by Hena Zuberi, Muslim Link Staff Reporter, Friday, 05 June 2015
As many of the 20,000 attendees left the Baltimore Convention Center over Memorial Day Weekend with bags filled with blessings that they had bought at the ICNA-MAS bazaar, ICNA Relief volunteers were filling dark green bags of blessings to share with those in need in the city hosting the annual convention of America’s largest grassroots Muslim organization.

This was ICNA’s 40th convention and the theme was honoring the Prophet Muhmmad. 140 speakers from around the world gathered to address thousands. Imam Shibly of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey was at the very first ICNA conventions. He was collating a photo montage of the first congregational prayer where there were exactly 17 people praying and juxtaposing it against the tens of thousands who prayed together at ICNA on the last weekend in May.
This milestone was celebrated by awarding the first lifetime achievement award to Khalid Griggs and Aisha Al-Adawiya. In a statement Imam Griggs, who is the chairman of the Islamic Circle of North America’s Council for Social Justice said, “In these challenging times, this year’s conference offers the attendees a unique opportunity to learn of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and its immediate relevance to their own lives in this country.”
“The Prophet provides the perfect model for us to emulate, as an exemplar of justice, truth, compassion, and love,” said Griggs “Islamophobes malign and vilify him to spread hate. We want to counter that by spreading knowledge and peace.”
Malika McDonald is the National Director of ICNA Relief USA’s transitional housing Network where she oversees the operation of 7 shelter homes. “What an opportunity; we have 20,000 Muslims coming to Baltimore to really serve the community,” she says. Many people who came to the convention donated items to the ICNA Relief booth.
Under McDonald’s supervision of 70 volunteers filled 400 blessing bags with dental kits, socks, lotion, juice, oranges, water, cereal bars, and soup that they deliver to the tent city on the corner of Madison and Falls Way. “A young girl 4 year old girls came out of one of the tents,” shares McDonald. She was so excited about the toothbrush that she had received in the blessing bag.
Fresh fruit donated by a local Whole Foods was stacked in the ICNA relief vans. The bags were also designed and screen-printed in Baltimore city. In a small office above Masjid Saffat is an incubator for youth entrepreneurship called Citywide Youth Entrepreneurship Program, run by community activist Rashid Aziz. Aziz owns the sorbet store next to Masjid Saffat- Frozen Desert Sorbet. The youth in his program helped develop the flavors and they opened a second location in Lexington Market on May 22, 2015. Many young men in the community are unemployed and this program gives them a chance to learn skills and provides summer jobs. The vending carts that were selling drinks and ice cream to convention attendees were also a part of the program.
McDonald’s says that ICNA and other national organizations are partnering with the Muslim Social Services Agency. “They are from the community and they know what their needs are,” she adds.
In exciting news for Baltimore residents, ICNA has partnered with Nadia McIntosh to support the Women’s Affairs at Al Mumtahinah – a homeless shelter. “Our aim is to make sure that this facility also runs at the same level of transparency and standards as the others,” shared McDonald.
For mid to long term relief work, ICNA has hired Saad Malik as the ICNA relief manager for Baltimore as well as a representative in Washington DC.
ICNA has temporary housing in the following states: Anaheim, CA, Atlanta, GA, Baton Rouge, LA, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Detroit, MI, Houston, TX, Jamaica, NY, Kansas City, MO, Miami, FL, Orlando, FL, Phoenix, AZ and has a new women’s center opening up in Massachusetts– the Amal Women’s Center. The 13th shelter was once the home of the first Sister Clara Muhammad School in Massachusetts and also served as the minister’s home.
McDonald says that there has been a sharp rise in the refugee population that ends up in transitional housing. Trained case managers work with residents in each of the centers identifying areas of growth and link them to appropriate community resources such as public benefits, legal and immigration support, mental health services and healthcare. Plans are in place to track beneficiaries as ICNA.
It’s a pure family event says Dr Zahid Bukhari, past President of ICNA, whose own family has made life long friends who meet up during the convention weekend.
This was the second year that ICNA used community volunteers who signed up for this task, said Mahmoud Aijazi, the ICNA volunteer coordinator. He was assisted on the women’s side, ICNA-Sisters Wing leaders Nosheen Owais, Amna and Kulsoom Siddiqui.
Another new feature was the solitary confinement cell set up by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NCRAT) to bring awareness to how prisoners stay isolated for 23 hours. “Psychologists say prolonged solitary confinement can drive prisoners insane. But tens of thousands of U.S. prisoners are currently held in isolation.” Many Muslim prisoners are subjected to this form of torture. NCRAT shared that 1000 convention attendees sat inside the demo cell.
Convention attendees also benefited from the free ICNA-MAS Convention mobile application. The app offered several features like creating personal program schedule, bios of all the speakers, a map of the bazaar, instant program updates and ‘a convenient way to follow convention tweets.’
Noha AlAnsary, a student at University of Maryland College Park says she loved all the lectures that she went to at ICNA this year. “However, there was one problem, many people got upset because the couldn’t attend the lectures that they wanted as the halls filled up so fast. Bukhari says that there was a huge increase in attendees over last year.
Shabana and her husband had traveled from Bangalore, India and attended many sessions at ICNA. They especially enjoyed the poetry recital in Urdu and the lectures by Shaykh Yusuf Islahi. ICNA offers sessions in Urdu, Spanish, Arabic and Turkish. At the last day of the convention, she joined her daughter and her family, excited to implement all that she had learned.
Article Courtesy: Muslim Link

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