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Nov 29, 2013 - other reviews    3 Comments

London GPU Islam Conference 2013: Review, comments, opinions and other British bits n bobs! :)

Assalaam Alaikum,


Alhamdulillah I had the opportunity of attending the GPU Global Peace & Unity Conference here in the UK and thought I’d share my thoughts about it as someone who’s an ‘outsider’ getting a glimpse of British Islam.  I’ll try to add my pictures soon as well, maybe in another post. This conference is like the ISNA/ICNA conventions in the US, but it’s apparently not run by any one organization and only happens every few years. It spanned 2 days, a Saturday and Sunday.

First and foremost, I definitely admire the dedication and effort that went into organizing this huge conference. I have interned at ISNA in the USA twice and I know the blood, sweat and tears it takes to putting an event like this together. The conventions would rarely break even by the way and none of these people receive any personal benefit from it! Getting British Muslims to gather for any kind of unifying event is a Herculean task, so I admire the efforts of the organizers although I believe they could improve and benefit immensely from people’s feedback and critical reviews.

GPU is so needed in the UK, where all the organizations, Mosques, and scholars are so fractured and worse, fighting each other constantly. These conventions are a great way to bring everyone together. No one is saying one speaker or organization is “right” at these things. As someone once said to me long ago: “I love ISNA. Without it Muslims in the US would be all broken up and in disarray. ISNA is a place everyone can come, it is a marketplace of ideas. It self-regulates extremism. It is mainstream Islam at its best. A place for everyone to network, and for the Muslim Community in the US to come together and formulate its own vision.” I mean ISNA even allowed the ‘Muslims for Bush” group to have a table. Honestly, GPU should even allow Quilliam or even the EDL (if they promise not to bash anyone up!), let people bring their ideas and let people counter them.

Ok so starting out, registration for the event was very easy online through eventbrite. But the website was extremely sparse. I kept checking for updates or what they were going to have there, who the speakers were, the program etc. and they just didn’t seem to have anything. Where was their Facebook, Twitter? Their theme? What things were going to be there? No online hype at all?

The amazing thing is that starting a few weeks before the event, a lot of hate started going around on Twitter against the event, calling it Haram and UnIslamic etc. (Much more on this later, including an encounter with this Haram brigade!!) Finally, just a few days before the event, GPU posted a very basic schedule. I found it really odd that they just had a list of like 10 speakers every 2 hours. So they were going to speak at 10 minute intervals throughout the day? (This turns out to be disastrous but more on that later too!) I really could not believe they would give 10 minutes to people like Muhammad Al-Shareef or Yasir Qadhi, etc. Then after clicking around I realized there were some private “workshops” through other organizations like Engage or Ebrahim College where you had to register for them separately through eventbrite. So I registered for those too. As well as the “Fashion show” event for sisters which seemed to be doing a great job of advertising itself all over Facebook.

The event was held in the London Excel Exhibition Center which is this huge complex somewhere near the docks of London. The place was very huge and had a long hall of restaurants with seating in the middle and on the right side was a huge bazaar area and on the left was a huge main seating hall and behind that a separate big prayer hall. (The first day we didn’t even know where the prayer area was! And we were never given a program. We just prayed in the back of the bazaar when the times came.)

When I fist arrived as soon as I got in line a Niqabi sister approached me and told me this event was HARAM! And handed me a laminated little flyer that had Warning! GPU Haram! Haram! in yellow and black all around it and on the back it had a list of what was Haram. I asked her why she thought it was Haram and she said ‘O they have intermixing there’, and I was like ‘Uhh this is London, there’s intermixing everywhere, this is the same as going to one of your shopping centres’. She said ‘No, no they have music and dancing’. I was like yes the fashion show has music but it’s separate and the other stuff on stage is Nasheed. And she said, ‘No, no last year someone told her they had music and dancing etc’ and then she came up with this piece de resistance: ‘If the Prophet Muhammad [saw] was here, do you think he would be happy with this!’ I was like ‘Yes, why not, this is bringing Muslims together for the purpose of Dawah, educating and networking for Islam’ and this went on for a bit and she kept repeating the same things then I gave up and went in. I would really like to address their list of criticisms at the end of this article.

