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by Zahra Riaz

On the early morning of March 31st, I took a ride with a friend to the Islamic Convention of North America in Baltimore, which is a mass convention held every year, for the duration of three days in different cities every year. I was thrilled to attend, as my favorite Muslim scholars and activists would be coming. I decided I would attend Saturday and Sunday and skip Friday since most of the substantial lectures would take place on these two days. The convention consisted of various lectures with powerful speakers, a bazaar, which had over 700 vendors, and something that appealed to everyone involved, good food. Each vendor offered a vast variety of items from clothing to accessories to halal nail polish (permeable nail polish) to books. Charitable organizations like Islamic Relief USA and Helping Hands USA had their own booths set up, where they interacted with partakers walking by, urging them to donate or sponsor an orphan.

The first lecture I attended on Saturday morning was comprised of three parts. The speaker, Sheikh Mohammad Mana talked about the three surahs (chapters) of the Quran. These three surahs are important to Muslims, as they praise God’s oneness and warn of vices to stay away from. Most importantly though, if a Muslim reads Surat-ul-Ikhlas, (one of the last three chapters in the Quran), it is as if he/she has read 1/3 of the Quran. I found this lecture to be quite interesting, because Sheikh Mohammad Mana went into detail about the meaning of each Surah and what we, as Muslims, should take away from reading them.

The second lecture I attended lasted 3 hours and by the end of it, I was emotional and enlightened. The lecture spoke to my internal battle when it comes to fulfilling my life’s purpose. It started with the first speaker, Sister Ieasha Prime whose speech shook me to the core and made me ponder. She talked about Muslim youth and how we are far away from our religion, Islam, and don’t completely understand the message of it. Due to this, when we stray away from our beliefs, we lose ourselves in the process and turn to things that are harmful to us, like drugs and illicit behavior.

The second keynote speaker was Yaser Birjas, and he spoke about “Supreme Love,” a topic that explored love bigger than us: the love of God, and His love for us. This doesn’t just speak to Muslims, but to others who believe in the oneness of God. Birjas emphasized the importance of loving God truly and realizing how God loves. According to Islam, one cannot just claim to love God but not do anything to prove it, like perform good deeds and remember Him on a regular basis.

The third keynote speaker finished off the session in a holistic and powerful manner by inspiring and motivating individuals like myself. Sheikh Yasir Qadhi’s topic was “Helm of Change,” which delved into a concept that explained the progression of positive changes in the history of the world. Qadhi introduced the idea of ‘the butterfly effect,’ as it pertains to positive changes in history through the actions of individuals who do something for the greater good without knowing. Moreover, when a person has the intention of helping someone or something, they shouldn’t always be so concerned with how they have helped someone or if their effort lead to some good. Often, there is no way of knowing whether our positive efforts have helped someone, for instance, when we donate to a credible charity, we don’t know who was benefitted and how and whether that person is in the same state of living or living a better life. We donate with the intention of helping someone, but we don’t necessarily have the right to know who has been affected and how. Furthermore, we have to believe that our good efforts in the universe may yield something that we could have never imagined. Qadhi closes off his speech by encouraging the audience not to shy away from public service, or even helping the people close to us because the result of our effort does not necessarily have to be known.

To conclude, I can only say positive things about my experience at ICNA this year, it was a wholesome and insightful event. I felt empowered and encouraged by the 3-hour lecture. Since I am passionate about public service, not knowing the results of my efforts often discourages me, but after Sheikh Yasir Qadhi’s speech, I feel motivated and determined again. I look forward to attending this event again next year and hope to get the same, if not more from this event.

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