MV: The ICNA South Central Conference returns for another year, this time with a bigger venue and larger panel of speakers. Alhdumullilah, I was able to attend the southern conference for the second year in a row. This was also the second year ICNA Houston hosted a three day conference versus originally being only a one day conference. Much of my discussion in this review will be a comparison of my review from attending last year’s conference. Click here to read my review of the ICNA South Central Conference from last year.
Again – the ICNA South Central conference returns with the same goal of producing the consistent vibe and atmosphere that is often felt when attending these conferences. A three day weekend full of aspiration and diverse bulk of Muslims from all type of backgrounds – the anticipation for these conferences never fails.
Again, the premise for the conference was quite strong. With adding more aspiring speakers such as Imam Siraj Wahaj and Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, to the already all-star team of speakers such as Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, Shaykh Omar Suleiman, Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda, Shaykh Saad and Fahad Tasleem, just to name a few, proved quite lively. The format of the ICNA Conference was similar to last year’s, with one main session hall, along with a few smaller parallel sessions. As you can tell from the picture above, this year’s main hall was A LOT bigger and proved essential to the large number of attendees that showed up. The bazaar of this year was also a big step up. Not only was there a larger room for the bazaar, the vendors at the bazaar were quite diverse and unique, some of my favorites were the Islamic book vendor, the “awesome” calligraphy sticker collection, and the variety of vendors supporting our Muslim run organizations around the nation. For anyone that attended last year’s conference, the bazaar was just simply a better atmosphere and much more organized.
Moving on to the main program. Unfortunately I missed most of the sessions on the first day because of arriving later in the day, but the first session I attended was spot on, Culturally Transmitted Diseases (Yasir Birjas, Fahad Tasleem, Javaid Siddiqui, and Yasir Qadhi. This session was very relevant to today’s age. Huge kudos to Imam Fahad Tasleem (for the ladu being sunnah story) but also the way he approached the topic, along with Yasir Qadhi and the other panelists.
Other highlight sessions were: The panel discussion in “State of our Youth. The Struggle is Real”, Fusing Knowledge with Service,Taking it to the Streets: Da’wah in America, and Where do we Stand in the Global Political Climate. But I think out of all of these, my favorite and most worthwhile of the sessions was the “Street Da’wah: A Crash Course”, the smaller parallel session. Parallel sessions have a tendency to be amazing at every conference. The obvious reason being since the rooms are smaller and with less people allows more interactivity. What made it so amazing, however, was the heart-warming stories and experiences shared by the panelist, as well as the exceptional practical session hosted by Sheikh Fahad Tasleem. He did something quite different, by pretending to be the “non-Muslim”, he got the audience involved by asking them some very pressing questions regarding common misinterpretations about Islam. His approach was amazing and the most hands-on experience I’ve ever had at a conference.
Other highlights were Imam Siraj Wahaj’s baller fundraiser for ICNA and Imam Khalid Grigs asking the entire audience to look at their forehand and reflect upon the tragedy of Ferguson and how we as Muslims should take a stance.
Did the conference live up to it’s hype from last year?
Of course one of the biggest improvements one would suppose is the choice of moving in to a large venue. One of the biggest problems last year was the over capacity of people and overcrowding of sessions to such a point that people were refused to be allowed inside. This year changed that as the main hall was double the size and what was note-worthy was that the seats towards the back row included LCD TV screens that allowed the far back audience to view the speaker, and there was a tv every few seats back or so to allow every individual to view the speaker. Not to mention, very nice outside seating:
However, does bigger mean better?
Despite all of the improvements from last year, one drawback was that there were NO youth sessions at all (with the only exception being the YM Secret session and the State of our Youth. The Struggle is Real session). Last year’s “Love Struck” open panel was one of my highlights and it was sad to see that there wasn’t really a session at that caliber. One of the great things about the larger ICNA conventions is that they have completely separate parallel youth sessions. Just like last year, there were no parallel youth sessions, which would have otherwise proved valuable to youth attendees. It could have been because of the already large and busy schedule, however, I think just one youth parallel session would have been doable.
Another drawback I saw was the lack of the traditional entertainment sessions. It was great and always intriguing to hear Imaad Khan’ poetry between sessions. In my opinion, last year’s entertainment session was not so great and it would have been nice to see an effort for improvement for the conference to build upon. Entertainment sessions are for families to relax and sit back, while enjoying performances. In the midst of all things, this was a very small drawback however.
Putting all of that aside, words cannot describe how amazing of an experience this year’s conference was. I was honestly blown away from the major improvements from last year and it certainly beat my expectations. I came in expecting the conference to be your typical Islamic conference but left with a strong desire to crave more. The topics chosen were very relevant to current issues, such as the Ferguson controversy, the kharajites, the changing culture, fitting into current day America while maintaining a Muslim identity, and activism, which were all well executed by the speakers. The conference was so well organized, I had no problem finding the sessions or places within the conference. The conference was so overwhelming (in a grand way) that the entire time I felt like I was at the national annual ICNA conference, and not a regional one. I have to hand it to the organizers for not just allowing an improved conference, but proving to be something much more.
I will share he same sentiment I had last year:
After coming back from this three day, weekend long, convention I’ve realized how much potential we have as a community. From the inspirational and uplifting motivational speeches by some straight, down to earth speakers, spending time with such a vast and diverse crowd of Muslims, to simply interacting and feeling that powerful united vibe in the atmosphere. The power of these conventions are that it brings together a huge diverse crowd of people, with different ideas and talents, and binds them together to produce a larger entity with a strong motivational force. During one of the sessions, Shaykh Abdul Nassir Jangda pointed out that during the time of the Prophet pbuh, he and his message were ridiculed and insulted, however, the strong community that exists today, such that was seen at the convention, shows the true success of the message of Muhammad pbuh.
The organizers really did an amazing job in this year’s conference. From the larger and improved venue, to becoming very well organized. Hats off to the organizers for learning from last year’s mistakes and doing much more then just improving. May Allah swt reward them all for their continous effort and hard work. They deserve it.
Overall Ratting: 9.9/10
Ever since I left I’ve been having withdrawals and am really anticipating for next year insha’Allah.