So anyway, we first walked into the Bazaar as there wasn’t much going on at the program side the first day. Apparently there were only a few introductory GPU people, some awards winner announcements, a few performances of poetry, some ex-politicians etc. and then a huge concert that went on from 6pm until 10:30pm. This was kind of shocking to me as this block of time on Saturday night is like the PRIME TIME of ISNA. This is where they showcase the best scholars and speakers in North America like Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir, Nouman Ali Khan, Imam Siraj, Yasir Qadhi and Suhaib Webb etc and whoever else. Scholars who have visions and ideas for the community. They give reassurance, motivation and spiritual insight to Western Muslims. Again, no one has to agree with them. They are bringing their vision and sharing it with everyone.

It just seemed kind of like a waste to me. They could have had this concert as a whole kind of separate thing maybe in the afternoon. The kids were the main one’s it was for and having it so late like that I heard many parents complaining. When we walked into the program later in the day it was all a big mess. It was like 2 hours late and all the speakers were jumbled up. I mean if you had come to hear Lauren Booth or the ex PM of Mauritius at their certain times you’d have missed it. There was absolutely no way to know who or what was going on when. I like to call this the ‘Chaos theory of GPU’. I think their theory was like ‘ok we’ll put everything in a big pot and ppl will just come over and sit in the main hall the whole day for 12 hours’. Ummm ok! They also put some of the best groups… Native Deen, Zain Bhika and Ahmed Bukhatir last. Native Deen told me they didn’t get on stage till 10:45pm!!! Most of the attendees who took public transport or had kids were gone by 9pm, which was probably just about everyone.

OK, so the bazaar was a lot like ISNA’s except one whole side of it was this huge fun fair for kids with rides, bouncy castles, huge slides and spinning ferris wheels and even an ICE RINK!! How awesome is that! Along the other wall were some food stalls from local restaurants, some Malaysian, Arab and Desi foods. The lines for these were incredibly mercifully short and not crowded at all. (This is incredible given the loooong lines of hungry angry ppl at ISNA/ICNAs!! lol) I can only put it down to all those restaurants up and down the outer hall like Costa/Burger heaven/sandwich shops/even newsstand corner type shops or whatever that people were going to for food.

The bazaar layout also followed the ‘chaos theory of GPU’. There wasn’t any grid of aisles per se, it kind of just went around and around, there were some alleyways and there were some huge spaces. One huge space was kind of cute as they called it the ‘Garden of the GPU’ complete with a fake fountain, Astroturf and palm trees and there were kids running wild in it. But there were no numbers labeled on the stalls and no reason to how it was arranged. Charity stalls were next to Jilbab stores, next to Mosque orgs next to jewelry. In one way this was good as it forced everyone to wander around everywhere, but you honestly couldn’t find anything if you were looking for a certain stall. Try remembering where you last saw something! (The so called “map” they had was printed so tiny faded you couldn’t read it and remember we also didn’t receive it till the second day) But hey, we pretended it was like Alibaba’s Souk of Mysteries and enjoyed it anyway. (except for the 02830810810921883 charity workers everywhere with buckets and bags and balloons)

The actual amount of charity stalls there was pretty amazing. The community that gives the most in the UK to charity are Muslims (mashaAllah) and you could see this with all the groups. They were also very innovative by having give aways of water bottles, ipads, free professional pictures with Mickey and Minnie, with famous Muslims or even a painting on the ground of a surreal bird in flight so if u sat on it and took a pic it looked 3D! (who comes up with this stuff?!). They also had dressed up mascots of bears or Dora walking around giving kids balloons and candy. And one charity group even had a little smart car filled with balls and if u had to guess the number of balls you won the car! I mean these guys are professionals. After all that I kind of missed the charity aisle at ISNA where there are two seated people at every stall and you kind of walked by and saw what everyone was doing and went to the tables you were interested in!

