Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Organizes Memorable Convention on 'Muhammad(SAW): Mercy to Mankind'
By Tahir Ali

Hartford, CT: It was a cold day in March and you could almost feel the chill at the bone level, yet thousands of Muslims trickled down to the Hartford Convention Center to attend ICNA’s – North East Convention – first of its kind. They came from near they came from far: Washington DC, Chicago, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and, of course, Connecticut.

ICNA-North East Wing President, Waqar Haider in his welcome speech said that it took nearly six months of preparation and planning to get the event of this magnitude successfully implemented, “and all this is ninety-nine percent volunteer-based. Everyone you see wearing a volunteer tag on their coat, is really a badge of honor.”

Naeem Baig, President of ICNA, highlighted the theme of the convention, 'Muhammad(SAW): Mercy to Mankind.' Naeem observed that the Prophet Muhammad(SAW) is our role model, we should emulate him as much as we can. We should extend our services to humanity, deal with hunger and poverty, and get involved with social issues. We Muslim Americans are generally resourceful and hence we need to give back to the society. “Prophet Muhammad, through his service to mankind uplifted hearts and minds and guided souls.”

To this effect Naeem stated that the 40 chapters of ICNA around the United States are fully engaged with the American community and working on various fronts, like providing Women Shelters in 12 states, 'Back to School' project in all states and other humane efforts. To elaborate on the March 22 convention he quoted from the ICNA brochure: “It puts you in front of renowned scholars with solutions designed specifically to address the issues American Muslims are facing today.” Align all that with the invited renowned scholars of Islam and speakers, the theme of the two-day convention – and suddenly you have a recipe for success, empowerment, solutions and a great model to follow: Muhammad (SAW), the Ameen for his flawless character and a ‘Walking Qur'an’ for his knowledge, depth and practice.

Imam Shuaib Webb, sticking to the theme, started with the Quranic verse from al-ambiya: ‘We did not send you but a mercy to mankind. ‘

The Imam reflecting on his student days, said that when he was sitting with one of his teachers of Hadith, “I remember he said, ‘Before we start I’ve to give you a Hadith first, this is the first Hadith any beginner should learn from his or her sheikh‘ and then he narrated the Hadith, ‘The merciful ones; the Merciful is merciful to them.‘ The Imam in making his point said that this was the first Hadith a student seeking sincere knowledge is taught - to be merciful. “The scholarly tradition embodied this mercy, and interesting enough the chain of this narration started from Iraq, to Damascus, to Egypt, to the Hejaz, to India, back to Egypt, back to the Hejaz and now to America – Allah O Akhbar.”

The Imam characterized the task of Prophet Muhammad as the bringer of glad tidings (Basheer) and the warner (Nazeer) - a rahma to mankind. “He is the warner, perhaps the greatest type of mercy that can be exercised is to save someone from sin, to bring someone out of the doldrums of vice, to take someone from Shirk to Tauheed.” He further added, “When Rustam of Persia asked the Bedouin why had he come, he replied, ‘We came to bring people from the worship of creation to worship of the creator.’ ”

Imam gave an example of Rahma as responsibility - how the Prophet dealt with the person who did rukuh in a doorway, He told the man, ‘May Allah reward you for your enthusiasm, but don’t do it again.’ Basheer and Nazeer. Speaking in current form of communications, the Imam said, “The Prophet did not make a blog about it ‘messed up guy who prayed at doorway.’"

Imam concluded that “Rahma sits between irresponsible liberalism and irrational conservatism. He found it very problematic when people make fun of conservative Muslims, the Nikabis, making fun of a person with a big beard, or wearing ankle high pants. “When they are all following valid opinions" Imam Shuaib Webb hoped that moving forward as communities, as masajids, as institutions, "we need to recognize that Rahma means to embrace the larger community as it is, neither should make fun of the other.”

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. He reverted to Islam in 1992.

Qasim Mazhar has been involved in Islamic youth work with several organizations all over the country for more than 10 years, and currently is the National Coordinator of Young Muslims. He shared his thoughts on ‘Why Muslims love the Prophet’. He started by saying, “Love requires action. The legacy that the Prophet(SAW) left us is: a legacy of helping other people. Live the life of Prophet Muhammad(SAW) – His life was filled with action, not rhetoric.” Qasim mentioned the five golden words that Hazrat Khadija used in convincing Prophet Muhammad (SAW) after he had received the first revelation, that why he was really the chosen messenger: 1)“You are the one who maintains family ties”, 2) “You are the one who takes care of the poor and needy”, 3)”Whenever you speak you always speak the truth”, 4)”When you find them in stress or calamity you elevate them”, and lastly, 5) “You honor the guest when you have a guest over.”

“And that is why we love our prophet Muhammad(SAW),” Qasim concluded.

