I didn’t realize how much I missed ISNA until these past four days when I finally attended after an absence of about three years. I remember going to my first ISNA at nineteen amazed and wide-eyed at the amount of Muslims there, the sheer numbers, the awesome, motivating, touching lectures, praying in such a huge Jamaa’, meeting Muslims from all over the US, being able to buy books and CDs I never thought existed. This weekend, I felt like I tasted that sweetness of Islam again after so long.
I can never understand people’s criticisms of ISNA. Usually they fall into one of two groups – the first think that ISNA is too loose and liberal and the second hear stories of all the ‘Haram‘ that occurs and think it is more righteous not to attend. Well, honestly who are you guys kidding folks, first of all ISNA is not some monolith controlling group. It is an umbrella organization whose goal has always been to bring all Muslims together under one banner (whether they have been successful or not is another thing). But it is not a convention for a certain group of people. It’s not just for Niqabis or for Hijabis or for non-Hijabis, and they’re not going to enforce their version of Islam like some secret religious police! It’s for everyone, at every level.
I know for a fact, how much Dawah goes down at ISNA and how it has helped so many people over the years, including myself. As for the second group, I mean jeez, wake up and smell the chai, guys and girls hanging out in the lobby “TALKING” my GOD – apparently these people have been living in a closet the last 10 years and don’t realize what is going on among today’s youth (i.e. open dating, pre-marital sex, hard-core drugs, and alcohol). It’s common everywhere, take a look around in your own communities. With that kind of reasoning, maybe you should stop going to your Mosques because of all the Haram that is occurring. That makes a lot of sense then, doesn’t it?
Anyway, people are going to do what they are going to do, and your non-attendance of ISNA is not going to change anything except deprive of you of what could have benefited you.
I’m not saying that ISNA is the place to attain Islamic knowledge per se, you should be going to local Halaqas, study circles, Deen intensives, classes and so on for that, but I think it is a GREAT place for networking, meeting new and old friends, seeing what’s going on in the Ummah, hearing the vision our leaders and scholars have for us, motivating us for the coming year and increasing our Imaan and so on!
So moving on, Alhamdulillah this ISNA had some nice speakers like Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir, Yasir Qadhi, Faraz Rabbani, Mokhtar Maghroaui, Siraj Wahaj, Abdullah Adhami, Abdullah Idrees, Ingrid Mattson, Jamal Badawi, Altaf Hussain, Abdul-Hakim Jackson, Muneer Fareed, Asma Mirza, Keith Ellison and even Jesse Jackson made a surprise appearance! There was an awesome bazaar filled with new books, CDs, videos, kids educational games and toys, Islamic and Desi clothes, funny t-shirts like (marry me i’m a doctor!), wedding dresses, saris!, Islamic software, paintings, wooden art, calligraphy, jewelry, Muslim magazines, furniture, oriental carpets, relief organizations, condo shares in Dubai and Makkah!, even khuffs, lotas and halal krispy treats! You can buy the best of everything from every Muslim country right here. It is so uniquely an American Muslim Souq. It is amazing just walking around and seeing all the different types of people, the nationalities, the clothes, and the hijabs – so beautiful!
As for entertainment, every night after the lectures they had an “open mic” at the HYATT with all kinds of acts and talents until like 2-3AM every night. I think it was an admirable attempt to combat the HYATTless lobby scene. They had some really cutting edge acts of rap, hip-hop and spoken word. The main ISNA entertainment had some great acts with Baba Ali of You tube Ummah films fame hosting as MC. These included the Sound of Reason, 3ilm, Nour, a new talented comedian named Aman Ali, Kareem Salamah (the new Muslim country singer!), Native Deen and Dawud Wharnsby. They were all amazing Ma’shaAllah.
Many of the talks centered around American Muslims rising up and being part of this society and how we need to change things so people feel like Islam is indigenous and it’s “theirs” and how like in the 70s African-Americans picketed for Muhammad Ali because they felt ‘he was one of their own’ and we need that again to progress! Imam Zaid brought up the issue of race relations within the Ummah and some hard-hitting issues like how Arabs with liquor stores in the ghettos are seriously undermining the Dawah!
One of the best sessions I went to was one with Faraz Rabbani (Sunnipath founder) and Yasir Qadhi (Al-Maghrib) about seeking knowledge. They mentioned how there is so much out there for a sincere seeker of knowledge these days even without going overseas — books, tapes, cd series, classes, online, offline etc… and that we really need to take advantage of these opportunities that we have that were not here even a few years ago.
They BOTH talked about the importance of this and emphasized how it didn’t matter what organization/who you go through, just that you do. I was so happy to see them together emphasizing this since some of their students go off the deep end and start attacking the other!! I was going to yell a Takbeer after that!
It really takes ISNA to bring people together and make everyone realize that the Ummah has bigger problems than finer points of Fiqh!
Another beautiful session was with Sh. Mokhtar Maghraoui and Altaf Hussain. They told some funny plane stories and emphasized how we should be compassionate and helpful and true to our Deen and this is what people should be seeing of Muslims. You don’t let anger or personal grudges and things like that get in the way. You always try to do good to others and put Islam and its teachings first. You think the best of people and treat all people with respect and compassion even if they do harm to you.
One example Bro. Altaf gave us is when he was on a plane and a mother and her two children came on but the father had to stay behind because the plane was full, so he got off so the father could get on even though he has a wife and children at home too! That is real compassion and practicing Islam and Dawah to boot!
Sh. Mokhtar went back up to tell his own cute story about the little old grandma lady that went up to him at the grocery store and asked if “she could help him with his basket’. And he thought ‘I can carry her and the basket! lol’ and then she said she just wanted him to know she didn’t hold Muslims responsible for 9/11! (This was the day after). I think I’ve heard this story about six times but love how he tells it each time!
There was an 8,000 fully packed MYNA session that was really funny and cute and both Sh. Hamza and Imam Zaid did a really good job entertaining and teaching the kids and I remembered my own good ole MYNA days *sniff
Oh and at one point Sh. Hamza was talking about kids being good to their parents, and parents being good to kids and then he says, “Abdullah come up here!… Have I ever physically beat you in any way?” and his son came up on stage all embarrassed and said “No Dad”. It was just so funny.
Alas, I miss the weekend already and am afflicted with that classic after post-labor-day-post-isna depression (PID) syndrome!
I think in the end, the reason why ISNA is special is because I feel like I belong. If I walked down any street, walked through any mall, go to any restaurant, I automatically get stares and whispers, sometimes approached usually in a nice way, but it is never comfortable. But ISNA – ISNA is home.
PS. If you wanted to know what I bought from the magical world of the ISNA BAZAAR I bought:
…tons of new Nasheed CDs by Dawud Wharnsby, Kareem Salamah, Native Deen, Zain Bhikha
…the Longing for the Divine calendar 2008 and Eid cards
…new CD series sets of Hamza Yusuf, Yasir Qadhi, Muhammad Al-shareef, Suhaib Webb, a set called ‘Women Inspired by the Beloved’
…cute outfits and kids books/a game for niece/nephew/any cute kids I know
…Hijab pins and those shawl beaded Hijabs
…a number of new books that looked interesting like a new Hajj autobio by Sh. Jibreel, a new prayer book by White Thread Press (rest too long to list thanx to a really nice brother and awesome discounts from Al-Rashad Books!!)
… Halal marshmallows and Halal krispy treats!
and if you’re wondering if i have any money left i have to say that I *borrowed* money because i ran out of cash
(and if you know me in person and would like to see all the pictures, send me an email and I’ll send you the links!! :))