I also went to the fashion show the first day which was a closed off curtained area towards the back of the bazaar. They had 3 fashion shows a day at different times. The fashion show itself was really well organized and a lot of fun. Some of the clothes were extremely beautiful. But I couldn’t understand why it was in the middle of the bazaar with openings on both sides where people could peek in (including every brother walking by!!) The music was just blasting right into the bazaar. Sisters were also taking pictures/videos/recording the whole thing on their phones and even big ole’ ipads! I think they just shouldn’t allow this because it takes away from the experience but I do understand it’s probably impossible to enforce this. There weren’t many sisters in the audience for the show we went to and we also learned that they showed different clothes each fashion show, which was a bummer to know! They could do well to maybe make this a totally separate/concurrent event in a separate hall at just one time each day. Have all the clothes shown and also have those designers’ stalls in that area too. I liked that they had this whole fashion show thing as part of the GPU because it was fun and pretty to look at and brought in a whole crowd of sisters that might not otherwise go to GPU.

The workshops I registered for were a mess. Apparently they had all changed times or were moved. And absolutely no one knew about them. This is so perplexing because ISNA has like 10 concurrent workshop sessions that are always full. I think the problem is GPU is trying to farm out the workshops and events to other groups and neither knows what they’re doing. The main program on Sunday didn’t start until at least one hour later and then it was something else entirely! I think a program committee is sorely in order.

The big prayer hall was nice but people just went in and prayed whenever. There was no Jamat!! This is what makes ISNA so amazing, you are praying together with like 40,000 Muslims! The biggest gathering of Muslims outside of Hajj in your own country and yet people here were praying in groups of 5 or 6. There were like 6 different Jamats going on all the time. Is it really so hard to post some Salah times somewhere and appoint a mu’athin and Imam at that time to pray. Main program and Bazaar should be shut down at those times and people have to be told to go pray.

Interestingly enough the matrimonial program was openly in the back of the prayer area. You could see a sectioned off area of chairs in circles of brothers and sisters past a sign-up table. Some families (probably the anxious mothers and fathers) were waiting sitting on the prayer area side.) One side wall had everyone’s biodata/profile posted up. Some were handwritten, some were typed, some had amazing GQ like photos. (I was so tempted to read some just out of curiosity but of course I didn’t! lol) There were facilitators speaking and telling the groups to introduce themselves and discuss various things then when I came back another time I saw the chairs set up so brothers and sisters could speak to one another one on one. All of this was in front of the entire prayer hall and public. Nothing was private and untoward. I’d like to ask those critical of these “speed-dating events” how much more Islamic can this get. How else are Muslims going to get to know each other I ask? (No wonder we have a marriage crisis in our Ummah.)

Ok so the other criticisms written on that little flyer were:

“Promotes free mixing (without permit)” – I think we covered this. If you think going to a place where there are tons of Muslims, including families and kids running around is Haram then don’t go. Not sure where/how you’d get a “permit” for it tho!

“Promotes imitating the Kuffar (non-Muslims)” – Well, doubtful that the “Kuffar” have huge religious conventions like this. In fact, none of them do. I think we are pioneers ppl.

“Promotes speed dating/Haram engagement” – I think I described how the matrimonial event things were. I did not see any “engagements” taking place!!

“Promotes police & their anti-Muslim agenda” – I did see a big police bus and them recruiting people for jobs. Interestingly, most of the police were Muslims! And they had one session about Hajj fraud (that no one knew about unfortunately). I can’t see how this is a bad thing. I’m sure there’s a lot of issues with their treatment of Muslims/prejudice/prisoners and other issues but getting Muslims into the system seems to be a good start to me.

