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Chicago - National Muslim Convention Highlights Faith and Community

By M. Scott Bortot

Islamic Society of North America, annual convention draws tens of thousands

Chicago - Thousands of Muslim Americans gathered in Chicago July 2-4 at the Islamic Society of North America's (ISNA's) 47th annual convention to learn how combining faith and community service strengthens them and their country.

ISNA President Ingrid Mattson discussed the convention's theme, "Nurturing Compassionate Communities: Connecting Faith and Service," during a press conference.

"This year, we are really getting back to basics by trying to show to everyone in our community, both Muslims and our non-Muslim friends, that there is a compassionate and productive way to have a broad sense of community that will make this nation and the world a better place for all of us," Mattson said.

An estimated 30,000 people attended the event, which featured 300 speakers at about 90 panel sessions. Panels examined how Muslims can improve themselves and their religious community while making positive contributions to society.

"And that community includes not only Muslims, but our friends in the interfaith community, the social justice community, all of those people of good faith and good will who are interested in contributing to a compassionate American society," Mattson said.

Safaa Zarzour, ISNA secretary-general, said America is home to a burgeoning Muslim community.

"We continue to have a new generation of Muslims that are born and raised in America. America is their home, they have not known any other, and they need to be able to grow up, learning and knowing and feeling comfortable about being a Muslim and being an American," Zarzour said.

Panel topics ranged from how to improve home life, "Family: Secret Ingredients - Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice," to engaging the broader community, "Translating Faith into Service," to getting into politics, "Muslim American Political Engagement: Next Steps and a Practical 'How-To.'" Booths at ISNA convention (State Dept./M. Scott Bortot) Hundreds of booths at the ISNA convention highlight the vibrancy of America's Muslim community.

ISNA used its network of contacts to bring specialists to the convention from a wide range of fields.

"We go to those people in our communities who are the ground, who are doing the work, who are the experts, and we ask them to come to present for everybody else, for everybody else to learn," Zarzour said.

Abdul Suleiman, who attended the convention, enjoyed its spiritual aspect. In particular, he liked the session, "Trials of the Messengers: Compassion in the Face of Challenges."

"It discussed the trials and tribulations of the prophets and how they relate to us," Suleiman said, adding that panelists impressed him with their knowledge and spirituality. "They did it with sensitivity, love and compassion, and you really felt like they were conveying that spirit to you."

Danya Shakfeh, who also attended the convention, said the event provides an opportunity for Muslims to meet.

"It is a good platform for Muslims to get to know each other and to network," Shakfeh said.

Quran reciting competitions, Islamic art exhibitions, an Islamic film festival and a bazaar featuring the wares of hundreds of organizations and vendors are also an integral part of the event. At the bazaar, Muslim civil and religious rights groups, booksellers, clothes retailers, Islamic financiers and halal product vendors vie for the attention of convention attendees.

"I appreciate that there are so many Muslims that have different platforms and information," Shakfeh said, adding that the bazaar's variety can be overwhelming. "But at the same time, it is good to see them all coming together."

Event organizers said Chicago often hosts the ISNA convention because of its central location in the United States and for its Muslim community.

"The reason we do it in Chicago is because Chicago's Muslim community is such a vibrant community," Zarzour said. "It is such an active community that is trying to improve its own lot but also contribute to the larger society."

... Payvand News - 07/08/10 ... --

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