Imam Okasha Kameny from Philadelphia speaks about implementing the teachings of the Qur'an at the GMU MSA conference.
FAIRFAX -- For many Muslim students, college is a time to explore the arena of higher education, gain knowledge, meet new people, find themselves and increase iman. Students at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA had the opportunity to reach all these goals in one day at the GMU Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) Holding Firm to Allah's Rope conference on Saturday March 16, 2013.
“The thing I enjoyed most about the conference as I do with most Islamic gatherings is just sitting in a room with other Muslims,” said Hamdi Abdi, a former GMU student. “We always forget the feeling of sitting down in a common location with our Muslim brothers and sisters -- it's a refreshing one.”
The conference – Holding Firm to Allah's Rope– was GMU MSA’s first time to host a free full-day conference. Haris Ali, the president of GMU MSA, came up with the idea after attending various Islamic conferences like MSA National and DC Hidayah.
The sisters side at the GMU MSA conference seemed more full than the brothers side, and organizers say their audience was only about half of what they wanted. Photos by Aysha Esam Azraq.
Sabera Akhter, one of the MSA events coordinators, helped in planning and preparing the conference three months prior, in December. “We all liked the idea, said bismillah, and decided to push for it,” Akhter said.
The conference started at 10 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. There were four sessions by local speakers Abu Hamza Hijjee and Sulaiman Jalloh, and by Mohamed El Shinawy and Okasha Kameny who came from New York and Philadelphia.
“We tried to get speakers that were local enough to be available to come, yet popular enough to attract attendees to the event,” Akhter said.
The theme of the conference was unity of the ummah. The organizers wanted to bring the community together to learn about the brotherhood and sisterhood in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and how it can be applied among the Muslim community today. One of the speakers, Mohamed El Shinawy, advised the youth in the room to strengthen their brotherhood/sisterhood by strengthening their iman.
Okasha Kameny, the last speaker of the day, reminded the students to practice and apply what the scholars have taught them. “The main purpose of listening to the words of Allah is to practice what is received,” Kameny said.
Ultimately, the main message of the conference was to learn from the sahaba, Prophet Muhammad’s (Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) companions, and emulate the unity they had by making iman the basis of our relationships.
Abdi benefited from the conference and learned that the key to unity in the Muslim ummah is to attach ourselves to the Quran.
Akhter, on the other hand, learned that Allah plans everything in the best way. “It just takes some effort to see the blessings and mercy behind what happens when we don't expect it.”
Overall, the sentiment about the conference was that it was uplifting. Abdi said that the conference met her expectations.
“I honestly didn't go into the conference expecting anything other than to feel strengthened as a community, and the need to attach yourself with the Muslim ummah -- that is what I had felt when I came out of it,” Abdi said.
Unfortunately, not all expectations were met from a logistical standpoint. The MSA planned for over 300 attendees, but about half actually came. Attendees came from places as far as Baltimore, MD and Richmond, VA.
“We had made a considerable loss in terms of finances. Some of us felt down about it, and other board members reminded us consolingly, ‘We may have lost from the dunya, but insha'Allah we gained for the aakhirah,’” Akhter said.
By the Grace of Allah, Akhter mentioned that the donations from the attendees compensated the MSA financially.
Akhter looks back on the conference and suggests some changes. She thought that having the event during spring break may have not been the best idea, since not as many people showed up. Furthermore, two other major events in the community were taking place simultaneously, possibly inhibiting a greater turnout.
However, despite the lower turnout, Akhter is optimistic that the conference will continue and become an annual affair.
As one of the attendees, Abdi hopes the conference will continue in the future.
“Having almost a whole day's worth of lectures really helps encompass you in the remembrance of Allah,” Abdi said.