“Promotes unislamic concepts e.g. democracy” – Don’t know what to say except to ask what the heck ppl are doing in England?! They need to go on Hijrah I think. Go to any ‘Muslim country’and see how much law and order there is, how much say you have in what the government does to you, and how much you can practice and spread Islam.

“Promotes Kufr concept of interfaith” – I do know there are people against interfaith, but not everyone is against it and I’ve never heard any scholar call it a “Kufr concept”.

“Gives platform to apostates (Murtadeen)” – Not sure who exactly they are declaring ‘apostates’.

“Gives platform to taghoot MP’s” – Again, I’m sure lots of people are against participating in the government and voting and the certain policies of Muslim MPs, but why not use this as a platform to speak to them and get the concerns of Muslims.

“Aims to counter Shariah & Jihad” – Still scratching my head on this one. Not sure having a convention, some speakers and a bazaar is countering “Shariah & Jihad”.

Ok what else… ok some ppl didn’t like the “catwalk”– yes there were fashion shows but it was sisters only, the clothes were all quite modest. there was music so I can understand that if a person was against music they shouldn’t attend this.

Allright so in the end, I would tell people who were against GPU to go to the conference and refrain from whatever they didn’t like. Take the benefit from where you can, and you should be welcome to hawk your ideas in the big market of Islamic ideas as well. If you think it’s all Haram or whatever then you know what, sit at home that weekend. No worries. To everyone else, these big conventions are all about mainstream Islam, that’s why extremists or what I like to call Haramists (ie “Everything is Haram Akhi!) oppose it so vehemently. In my book, that means it should be supported.  :)

Finally in conclusion, I think the main problem with GPU is that it can’t figure out what it is and this is confusing everyone. Is it a social event? Is it a Dawah event? Is it a networking event? Is it a political event? GPU and the Muslims in the UK have to come to an understanding over what GPU is. Personally, I think it should be a Dawah event that has room for all Muslims, and I’ll even say that this includes practicing AND non-practicing Muslims (and even non-Muslims)! Side things like the Nasheed concert, fashion show, and matrimonial stuff should be side events! The main thing should be having a stellar, unifying well-run program that people can benefit from. I hope to see more organization, vision and unity at the next GPU and perhaps that can contribute to helping British Muslims in the same as well!!

Jul 11, 2009 - other reviews    5 Comments

ISNA Review 2009 – Washington D.C.

ISNA 2009: The good, the bad & the ugly…

This year’s ISNA took place in Washington DC.The last time it took place here was in 2002 directly after 9/11. Dr. Ingrid Mattson, current president of ISNA (and a sister woohoo!), talked about how much we as American Muslims as a community have gone through in these 7 years from 2002 to 2009. When she said that I definitely felt a feeling of poignancy in the air. There is no doubt we’ve been through much trauma, hardship and difficulty these last years.

So what did I love? What did I hate? What do I wish they would change? Here it is, just like years past… the good, the bad and the ugly ;)

The Good:

-The sessions this year seemed to be designed for a variety of different crowds. There were the Al-Madina brokered Sh. Mokhtar/Sh. Ninowy type sessions on things like Quranic gems. Al-Maghrib’s Yaser Qadhi and Yaser Birjas fiqhi type sessions. The Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers had their own program of multiple talks as did Turkish Muslims (where was Arabic and Urdu?). There were many ‘Meet the Author’ sessions and you could even get your CD signed by Yusuf Islam if you got lucky! There were late night (and I mean LATE night 1am) sessions on marriage and other favorite hot topics by MSA. There were also some really interesting sessions like the one of Muslims in Hollywood with Zarqa Nawaz (creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie), ‘The Blogistan’ about Muslim bloggers and Sh. Ninowy’s beautiful Burdah session. There were new sessions on things like divorce, cancer, Islamic finance, depression, recycling, eradicating malaria and domestic abuse in the Ummah. The film festival this year showed films like PBS’s ‘New Muslim Cool’, ‘Waiting for Mercy’ and ‘Journey to America’

-The bazaar has been changing over the years from people who own stores who bring their stuff — to a more boutique type of flavor. Now there are booths with designer Islamic clothes, unique Islamic products and amazing Muslim art. For some this might be a negative but I like the trend. I found some of the offerings quite lovely, even if extremely expensive.

