh and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz received community service awards from Islamic Circle of North America leadership.

The theme of this year's convention was "Quest for True Success: Divine Message of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them)." The dates were changed from the traditional Memorial day weekend to Easter weekend because of Ramadan. For 2018, the convention will run from the end of March, 30th-31st to April 1st.

Dr Arif Mannan, of Columbia, Md. was an integral part of the planning team.

"We thank all attendees who participated. We appreciate our sponsors who supported the convention. We owe our scholars and teachers who gave their time and energy to educate our young and old and we are in debt to our volunteers who worked tirelessly for months and at the event to make it comfortable and easy for the attendees and above all we are thankful to Allah for his mercy and blessings and pray that he accepts it all from us," he related.

Over 400 volunteers prepped and worked the event: from marketing to registration to hotel management. Maryam, 18, of Silver Spring, Md. was hanging out with friends in the bazaar after volunteering for two days. "I thoroughly enjoyed my time volunteering and reconnecting with old friends while benefiting from the lectures," she said, expressing what several other attendees felt about their experience.

With the assistance of Rashidun DC, Islamic Society of Potomac sponsored tickets and transportation for Muslim youth and elders from underserved areas of Washington D.C., giving them the chance to experience everything that a convention like ICNA-MAS has to offer.

With the help of Bridge America, local Syrian refugee families were registered free of cost and ICNA arranged two buses to transport them. Many were driven to the center by Bridge America and John Hopkins MSA volunteers. On Saturday, after Quran recitations and nasheeds by children, Syrian refugee spoke for their ordeals after coming to the United States. Food for the meet and greet was catered by Aleppo's Kitchen, a home cooked food business by Syrian women.

Basboussa, a semolina dessert, and deliciously sticky, tender Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves with a lemony and garlicky rice filling were on sale by Aleppo's Kitchen at the halal food court in the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel next to the convention center.

The halal food court was set up with ten food vendors (nine were local) for both days and sold out of food by the end of the evening. Vendors needed a food license, insurance, and a two day permit to sell food at that location. "The food trucks were fantastic," said Wisam, 17, who was attending with her family. Inside the convention center, Centerplate had exclusive rights and outside vendors were not allowed to sell food inside.

Fuad Ndibalema aka SamosaMan set up his African natural food stall in the halal food court. Originally from Congo, settled in Vermont, he sells a variety of GMO-free samosas stuffed with everything from gooey steak and cheese to sweet and tangy Vermont apples.

At the inner harbor, WHYISLAM, an ICNA initiative, conducted street dawah on a perfect spring day. 60 volunteers, led by Ustadh Fahad Tasleem, answered questions about Islam. Earlier in the day, they had taken a 90 minute dawah workshop.

Sadaqah was big part of the weekend. 750 Blessing bags were distributed on Friday after Jummah and a thousand hot meals distributed after Zuhr on Saturday at 4 locations in Baltimore City by MSSA and ICNA Relief volunteers.

Seniors like Nilofer Z. had her cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked at the ICNA Relief Health Table. A well attended Continued Medical Education course was arranged by IMANA.

National Geographic at ICNA, a career fair, immigration forum, and a blood drive by Red Cross were also held during the event."There was a waiting list and many were turned away," noted Dr Mannan about the blood drive.

This year Muslim Nannies, a Muslimah owned business was hired to run the babysitting services for over 600 children. "[Most] parents were happy with Muslim Nannies' structured play and games for kids. They were professional," said Dr Mannan and ICNA plans on hiring them again for next year.

All booths at the bazaar was completely sold out, with 450 vendors.

Over 125 sessions, including spiritual, parenting, marriage, and activism tracks took place through the three days. For the first time ever, the main sessions were live streamed using Virtual Reality 360 degree cameras.