Abdool Rahman Khan, originally from the Caribbean, is a graduate of the Islamic University faculty of Shari’ah (Islamic Jurisprudence) specializing in Islamic Inheritance. He is also the chairman of the Shari’ah Council of ICNA – argued that the Prophet was a messenger of peace, the history and his Seerat shows how he brought peace to the rest of the world, “and yet the media distorts his image.” The Sheikh mentioned the culture of distortion and hatred that was propelled by Salman Rushdie, and others, including a Danish cartoonist. “But the cartoonist took Shahada –what changed his mind?” the Sheikh asked, “nothing but the reality and the truth – which he and others like him received after they started to read about Islam and the messenger.”

Abdul Nasir Jangda, the founder and director of Qalam Institute, carried on with the theme that regardless of what others say about the Prophet (SAW), he was defended by Allah. He was told not to pay attention to the people like (Abu Lahab) – Lahab is not the majority. Abdul Nasir gave an account that the Prophet was asked to stand up and deliver to the people – when very little Qur'an was revealed, “Before you deal with people you should open their mind and heart.” Which can actually be construed as the universal message.

There were many breakout session where other scholars like Sheikh Uthman, the Imam of the Worcester Islamic Center, talked about the Prophet(SAW) in the light of his attributes: The Truthful and the Trustworthy. Imam Taymullah reflected upon the physical characteristics of the Prophet(SAW), whereas Ustad Baajor walked through the mannerism and dealings of the Prophet(SAW).

On an another panel, Dr Saud Anwar, the first Muslim Mayor in Connecticut of South Windsor, talked about the leadership qualities of the Prophet(SAW); Sr. Suzy Ismail, author of the book 9 to 5 gave a speech on the charter of Medina, and the exemplary justice of the Prophet(SAW); Sr. Malika Rushdan explained how the Prophet(SAW) conducted Dawah through Social Services. Sisters also enjoyed a lively panel discussion walking the “Illuminated Path” led by Sisters Farhana Mateen, Sobie Saleem, Huma Shams and Sumaira Afzal.

Dr Mokhtar Maghraoui is one of the most well-renowned scholars in North America. Originally from Algeria he is best known for his enlightening retreats and seminars empowering Muslims on their spiritual quest. He kept his audience young and old engaged in a workshop on Self-Development.

A session geared toward the youth had Kaiser Aslam talk about peer pressure. Kaiser made a good analogy of peer pressure - the Facebook. “Why do you want to post everything on Facebook? If you get married it has to be posted on the Facebook,” Kaiser asked, “you are really not married if it’s not on the Facebook.” "Is it because you want to see how many likes you get?” This is social pressure, Kaiser added, when you should be only thinking about: “Our status is what it is in front of Allah.”

Imam Omar Suleiman was born and raised in America; Imam Omar’s character has won the love of both young and mature audiences. His topic was well chosen, and as it suggested he tried to bridge the gap between generations. “Before you pound on your uncles and aunts – they are the ones who built the Mosques, when there were no conventions, emails to exchange ideas. The Youth of Sahaba understood what their parents had. Elders deserve a level of respect – do not compromise that respect. Elders also have to validate – if youth are not invited to the village they will burn it down for the warmth.” Omer said metaphorically, “Reason with them – speak their language – validate them.”

People stayed late to hear Sh. Yusuf Estes speak. The Priest was raised in a strong Christian home, he was educated in Texas, became successful in music business, owning stores, TV shows and used his talents to promote faith in God, while doing some preaching from the Bible.
In 1991 he tried to convert a Muslim from Egypt, but he found the true facts about real Islam and instead became a Muslim. And now the Sheikh is busy preaching Islam. His website and TV show “Guide US TV”– banner rather sums it up nicely: “Worship the Creator, Not the Creation.” He told me that Imam Shuaib came to him and told him that ‘you were there when I took the Shahada 19 years ago”. The sheikh was a celebrity, he never had a moment of his own, is constantly flanked by his admirers who wanted a Kodak moment with him, or a selfie as we say nowadays. The Sheikh appeared a little disappointed with the Muslim community – we need to be supportive of each other. He quoted President Washington’s word, “If we don’t hang together, we will hang together.”

Ahmed Mazumder, originally from Bangladesh, has never missed an ICNA convention. “The biggest thrill I get is to meet people, and see so many Muslims united for a purpose.” Ahmed is also credited for all the photos embedded in this article.

Waqar Haider was very pleased to see over 5000 people attend the convention, and over 120 vendors forming the Bazaar. But all this is possible if you have a great team and good team work. “We all do this for the sake of Allah”

We see the cold day and we know of the colder night before us. The families clinging together to keep warm. Maybe there was something warm about this cold weather, families coming together therefore derivatively aligning to the theme of the convention – togetherness.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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