-Saturday night instead of the big Hamza Yusuf Saturday night type of speech they had a talk show type style ofsession where HY, Yusuf Islam, Zaid Shakir and Ingrid Mattson sat on couches and discussed topics in front of the audience. Some people loved this, others hated it. I’m putting it in the good column because I liked it even though it should not have been the Sat night session or been like after it or televised or something.

- I liked that MSA had all these interesting sessions like on ‘gender relations’, ‘going against the parents to get married’, ‘how to keep a marriage going’. And I loved that these sessions were late at night no doubt aimed towards the lobby crowd.

-I also noticed people lining up at a ‘health screening’ area for free checkups. I think this is an excellent use of our resources.

-The information booths were ‘informative’. They actually knew where stuff was when I asked, which was important when there were a few football fields in between my sessions, and when a room turned out to be in a whole different building! They also had a billboard up of local halal restaurants which was very helpful.

-The graphics and logos were very professional and beautiful. It really made me feel like we’ve come a long way and hopefully will get even better in the future, iA!!

The Bad:

-This convention center must be built to accommodate a million people!! It’s humongous and everything was so hugely spaced out. It took forever to walk from one place to another. My feet hurt by 12 o’ clock. I saw people just finding random corners to pray instead of finding the mile away prayer area. I also took a wrong turn once and found myself next to huge cavernous sized ballrooms that were empty. There were probably tens of huge rooms like this, all empty. I mean the convention center is beautiful but the layout was ridiculously complex and I really feel sorry for any of the elders, pregnant, kids or directionally-disabled ppl (like me!) that were there. Everyone kept saying it was ‘small and not a lot of ppl’ but there were TONS of people… 8,000 in the main session, ppl all over the bazaar and hallways. The hugeness just created the ‘small’ perception. It’s just a different feeling when there are so many people in a smaller convention center, even if we are squished together it just creates a better buzz and feeling of togetherness.

-I kind of did not like that this convention was not over Labor Day Weekend. There’s just something about labor day that makes ISNA special. It’s traditionally the end of summer and the start of the new year for all students. It just feels like a time of change and it always gave us that extra motivation and high right before we all went back to school. Summer bbqs, fireworks etc just didn’t seem to fit. Perhaps over time goes on they’ll make the convention more casual and social to match the date.

-Rick Warren in the middle of the Saturday night session? Rick Warren is an evangelical Christian pastor? And they invited him to speak for an HOUR (or what felt like) at the absolute height of the convention? I mean for real why? Interfaith is all good but it just didn’t seem appropriate at all. The Saturday night session is when EVERYONE is there. This is the time we as an American Ummah are waiting for direction, for motivation, for vision, for understanding, for clarification of what this past year meant, of what’s been going on. We all look to this session as a reassurance that we’re still good and right and going in the right direction. And then they had Rick Warren speak. After that they had they brought up the awesomest speakers: Ingrid Mattson, Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir and had them act out a talk show styled after…’the view’? And the whole thing took 5 hours. Even if it included a much deserved W.D. Muhammad tribute and award for Imam Siraj it was just way too long and useless.

-Entertainment was weak….like 3 acts: a hip hop group, native deen, and a nasheed singer from canada. 3 acts doing 3 songs each. Whatever happened to variety? And why did they put Native Deen (arguably the awesomest) second instead of the last as a showstopper. I did hear they had some kind of muslim hiphop type of concert across town that many people actually went to and paid money for?? Were they not allowed to perform at ISNA or something and if so why not? Something is wrong when artists go across town and set up their own show. Whatever happened to the ISNA that had tons of cool new acts and talents. This was the same stage that hosted Sami Yusuf and Zain Bhikha and Azher Usman as up and coming talents at one time?