Over 150 speakers, including for the first time young scholars, Shaykh Suleiman Hani, Imam Mikaeel Smith, and Imam Abu Taleb, formerly of the Muslim Family Center in Howard County, gave speeches, workshops and presentations over the course of the event. Breakout sessions in Malay and Turkish were added to existing ethnic sessions in Arabic, Bangla, Urdu, Spanish languages. "Next year, we are planning to add a Somali session," said Dr Mannan. This year the sessions in Spanish were titled La Voz Latina (The Latino Voice). Attorney Wilfredo Amr Ruiz from CAIR Florida, Rahim Ocasio from Alianza Islamica, Jose Acevedo, from Al-Rahmah School, Jamal Abdul-Karim, Al Huda School and Nahela Morales were the voices who spoke on Latino Muslim issues.

Elders from the Guyanese community in New Jersey came in a bus arranged by the ICNA masjid in their city. "Keeping in touch with our Muslim roots is very important," said Fareeda, who sat with her friends drinking coffee next to the bustling bazaar. She pointed to her friend whose grandson was a hafiz, "We could have never imagined that a decade ago."

19 year olds, Imran and Abdullah, from Northern Virginia, said the convention was very beneficial. They liked the increase in social justice awareness in large part due to the influence of the ICNA Council of Social Justice. "It was empowering to see so many Muslims together in Baltimore after what been happening to the Muslim communities this past year," said Imran.

Abdullah wanted to see more African American women speaking and being represented at ICNA next year and found it disappointing seeing the lack of African Americans speakers, especially in a city like Baltimore. This was an issue of concern for many African American leaders on the East Coast. Some African American attendees felt that their experiences were not represented, not even on the panel about racism. Dr Mannan said that ICNA tries its best to have speakers and scholars from all backgrounds to serve the need for all attendees and needed sessions. "We went out of the way to attract African American speakers," he said. ICNA leadership states that it is open to suggestions and feedback from all attendees.

Several organizations collaborated to host their mini-events like Muslimmatters, IIIT, Noor Kids, Council on Islamic American Relations, Muslim Legal Fund of America, Muslim Social Services Agency and others. Programming was also hosted by ICNA entities like ICNA Relief, Helping Hands, WhyIslam, ICNA Sisters Wing, and Young Muslims.

A new programming track for ages 10-14 was introduced and was well-attended. The Youth conference was packed and their sessions were a huge draw. Some youth suggested that next year youth should address some of the sessions. Youth, such as Zaynub Siddiqui (ICNA Council of Social Justice) and Daniel Farrukh (Young Muslims), did moderate sessions and Heraa Hashmi, the young woman who compiled a list of more than 5000 condemnations against terrorism by Muslim leaders, spoke on the main stage. Wisam, a local 17 year old of Sudanese descent, had a lot of fun. "I loved seeing Ibtihaj Muhammad. I had a fangirl moment. I really liked how the lectures were very relevant to what's happening right now in our society and how the speakers talked about how we should deal with these current events as Muslims."

Alongside the annual Quran competition, the first ever ICNA Master Chef competition was held. A super popular event, moderated by comedian Jeremy Mclellan. This was won by Sh. Abdool Rahman Khan and Samia Ebrahim.

Former NBA star, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, was the special guest at a New Muslim panel.

Jummah was led by the new ICNA President, Javaid Siddiqi, of Kentucky. His khutbah was about renewing the intentions of every speaker, attendee, volunteer, and vendor at the convention, solely to please Allah. ICMA programming made a conscious effort not to schedule speeches during salah times. Banners clearly marked the carpeted salah areas. Fajr was arranged at 10 different hotels and accommodated 1000 people in some hotels. Enhancing the salah experience at the convention was by design. "We spent thousands of dollars to make it comfortable for people to pray. The extra sound system, volunteers placing shoes in the plastic bags, all of it [brought] a lot of barakah," remarked Dr Mannan.

"Seeing Muslims from all walks of life and all ethnicity and seeing them eager to learn and rushing from one session to another or enjoying the company of each other in a comfortable environment was all worth the hard work of months," shared Dr Mannan with the Muslim Link. He gave homage to the volunteers, relaying many moments when unsung heroes worked late into the night.

"It is a true mercy of Allah that he has made you and I, a Muslim," concluded Javaid Siddiqi at the last session.

"To me the goal of the event was to give all attendees the confidence in their Muslim Identity and to provide the tools so they can be beneficial to the community at large without any distinction of race, nationality or religion," said Dr Mannan.