-Bazaar layout was kind of strange. Instead of rows there were walls here and there, making it a complete maze and you had to try to find your way out. Maybe they were simulating the crazy Aladdin like bazaars of the middle east? They forgot the guys who yell out “Welcome! Money exchange?! Dollar? Amreekan? you have ze dollar! Come viz me! I give u good deal”.

- No Obama. Despite persistent rumors (ppl from around the country kept texting us to ask if he showed up because they heard he was coming!) he didn’t come :(

-$15 for a plate of rice and chicken, $9 for a salad, $6 for fries, $4 for a muffin, $3 for a soda. Yeah I hope I lost some weight because who the heck can afford to eat like that?

The Ugly:

-So at the airports I got patted down in security ALL the times. I walked through fine each time but then I was always stopped and asked to spread my arms and legs so some woman can feel me up in public and under my scarf. It does get humiliating. And yes it does make me angry and upset. (And Yes I heard you can ask for a private room but do I really want to be interrogated alone with all my stuff and miss my flight?) When I was leaving the DC airport this security agent yelled out “V.I.T.!!! WE HAVE A V.I.T!!! Veeeee-Ayyyyeee-TEeeee!!!” and then a lady came out to pat me down. Apparently I must be a “very important terrorist” not sure what else it can stand for!!! ;)

-They also went through all my stuff TO the convention AND back. They also opened my snacks (I cannot live thru ISNA without my chocolate chip granola bars!!)…(I forgot to count them maybe they ate some?) and they opened the honey I got for my Dad and then taped it up with big tape that said ‘INSPECTED DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY’. Yes I’m sure honey looks a lot like C4.

-I also wanted to take some pictures of interesting things around the airport or even of planes. I saw a lot of people doing this, but I didn’t. Why? Cuz I ain’t crazy. ;)

-Many bazaar people did not go down on their prices. What the heck!! :) Prices were the same from Friday until Monday. I saw tons of booth people leaving with a lot of their stock unsold. I mean you can’t have it both ways. Either you price to sell or keep your price high and lower it by the last day. People drop major cash in the bazaar. I for one save my money to buy specific stuff there once a year. But if prices are more expensive than local Islamic stores or even their OWN stuff online (I once compared book prices at the bazaar and online for the same store) then shop keepers please listen: ppl will just stop buying! (One booth owner refused to give me a discount for buying $70 of books. He said he paid $5,000 for his booths and “hasn’t made anything”. Uh huh. And you’re charging me 70 bux for 3 books??!)

-There were two Muslim bros on my flight. I even heard one bro say salam to someone on the phone. Both ignored me :( Tip for guys/gals: You can say salam to someone. (They won’t think you want to marry them. For real.)

-Why did they not have any main programming after 9pm on any of the days except Friday when it went until 3am and we were all exhausted and passed out. Then they tried to fit ‘ISNA Entertainment’ into one hour at 7-8pm on Sunday and they had absolutely no program or sessions on Monday EVEN THOUGH everything says the convention is from July 3-6. Yet nothing on the 6th??. Makes no sense and pissed off a lot of people who booked tickets to leave on Monday. (Seemed like the program was created only for DC local people, so that the timings would be convenient for their attendance instead of everyone.)

- Muslim beggars (mostly mothers holding babies) asking for money outside the convention center, inside the convention center, in the bazaar (how did they afford the conference registration?). Allahu alam if they’re rip off artists or whatever. I think it’s good to give a small amount to whoever asks of you, but I feel like ISNA should set something up to help people like this.

The Simply Amazing:

-If someone wanted, they could come to ISNA and watch a movie, buy their invitations for their wedding, go to a session about marriage, buy a book of wedding contracts, by a wedding dress and gold jewelry, get their henna done, buy an apartment in Dubai, invest their money in an Islamic mutual fund, buy Islamic mosaic furniture and cushions, stained glass windows, oil paintings and framed photos for their house, buy a baby shirt that says ‘I love Ummi’ AND eat some free popcorn, fresh dates, halal gummi bears, see real bees and eat their honey, eat free chocolate from Islamic Relief and taste various fair-trade chais!!!

-Ingrid Mattson, Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir on ONE stage together. Talking about HAPPINESS. Just amazing subhanAllah.

-A sister converting in front of 8,000 people with Imam Siraj!

-Meeting br. Hamza Perez of PBS’s New Muslim Cool documentary in person and telling him how much I loved the last words of the film. ‘They’re not from me’, he said ‘These are the words of beloved Habib Ali.’ MashaAllah.

-Hearing Zarqa Nawaz talk about how she thought up the idea of and created the characters and plot of the much loved Little Mosque on the Prairie series.

-Meeting a random older auntie at the airport from Portland, Oregon and talking for an hour about life in America and urdu poetry.

-Seeing Imam Siraj healthy and strong and as amazing as he ever was.

-Having a police escort bring us to the white house, wish us well, AND see the white house in the moonlight. (lol long story how this happened ;) and it helped not getting arrested)

-Hearing Altaf Hussain and another brother at a realllly late night session making jokes about Muslim pick-up lines and discussing the all time philosophical question ‘what is love’.

-Seeing Muslim bloggers in person that you always read and finding they’re as funny in real life as they are in their blogs ;)

-Hearing sh Faraz Rabbani speak about how he met his wife and hearing a hundred girls sigh in the audience.

-Running into extremelyy old friends and hearing them say ‘I saw you on the jumbotron last night and I screamed to all the people sitting around me ‘I KNOW THAT GIRL I WENT TO SchOOl WITH HER!!’ ;)

-Learning the sign for water and love and Allah from the sign-language translator womens on stage.

-Speakers at an MSA marriage session telling brothers to stop being so superficial when looking for a spouse. YESSSssssssssssss!!!! :) They must read my blog ;)


-I know Chicago/Columbus/wherever gets crowded because they’re smaller convention centers. And horror of horror sessions get closed out because there is no room! (The usual culprit: putting Hamza Yusuf in a room for 200 people. For real why do they do this every year?) But you FEEL like it’s a convention, with a lot of Muslims and a lot of stuff going on and you can actually get from place to place without having to add in a 15 minute transpo buffer.

-Entertainment sessions should be organized by the entertainers themselves. They shouldhave a section in front just for younger kids. They desperately really need this stuff. It’s OK to have bad new acts. It’s a platform, let everyone do one song or something.

-Whoever came up with the film festival idea is awesome! But ISNA really needs to advertise this more and make this an integrated part of the program. There was no mention of what was playing and when. You just had to try to figure it out and somehow find the room on your own too. A non-Muslim documentary filmmaker from my local area traveled all the way there to show her film about injustices against Muslims, ‘Waiting for Mercy’, but only a handful of people showed up to see her film :( How about this:  Show the movies across all three nights!! Like in the 10pm-midnight slots! Have popcorn there. Play them in the big hall. It would definitely draw in a lot of people and give the kids something to do at night when there’s nothing else going on except the lobby scene ;)

-They need to go back to Labor Day. Who cares if it’s Ramadan. Imagine this… everyone at ISNA eating suhoor together, praying Fajr. Going to a few sessions in the afternoon. Breaking their iftar together. PRAYING taraweeh together! It would be so amazing. Seriously, there’s no shaytan so no lobby scene, young people would want to attend sessions. ;) So think about it.

-Let’s get interactive. Why not have a huge screen for twitter messages? Or live video webcasts. I know it’s expensive, but how about delayed videos to youtube or something? There’s tons of people who can’t make it to ISNA because of cost or other reasons, why not let them get a taste and some benefit as well.

-How about a free registration if 10 people register from your community for a convert. They are never able to come to ISNAs because the costs are so prohibitive.

-The people renting bazaar booths do shell out a lot of money. How about making a nice booklet that contains a map labeled with each company and maybe some short info about them, their business cards, what they’re selling and their website. Good publicity for them and easier for us to find things or order things later on.

-I heard the matrimonial dinner is a speed dinner type of thing. Where there are 10 guys and 10 girls at a table and the guys keep rotating every 5 minutes. I think this isn’t the best method for matrimonials. I wish ISNA would improve this aspect in the future with different types of events and ways of hooking people up in a halal manner that is conducive for everyone iA.


Allah sent me to this year’s ISNA :) First, just a month ago I ended up receiving a voucher for a free ticket, so I used it for the ridiculously expensive ticket into DC National airport. Then, space at a hotel opened up through some friends. Somehow I logged on an hour before early registration ended and managed to register. And then when I flew there my flight was delayed for a few hours but then they moved me to a direct flight and I was there in an hour flat! Just seemed destined maybe:)

Alhamdulillah I saw a lot of beautiful things, met many old friends and listened to much wisdom.

Peace out….

and maybe iA…just maybe… I’ll see you next year in Chicago :D


Check out the pictures here: All 118 of them!!!

See some of the sessions including Saturday night’s on ISNA’s youtube channel:

P.S.S- ISNA Review for 2007.

Mar 31, 2008 - other reviews    Comments Off

Son of Mountains – A review

Son of Mountains
My Life as a Kurd and a Terror Suspect

A Review

When I first heard about this book I thought it would be a detailed play-by-play of the cat and mouse game of the FBI versus the author and how he finally ended up in prison. Then I thought it might be a book about how our civil liberties are being eroded or perhaps about how Muslims are being stereotyped as terrorists and persecuted.

Then, I started reading.

From the very first line of the book where the author introduces himself in the first person I was drawn in. And I wasn’t able to let go until I read the very last lines of his “jail stories” almost 500 pages later. I laughed at his amusing anecdotes and witty jokes. I imagined his childhood world complete with village characters. I was touched when he talked about sleeping in his mother’s lap under the Kurdish sun and cried when his father died. I was anxious for him to escape his war-torn life and felt idyllic with him when he worked as a gardener in a beautiful villa in Damascus. I attended his wedding and wanted to throw rice as he left for a new life as a newlywed. I was excited for him when he found out he was coming to the United States as part of a United Nations program for refugees. I laughed at his confusion over Albania and Albany and as he detailed his “coming to America” encounters. Towards the very end of the book I was almost surprised when he was abruptly arrested and put in jail. I had almost forgotten what this book was about.

The last chapter at the end includes a detailed report about the evidence and trial by one of his lawyers.

I did not think the author would be a good writer, but the editors have fine tuned the writing so it makes sense to English readers and it happens that his story is just so compelling you cannot help being engrossed.

I am very happy that this book has been written, because this is the story of one Muslim’s life at the beginning of this new century in our post 9-11 era. His story while of one man is the story of many Muslims across the world. But this is the first time an autobiography of this depth and length has been brought to publishing light in the English language.

It’s a book that is so powerful and detailed and emotional that I defy anyone to read it without coming to tears at least once. A book that I hope will one day be read in schools, like Anne Frank, as an example of the period we lived in, where persecution of Muslims while rampant is denied. A testimony to the times we live in where only history will show what injustice was done.

There are many others, of course. Countless stories of Muslims going through trials and tribulations. Innocent men being detained, locked up, tortured, harassed. Families torn apart. Police-state tactics, crimes being manufactured. Men being targeted and arrested before they have even committed a crime.

We have heard of Rendition’s Maher Arar, Brandon Mayfield, Sami al-Arain, James Yee. Now add Yassin Aref and read his autobiography.

*Son of Mountains is available via Amazon/Borders.